Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas (Riewoldt) – the nudest nude

“Lewd” and “explicit” have been the media’s most common adjectives to summarise the purloined photo of AFL player/team-captain Nick Riewoldt and teammate (/subordinate?) Zac Dawson. Riewoldt’s barely-contained anger at his press conference yesterday continued the theme of umbrage and offence. Unless you’ve seen the photo, you may well translate these scant descriptions of (/reactions to) the forbidden image as “homo-erotic”, but while it is indeed a powerful image, it is not of this kind.

There are, I think, two readings of the image. More obviously, it shows a rumpled Riewoldt and a fresh-faced Dawson, both hamming it up for the camera. Riewoldt, who of course is nude, faces the camera, and gives a comic, pursed-lips shrug. Dawson, who is shirtless (only) and almost side on, is either looking at Riewoldt’s eyes or something past the left of frame, sports a wide grin. His arms are locked down at groin height, and his clasped hands hold a sealed condom packet at a suggestive angle (the only aspect of the photo I find possibly “lewd” or “explicit”). Riewoldt’s hands frame his genitals, which are in close proximity to Dawson’s hands. A summary of this tableaux might go “Alpha dog indulges cheeky puppy”.

A deeper reading of the image starts by asking: Where did all the homo-eroticism go? And why is Riewoldt so furious, nonetheless? The short is answer to both questions is: into the visibly chiselled and yet mostly-clothed body of Zac Dawson.

Riewoldt’s bodily stance has some similarities (presumably unconsciously so) to a classical Saint Sebastian or Michelangelo’s dying slave – the naked (or almost so) vulnerability, at least. The latter’s homo-eroticism is notably missing in Riewoldt’s image – in part because his facial expression brooks no ambiguity or projection of fantasy by the viewer, but more so because the homo-eroticism Riewoldt’s body deflects is at the same time volcanically withheld in the body of Dawson.

The shirtless young man in jeans almost always entails a peculiarly heterosexual swagger. Think the tough youths lurking behind in Carol Jerrems’ Vale Street (1975), or the drug-affected, shirtless Ben Cousins filmed in Perth’s broad daylight a few years ago. The implicitly-swaggering Dawson’s unfortunate (if presumably unconscious) juxtaposition alongside the naked and vulnerable Riewoldt is made worse by their differences in physique: not even Riewoldt’s also wearing a pair of jeans in that photo could disguise the fact that Riewoldt looks much older than the three years and four months that separate him in age from Dawson.

For all these reasons, I hope that the currently-forbidden image may one day be appreciated as a classic in Australian photography. Snapper Sam Gilbert is at once an accidental Modigliani (painter of “the nudest nudes”), and the book-ender of the manipulated-subject, nude-tableaux Oz photographic era that began in the mid-70's with Carol Jerrem’s Vale Street and Bill Henson, and now has ended with Sam Gilbert, Bill Henson and Twitt-book.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wikileaking the murder of Carl Williams

One is a parallel, elite world in which the participants talk in a baroque code in public; while their private (honest/real) opinions are guaranteed the utmost secrecy. The other is transparently real – sometimes humiliatingly naked – but civil society is the better for it.

The former was, until very recently, the world of diplomacy and international relations. The Wikileaks revelations of the last few days have probably put paid to it forever. In any event, a more important development for Victorians is how, over the last few years, our legal system has morphed from an open (albeit imperfectly so) model to an insiders-only charades game of "diplomacy" - to put it kindly.

Not that I’m blaming the 39 year-old Australian Julian Assange for this unfortunate switcheroo. For one, the timing was not simultaneous, although this week has seen startling developments on both fronts. And in one strange coincidence, just past 39 year-old* Australians Paul Dale (ex-Victorian cop) and in an involuntary role, the now deceased, forever-39 Carl Williams (criminal and police-informer) have been at the centre of replacing the rule of law with a parlour game of suppression orders, augmented by occasional farcical open-court masques to appease the general public.

I can only assume that Paul Dale has the benefit of a perpetual suppression order (including suppressing the fact that there is such an order) over the fact that the late Carl Williams was to have been a key prosecution witness at Dale’s scheduled mid-2010 trial for double murder. I haven’t seen such an order; but nor have I any insider information – my supposition comes from decoding some baroque open-media statements (see these two posts for the backstory).

Not surprisingly, Paul Dale’s name was not mentioned (or if it was, was suppressed from reportage) during Matthew Charles Johnson’s three day committal before magistrate Rosemary Carlin in the Geelong Magistrates Court between 8-10 December.

Instead, going by the media reportage, we were led up sundry, oh-so-courtly byways, like whether Carl Williams had a conjugal visit in December 2008, and the feeling of prison officer Suzette Gajick (aka Suzette Gajic) that something was not “quite right” between Williams and his two cellmates on the day he died.

That’s right, “feeling”, because Gajic was not a witness questioned at the committal, despite her apparently being on duty at the time and place of Williams' murder. Call me a busybody M.Poirot if you like, but I would have though that what she was doing at the time of Williams' murder is an important matter for the committal. Instead, all we are informed, from her mostly-surpressed written statement (actually a 58-page police interview transcript) is that she felt some possible conflict between Williams and his two cellmates on the day. I would have thought that a more salient piece of evidence is that Gajic did nothing to follow-up her evidently fleeting feeling – as is obvious from the fact that no prison staff monitored the CCTV cameras (showing the murder in real time, a mere 10m away from the staff monitor screen, and then the corpse of Carl Williams being dragged back to his cell), for about half an hour on the day.

Another mystery left wholly untouched is the committal’s startling last-day revelation that “after the murder, a copy of Williams’ statement to police in the corruption matter [i.e. the Paul Dale murder trial] was found in Johnson's possession”. A lesser sub-puzzle is why the ABC names Detective Senior Sergeant Peter Harrington in this respect, but other media variously claim choice or suppression in not naming him (or possibly, another senior police officer involved in the Williams murder investigation). More importantly, how did this statement get into Johnson's possession?

But as you’d expect in any good parlour game, the mysteries don’t end with just a few juicy ones – the lesser loose ends can be just as tantalising. Like what happened on Williams’ one-day’s jail leave on 28 February 2010 (14 months after the main/“conjugal” 10-day bloc with the police corruption team and his father George), that suddenly turned Matthew Johnson against him, according to Williams’ father?

And about what, and to whom, was long-term Paul Dale associate, and convicted road-rage murderer/Williams-cellmate Tommy Ivanovic talking to in his phone call made (and recorded) as Williams was being bludgeoned by Johnson? It appears that this famously convenient (for Ivanovic) phone call may be the same as this one:

George Williams told the hearing . . . that Ivanovic had told a friend, Penny Lomas, of his fears for his life on the day Williams was killed. He said he had asked Ms Lomas why Ivanovic hadn't helped his son. “She said that Tommy said: 'I have just been threatened . . . 'Your next' type of thing ...'”

Ironic not, as a topic of phone conversation while one is witnessing another’s murder? And again, why wasn’t the recording played at the committal?

The other, less likely, possibility is that the phone call was not to Penny Lomas, but to another Ivanovic friend, Peter Hatzimanis, who was to be called as a witness at the committal. The only reportage of anything Hatziminas said at the committal is this: “Ivanovic told him Carl had ‘lost the plot’ about a week before he was killed”.

Finally, some sloppy – if not maliciously inaccurate – reportage today has Williams making threats against Johnson:

“[D]ocuments tendered yesterday allege Williams threatened Johnson before his death, including pretending to run a knife across his throat. Williams also allegedly said he would attack Johnson with a sock full of billiard balls while he was eating”.

Strange, not, that no other media outlet has ran with this lurid detail supporting a defensive-homicide plea? Actually no, because, as the ABC reports, these alleged threats come solely from the say-so of Tommy Ivanovic (as possibly furthered filtered by the say-so of Peter Hatzimanis, above), via the say-so of Detective Senior Sergeant Peter Harrington (same URL). Needless to say, a first-person Ivanovic written statement was as elusive at the committal as the recording of his phone call. “Whatever!” the Age’s Steve Butcher would presumably harrumph, given that he conflates the police-diary notes of Peter Harrington (“defensive homicide”) with Johnson's lawyer Christopher Traill’s defence for Johnson of “defensive homicide”.

* Paul Dale was 37 in March 2007, according to the Age’s “Deadly Secrets” feature article published on 24 March 2007 (apparently officially suppressed, but available here), which (correction added 7pm AEST 11/12/10) makes him 40 or 41 at the time of posting.

Update 19 February 2011

Wednesday’s Herald Sun (16 February) carried a supposedly scoop interview with Paul Dale. Despite the story running on the front page, it was so devoid of hard news value (though the sidebar was even more woeful), I wondered about its timing. Was something else going on?

Sure enough, the next day’s Age (17 February), relayed an ABC report from the previous evening that Dale had been charged, sometime between 14 and 16 February, “with Commonwealth offences in relation to an ongoing police investigation”, and that Dale’s first court date re these charges was to be sometime in March.

All further details are apparently subject to suppression orders. In fact, Google News doesn’t record any trace of the original (16 February, or thereafter) bare-bones ABC reports. A Google News search today of “paul dale” and “paul noel dale” yields only three relevant hits (all dated 17 February) – the Age (previous URL), a BigPond News story with a corroborating detail that the Age omitted (“The ABC says the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions had confirmed Dale has been served with federal charges and will face a Melbourne court in March”) , and a Herald Sun story titled “Former detective Paul Dale facing new charges - report‎”, with a Page Not Found message upon click-through.

Update 4 May 2011

The first anniversary of Carl Williams’ death on 19 April was unfortunately (coincidentally?) upstaged by Williams’ bridesmaid-in-crime Tony Mokbel. Mokbel’s guilty plea meant the suppression wraps were right off on that day, and Fairfax journo John Silvester wasted no time in submitting a 987 word in-depth article on Mokbel. Ah, to finally have all those long-suppressed details – like the amazing retentive powers of Mokbel’s bladder. Somehow nonetheless, after informing us that Mokbel does not frequently piss into the wind, the facts-incontinent Silvester manages to hitch his own pants up for long enough to stop doing so himself, and write this:

There is only one crime on the books in Victoria that could help Mokbel cut a deal and that is the 2004 murders of the police informer Terence Hodson and his wife Christine. The key target in that investigation remains the former drug squad sergeant Paul Dale, a charge he denies. Police would have alleged Dale paid Carl Williams $150,000 for the hit. However the case collapsed when Williams was killed in prison last year”. (emphasis added)

Meanwhile, Paul Dale’s federal charges, which were supposed to have their first court date in March, remain either on ice, or the subject of a suppression order at least as retentive as Tony Mokbel’s bladder (allegedly, should I say?).

Speaking of allegedly, a Paul Dale sideshow did receive some media coverage last week and yesterday, with three associates of Tommy Ivanovic first being questioned by police over the attempted murder of a crime figure in Westmeadows in 1999 and 2001, and now Tommy Ivanovic himself being sought for questioning – all over a crime that, it seems to me at least, is both ancient and trivial in the scheme of things. No doubt the Herald Sun would disagree with this assessment – its URL went further than linking the questioned men with Ivanovic – they were associates of no less than Carl Williams (allegedly, of course), and so must be some serious bad-arses (if not also good bladders to John Silvester?). Paul Dale, you might have guessed, gets name-checked in the Fairfax, but not the Herald Sun reportage.

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