Justice denied in kangaroo court of woke entitlement

Was a time when I spent almost every working night talking with media lawyers.

Checking stories for potential defamatory comment, police and court reports for sub judice and contempt of court issues, suppression orders. Might need to check every so often that weren’t scandalising parliament. Yeah, it’s apparently possible, believe it or not.

Ran up a fair old bill, if memory serves right, but that might have been a lot more had things gone belly-up. Which was always a possibility, even with the best efforts of sharp journos.

Information tendered to the media might be incorrect. Comments might be false. Right of reply might not be sufficient. Other things could aggravate a bung story. Story positioning in the paper was important, page one carries more risk than down page on 26. Headlines needed to considered carefully.

You didn’t want to be too cautious, though. You were selling news after all and trying to keep the reading public aware of what happens on their turf. So you often weighed calculated versus unacceptable risk. Public interest, fair and accurate reporting and all that.

Odd thing about defamation, to my mind, was that people who argued their reputation had been ridiculed, vilified or otherwise mangled up by some report could always be appeased with a public apology and a fat monetary payout, with the emphasis on the latter.

Saying sorry was good but money was better. Which raise the obvious question of what a reputation is worth if you think you can buy it back again after it’s been damaged beyond repair. It’s a conundrum,

Bit of the same, again to my mind, in the way courts deal with sub judice. The idea is that prior convictions and information relating to an offender/offence should not be detailed before a court case. Juries might be Influenced.

Okay but judges would never own up to such shortcomings themselves. Mind you, you could still find yourself in strife if you crossed the line in a judge-only case.

It’s an odd system, Australia’s court system. It actively works to prevent juries knowing too much about a defendant’s background. Each case has to be viewed in isolation.

It’s different in some European court systems where juries get all sorts of information to digest: prior convictions and hearsay, for instance. Lawyer theatrics aren’t allowed. The idea is that the more information they have the mire accurate a ruling they’ll come to.

It’s a throwback to the Napoleonic era and some Aussie lawyers pooh-pooh it with contempt. Others again, however, argue the Aussie system treats jurors as dummies so thick they can’t distil evidence, patterns, background information – and so they’re kept in the dark.

What you may have noticed in recent years is that Aussies papers have been stretching the limits of what they think they can get away with reporting. The George Pell case is a prime example.

The $1 million penalty dished out for contempt of court – for breaching a suppression order – highlighted the risk of playing your circulation booster versus coughing up potential fines. There’s no denying the media knew what they doing, and that they paid the prosecution’s cost, but their apology was slammed for lacking remorse and contrition.

Makes you wonder about the Logie performance of TV’s Lisa Wilkinson, which carefully distanced itself from anything and everything in Journalism 101. I thought for a bit she was trying to get the bloke off by banging on about the case in front of some 800,000 viewers.

Might sound at odds with everything else she’s done with the story to date but if you wanted to get the case shut down, that’s pretty much how you’d do it. Tell me how this bloke’s meant to get a fair trial in our peculiar judicial system. Wilkinson had been warned as much, and had even earlier tweeted to that effect herself.

The Australian’s cartoonist Johannes Leak wrapped  things about as clearly as many of Wilkinson’s critics will see the matter. As he might not be far off the mark.

Whatever way you want to look at it, now the case is months off again. Fair case of justice delayed becoming justice denied I’d suggest.

In the meantime, we’re stuck with the case being adjudicated in that lynch-mob court of public opinion where media lawyer advice isn’t worth two-bob. But it’s certainly where the entitled woke brigade are happy to accept a kangaroo court ruling.

Rhyme and verse, and a little worse …

Was a time when poetry was the last thing held any interest for this word-mangler.

Too esoteric, too flowery, concepts too emotional and hard to plumb. More times than not, too cathartic and revealing. Hadn’t poets something better to do than sit around all introspective, navel-gazing and self-pitying? Who needs need to know their innermost ruminations?

But then, that’s not all poetry. And it’s okay, really. Plenty of people probably do need to know, if not stroppy journos. Besides poetry’s actually lots of other things too, even the outrageous limericks I once made a mission of committing to memory. Blokes named Bates and Bings, blokes from Kilbride and Kent … grand silly stuff.

Slowly, the old grey matter warmed to the possibilities of poetry – via song lyrics. Slow because I was more interested in the music side of things. Introspective stuff was rife but occasionally you’d find some inspired material, evocative stuff. Social documentary, political commentary, voices left behind but heaving with everything from love and persecution to anger, cynicism and humour.

The best stuff, so I thought, blended these peregrinations with words that jumped off the page. Words that shocked, words that looked odd, words that mightn’t garner much airplay otherwise, words with an artistic aspect to them. Typography is a thing, of course.

It’s a quair thing writing in unfamiliar areas. Like songwriting, for instance. You can write thousands of journo yarns but opening yourself to a song’s lyrics is a very different creature. Eventually, though, I thought I’d have to have a crack at some sort of poetry, even if it was just brain salad slosh. Not knowing what you’re doing in might be handy, who knows? It’s not a blood sport,  I’d venture, but I could be very wrong.

Recently, I pulled together the following brain-spit to a theme raised by a poet mate down the Surf Coast: Can you buy the ocean? Can you buy the land? If nothing else, it was fun playing with those weird little characters and their finials, bowls and shoulders, their apertures and strokes, and their spines and serifs and ligature.

So here goes, best of luck figuring out what I’m on about. There was some sort of rationale to it, if I remember rightly …

CUSTOS …

Fisherman, monger, trawler and troll,

Say the kraken will take a grown man whole,

Neb full of salt, breeches of piss,

Spirit him down a perpurean abyss.

 

Sad, sullen fate for a jack of the brine,

But not minus merit, for the best of mine,

A crab needs to scuttle, a squid to squeeze,

Amoeba shape-shift, hyperborean freeze.

 

The djinns of the seas offer baleful trust,

Abstruse, symbiotic, misfortune, unjust,

White horses, maelstrom, storm and squall,

Dreams rent beyond hope from their chalice of gall.

 

But yo ho, on Jack goes, all belligerent plunder,

Sirens of vainglory and greed hauling him under,

Fates and muses, they can plot and inspire,

But Jack Tar still fuels his own funeral pyre,

 

So whaler, the poets sing, quell your daughter’s hunger,

Ambergris, candlewax, won’t hasten your slumber,

Poseidon’s all bubble, bubble, toil and trouble,

Hug the land instead, to your fortune redouble.

 

But hold, terra’s a blight, conniving and craven,

Its beauty a snare, its lustre no haven,

A mercantile magnet of thirst and lust,  

Mammon underwritten In God We Trust.

 

So tread ware as you grift, you huckster and spiel,

Grounds shift and they tremble, oscillate like your krill,

Lords, lairds, liens of the land, caveat emptor,

Dangers deep as the sea, no call to plumb more. 

 

ⓒ copyright Noel Murphy 2022

 

 

Island thriller skips to double-Dutch

The Island, by Adrian McKinty, Hachette Australia

Takes a fair leap of faith to convince yourself the premise for this story might reasonably be able to happen. It’s far-fetched and unrealistic but if you think people like Ivan Milat and Bear Grylls can exist then the leap into its treachery, cruelty and heroics isn’t so difficult.

That said, the plot’s a fast-paced affair about an American orthopaedic hotshot, Tom, in Melbourne as a conference keynote speaker. His two kids are badgering him to find some koalas in the wild. They drag him and Heatherm his young second wife – the first died from an unusual fall down the stairs – off to ‘Dutch Island’, out in Westernport Bay just spitting distance from the mainland.

Despite multiple warnings and ominous comments, they insist on driving across the private property in search of the native herbivorous marsupial. But Tom hadn’t been able to get the top-line Porsche Cayenne hire car he’d ordered and he’s sooking in a slightly cheaper Porsche.

So when a deaf cyclist fatally jumps out in front of him as he’s speeding across the island, it’s all the car’s fault. Didn’t have the accident avoidance system he’d ordered. The island’s hillbillies, the dead girl’s in-laws, don’t buy it for a second. But they’re happy to let Tom off the hook for the lazy half million he offers.

And the deal’s going swimmingly, until the dead girl’s husband fronts up and starts shooting. Tom cops it and after a nasty half-strangled incarceration Heather and the two entitled brats manage to hit the track. It’s 100 degrees in the shade, water nowhere to be found, the kids are whinging their precious butts off, the landscape’s rough scrub offering no shelter and a veritable scourge of drunken, shotgun-wielding uber-bogans are hot on their tail.

At this point, we’re moving into spoiler alert territory so clear out if you like but I’ll try not to wreck things wholesale. What you probably want to know, apart from the ending – which I’m not exposing, I’ll leave that little surprise for you – is that this game of cat and mouse turns very nasty. Inventively nasty, too. The atrocities will appeal to those of a horror genre bent.

The guerrilla warfare that Heather and the kids cook up, despite various ridiculous frustrations from a German couple also on the run, is cunning, courageous, lucky and for the main part effective. It drives a thrilling, action-packed narrative that will keep you flicking the pages faster than you really should. There are curious things to learn in the quieter moments.

Mind you, one or two encounters just aren’t right. Up there with the pantomime-level “He’s behind you!” stupidity. Why the editors didn’t rein these in is anyone guess but they’re flaws that undermine an almost, almost, possible story.

There’s also some mile-kilometre, Fahrenheit-Celsius explanations, obviously for dumb Yanks, that just grate. And for Aussies reading about a former prison island at Westernport called Dutch Island, well, that’s equally weird. Why not just call it French Island? No-one’s going to tie you to a bed of red-ants … if you’re lucky.

Back to the future with a fossil-led recovery …

Okay, so what came first, the chicken or the egg?

How about the dinosaur?

Well, so science seems to suggest, and largely the fault of a cute little critter jackhammered out of cliffs near Apollo Bay 30 years back.

This came to mind when I learned an ancient Jan Juc whale is in the running for the Fossil Emblem of Victoria title. The dolphin-sized Janjucetus hunderi lived 25 million years ago and was discovered in bits at Bird Rock and Bells Beach over the last couple of decades. It’s somewhere between a spear-tooth dorudon, whatever that is, and a blue whale.

Eight candidates are vying for the fossil gong, including the dinosaur Leaellynasaura found at Apollo Bay’s Dinosaur Cove and whose big eyes helped rewrite palaeontological thinking. Around 105 million years old, Leaellynasaura amicagraphica was only 30 cm high. Looked a bit like a potoroo, according to Tom Rich, who found and named it after his daughter Leaellyn .

Leaellynasaura’s penetrating orbs enabled her to function in the winter darkness of the Cretaceous southern polar region where Apollo Bay once was. Rich contended if she was active in the dark and the cold, she was warm-blooded – not a cold-blooded reptilian dinosaur. The idea led to talk of dinosaurs being related to birds.

Curious stuff, especially with scientists like Abzhanov and Gorman claiming they’ll build you a dinosaur if you give them enough cash and chickens. I can see a KFC bronto-burger on the horizon already

Dinosaur Cove was an antediluvian menagerie full of velociraptors, pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, oviraptors, ancient crocodiles, turtles and upright relatives of echidnas and platypuses, platypi or whatever the plural is of Ornithorhynchus paradoxus. A veritable Flintstones zoo.

While Leaellyn’s little dinosaur rewrote history, even won celebrity status on the BBC’s Walking with Dinosaurs, the jury has since gone out on her. Thinking is now that her large eyes weren’t so much about adapting to low light as simply the over-sized peepers of a juvenile; nature’s cute factor, designed to stop parents throttling their offspring.

But worse. Now, her history’s being re-written again. This competition for the official fossil emblem of Victoria title is usurping an unofficial crown Leaellynasaura already held.

In 2005, Victorian schoolkids voted for their favourite fossil, from a list nominated by Museum Victoria’s head of sciences, palaeontologist John Long. Her bug-eyes snaffled her 978 votes ahead of nearest rival, a sea urchin Lovenia woodsi, on 590.

No surprises there, maybe, but her halo has mysteriously slipped since. Museum Vic simply says there’s no fossil emblem. We’ll find out who’s who again soon enough, I suppose.

Interesting prospect about all this, to me anyway, is the fact the Surf Coast and Otways host an extraordinary palaeontology footprint that also includes dinosaur burrows at Knowledge Creek, a spine lizard dinosaur and chicken-like therapod also near Cape Otway, dozens of dinosaur footprint fossils – bung them in with the other weird and wonderful drawcards of the southwest and you’d reckon they’d make a fair complement to the region’s Covid-ravaged tourism.

Think the Great Ocean Road, the Surf Coast, Shipwreck Coast, Dinosaur Coast, Whale Nursery Highway, floating islands, Stony Rises, crater lakes, giant ferns, spotted tiger quolls, exquisite waterfalls, subterranean caverns, bunyip bones, tales of sealers and Aborigines, attacks on Aborigines, secret wartime airbases, early discoveries by China and Portugal, UFOs, mysterious disappearances, WW2 German submarines ….

No need to thank me but if that’s not enough to set off a new South by Southwest Tourist Trail I’m not sure what is.

Meanwhile, though, I’m keeping an eye on a bioscience mob called Colossal that’s keen to insert ancient woolly mammoth DNA into elephants and build a hybrid elephant-mammoth. Very Jurassic Park. What could possibly go wrong?

Coco-lossal’s probably more fitting. Who knows what can slip out of a laboratory these days?

nasaura

The Bismarck Sea: A battle-worn and weary warning …

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, by Michael Veitch, Hachette

Difficult to think, from 80 years distance, just what a terrifying threat Japan once was to Australia. These days, it’s a nation more renowned for its sophistication, high-tech and extraordinary good manners.

Mind you, it does upset some quarters with its whaling operations. Which might not be flash but it’s a far cry from the horrific catalogue of terror it had under its belt in the years immediately prior to and into World War Two. Think wholesale rape, murder and atrocities visited on the Chinese – thousands of bayonet rapes, killing contests ­– the murder of unarmed prisoners and civilians in Malaya and Rabaul, the execution of nurses, nuns, Dutch and other colonial girls, women and men, abominations on Papuans, prisoners of war, beheadings, tortures, mutilations, starvation, deliberate hunting of Red Cross vessels … evil incarnate stuff.

Humans being what they are, it’s understandable that a seething vengefulness – over and above normal protective urges – might infect those armed forces up against Japan as the Nippon military descended on New Guinea in early 1943 with Australia square in its sights.

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, the one-sided rout by Australian and American air forces of a heavily-escorted Japanese troops and supply convoy heading for Lae, is arguably the most significant engagement in starting the repulsion of Japanese military ambitions on Australia. It was a slaughter the US saw as payback for Pearl Harbour as much as anything else. Australia’s part in the attack was absolutely key. It wouldn’t have happened without Aussie-designed skip bombing.

When it comes to war crimes, which we hear so much of today, it’s intriguing how the deliberate slaughter, next day, of Japanese survivors in the water and in rescue vessels was viewed as a rational and necessary action against aggressors who would otherwise simply return to the field as soon as they were patched up. They undoubtedly would have been so ordered and so ‘Every Japanese killed is an Australian saved’ was basically the Allied catchcry. The slaughter didn’t sit well with some, but not many. Sympathy for the brutal Japanese wasn’t running high.

As Michael Veitch writes in The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, even under overwhelming attack, the Japanese “bizarre cruelty was on full display”.

“Contrary even to the most basic military logic, professional Japanese fighter pilots broke off an attack on an enemy bomber to slaughter men bailing out in parachutes whose fate was almost certainly already sealed,” he writes. “By early 1943, few Allied servicemen still tried to understand their enemy’s motives, or come to grips with the levels of diabolical cruelty to which they seemed to so easily, and quickly, descend. In the absence of understanding, only cold, hard anger was left.”

Veitch’s account is car-crash compelling. You just can’t look away. The cast of players seems almost fictional, and the displays of hubris and ignorance unbelievable yet so familiar, especially in contemporary times. Counter balanced, however, with rebels, genius-like misfits and ridiculously courageous characters, the outcome seems almost fated.

It’s ironic that Australia’s sovereignty today might seem equally or moreso at risk. You only have to glance over commentary by the likes of Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith to get a fair idea. Military build-ups are one thing; for starters, you can easily see them coming. Economic warfare is easily recognisable too, cyber-attacks perhaps not so readily but they’re commonplace and biological assaults seem an inevitability. Nukes in the hands of hostile or terrorist actors is another unnerving thought.

Any combination of these get free reign and the Rape of Nanking – twisted, mediaeval and expansive as it was – could look small potatoes. Then again, when you have monsters like Mao, who killed 60 odd million of his own people, it is small potatoes. Be that as it may, Veitch’s Bismarck is a timely reminder of how easily even those we regard as the good guys can all too easily morph into monsters when in the employ of fear, anger and retribution.

You’d be naive to think, especially with the US in a humiliating Afghan retreat, the drums of wars aren’t beating loud. Ironic, too, that Australia’s best defences right now might lie in a coalition with, among others, those it annihilated in the Bismarck Sea.

Truganina, Truganini: destiny, disease, disaster …

 

Touch of irony to the latest Covid outbreak epicentre at Truganina, again, and the sad story of the so-called last full-blood Tasmanian Aboriginal, Truganini.

Always been curious about Truganini because my grandmother grew up in the tiny rural hamlet that Truganina once was, out the back of Werribee half-way to Melton. Her French-born dad, old anti-vaxxer he was, was fined for refusing to inoculate his kids back in the fin de siècle early 1900 days. Not sure just what he was fighting so virulently against. Told the court he had scruples.

Plenty of whooping cough and measles outbreaks back then but concern was fairly widespread also about the new smallpox vaccine supposedly injecting all sorts of other diseases into your carcass. Not so different to today. Fortunately, his scruples haven’t been passed on through the family – well, not to me, anyway.

Rough country out Truganina way. Rocky volcanic terrain, rugged creekbeds, sparse groundcover, few trees and they’re gnarled, twisted things. Bitter westerlies in winter and blistering northerlies in summer. Great grand-pere’s beautiful two-storey bluestone homestead, named Remiremont for his native Alsace digs, burnt down in the 1969 fires that blitzkrieged the place.

Bit of a blitzkrieg at the moment also into the remains of Truganini’s confrere William Lanne, also known as King Billy, who was hacked apart and whisked away by researchers and collectors after he died in 1869. They might have gone to London, possibly elsewhere in Tasmania, some of his skeleton was long thought to be buried in Hobart. One story suggests the remains were destroyed by Nazi bombs in WW2. New evidence suggests they stayed, mainly, in Tassie, but the jury’s still out.

Probably shouldn’t do so but it reminds me of the movie On the Nose with Robbie Coltrane, who you’ll know as Hagrid, along with Dan Aykroyd and Aussie Tony Briggs. It’s probably a bit on the nose these days, PC-wise, as it has Coltrane stalling Briggs from repatriating the head of an Aboriginal leader that’s been preserved for 200 years in glass jar at a Dublin medical college.

Outlandishly, Coltrane discovers the head rotates in the sunlight, so he calibrates numbers around the jar which, as an inveterate gambler, he seizes on to pick winning racehorses depending where the proboscis is pointing. On the nose, get it? Anyway, things get complicated because Coltrane needs to win the Grand National or somesuch to get his kid into Trinity College … all very silly but it picked up an Audience Award at the 2002 Newport Beach Film Festival.

Comedy, non-PC or whatever, it’s interesting for its allusion to repatriation problems if not, more specifically, to some of the brawling over extracting DNA from old bones that might differentiate opposing cultural interests in Tassie. In a nutshell, some people have been arguing they’re more Tasmanian Aboriginal than others. Not especially pretty, the whole thing.

Truganina’s ties to Truganini’s sad story, and that of her Parlevar people, grew in my mind with Robert Drewe’s book The Savage Crows. Later, I learned that by 17 her mother and her husband-to-be were murdered, her uncle shot, her stepmother kidnapped, her sisters abducted and she herself raped by whites.

She came to Victoria at one point with Chief Protector George Robinson but was involved in several raids around the Dandenongs and Westernport. She and four others were charged with the murder of two whalers at Portland Bay – two men were hanged, the three women sent to Flinders Island. Her later husband, warrior Wooraddy, who wasn’t in the Portland Bay affair, died on the return trip.

Not surprisingly, she despised European society. She demanded her body not be desecrated on her death but sure enough it was exhumed by the great minds of  the Royal Society of Tasmania and, later, put on public display from 1904 to 1947 at the Tasmanian Museum. In 1976, a century after her death, her ashes were spread in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.

Frontier wars were largely responsible for the deaths of some 15,000 Tasmanian indigenous people before the deaths of William Lanne and Truganini. But there was another insidious enemy that killed many very early in the piece – disease. Disease of numerous varieties for which there was no vaccine, no defence and no recourse to compensation, JobKeeper, justice or anything of that nature.

So there’s an irony to Truganina’s latest Covid outbreak. There’s also a pretty clear message: do yourself, and everyone, a favour: Get vaxxed.

 

Murder, and rip-offs, most foul …

Don’t know if you’ve heard of the Dolls House Murders. Odd little story I read about the start of modern forensic science in the US. Yanks were late to the table as proper murder investigation bucked a good many vested interests.

Heiress Frances Glessner Lee poured buckets of cash into Harvard to get a decent forensic system going, along the way producing some 18 tiny dolls-house crime scenes for tyro detectives to seek out important evidence and clues.

This was the 1940s, yonks after other countries had their own forensic systems – indeed Harvard’s lecturers had to be sent OS to get a few clues. US detectives slowly became more Sherlock Holmes-like; very slowly, took decades. Bruce Goldfarb wrote a curious book about it recently, 18 Tiny Deaths.

These doll houses struck me as curious because a Geelong sleuth fan, and one-time head of the Aussie Sherlock Holmes Society, Derham Groves, oversaw a swag of similar slaughterhouse miniatures.

Groves had 40 architecture students at Melbourne Uni bludgeon, garrot, hang, maul, poison, shoot, stab and strangle a bunch of Ken and Barbie dolls. He then set them to work designing an Australian Crime Centre. It’s good fun, architecture. No wonder my young bloke just got into it.

Odd, too, that Sherlock Holmes author Conan Doyle, was inspired by a Scottish bloke, Joseph Bell, who removed a spearhead from the rear end of Geelong’s George Morrison.

Morrison, son of Geelong College’s founder, had been attacked in New Guinea. He was working as a journo with The Age, which was racing The Argus to be the first to cross New Guinea south to north.

Ridiculous, really, but those were the days. Morrison was a prodigious walker. He trekked Australia, north to south, just 20 years after Burke and Wills. Made out it was easy but he was in considerably better country much further east.

He also exposed the 19th century blackbird slave trade using South Seas islanders conned or kidnapped into working on Queensland plantations. Resonates pretty loudly with things still going on these days.

According to Flinders University researcher Marinella Marmo, fruit-pickers are earning just $8 an hour. Her 2019 report on slavery and slavery-like practices cited workers expected to trade sex favours for more work hours, having passports confiscated ….

Any wonder there’s a shortage of local workers and growers rely on dummies from overseas who don’t know any better. Or that COVID’s been a hell of an inconvenience.

But eight bucks might actually be good pay. Media reports say other pickers are paid as little as $3 an hour. The Australian Workers Union argues there’s widespread wages theft and is chasing the matter through the Fair Work Commission.

Yet the growers say they just can’t understand it, reckon there’s up to $500 a day to be earned.

Rather than utilise an unemployed casual workforce unable to access JobKeeper, and COVID transmission fears notwithstanding, they somehow talked the Government into letting some 1500 Pacific islanders into the country as pickers.

Too little too late, of course, for much of the fruit but it seems one season’s losses aren’t too big a sacrifice to make for longer-term cheapskate security.

No clear insight, either, on just how much the islanders might earn. Too bad for them they’re not tennis players, cricketers or actors.

Talk about returning to the scene of the crime. Can anyone else smell something that stinks to high heavens? Like a fair old kick in the Kanakas for the anti-slavers.

Time for mercy … for readers

A TIME FOR MERCY: by John Grisham, Hachette

So your stepdad’s a monster. A drunken, dishonourably-discharged army grunt-turned-cop who regularly bashes your mum, your sister and yourself.

When he belts and kills your mum, Josie, in his latest boozed fury, you figure you know who’s next. But what to do? This has been going on for months but now he’s passed out you grab his gun and pop him one in the skull before he wakes and lurches into another murderous rampage.

Sixteen-year-old Drew is small for his age, tiny in fact. Kiera, his 14-year-old-sister, is far more developed and it hasn’t been overlooked by the stepdad. No-one knows it yet, but she’s pregnant to him.

Stu Kofer’s police colleagues at Clanton, Mississippi, are outraged that one of their own is murdered in his bed. His family is bloodthirsty and bent on revenge. Almost everyone in town is appalled and wants young Drew executed.

Lawyer Jack Brigance soon learns Kofer’s been leading a double life: well-regarded, respectable copy by day; mongrel, out-of-control, violent boozer by night. Kofer’s colleagues have somehow failed to report previous reports by Josie.

Author Grisham’s at it again, detailing every iota of a legal journey that slowly but surely reveals the motivations of young Drew. Matters aren’t assisted by the fact Kofer didn’t actually kill Josie, but rather KO’d her when he smashed her jaw to pieces. Kids couldn’t tell the difference.

Brigance, normally highly regarded too, is suddenly on the nose. He finds himself facing assault, obstruction, loss of business and income, and wholesale disdain. But as Drew’s murder trial unfolds, Brigance makes it  clear Kofer was an appalling piece of work.

The more he reveals – cover-ups, bashings, rapes –  the more Kofer’s friends dig their heels in, even on the jury, which can’t come up with any better than a split vote.

Thing here is that Grisham takes 464 pages to relate every miniscule detail he can think of, robbing an otherwise fast-paced story of its momentum. The jury’s selection is mind-numbing.

And given everything that’s painstakingly turned to ordure for Brigance through the course of the tale, it is nothing short of remarkable how Grisham pulls together a happy-ever-after ending in a matter of a few final pages.

Verdict: Contrived and silly. Why would an entire town think a small kid shoots a cop just for kicks when his mother has been smashed and broken by the bloke, when he and his sister are next in line, and when the cops won’t do anything to protect them?

Then again, looking at the kind of rubbish too many people in the failed state of America believe these days, Grisham might be closer to the mark than I’m crediting him.

Grift to the mill at Mar-a-Lago

THE GRIFTERS’ CLUB: By Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas, Caitlin Ostroff, Jay Weaver; Hachette

 Good word, grifter. Not really an Australian word, more a Yankee thing but it pretty much lines up with our con artist: a person who engages in petty or small-scale swindling.

Thing about this book is there’s nothing really all that small, petty sure, and cheap but it’s more about some fairly sizeable swindling.

Ground zero is Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in South Florida’s Palm Beach, a swanky to the point of chintzy mansion built a century ago by cereal magnate/philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Any vestige of philanthropy it might have has long ago vacated the premises, as Trump’s low-wage largely immigrant staff might attest, if they’re game enough.

Cheap and chiselling is order of the day at Mar-a-Lago, behind its opulence and saccharine swish icing. That’s according to this account by four Miami Herald reporters who go to painstaking efforts to footnote every weird and wonderful account they offer of Trump’s briar patch stomping ground.

This means 50 pages of reference notes for 190 pages of mischief and mayhem. It also means they don’t want to be accused of writing fake news. I suspect it will guarantee it.

Hucksters, sycophants and entrepreneurs seem to be the stock in trade at Mar-a-Lago – what we’d call rip-off merchants, suck-holes and desperate wannabes.

Trump is like a shining beacon to them. They want to bask in his carotene glow, garner some of his success by proximity, borrow on his ubiquitous auriferous brand. And pose for selfies.

It’s the American way. He’s top of the heap. A number one.

Ironically, it’s also what happens when you drain the South Florida swamp, which is just what Hamilton Disston did to The Everglades back in the 1880s. This was smartly followed by miles and miles of new railroad and trainloads of northern holidaymakers.

“ … it’s safe to say Mar-a-Lago became the palace of the swamp creatures quite early,” write authors Blaskey, Ostroff, Nehamas and Weaver. You can almost hear them chortling at that one.

“At her lavish estate, which took a staff of seventy to run, Post entertained politicians, lawyers and businessmen who were crafting the industrial capitalism of the twentieth-century American state.”

Post hosted tycoons, moguls, movie stars, European aristocrats, all sorts of dignitaries, Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey. The old bootlegger Joe Kennedy, father of JFK, lived next door.

After Post’s death in 1973, the property languished. She bequeathed it to the federal government, who found it too expensive to maintain and gave it back to the Post Foundation.

It went up for sale and Trump, sniffing something special, stepped in. He called it an old beat-up, over-grown Rembrandt and before you knew it, the circus was back in town, with all its schmick carnies. The quiet, old-money neighbours weren’t impressed.

Trump didn’t waste time drawing folks to his gilded country club and helping them part with their money. Staff memorised members names and faces and treated them like royalty. Guests knocked the door down for expensive tickets to charity galas, upper-crust balls, flash parties with pretty girls and celebrities.

Loads of nouveau riche stuff, even as Trump’s casinos elsewhere were sliding toward bankruptcy. The neighbours shook their heads, appalled “this man whose parents didn’t come over on the Mayflower took over Mar-a-Lago and was going to get in anybody who could afford it”.

Trump’s ancestral family business dealings aren’t much to recommend him but that’s another story. At Mar-a-Lago, he was entertaining the monied multitudes including the likes of Billy Joel, Paul Anka, Tony Bennett, Don King, Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Barbara Walters, even a certain Epstein for a while.

Early in the piece, he claimed Princes Charles, Princess Diana and Henry Kissinger were members. They weren’t. Still, the Clintons were, and deposed Greek king Constantine, the Beach Boys, football and basketball stars, models in their hundreds – and  wealthy Jews and African Americans that other Palm Beach snobbish, racist clubs wouldn’t admit.

Trump’s reputation for racism seemed to dissolve where money was involved. “Palm Beach is very much changing for the better,” he said, tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

By the time Trump became US president, his status among the greenback garrison of Palm Beach was bordering on god-like. And he loved them back. To the point of championing their interests well ahead of more traditional constituent interests.

Nepotism, cronyism and corruption in liberal measure are par for the course at Mar-a-Lago, our authors report. Lack of security, poor property maintenance, unhygienic kitchens and food, too. Trump’s a serious cheapskate when it comes to the things you can’t see.

Trump’s rejection of presidential-level security regularly has the Secret Service in conniptions but the idea is to keep the place open for members, and their guests, and access always within at least a theoretical reach.

Trump’s generous with his nods, smiles, light-hearted asides and photo ops – aware of what they mean for Mar-a-Lago’s business and also for his members and their business connections.

He’s selling influence, or purported influence, and it’s a red-hot commodity. So much so, in fact, that rackets have been sprung up with Chinese spielers flogging $20,000 travel packages overseas on the pretext of meeting the great orange at a Mar-a-Lago gala or conference. They charge in the order of $60K for pictures with the Don.

Lobbyists and business networkers have arranged meetings and links through Mar-a-Lago. Trump himself brings overseas leaders to Mar-a-Lago ahead of the White House – China’s Xi Jinping and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, for instance – then sends the taxpayer the bill. Nice little earner, that one.

Fall on the wrong side of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mates, however, and you can find yourself out of work. Like Veteran Affairs secretary David Shulkin, elevated to his post after meeting Trump and Marvel boss Ike Perlmutter and a Palm Beach doctor, Bruce Moskowitz – then demoted just as smartly when he didn’t play ball as they dictated.

So the White House has effectively been moved south. Political advice comes as much from the barflies at Mar-a-Lago as public servants. Buy a membership, if you can, and you can find yourself in the POTUS club.

It’s all about jobs for the boys, with the best obsequious or cashed-up courtiers whispering in the king’s ear – and receiving a solid hearing. Trump doesn’t read, remember, so it’s really all about what he wants to hear.

Oh yeah, this is a bloke who thinks his head belongs with the Mount Rushmore collection. He must have rocks in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheroots, spittoons and tickling the old ivories

Not too many places are around these days for quaffing from brandy snifters, chomping on cheroots and expectorating into spittoons. It’s comforting, however, to find such luxuries do still exist, and in some of our finest establishments.

Better still, if you’ve an eye for despatching the ivory orbs over wide expanses of green baize, you can do so while despatching canapes and hazelnut and carrot soup as well. Maybe with a lusty durif or a crisp pinot gris, if you prefer. Rack up a sizeable break and you might mark the occasion with an antediluvian Scotch or cognac.

All of this beneath a soaring, clerestory-lit, timber-braced ceiling not unlike a clever cricket pavilion or a brass-band rotunda. That’s not to mention leather benches, moulded timber chairs, marbled fireplace, heraldry, ensigns, flags, polished timber honour boards, hat stand, trophies, score rollers, cues racked in leather, metal and canvas prophylactics — and, of course, two handsome sprawling 12-foot tables that also create the ambience of this club annex.

“Good God, man, that’s awfully civilised,” I can hear you gasp. And short of a small phalanx of heavily-whiskered gentlemen, ice clinking in their whiskey glasses, cigar smoke permeating the air, you’d be right. Right in the 19th century, that is, in the sprawling billiard room of The Geelong Club behind its pretty, and exclusive, Queen Anne facade on Brougham Street.

Long an enclave of Geelong’s wealthy and privileged, The Geelong Club has a history dating to 1859 when it was populated by pastoralists, lawyers and merchants. The roaring days of the Gold Rush had Geelong fairly buzzing as a port city, and demand for fine dining, claret and champagne, mahogany and cedar, billiards, cards and other diversions — along the British club model — led to the club’s inception.

The first lodgings were in Yarra Street, north of Ryrie, before the club moved to Mack’s Hotel on Brougham and, in 1889, built next door at its present site. Names tied closely to the club’s beginnings fill Geelong’s history books: Strachan, Armytage, Austin, Russell, Bell, Calvert, Murray, Fairbairn, Hope, Whyte, Russell.

Other familiar names also adorn the boards and cue racks of the billiard room: Fidge, Heath, Douglass, Annois, Vickers-Willis, Roydhouse, McKellar, Chomley, Inglis. If the hallows of Geelong’s early movers and shakers are to be found anywhere it seems the billiard room is a fair place to bring in the ghost busters.

Funny game, though, the old billiards. Likewise snooker, or pool, or Indian pool, pin pool, risk snooker, pyramid, black pyramid, carambole or whatever species of the game you might prefer. Long been associated with ne’er-do-wells and a misspent youth. Gamblers, hustlers, hoods who’d break your thumbs if you got too clever — think Fast Eddie Felsen — and even authorities who changed the rules to beat champions like Walter Lindrum.

Not really what the club’s fathers would have had in mind. But it’s funny, too, how things change. For instance, Lindrum’s Melbourne billiards hall, once a venue of certain angst for this scribbler as a curious young teen, is now a genteel boutique pub on Flinders Street. A classy 12-foot show table has survived but it stands alongside tables laden with Spanish almond cakes and pork cheek croquettes. A couple of boutique beers, too, fortunately but it’s a fair bet the ivory orbs are now phenolic resin.

Geelong’s baize pedigree lies across the city’s pubs, clubs, pool halls such as the Golden Cue, once resident next to the former Regent Theatre on Little Malop and for the past half century with Geelong Snooker ands Billiards Association. Also with figures such as Percy Shand who ran a Malop St saloon the better part of a century ago. Together with TV’s Pot Black they made for a breeding ground for a raft of Eddie Charlton and Hurricane Higgins hopefuls.   

The good folks at The Geelong Club tell me they’re dabbling with the idea of opening their inner sanctum to men’s events (cough) with a leaning to cigars, brandies and snooker/billiards/pool contests. Yeah, nothing it seems is as predictable as change but, hey, I’m in! Might I suggest a few celebrity exhibition matches, too, as Lindrum and his brother Fred did here back in the day at Percy’s.

Just one thing, please don’t change The Geelong Club’s exquisitely-tiled gents’ ablutions block and its XXL WC cubicles. They knew how to build thrones back in 1889. That was a Mr O.D. Figgis, by the way. Made them big enough to open and read a broadsheet newspaper. I can hear you again: “Good God, man, that’s awfully civilised.”

Yep, awfully.

This article first appeared in The Weekly Review, 26 May 2016