Canberra man founds
world’s lamest gay sex ring
If success has many fathers (while failure is an orphan), spawning
a “gay sex ring” seems to be a shotgun marriage where any convenient groom/father/founder
will do – and all the better for such a lifelong lock-in should the metaphorical
bride’s pregnancy turn out to be mere abdominal bloating.
Daniel McDonald, one of the two ADFA “Skype cadets”, has
been found guilty of some pretty nasty acts, which I don’t want to defend in
any way. However, some salacious pre-sentence
reporting around a June 2013 incident in a Canberra nightclub, one that almost
dare not speaketh its details – and at which Daniel McDonald wasn’t even
present – seems misguided, to put it mildly.
The headlines about the Canberra nightclub incident refer to
male-to-male sex acts, which, if such acts occurred in a (presumably) public
place, are indeed newsworthy. Occurring
in a public place, they are criminal, even if fully consensual (of which more
about soon). The first hole in this
story is thus that, rather surprisingly you may think, no criminal charges have
arisen from this incident. My best guess
for the reason here is that the reported “sexual acts” are at the lowest,
ambiguous end of the scale. The only
reported details here that I am aware of are:
Umm, I would have thought that the dirtiest word here was “forced”
– and that if the above acts were in fact consensual, to label them “sexual” seems
a bit of a stretch, in my opinion. The
lack of any subsequent criminal charges strongly suggests that the participants
were not “forced”, so all we are left with is some pretty standard straight
boys’-night-out sort of stuff. Oh, except
for the possibly pregnant insinuation that other, much gayer/sexier, stuff may
have happened, by virtue of the word “includes” in the above quote, and also the
widely reported allusion that the Canberra nightclub incident was just the public
exposure of a nine-month long rampant sex ring, one with an obviously ironic (I
would have thought) name, “Love of My Life”.
Oh please. If Daniel
McDonald was the 'founder' of a footy (rugby) gay sex ring – as the Australian’s headline breathlessly put it yesterday
– he has failed abjectly as a sexual entrepreneur. His product is mundane – the least-actually-gay
“gay” activities I have ever heard described as such – and he wasn’t even
present at the supposed crowning debauchery, the Canberra nightclub incident in June.
Four article stubs
and a funeral
Sorry about the lack of posts for the last two and a half
months. I’ve had a lot on – including
some serious “sorry business”, which I won’t be writing about, as such. But I mention this because you may see some
subtext and allusions in the following four snippets.
The connection I want to mention is that they’re all topics
that I’ve been working on for a while, and it’s time to get them (partially)
off my chest – not to mention give this blog some needed oxygen. I know that I promised one expectant reader,
in person, the finished version of “Four – the Timor-Arafura Gap”, some weeks ago –
but sorry, due to recent events, the full article here is still a while off.
One – the opiate
Two years ago, I had day-surgery on my ankle at a private
hospital. Discharging me, they sent me
off with some serious painkillers, including a box of the opiate, Endone
(without any request by me, and adding the cost of the prescription to my bill,
which I rather groggily paid).
I didn’t need any of the take-home pain medication – I tried
the less strong one, a couple of times, but it didn’t seem to do anything. But
my pain wasn’t really painful, anyway, if you know what I mean. So I stashed the Endone in my bathroom
cupboard, possibly for a rainy-painy day.
Which never came.
Recently going through my pills, I saw that the Endone was
out of date. So following the directions,
I took it back, unopened, to my pharmacy for disposal.
There are, I think, three classes of reader response to the
above bare facts: (i) “So what?”, (ii) “You fool!”, and (iii) “You’re weird –
but in a good way – to be writing about this, and it tickles something in me”.
To the first group, you can stop reading now, and to the
third, thank you for joining my tiny club.
But it is to the second group that I must – reluctantly – admit, yes, I
am writing to talk to – sorry, I mean torment
I was and am well aware that a black market exists for
Endone et al, and for a millisecond I admit that I thought I could have made a
tidy sum here. But it wasn’t morals, or
affluence (if only), that made me stoically take my booty (in your eyes) to the
proper receptacle – it was the necessary culmination of my two-year underdose.
“Underdosing” doesn’t seem to have much Google traction in
non-medical literature, and in that, it seems to be a bad thing. On the contrary, I reckon that it is high
time we underdosers came out loud’n’proud, and reclaimed our “thang” from the
contemptuous labels of the medical profession.
Pain, schmain, I say.
Seriously though, underdosing has to be a necessary
corollary, in the great Newtonian zero-sum universe, to the opposite – we all
hear about over
dosing ad nauseum, of course. Opiates are therefore always – and lopsidedly
– regarded as goods in severe shortage.
Well, dang, I’ve just had a two year opiate surplus
– I didn’t ask for the stuff, and the hospital pharmacy
billed me for it, anyway. And I’m sure
I’m not the only one with an unwanted opiate surplus (although, per my first
group above, I am that sure I’m in a tiny minority of people who choose to
Ah, the dormant potential accumulated in my sweet little
opiate hoard – as somehow perfectly balanced by someone else’s (or even many
others’?) lethargy and longing. I hope
that you opiate-big-spenders miss, nay weep over, my late pack of Endone – but for me, it’s simply
gone to a better place.
* This is a complete article, masquerading as a stub for the
sake of a cute title.
Two – Bill Harney’s Anzac Day (stub)
A gifted story-teller, Bill Harney (1895-1962) penned only a
handful of words about his 1915-18 WWI service.
Were it not for Harney’s 1958 ABC radio interview, which formed the
basis of the posthumous book Bill
(1983), Harney’s reticence on this topic would be
unmistakable. But “reticence” may not
be the right word – arguably, it was a calculated, and liberating omission.
War-writing cannot be elegantly autobiographical – the young
soldier must always loom large, so lop-siding the remainder of the author’s
lifespan, if he lives, and chooses, to tell of the decades that followed those
few formative war years. Commonly, of
course, the autobiography is truncated – either by the author’s death in combat
(leaving a scant, beautiful oeuvre, Wilfred Owen style, if not also a beautiful
corpse) or by the tale ending, or shifting down a gear at least, as the
author’s normal civilian life resumes.
Otherwise, some kind of balance can be struck by authors who want to
tell seamlessly of both their war service and the remainder of their lives, but
the formula for this is constricting:
lashings of workaday modest heroism, both during and after the war, a la
Albert Facey’s A Fortunate Life
(published in 1981, nine months before the author’s death).
Some might regard Bill Harney as indeed a modest hero, or
prototypical Aussie battler. But this
would be an under-estimation, a careless averaging of the peaks and troughs of
a life mythological in scale. Most of
all, it would ignore Harney’s keen and sardonic prescience – he was an
eyewitness to, and pithy commentator on, the actual founding of many
twentieth-century Australian founding myths, including Anzac Day and the “half-caste”
Aboriginal child-removal policy (now more generally known as the Stolen
Generations); albeit he used a pseudonym [to be revealed in the full article]
in the latter case.
Bill Harney, writer, thus begins in 1919, upon returning to
civilian life. If you do not know
Harney’s 11 published books, they are more or less one elliptical
autobiography, often told as filmic flashbacks, and with tragedy never far from
windfall, and vice versa.
It would seem that only by making a clean break post-WWI
that Harney became a writer – first tentatively and anonymously in 1928, and
then a decade later, with the encouragement of anthropologist Professor AP
Elkin. And when Harney wrote, the
stories flowed, interwove, and at least once, vertiginously dropped – from a
small boast in print to a searing tragedy in the same year, at the Alice
Springs Old Telegraph Station “Bungalow”, that would take 16 years to write
about, in Harney’s last book published in his lifetime. Writing looking back on his WWI service would
have been sterile, and straight-jacketing, in comparison – and again, Harney’s
prescience in somehow knowing this from the start of his 34-year writing career
- Bill Harney’s Alice Springs impedimenta (stub
or self-contained sorry business (?), loosely linked to previous stub)
Childhood is long and
linear; adulthood is wide and …. moving sideways?
I reckon that “accumulating stuff” could well replace
“taxes”, as that other certainty of life, alongside death. It’s a stage of life, that if prolonged and
“wide” enough, is called hoarding – but even at its “skinniest”, the
accumulation of stuff is still
naked, animal, accumulating stuff. There is a reason for it, of course – to defy
death, that great rubbish-bin into which all and us (and all stuff) must
ultimately be pitched.
Bill Harney lived most of his adult life as a Top End
beachcomber, but towards the end of it (c. 1957 to c. Aug 1962), he settled
down in Chewings Street, Alice Springs (while also living at Ayers Rock for
part of the year, as inaugural ranger in charge during the tourist
Somehow, moving down from the Top End to Central Australia,
Harney seems to have gone from carefree beachcomber to owner of a lot of stuff,
rather suddenly, c. 1957. My own hunch
is that this phenomenon might be connected to Harney’s c.1946 personal tragedy,
during his (relatively short) previous period of residence in Alice Springs –
the move back to the scene (well, 2km away) of the tragedy came with “baggage”. Otherwise, I’ll leave it to Harney’s own
words to explain (or not) this, but first, you should know that Harney didn’t
die in his Chewings Street House of Stuff.
He retired to the Sunshine Coast c. Sep 1962 – AFAICT, unencumbered by
the same lot of stuff at his new home – and died at his modest home in Mooloolaba a
few months later, on New Year’s Eve. After those necessary few years of
learning, or defying, to die; a beachcomber once again. RIP Bill.
“. . . I bought a small place in
Chewings Street, east of the Todd River, in Alice Springs, and around it I built
a house for a man who was growing old, a house which, like a bird’s bower,
would at least accommodate the junk I was acquiring, even if it never accommodated
Throughout my life, to the age of
about sixty, I had lived by the precepts of primitive hunters. I had owned nothing and wanted nothing, regarding
all the trivia one finds in collectors’ homes as impediments to free movement
at any moment.
I had always wanted to be able to
roll my swag, jam my battered hat on grey thatch, and start walking . . . [BH’s
ellipsis] knowing that I was leaving nothing behind, that I could return tomorrow
or never, and it wouldn’t matter. But
now! Goodness me, I had pictures on the walls, crates of books, beds and chairs
and other furniture, and I was even cultivating a lawn.
In the past, my nearest approach
to cultivating anything had been at Two-Feller Creek [on the coast of the Cox
Peninsula, west of Darwin] when one night I threw out the seeds of a
water-melon. I’d had a glass or two of
wine and my friends tell me my mood was expansive; so much so that so that as I
threw the seeds I talked to them. ‘Grow,
you bastards!’ I said. ‘Or die. I don’t care.
It’s up to you’. Now I was not
only planting a lawn; I had an electric mower.
The house in in Chewings Street,
I now realise, was a compromise, neither a nomad's windbreak nor a
semi-detached brick veneer, but a place to put my head and the accumulating
feathers and stones of civilisation until I had resolved what to do with the
years that remained to me. For one
thing, there was no tree in the yard, and that worried me, for without a tree I
was without a shade. On hot days I was
forced to sit inside this cell. To a man
who had spent his life in the open, that was a refined form of torture, and I
doubted whether I’d be able to get used to it, although I knew that many people
Bill Harney and Douglas Lockwood, The Shady Tree
(1963, Rigby) pp 27-28 – note that paragraphing has
been added to the original, but it is otherwise unchanged
Best left behind then,
by beachcombers in the end, Alice Springs is the “sorry business” capital of
Australia. Or in Harney’s pregnant words, a place he lived in in transit
between life and the countdown to death, “until I had resolved what to do with
the years that remained to me”. Transit
passengers aside, Alice Springs is on a permanent, tight toggle loop – if it’s not a grief-numb 8 August there, it’s always a brisk and busy 9 August. Either
way, the flag is only ever briefly at full mast before the next death. And that’s
how the south-easterly winter winds like it – there’s no time for mid-cycle countdowns
to death. And Harney’s “years that
remained to me” post-Alice were, of course, an optimistic estimate of his
lifespan – although not of the “sorry business” still to come, business that
could and would never leave Alice Springs.
Four – the Timor-Arafura
Quite. But sadly, Bill
Shorten is not talking literally about Australia’s near north (which I’d define
as PNG, West Papua and the south-east Indonesian/Timor islands (say, south of
latitude 3ºS, and east of longitude 123ºE) – but about the far
north (or more accurately, from the main population centres, the
far north-west). If Indonesia gets even
a look-in in Shorten’s world view, it apparently goes no further south-east
than Bali/Lombok. Overwhelmingly, though,
Bill Shorten’s “Australia’s near north” is north of the equator, and the
colonial/northern-hemisphere notion, say, of India as “south Asia” would not be
inconsistent with it.
Anyway, I want to move beyond these clichéd north vs east,
and colonial vs modern dichotomies. Newsflash: Asia has a south-east, a far
south-east, in fact (Tenggara
). Yes, it’s obscure, particularly
the central (yes, central
) parts of
it that I’ll be focusing on here. But
this is where it’s at – where the backyards of Australia and Asia meet, 300km
C history of either side of this 300km
gap is poignant (but, cue the boys’ own sidebar, it also contains pirates!). But most of all, it is deeply confronting to
many of Australia’s colonial founding myths – which is no doubt why the events
of 1825 on a new (and thereafter, doomed) British colony on Melville Island and
the Dutch-occupied (sort-of) islands to its immediate north have until now, never
been properly told, let alone analysed for their present-day ramifications,
which include Australian policies re immigration, China trade, and settler/Indigenous
But first, to home in on the “far south-east” area I’ll be
talking about. I’m excluding Indonesian
(West-) and East Timor, and the islands to their north and west. In the other direction, I’m excluding PNG,
West Papua and the Kai and Aru archipelagos, which are firmly in the orbit of
Papua. In turn, Papua is arguably more
anchored in the south-west Pacific than in south-east Asia. What’s left over, then is south of latitude 6ºS
(and north of present-day Top End Australia), and east of longitude 127ºE and
west of 132ºE.
I’ll call these islands 300-500km N and NNW of the Tiwi Islands
(and 400-600km ditto from Darwin) the “Serwatti Islands”. They have the Arafura and Timor Seas** on
their eastern and western fringes respectively, and the straits between them
are/were shipping lanes on the direct route between Macassar (present-day
Sulawesi) and China on one hand, and Top End Australia on the other. However, note that there was quite possibly more
shipping going through these obscure straits in the 19th
C (and even
C), to and from and Top End Australia, than today – the wounds
of 1825 are thus arguably still raw here. Certainly in 2013, without a private
boat (the only airport I’m aware of is at Saumlakki on Tanimbar, which in turn
is only serviced via Ambon), you cannot do the short hop between Darwin and the
Serwatti Islands, and I imagine that the immigration authorities would rather
frown on anywhere the Serwatti Islands as an entry/exit point for Indonesia.
“Serwatti Islands” was a label in popular use in the 19th
C, that in present-day geography corresponds
with most of the islands in the “remote” (as it is invariably described)
south-western area of the Maluku/Moluccas province of Indonesia, about latitude
8º S, between and including Kisar and the Tanimbar group. Note that I’m excluding Wetar here, which is
officially in south-western Maluku, but doesn’t much concern my subject. Also note that the Serwatti Islands, aka “Serawatti
Islands”, both historically and in present-day conceptions of Maluku’s
south-western islands, usually do not include the Tanimbar group. But for present purposes, the islands of
Babar and Yamdena (the main island in the Tanimbar group, aka “Timor Laut
also the largest single island, by far, in my Serwatti Islands grouping) are
peas in a pod, as well as being only 130km apart.
As for the 20-odd minor islands west and north-west of the
Babar/Barbat group, up to Kisar, which I’m also labelling “Serwatti Islands”,
these are too dispersed, and also too peripheral to my subject to be worth a
separate nomenclature. And one more
clarification: confusingly perhaps,
Ambon locals (in Maluku terms, big-city folk) refer to the south-western Maluku
islands as Tenggara Jauh
, or the far
south-east – despite some them being due south, and even slightly south-west,
of downtown Ambon (at 128º E).
But in this part of the world (not to mention most of
Australia, north-west of Cape Howe), south-east is destiny – and going to or
from the south-west is only a Sunday ramble in a cross-wind.
** Darwin sometimes is also caught between deciding whether its
harbour abuts the Arafura or Timor Seas – although the case for the latter
seems geographically overwhelming, IMO. Perhaps,
in occasionally wistfully batting for Team Arafura, Darwin – ever eager to
snuggle up to Asia – wishes to metaphorically bridge the Timor Trough, a rather
non-snuggly natural feature running the entire length of the Timor Sea, whose
eastern end is smack-bang between Babar and Yamdena – at the very middle, then,
of my erstwhile, archipelagic centre of Australia’s “near north”.
Gays, obituaries and
Charles Darwin bequeathed us two great social
constructs: childhood and
homosexuality. Previously, they were
aspects of the same amorphous lump – of being human – but evolution’s “survival
of the fittest” blowtorch inevitably singled-out human states of
The evolutionary role of one’s first 15 years or so being
sterile seems straightforward – decent preparation for the all-important next
stage of life, breeding – but the anxiety in the 0-14 (ahem) mounting yard,
preceding puberty’s starting-gate, was altogether new. Instead of childhood being a ride to
adulthood, it became something ridden
. Life was a race, so natural parental qualms
about their own genetic mediocrity (“nature”) led to a brand-new hothouse environment
for nurture – aka childhood. It was, I
stress, a social construct founded on anxiety: parent-jockeys, all too aware
that their “horse” may not have the pedigree of others in the race, trying to
compensate for this in other ways, all in the ticking-time countdown of
Homosexuality’s evolutionary role is no doubt a thing that
has received serious academic pondering.
For this, and other reasons I’ll try to write on this only as someone
along for ride (as opposed to being ridden).
Again, we start with the post-Darwin construct of childhood – the construct
of homosexuality starts as parental anxiety crystallised, as disappointment (real
or imagined). In crude evolutionary
terms, nature has fired a blank. Then
enter Oscar Wilde – the gay man whose wit the upper classes can’t get enough
of, and whose homosexual predilections for the lower classes would amount to
evolutionary sabotage – if only they were acts of breeding, in both senses of
Gay identity (which is largely to say, gay sex) is a
fantastic counter-evolutionary circuit-breaker, then. It admixes class (and race, when miscegenation
was taboo), and so keeps the breeding “fittest” (upper classes) on their toes,
in more than one way. (Oscar Wilde was arguably an earlier Bradley
Manning – a shocking traitor to the class who trusted him, yet someone who leaked
exactly what they needed to lose at the time, for their
class’ long term survival). In breeding, as in capitalism and the public intellectual
realm (and probably any given ecosystem at all), broad liquidity is a
necessary, if fraught imperative. You
might say that the micro-exchange of bodily fluids (or not) in gay sex thus ultimately
prevents the whole macro-shebang from getting lopsided, and toppling over.
Which brings me, in a slightly roundabout way, to an
obituary for the late Christopher Pearson, who died suddenly on the weekend. The shrill fundamentalism of most of the comments on this page
(including many that you would call well-meaning) is a salient
reminder that evolution can be a bitch, too.
On one level, you could regard the disrespect shown to Pearson
as simply the tearing down of a tall-poppy (or dim-witting of a bright wit) –
with a margin of encouragement here being provided by the knowledge that Pearson
has no children, or life partner (AFICT) to take close-up offence at offensive comments.
Yet I think that there is something bigger and systemic here
– the bon mots, and other gay evolutionary circuit-breakers (non-biological nepotism,
anyone?) do end, more or less absolutely, with death, while breeders, in
contrast, can view – and be obituarised in – death with some consolation.
Alas, then, for gays: evolution
gets the emphatic last word – until the next gay child is born to perplexed
Pearson and celibacy as a gay Catholic – setting the bar low
Pearson’s gradual slide, from being a gay liberation founder
in the early 1970s (previous URL), into almost-celibacy from the mid-1980s (at the height of
the AIDS crisis, when he was in his early 30s), is sketched out in this 2009 Oz column
. If the AIDS crisis was the
initial catalyst here, his 1999 conversion to Catholicism (in his
late 40s) sealed the deal, well sort
“Making a commitment to regular
examination of conscience was unexpectedly therapeutic. It led me to trade in
my double bed for something more austere, observe the Lenten fast and try, for the most part, to avoid low bars.
Ah, “low bars” – seemingly said with an Irish twinkle, but certainly
not a Wildean one; Wilde rather relished setting the bar low in his sex life,
and could not have mentioned “low bars” even semi-seriously. That Pearson gets away with such a slippery
euphemism (for what I interpret as an admission that he was not completely celibate,
post 1999), is testament to the power of the particular sub-culture that he adopted
(or vice versa), alongside – but arguably quite separate to – his conversion:
“The welcome I got, especially
from people in the Latin mass community, was a warm one. Mostly Irish and
working class, its gatherings often involve shucking oysters or shelling
prawns, washing them down with Guinness and singing folk noir ballads . . .”
The wholesome picture that Pearson affectionately paints of
his adopted family (if I may term Adelaide’s Latin mass community that), indeed
seems bigger than any occasional sexual lapses/shenanigans by Pearson. But Christopher – and may you rest in peace –
I’m not sure whether, at least for a tiny moment, you may have got carried away
with your adopted family’s craic
lapsed into kitsch – the ancient, evil, heterosexual
counterpart of camp.
Of bad carpentry, embroidery
[NOTE: originally posted about 1pm AEST; updated about 5:30 pm same day]
What is correct art gallery protocol for the aftermath of a
police raid? This is something I had
never pondered, until I found myself outside a locked-up Linden gallery in St
Kilda, around 12:45pm yesterday. I
hadn’t known until later that afternoon of the reason for the unscheduled
closure, but certainly I’d had a feeling for a few days, after an article ran
on the Herald-Sun
website on 29 May
(1), that the current exhibition at Linden gallery (“Like Mike”, 18 May to 7 July 2013
might not run its full term.
As it turned out, I was just an hour or two too late to see
the uncensored exhibition (or maybe a remnant part of it at least, see below), and/or
the drama of a police censorship raid in action. I’m assuming that the raid probably happened
around Linden’s scheduled weekend opening time, 11am. There seems to be no detailed
information available on this, however, and perhaps even more strangely in this
amateur-media saturated age, no internet photos/video of the police raid in
To return to my opening question, Linden gallery’s
management have so far just stuck their head in the sand – at the time of
writing, there is no information on their website nor on their landline phone
answering machine. Yesterday, there wasn’t
even a humble notice on the locked front door – which would have been some
minimal consolation for those like myself who had made the journey to see the
And to answer the correct art gallery protocol for question:
personally, after a police raid, I’d convene an immediate
protest/media-conference – but if this not Linden gallery management’s style
(which I think is a safe assumption), then the other main option would seem to
be exactly what they have done – that is, clam up like the Catholic Church
faced with paedophiles in its ranks, and hope that the scandal somehow blows over – or at least
becomes someone else’s problem/“inheritance” (2) down the track.
Paul Yore, the artist at the centre of the raid, is right to
be angry that – as appears to be the implication in today’s Age
article – the whole “Like Mike” exhibition is now over
. On first
impression, this is a disservice to all the other artists in the group show, at
least. However, even if unintentionally
(and certainly gutlessly) Linden gallery management may have done Yore a favour
by not continuing with a remnant show on a censored basis. Viewed generously, this is more like the
artists themselves collectively going on strike, than a management lock-out.
As to the nitty-gritty of the alleged obscenity, Paul Yore’s voice-only interview
on the Linden website should be compulsory preparatory listening. Yore is a young gay man, raised as a
Catholic. Issues of gender identity and
sexuality are enshrined, you might say, in his art. For this exhibition, he made a mega shrine/grotto
– “a mountain of junk that you walk inside”, I think he terms it in the
interview – out of bits he sawed-up out of previous, smaller-scale shrines, and
nailed them together for the grand new erection – hence the “bad carpentry”
reference. Of course, the embroidery part
of the installation – which is not “bad”, AFAICT – is an obvious gendered
contrast to the engineering side of it.
Sitting ambiguously between embroidery and
carpentry/engineering are . . . the
dildos. Previous Yore installations, as
seems to be Gertrude Contemporary art gallery director Alexie Glass-Kantor’s
implication in a quote from an earlier version of today’s Age
article (on the Age
website last night (3)), did not feature actual dildos, but objects like
“She said one of his
works, showing a Justin Bieber poster with a motorised plastic banana at crotch
level, had been exhibited at her government-funded gallery in 2010 . . .
‘There will be penises
and there will be vaginas and there will be phalluses and there will be plays
on the body itself as a kind of, almost, playground. I don't mean literally
presented, like dildos or vibrators or cocks, I mean actually more as metaphor
through using $2 shop objects like plastic bananas. The Justin Bieber stuff is
all to do with what things that were taboo for him [i.e. Yore] as a teenager’”.
I presume that dildos are indeed things shuttered behind the
blacked-out windows of sex shops, for legal reasons - so Yore may have been
pushing the boundaries here. But when
you merge embroidery and engineering,
there is bound to be a collision of some sort.
One media report
says (tactfully?) that “parts” (4) of Yore's
installation were removed in the police raid.
I reckon it would have been the dildos that were being manhandled away
by the local St Kilda police. Now that
is art, too. But is dildo removal reverse-engineering of
Yore’s bad carpentry, or the unpicking of his delicate embroidery?
This morning, the Oz led the pack with the news that Paul
Yore is likely to be charged with producing and possessing child pornography. The Age followed
an hour and a half later.
The possession charge is an interesting one, as (what I
assume to be) the offending image (Justin Bieber with two dildos and a pearl
necklace) has been widely reproduced, including in the Age
(unpixellated). It is
still freely available online – so if it is indeed child pornography, Google and others are complicit also.
Interestingly enough, the Herald Sun
, which of course initially unleashed the attack dogs
here, has so far been silent on Yore’s pending charges. In this strange silence, there are distinct shades
of the Herald Sun
’s infamous front
page story on the morning of 19 April 2010, on Carl Williams being a police informer
– which was suddenly forgotten about, by the Herald Sun
anyway, when it was reporting Carl Williams’ murder a
few hours later. Washing away the blood from
one’s tainted hands does rather take time, it seems.
Also, the pixelated Justin-Bieber-with-one-dildo (and also a
pearl necklace) photo the Herald Sun
been reproducing doesn’t even come from the recent Paul Yore exhibition at Linden,
but rather a November-December 2012 exhibition at the Incinerator Gallery in Moonee Ponds
. What the Herald Sun
coyly pixellated was regarded, by one school teacher, as suitable for viewing by
older class-groups at least (Year 11 and 12), “as some of the works are quite
controversial” (same URL).
Further update 5 June
Re the possession charge of the (apparently) offending “image”
(Justin Bieber with two dildos and a pearl necklace) being widely reproduced
and available online, I should clarify that Yore’s work was a 3D
sculpture/installation, and so only partially an “image”, while the 2D
reproductions are, of course, all image. If
this gets to be argued in court, it could well come down to some fine point
like: is a 3D /actual dildo (mounted on a 2D collage) more sexualised than a 2D
photo of the said dildo and 2D collage?
Also, does the angle of the dildos’ mounting matter? The two dildos were apparently – to use an
engineering expression – cantilevered (leaning towards the vertical, like Melbourne’s
tollway giant sculpture “cheese stick”).
Both dildos were plumbed to be fountains – running a clear-ish, almost laminar
liquid (another fine legal point might be whether the viscosity, turbulence and
colour of this liquid matters). One of
these cantilevered water-(?) features pointed towards the viewer, the other towards
the cardboard cut-out’s face (yet again, is there a fine legal point in the
nuances of the angles here?).http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/cocurator-urges-boycott-of-controversial-gallery-20130610-2o05a.html
The Herald Sun
subsequently, if reluctantly, report Yore’s pending charges yesterday (5). Also, for some choice background on the initial
complainants, see Melbourne art blogger Mark Holsworth
. Nothing clear-ish or laminar about these three, that's for sure.
update 20 June 2013
“The gallery's ‘continued silence only furthers the negative connotations
around this exhibition,’ [Geoff] Newton said. ‘They should have had the guts
to open and have the rest of the works on show. I would encourage artists to
boycott the gallery if further inaction prevents the show from reopening.’
Linden chairwoman Sue Foley said: ‘The gallery understands the artists'
frustrations and is working diligently through a number of matters with a view
to reopening the exhibition as soon as possible.’”
Minus the rest of Paul Yore’s works, Linden gallery duly re-opened that same day
. Gallery director Melinda Martin, in an email to Geoff
Newton, explained the decision to censor the remnant of Yore's work, while
keeping the rest of the exhibition open, was that the remnant of Yore's work
was awaiting classification from the Australian Classification Board, which would
“provide advice and guidance to us about the nature of the content of the work
for visitors to the gallery”
Not surprisingly, given the gallery’s lengthy and
unexplained period of closure, the sole customer on its first afternoon of
re-opening appears to have been a security guard (ok, and presumably Age
journo Sonia Harford also) (ibid).
These two bleak facts speak volumes, of course – art needs
Big Brother’s prior permission, if not also personal attendance.
On a related note, I have only recently come across Joe
Dolce's (of “Shaddap you Face” fame) own similarly Kafka-esque encounter with
Victoria Police on a child-pornography witch-hunt. The article
is well-worth reading in full.
In Dolce’s case, it eventually blew over – but seemingly only
because a shaken Dolce did a lot of Internet research on his smart-phone (his computer
was confiscated at the time, of course), to establish that the images in
question were both unquestionably art, and widely published elsewhere, in
digital and hardcopy.
The pressure Dolce felt here understandably causes him to
think that the onus, to prove that it’s art
should not be on the accused in these scenarios.
But nor should rank-and-file police be expected to know the difference:
“What happened to me was not the fault of police. After the Henson
case, there were recommendations to create a body of experts from both sides of
this grand divide. The government ignored them. All that is needed are some
art-savvy police – people who know the difference between child photography and
pornography, between innocence and intent. Otherwise anyone might expect that
knock on the door” (same URL; emphasis added).
“Art-savvy police”? Possibly. But in Paul Yore’s case, basic common-sense
surely could be used instead. If the director
of the Australian Tapestry Workshop is prepared to offer Yore the workshop's
full support (penultimate URL), the mind boggles at what degree of infiltration
of society by child pornographers the police case against Yore must rest on – Prince
Charles must be in on it too, for starters (ibid).
Yet another update 22 September
Paul Yore has been charged with child pornography offences,
on 6 September 2013 (election eve). The three-month lag
between police seizing the evidence, and the laying of charges, is surprising,
and suggests that there was much going on behind the scenes before the decision
was belatedly made. One creaking,
ramshackle system (a/the legal one) thus rather fittingly, I suggest, gets to
deconstruct Yore’s ramshackle sculpture.
The stakes are high here – only one, not both of these edifices can be
found to be made out of rubbish, and silenced accordingly.
Here I am not trying to be oblique per se. My point is that there such a thing as bad law,
as much as bad art. You may think that
the existence of bad art is a commonplace, or glut, while bad law is
(fortunately) an exquisite rarity. Well, no – not if you throw sex into the
Paul Yore’s seized sculpture is one trial mainly, in my
opinion, for being bad art masquerading
as exquisite rarity
. Bad law’s turf
has thus been blatantly infringed, and it must make an example of Yore and Yore
alone – however illogical* this may be – to restore its status as a singular
artefact, a collector’s item that will surely be savoured in legal textbooks
So what has sex got to do will all of this (and aren’t child
pornography laws inherently good things)?
Sex is inherently both delicate and dirty; or to invoke Yore, sex is embroidery
mixed with engineering. Child pornography laws do not deal with this dichotomy
very well, because they de-aestheticize everything. I am not saying that “art” is a thing above child
pornography; merely that badness matters a great deal in sex, and if child
pornography is assumed to be about sex, badness should also matter with it.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that there is such a thing
child pornography. Rather, I am jumping off from what should
have long been a notorious set of photos, including some topless ones, of a 13
year-old girl: “unprofessional, unfocused, cropped haphazardly, with no regard
for lighting.” You will no doubt have heard of criminal sexual acts closely
connected with these photos, but it is very unlikely that you will have ever
pondered just the “sheer badness” of the photos. Legally, of course, assessing the focus (etc)
of the photos seems trite, to put it mildly – “bad” or not, the nude
ness of the photos is what I’d term
an overwhelming category. And laws or
not, you are probably now thinking anyway: What sort of an artsy pervert would be concerned
The answer is that the above quotes
come from the photographed
13 year-old girl (now a 50 year-old woman) and are her long-ago, but still
apparently vivid, recollections of the on-the-spot aesthetic judgements of her
family, her parents in particular, upon seeing the photos soon after they were taken in 1977. The bad modelling-shots (the pretext for the
photos) triggered a family scene which revealed an act that in turn became
worldwide news and is still notorious to this day. The girl has ever since been better known as
the girl that Roman Polanski raped. Her
narrative implies, I think it is fair to say, that the badness of the photos was
a violation that kept on giving, or taking (you be the judge of that). Certainly, had Polanski’s “modelling-shots”
been non-shambolic, the subsequent lives of two people (at least) may well have
been very different. Which (I stress) is
not to say that Polanski’s crime was aesthetic, rather than criminal assault: rather, that bad
child pornography tends to put itself on trial, anyway.
Unlike Polanski, Paul Yore has not harmed any actual
children in the making of his art; his is not a pretext, or record of a crime,
in that sense. I accept that legally,
this is not wholly the point. Equally,
however, Yore is making the determined – and in my view, also a socially
necessary, if courageous – point that a 12 year-old girl’s c.2010 bedroom shrine
to the-then 15 year-old Justin Bieber is not necessarily as wholesome or
innocent as we would conventionally assume.
Not that Yore is exploring, as such, the sexuality of 12 year-old girls
(or some boys, of course) – but he is definitely unpacking some common things
usually just humoured – and so in the adult scheme of things, buried – as
transient crushes. I do feel sorry for Justin
Bieber, however – to be actually sexualised, like he wasn’t once a life-sized (15
It is too easy, I think Yore is saying, to think that we all
grow up and leave our squeaky-clean (or not) fairy-tale crushes behind, without trace. As adults, we sometimes need the jolting of
the intentionally bad
– to put our wholesome
selves, or our childhoods at least, on trial.
Yore presumably took a calculated gamble that the patent ramshackle
ridiculousness of his shrine-sculpture would put the sexualised aspects of it
in a rigorous context. Instead, its very
badness has only unleashed a chain of grim, literal causation.
What seems to be beyond dispute is that Paul Yore, through
his art, has (presumably) inadvertently put himself on trial, instead. And we are none the wiser.
* Illogical because 2D reproductions of the offending work don't seem to be a problem.
Dana McCauley, “Offensive art involving Justin Bieber
collage creates controversy at St Kilda's Linden Centre for Contemporary Art”, Port Phillip Leader
May 29, 2013 11:06am
Shannon Deery, “Archbishop Denis Hart begs forgiveness
for Church mishandling child abuse”, Sunday Herald Sun
June 02, 2013:
“Archbishop Hart said he first
learned of the horrors of the abuse crisis after becoming vicar general in
1996 . . . He said he realised the problem had been
swept under the carpet by his predecessors, including former archbishop Frank
Little who he conceded kept few, if any, records of complaints and moved at
least one paedophile priest to a new parish and into the lives of innocent
children . . . We did inherit a situation where ... we inherited great
Goya Dmytryshchak and Andrea Petrie, “Police seize
artworks, issue warrant” Age
1, 2013 9:30pm
Albeit the same Age
article also says some Yore “pictures” were removed – suggesting that it may
have been instead the teenage/Bieber cardboard cut-outs that were deconstructed and
removed, so possibly leaving the dildos adrift in the remnant installation, but
in a presumably less controversial context.
AAP, Dana McCauley, “Art involving 'obscene' Justin Bieber collage triggers possible charges for Melbourne aritist Paul Yore”, Herald Sun
, Port Phillip Leader June 04, 2013 3:33pm
Acts of charity – the William
Street Pieta, jail visits and gold-plated legal defence teams
On 30 May 2011, there was what the
Christian Brothers Oceania (Australia, NZ and the Pacific region)
blandly termed a “sudden change in Best's legal position
” – that is, their fellow brother Robert Best, who by
then had been living for about four months on pre-sentence remand in Port
Phillip Prison, after being found guilty of multiple child sex crimes by
various juries in the County Court in Melbourne (William Street), and/or
Ballarat, earlier in 2011 (as well as, possibly, back into 2010).
We also know that it was an
expensive saga: a figure of about $1 million in defence-side legal expenses (for
the 2009-2011 cases) was widely reported in 2011 (and again, at the time of
Best’s unsuccessful appeal, in November 2012). But this same figure nonetheless
drew gasps from the public gallery when it was once again cited at last
Friday’s Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry. Of course, the taxpayer-funded
prosecution case and court facilities would have added up to millions more (same URL).
As to why the Christian Brothers
saw Best’s guilty plea to all remaining charges as a “sudden change” is also
hard to fathom. Granted, proceedings at that stage were only about
halfway through the marathon, in total, and all Best’s pleas to that date had
guilty. But Best had been found
guilty by juries on most of the
earlier charges, and so was facing significant jail time, whatever happened
in the second “half”. One might
have thought the early-2011 day (oh happy day!) that Best was remanded,
pre-sentencing, in Port Phillip Prison was a bigger “sudden change”.
(Note that prior to this day, the previously-convicted Best had not so far
served time, other than a three month appeal interlude between his March 1998
trial and the ordering of a re-trial on 23 July 1998 – a re-trial that never
But for the Christian Brothers,
sudden changes, and acts of charity, are obviously very fluid and relative
things. Here’s Br Vince Duggan, the leader of Christian Brothers Oceania
in an early March 2013 email
“Quite a few brothers in
Victoria are regular visitors to Br Bob Best who is currently in prison. I
applaud the brothers who do this. I have visited Bob on one occasion myself,
and plan to do so again in the future. One can visit someone in prison without
making any judgment about the innocence or guilt of that person. Visiting
someone in prison is in no sense condoning criminal activity. Indeed ‘visiting
those in prison’ is listed among what used to be commonly termed the ‘corporal
works of mercy’. I find it appalling that brothers who perform this act of
charity should be publicly condemned in the press by one of their own [viz
Christian Brother Dr Barry Coldrey]”.
Yep, being criticised just for
going about one’s charitable day-to-day business is “appalling”. If the
high-minded Vince Duggan is quite that sensitive, the mind boggles how enraged
he must feel, to this day, about the fates of the hundreds of children sexually
abused by members of his order. Or not – there is no public statement to
that effect by him, at least. Plus it is not hard to imagine at least a
sliver of self-interest behind all these prison visits (I stress here that I am referring to Best’s many Christian Brother
): if Best is kept a happy man in prison, he is
less likely to have a pang of Christian conscience, and name others –
particularly those who concealed his crimes.
The $1 million or so of donated
Church funds that Vince Duggan also saw fit to tip into the pockets of Best’s
defence lawyers between 2009 and 2011 also stretch the meaning of “charity”, if
you ask me. Blessed is the guilty-as-hell, got off by a smooth-talking
QC, perhaps? One mysterious element here is that Best’s (sole?) defence counsel
, (first URL
) at least in May 2011, was the relatively junior – and so
cheap-ish – barrister Sarah Leighfield,
(who was still at Melbourne University
Law School, to co-edit the MULR
, in 2000).
The Christian Brothers recently said,
by way of vague explanation, that spending on Best's defence between 2009 and
2011 “spiralled out of control”.
I suspect that Best may say much the same
thing, by way of vague explanation, about his two
decades of rampant crime. In other
words, the Christian Brothers are still perpetuating what Best (and his
accomplices) started – albeit by being selectively incontinent with their wallet
s, this time.
In all this money, squalor and
pious delusion, there was one beautiful, heartbreaking scene in court on 30 May
“As [Robert] Best stood and
gave his [guilty] pleas, one of his victims turned to stare at him as the man's
mother wept and embraced her son.
” (first URL, again
I call this three-way tableaux the
William Street Pietà. My favourite work of European art, when I
want to touch base with an inconsolably burdened inner-child – somehow a
creature both singular/“me” deep-within, and yet universal, liberated – is the
Photos don’t quite do this unfinished (?) Michelangelo (?) masterpiece justice. The languid Christ figure is sumptuously over-finished,
or put more bluntly, blatantly homo-erotic.
His mother Mary, directly behind, supports him rather well, with one
very hefty hand.
But it is the sparsely-chiselled third, child-size figure
this sculpture. Viewed from the side, she (?) staggers under
a heavy weight – giving the sculpture a forward momentum that is perfectly
balanced and resisted (I’m talking art, not physics) by the backwards fall of
the Christ figure, into the immovable upright pillar of his mother’s arm/s.
The William Street Pietà
is, in my
mind’s eye (I wasn’t there, and only know of it from the newspaper account), a similar
masterpiece: a sculpture of a moment of both steely resolve (between victim and
Best), and primal howling (between victim and his mother) – two personal
qualities Vince Duggan has evidently never encountered in his “charitable”
Update/re-post 8 May 2013
I’ve tweaked this post in mostly
minor ways, adding some links, and fixing some broken ones. There’s also now a clarification/disclaimer,
which I’ve italicised and underlined
a new para on the Christian Brothers propensity to “[spiral] out of control”,
and a two-para
background on my thinking behind the William Street Pietà.
forthright admissions . . . shed light on the extent of abuse attributed to
priests in Ballarat – more than 100 cases – there is a sense that there were
further questions about events in Ballarat between the late 1960s and the 1980s
which were beyond the scope of direct response yesterday.
One such iceberg that we have barely seen the tip of is the
role of the Church-owned insurer, Catholic Church Insurances Ltd (CCI), in
shaping the Church’s response, since c.1990, to historical (pre-1990) instances of child sexual
abuse by clergy (2).
This shaping has not just been financial; CCI has also
backed Encompass (3), a residential treatment/“treatment” program, that ran for
a decade until 2008, for clerical sexual abusers (and also, it appears from
something said at yesterday’s Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry, for non-celibate
priests who have sex with consenting adults, at least when both parties were
Leaving aside, for now, the regrettable – or deliberate? – conflation
of gay sex with paedophilia, you may well wonder what sort of a business takes
out insurance against crimes committed by its own employees, anyway. Ever heard of the phrase “moral hazard”?
You may be slightly reassured here by a couple of
facts. The first is that the insurance
policy, at least that which covered the Ballarat diocese, was not
operating at the time of the actual
abuse. It was retrospective – like getting
your place was
burgled. Of course no ordinary insurer
would offer such insurance, but CCI was no ordinary insurer. It was, in essence, the Church shuffling its
own money – robbing Peter to rape Paul, if you like.
Also, CCI didn’t write a blank cheque – it covered
historical instances of child sexual abuse by clergy only up until 1975 – the latest
possible year in which the Bishop of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, became
irrefutably aware of at least one diocesan- priest child sexual abuser, Gerald
One definitely non-reassuring fact, however, arises from the
policy’s fairly hefty excess, of $25,000 (2, again). Not
coincidentally, I would say, the cited average total payout to victims under
the policy was $28,000 (ibid) – i.e. the insurance “arm” of the Church fought/negotiated
their own contribution so vigorously that it ended up being almost token: an
average of $3,000 per victim (the rest was the excess, which presumably came
from diocesan coffers).
What was the point of it all then, you well may ask? An
elaborate charade is my best guess – putting investigators off track, and
interposing a convenient corporate wall when playing hard-ball in payout negotiations. Oh, and also, more nebulously, lending a
retrospective veneer to the sort of “treatment” programs in operation at the
height of the abuse epidemic, such as the US program Gerald Ridsdale was sent
If you ask me, it all seems to add up to a retrospective licence
for (i) paedophile priests, (ii) their covering-up bishops/bosses, and not to forget
here, (iii) those (although it is a class of one in the Ballarat diocese,
AFAICT) whose careers strangely prospered betwixt paedophile priests and their covering-up
You shouldn’t be surprised that a (deceased) paedophile
priest ran the CCI show for quite a while (5).
But personally I don’t think that he, or the still-living Bishop Mulkearns, are the main
game in this still mostly-submerged iceberg.
Yesterday’s Inquiry hearing, at
which two CCI rep’s spoke, has clarified some things.
There are/were actually two types
of insurance policy which cover/ed child sexual abuse by clergy: standard public liability (issued since 1969,
but only invoked to cover child sexual abuse since the early 1990s, while the
original policy coverage intention would have been more like parishioners
slipping on banana peels outside Mass), and “special issues” (which were only
issued in the four financial years ending in June 1995, which covered only claims made
(not abuse event occurrence)
in those respective years, and which were then superseded by the twin ADR schemes,
Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response).
Both types of policy had a
standard disclaimer, which boils down here to:
Did Church authorities know of that particular abuser’s propensity? If so, coverage of that abuser’s acts stops
at the date of such knowledge; i.e. the Church will be on its own,
insurance-wise. In Ridsdale’s case, this
doesn’t mean that insurance claims made after 1975 will fail (as Barney Zwartz
incorrectly wrote in yesterday’s Age
but that claims relating to Ridsdale’s conduct
after some time in 1975
(the date here is yet to be made public) won’t be
paid out by CCI.
Much was made on ABC TV News
breakfast this morning about a “list” of 30-odd clergy subject to insurance
exclusion dates. While the disclosure of
such a list will be interesting, it is important to remember that this list is
an early-1990s (or even later) reconstruction of Bishop Mulkearns' (to use Ridsdale
as an example) knowledge-of-propensity in the early/mid 1970s. It may “prove” certain things, but it
certainly won’t provide a complete explanation, nor, still less, will it delve
into the more important (IMO) possibilities around earlier knowledge-of-propensity
To cut to the chase here: I’m sure
Bishop Mulkearns is quite delighted with the circumstance in which CCI has
deemed him with knowledge of Ridsdale’s propensity – a police officer approached
him in 1975 regarding Ridsdale’s abuse at Inglewood.
Note that therefore there was nothing Bishop Mulkearns then needed to tell
the police about Ridsdale – quite the opposite, in fact.
As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, there is
strong, if circumstantial, evidence that Bishop Mulkearns well knew of Ridsdale’s
propensity from his early days of taking up the job (in mid 1971), but that
power plays and machinations then taking
place within the Ballarat diocese had him (Bishop Mulkearns) backed into a
corner. And I am quite sure that CCI
will not have any record of this
beware of red herrings/cassocks.
- “The church must deal
openly with a very painful history”, Ballarat Courier Editorial April 29,
2013, 9:30 p.m.
- Ian Munro “Church insured for abuse claims”, Age July 1, 2002
- Richard Baker, Nick
McKenzie, “Church holds sex dossiers”, Age
November 17, 2012
- Bishop Peter Connors at Victorian
Parliamentary Inquiry, approx. 4pm, 29 April 2013 (my notes only; verbatim
transcript not yet available), in answer to a question from Andrea Coote, “Do
you believe that paedophiles can be cured?”:
“No, we used to think this, but
this is definitely no longer the case.
As an example of this, I had a priest who committed a homosexual act
with an adult man. I sent him to the
Encompass program, and after he finished there, I asked them whether they could
give me an assurance that he wouldn’t commit the same act again. As they couldn’t give me this assurance, I
did not return this man to the ministry.”
- Carly Crawford, “Abuser
priest led Catholic Church insurance scheme”, Herald Sun, April 8, 2013
Namatjira – rooms (and humpies) for the memory
memoriam, the plaque’s on the wall and time stands still.”
- Michael Hutchence, “Rooms For The Memory”
The funeral arrangements for Albert
Namatjira in Alice Springs on the afternoon of
Sunday 9 August 1959 were presumably hastily made – the artist had died only the
previous evening. Nonetheless, they
seem, from one newspaper report at least, to have been a pitch perfect send-off
to a great, but complicated man.
In this respect, the funeral was in
contrast, in more than one way, to the Namatjira memorial pillar near
Hermannsburg, almost three years in gestation, as unveiled on 22 July 1962 by the then Minister for Territories Paul Hasluck (PDF).
Privately funded, it appears to have been the subject of
behind-the-scenes tussling over its design and location. You might call the end result fitting enough
– a painstakingly unoriginal design by a committee (literally or proverbially),
whose main focus may well have been getting Minister Hasluck to officially
sanction their handiwork. A chief
proponent of the assimilation policy, Minister Hasluck could have only been
pleased to see his policy rendered in solid architecture – a white cultural
monolith superimposed on, with no apparent Namatjira-family consultation but
with heavy symbolism, to white eyes, nondescript, vacant land.
“[I]n bright clear sunshine, his body was
carried in its coffin from the [Alice Springs] hospital, and Pastor Albrecht
held a service in the street outside. The service . . . was conducted entirely
- “300 at graveside for funeral of Albert
Namatjira”, SMH Monday 10 Aug 1959 p 1
It is unclear why such a functional,
secular location, and not the local Lutheran Church or else a significant site
(to Namatjira personally, or Aranda generally) was chosen for the first stage
of the funeral, but whatever the intention, the quasi-street protest tone of
the first service seems to have given the next stage, the procession to the
cemetery about 1 km away, a sort of spontaneous, rolling momentum:
“As the funeral moved off, with many
natives walking beside it, local white businessmen, station owners, and
Namatjira’s friends joined the procession on foot, and in cars and truck until
the cortege numbered more than 300 – more than a third white people.” (ibid)
The final graveside ceremony took place in
a lonely part (to this day) of the Lutheran section of the Alice
Springs cemetery. Namatjira
was buried “after a moving ceremony, this time “half in the Arunta language and
half in English.” A “native choir” from
Hermannsburg sang, and Pastor Albrecht quoted from the Bible: “By the grace of
God, I am what I am.” (ibid)
There were no white dignitaries – even
local ones – present on the day, it would seem:
“Wreaths were laid on behalf of the Northern Territory Administrator
[then JC Archer (1900 - 1980)] as well as many from leading citizens of Alice
Springs and Darwin.”
Undoubtedly, the relative haste of the
funeral arrangements would have precluded some high-profile, interstate white
associates of Namatjira – in the last few years of his life, at least – from
attending in person. Perhaps this was in fact a motivating factor in the timing
of the arrangements. In any event, some
and admirers of Namatjira” did later get to try to, at least, pay their
The Namatjira memorial is a rod-shaped 6
metre high, 1 metre square, stone-work pillar, with a small plaque on its north
side. The wording on the plaque has
changed at least once. In 1979, it read
IN MEMORY OF
1902 – 1959
THIS IS THE LANDSCAPE THAT INSPIRED THE
More recently and apparently currently, the
THIS IS THE LANDSCAPE
THAT INSPIRED THE ARTIST
28-7-1902 – 8-8-1959
I have not been able to find any documentary
explanation of the change in the plaque’s wording – which shifts the primary
focus of commemoration from the deceased artist himself to the landscape around
the pillar (the Finke River plain and surrounding hills, including Mt Hermannsburg – a frequent subject
of Namatjira’s art, at least when he lived in the Hermannsburg area pre-1951.)
By now less directly commemorating the
deceased artist, perhaps the grim monolith is more honestly, if belatedly,
stating what it was always about: a monument to assimilation.
The vaunted landscape all around the artificial
object is a figleaf here – a pillar is antithetical to a clear, usually elevated
ground-space for viewing a view (which I am taking to be the white norm for
highlighting landscapes generally). So
the monolith’s plaque has become mainly about the monolith itself – a
development which, intentionally or otherwise, Namatjira’s descendants may have
Further back, to its originally proposed
format and location, the Namatjira memorial, at the drawing-board stage, saw
more startling changes. The earliest
documentation of a proposed memorial – other than a cemetery headstone – that I
am aware of is from 14 months after the artist’s death:
“Memorial. Author Frank Clune left yesterday [11 October
1960] for Alice Springs to complete
arrangements for the erection of a memorial to aboriginal artist Albert
will consist of a two-ton rock selected from Namatjira’s country and in the
shade of which he may have rested as a child.
It will be
placed at his camping spot just outside Alice
[i.e. at Morris Soak], and a plaque will bear the simple inscription: “Albert
Namatjira. Died Aug. 7, 1959 [sic]”.
The cost has
been met by Sydney
friends and admirers of Namatjira [i.e. presumably, Frank Clune, and possibly
also Lord Mayor Harry Jensen and Sydney art-dealer and publisher John
- SMH Column 8,
12 October 1960, p 1.
Needless to say, despite the article’s
suggestion that arrangements for this memorial were well-advanced, it never
transpired, either in another format at Clune’s preferred location, nor
elsewhere, as a two-ton boulder, no doubt inspired by the eight-ton boulder
that is the bulwark of the 1952 John Flynn memorial* (and reliquary), also just
outside Alice Springs.
Clune’s nominating the boulder to have come
“from Namatjira’s [childhood] country” – presumably meaning around Hermannsburg, which is 130km west
of Alice Springs – seems a sincere touch, an effort to
be culturally appropriate, and perhaps even a rebuke to the boulder-procurers
for the original John Flynn memorial, whose act in removing one of the “Devil’s
Marbles” some 480km south* seems, in hindsight at least, a cold and pointed
sacrilege. Perhaps this is the reason that
Clune’s idea for a Namatjira “remake” of the John Flynn memorial never took
Surely equally controversial for Clune’s
vision of a Namatjira memorial, however, was its location at the late artist’s
“camping spot” at Morris Soak, just west of the then boundaries of Alice Springs. Clune’s
sincerity in nominating this location is harder to assume, although it is clear
that a shaded humpy at Morris Soak was Namatjira’s main residence between 1951
and his death in 1959. Reminding white
Australians of this fact, for posterity, would perhaps be seen as
Nor, aside from the boulder’s provenance,
would Clune’s Namatjira memorial have a “landscape” nexus. While Namatjira did paint frequently at
Morris Soak, it was mostly of country further west, from memory, and very
rarely of the Alice
Springs area. A Morris Soak memorial
would inevitably draw attention to the last lived decade of Namatjira the man,
then – a story, among other things, of a spectacular and pointed failure in the
Ironically, Clune’s aborted,
poignantly-located, rounded Namatjira memorial would have been just as inwardly
focused as the pro-assimilation blunt shaft that replaced it, at a safe distance from
Alice Springs (and perhaps even Hermannsburg, for that matter) – only the
narrative would have been opposite.
It is unclear why Clune’s Namatjira
memorial was never built – but financial difficulty seems unlikely, given the
relatively modest scope of the project [see Postscript 11 June 2013, below].
What is clear is that the proposed Namatjira memorial lay fallow during
the first half of 1961, and when it was resurrected, it was with fresh funds,
format, location and a new instigator, to boot:
“In mid-1961 Rex
Battarbee [Namatjira’s early artistic mentor, and later, dealer] launched a
fund to erect a cairn at Hermannsburg in memory of Namatjira.”
- Robin Smith
and Keith Willey, The Red Centre, (1974,
orig pub 1967) p 72.
And the rest is history.
A sidenote concerns the design of the
successful Namatjira memorial – just like Clune’s aborted one, it had a
strikingly-similar nearby antecedent, in the long-demolished “Ayers Rock + Mt
Olga National Park” entrance gate/arch (see photo in Smith and Willey, The Red Centre, p 2). I am speculating on the “antecedent” part of
this, as I have not been able to locate a date of construction/opening for the Ayers
Rock entrance gate/arch (the attached plaque, which would no doubt indicate this, is not legible in the photo).
What is clear
from the above-referenced photograph is that the Ayers Rock entrance
gate/arch consisted of two rod-shaped 4 metre high, 0.8 metre square (both
approx), stone-work pillars; the left-hand one (as you enter) had a small
plaque on its south-east side (the “arch” aspect is the text, above, being
suspended as metal lettering, with only a modest metal bar to assist, between
the two pillars).
In other words, apart from being two metres taller, and a bit
thinner – and of course, singular – the Namatjira memorial is a copy (or vice
versa) of the former Ayers Rock entrance gate/arch. I presume that the latter was demolished in
part, at least, for being culturally inappropriate. A probable saving feature of the Namatjira
memorial, on the other hand, is that it is quite easy to miss, even if you’re
on an ersatz Western MacDonnells Namatjira
tourist-trail drive (well, I missed it in December 1994, anyway).
Finally, let me say I’m a fan of forsaken
pillars more generally. Below are my
photos of remnant pillars from the former insane asylum at Yarra Bend Park,
Melbourne (a solid one of an original front-gate pair), and the precarious right-hand
driveway pillar of Lulworth, Patrick White's childhood home below King’s Cross
(Sydney), at 73 Roslyn Gardens (not sure if the left-hand pillar is still extant;
i.e. that this is also the surviving one of an original front-gate pair).
Remnant pillar from the former insane asylum at Yarra Bend Park, Melbourne
Plaque, remnant pillar from the former insane asylum at Yarra Bend Park, Melbourne
Right-hand driveway pillar of Lulworth, Patrick White's childhood home below King’s Cross (Sydney), at 73 Roslyn Gardens
Plaque (not original), right-hand driveway pillar of Lulworth, Patrick White's childhood home, later St Luke's Hospital, below King’s Cross (Sydney), at 73 Roslyn Gardens
Postscript 11 June
Since writing this post, I have come across an article which
might be termed the missing link between Frank Clune’s proposed Namatjira
memorial “1.0” and the end result, “2.0”.
Befittingly perhaps, this article – a copy of a magazine clipping, clipped
and initially kept by TGHS Strehlow in a “Namatjira” file, now at the Strehlow
Research Centre – had been read by me two years ago in Alice Springs, and then filed
away at the bottom of my own “Namatjira” miscellaneous file [ok, pile
], unseen again until the other
Had this April 1961 article by Frank Clune**, on Namatjira
memorial “1.5” been my (conscious) starting point, the above post may well not
have been written, for Clune does a good job connecting the threads of the two
Namatjira memorials into one superficially seamless intention – of an Alice
Springs mini-memorial cemetery headstone and a Hermannsburg memorial proper.
The former still has Clune as the instigator (of which more
below), but Clune’s very early mention of a Hermannsburg memorial (April 1961,
15 months before its ceremonial opening) suggests that this, in contrast, was also
not his “baby”:
“In October 1960 I flew by TAA from Sydney to
Alice Springs to arrange a memorial to aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira, who
had died more than a year before – on August 8, 1959. Money for the memorial had been raised by a
radio appeal, which led 40 people to donate £310, in sums ranging from £25 to
The main purpose was to erect a
headstone of Albert’s grave, and Pastor FW Albrecht and artist Rex Battarbee of
Alice Springs agreed to act as local advisers on the form the memorial would
take . . . The headstone and plate cost £103, and the remainder of the fund [i.e.
£207] was used to build a memorial to Albert at Hermannsburg.”
The past tense “was used
to build a memorial . . . at Hermannsburg” is curious; unless Clune is
referring to a short-lived precursor of the 1962 pillar. Assuming that there was only ever one Hermannsburg
Namatjira memorial, perhaps Clune is just reassuring donors that their donated
money is safely sunk, even though the physical memorial was yet to be built (AFAICT).
The “radio appeal” reference is also mysterious. Remember that the October 1960 SMH report has
funding for Clune’s two-ton boulder memorial as coming from “Sydney friends and
admirers of Namatjira” – which seems to be a more select grouping than a “radio
appeal”. The highest single donation in the radio appeal was a relatively
modest £25, so if the two references are to the same funders, then the well-off
“Sydney friends and admirers”, whose names I speculate on above, were not
particularly generous. It is possible instead
that in October 1960 there were separate pools of “radio appeal” and anonymous
private donor funds – the latter which Clune chose not to mention in April 1961.
Alternatively, the “radio appeal” was possibly the same as the
mid-1961 public fund, launched by Rex Battarbee, referred to above. If the “public fund” was instead in early
1961, it could be the same thing,
despite the fact that it didn’t yet exist when Clune went to Alice Springs
(Clune seems to have a knack for backdating future acts). If it wasn’t the same thing, then there must
have been a second, post April 1961 funding drive, particularly for the Hermannsburg
memorial. Supporting this is the length
of time it apparently took to build this memorial, as well as the difference,
above, between the radio appeal’s £207, and the actual cost of the Hermannsburg
memorial (my guess is that it would have cost at least double that).
Whatever the source and destination of the memorial/s funds
was and would be, one very clear change had taken place between Clune setting
off, with some funds “in the bag”, for Alice Springs in October 1960, and his
April 1961 progress report (if I may call it that). The what
the early donors had donated towards had substantially changed shape in those months. Literally, it was cut down.
In a nutshell, the proposed two-ton boulder (though from not
Hermannsburg, and only “nearly” that weight) became, in reality, Namatjira’s grave-site
headstone at the Alice Springs cemetery (in lieu of standing sentinel at Morris
Soak). And as you might imagine, “headstone”
usually connotes at least one flat, inscripted surface, so the boulder had to
be radically cut to fit this purpose, not to mention Clune’s narrative
“For the headstone they [Pastor
FW Albrecht and Rex Battarbee] chose a four-foot high granite gibber weighing
nearly two tons, transported two miles from Mt Gillen. One side was worked smooth to carry a bronze
plate with the wording:
“Altjiraka Nguangiberantama Jinga
Nama Nana Jinga Namanga
[“By the grace of God, I am what I am” in Aranda] – 1
Cor 15 10a. Artist Albert Namatjira. Born at Hermannsburg July 28, 1902. Died at Alice Springs August 8, 1959”.
“Worked smooth”, indeed, Frank Clune. A photo of the now-replaced*** headstone in
Clune’s article shows the polished face and attached plaque. The headstone appears to be considerably less
than four-foot high, however – my guess is that it would be only 80-90cm
high. Possibly, it was the upright,
longest axis of the boulder that was “worked smooth”, i.e. sawn off, and mostly
discarded, leaving a remnant stump for the headstone. If so, Clune’s euphemism is a master-stroke in
the pointed destruction of a sculpted boulder, disguised, you might think
charitably, as a well-meaning (for that time, at least) effort to be culturally
appropriate. But bear in mind that Clune
needed to have both his (round) boulder and his (flat) headstone too – he could
not have admitted that the boulder had been butchered in the course of becoming
a headstone, because this would have admitted defeat for his Namatjira memorial
In writing the initial post above, perhaps I underestimated
Frank Clune’s ego, but more certainly, I misjudged the fact that what today
seems obscure historical detail was 50 years ago, living current-affairs. That is, someone would have noticed that the
Namatjira memorial boulder in Alice Springs, as proposed by Frank Clune in
October 1960, was stillborn – replaced by the Hermannsburg one – unless and
until Clune retrospectively re-badged it as a headstone.
The irony is that I too probably would have bought Clune’s
story, had I started with it, instead of with a puzzle of two competing
Namatjira memorials (albeit subconsciously, I might have earlier filed away in
my head something of Clune’s recently (re-) discovered article).
Hence, in a salute to going the slow, but “proper”, way
round, my sub-heading is emphatically “postscript”, and not (another) “update” – and the
original post remains intact, bar one insertion.
The puzzle is solved, but only by unpicking a
fortuitously-found PR article that carefully sought to persuade readers that there
was no puzzle in the first place. You
could say that Frank Clune’s Namatjira memorial was
built – and in its well-concealed hubris and dissembling, now
stands even uglier and less culturally appropriate than the pillar standing on
the plain near Hermannsburg airport today.
update 4 May 2013
"John Flynn, a revered Territory pioneering
figure, asked to be buried under one of the Marbles. A giant boulder was
carried to his grave in Alice Springs where it stands guard to the end of
- Frank Alcorta, Explore Australia's
Northern Territory, Revised ed. 1992, p 117
Proving that in Indigenous Australia,
"forever" is a short time (about 7 years will do it, it seems).
And/or that animate objects pressed into service, standing guard for dead
white Australia, will one day just chuck in their jobs and go walkabout - as
Flynn himself may have put it.
** Frank Clune, “Memorials honour a famous artist”, Transair [TAA Magazine] April 1961, n.p.
*** “In 1993, the
Ngurratjuta Pmara Ntjarra Aborigial Corporation resolved to commission a
project to restore and upgrade the grave of Albert Namatjira to a condition
befitting a man of such unique character and talent . . . Expressions of
interest were sought from artists around Australia, with the successful
submission coming from the Hermannsburg Potters, many of whom are related to
Albert. This group proposed a
terra-cotta tile mural with the bronze plaque from the original headstone, set
into a specially selected piece of local sandstone [i.e. the original
headstone, aka the sawn-off remnant of Frank Clune’s “nearly” two ton Mt Gillen
boulder, was removed, bar its plaque.
The replacement headstone is also, at about 160cm, substantially taller
than the original] . . . The terra-cotta
mural in relief was made by three members of the Hermannsburg Potters. The
relief work was moulded by Kay Tucker and the mural was painted with
underglazes by Elaine Namatjira (Albert’s granddaughter) assisted by Elizabeth
Moketarinja. The country depicted in the
mural is a compilation of three of Albert Namatjira’s dreaming sites in and
around the Western MacDonnell Ranges . . . This memorial to Albert Namatjira
was unveiled on 31 August 1994 by Mr K Gus Njalka Williams OAM, the Chairman of
Ngurratjuta . . .”
“Hermannsburg Potters Headstone Mural for Albert
Namatjira’s Grave”, Araluen Arts Centre and Northern Territory Government, A4
information sheet, c. 2011