Saturday, January 30, 2010


London Fields 

The night my girl flew to Paris 
the phone rang and I thought 
it’s her but heard the voice 
of a man I did not know saying 
I had fucked up and he knew where 
I was and was coming to get me. 
His voice had a Kray Twins sort 
of truth and sneered as I said 
I don’t know you I’ve never met you. 
I’m coming to get you he said 
I’m coming there to get you now. 

That we lived in a flat atop 
a large Edwardian home and thus 
I had two front doors between me 
and that voice was of some comfort, 
though not complete. Some days later 
when our old blue Triumph Herald 
was stolen the police found it 
a few streets away the wiper blades 
twisted oddly like the arms of a man 
imprisoned in a dungeon somewhere 
down the East End or so it felt.

I got casual work in Fleet Street 
left the Reuters building at dusk 
got off at Highgate. By the tube 
was a pub The Woodman where I drank 
a pint or so then walked the dark 
Queen’s Wood ten minutes to my door 
love poems in my head for my girl 
as I strolled beneath the trees. 
One night voices hard and close 
I heard two men crashing through 
the woods walking fast with purpose. 

Years later home in Australia I read 
of Dennis Nilsen a former army cook 
he had killed fifteen boys and men 
picked them up in The Woodman 
drugged killed and butchered 
buried parts flushed others fed 
entrails to animals got found out 
only after neighbours complained 
of blocked and smelly drains 
in his flat in Cranley Gardens 
at the end of our street. 

Larry Buttrose

Published in Best Australian Poems 2009, Black Inc., editor: Robert Adamson

Thursday, January 14, 2010


by Larry Buttrose

Some months ago I saw a rack of Penguin classics in my local post office, and noticed Lady Chatterly’s Lover among the titles. I couldn’t help but smile at remembering the controversy it aroused and the censorship it suffered in decades long past. Now here it was, on sale in the post office, a sure sign of human progress and maturity.

Just a few days after that I read that the book was being withdrawn from post offices. It seems that even in the new millennium, Lady Chatterly was adjudged too risqué for people licking their stamps. 

It made me wonder whether other books might not disappear from post office shelves, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four for instance. After all, despite it being a mordant denunciation of totalitarianism, it does have a sex scene or two. Would that be considered too much for the stamp-lickers, and disappear just as it would have in Orwell’s dystopia?

All of the old battles of censorship are now being revisited through the Rudd Government’s ill-conceived, bizarre and bloody-minded determination to go ahead with its internet “filter”. “Filter” is Newspeak for censorship. What Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy intend to do is censor the content of the world wide web, the greatest tool for disseminating knowledge and free expression the world has ever seen. Why they would indulge in such a monstrous folly, and who they intend to impress by their cyber vandalism, remains debatable.

The arguments advanced are truly pathetic. Firstly, we are told that the targets are child pornography and home bomb making instructions for potential terrorists. But if by any chance such sites were effectively blocked, those wanting to access such information and images could readily do so by sharing files with similarly twisted minds. After all, both paedophiles and terrorists are definitive networkers. So to stop them sharing information, the government would have to view and censor all email too. No doubt Stephen Conroy has already thought of this.

Then there is the question of who would be the gatekeepers of information, and decide which sites we could or could not see. Cardinal Pell might be invited to sit on the committee. The Roman Catholic Church does after all have a long history of involvement with sexual crimes against children. The Anglicans have similar form too, and could dispatch their own eminence grise. 

A posse of academics would inevitably be involved. They could frame their reasons for banning this or that site in suitably incomprehensible postmodernist jargon, adding that ideal extra layer of opacity to the process. Upstanding churchgoers from the business community could be invited - oil or coal company executives perhaps, or someone from the board of James Hardie - or politicians themselves, definitive paragons of virtue, being honourable members. 

The image of such an august gathering of high and holy minds viewing endless hours of pornographic images and videos to determine which crosses whatever line may be drawn, is a delicate one indeed. Why not just get Steve Fielding and Hillsong Church to tell us what we may see online? That, effectively, is that Kevin Rudd is doing. 

The question remains too about whether any such “filter” could be effective in a world where hackers can get into the Pentagon and destructive viruses are created daily by teenagers bored with Grand Theft Auto. It would become an online security nightmare, a never-ending battle with phantom legions seeking to disable and destroy it. It would present hackers with a digital just war, a fight for free speech, a fat white elephant forever dangling in their laser sights in cyberspace.

All this begs the question of what the Rudd Government is doing throwing in its lot with the Fieldings and Niles, and turning its back on key constituencies of its win in 2007 - the young, and the educated. These are two sections of the community that are heavily reliant on a fast, open internet. How will they feel about Rudd slowing access and tying their web in knots while he appeals to pre-digital grannies for having made life harder for those terrorists who don’t even know how to make bombs.

The greatest threat is what might happen in the future. Once set up, and in the hands of an even more conservative government - say, for argument’s sake, Tony Abbott’s - what other sites might come onto the radar for censorship? How about those advising women on abortion or contraception, or the terminally sick on euthanasia? How about global warming, or stem cell research? Perhaps some future government might see fit to block those sites disseminating the dangerous fable of evolution, or that the earth is really round.

Perhaps too they would stop us reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by blocking sites like the Gutenberg Project which post the whole text ( or the politically inflammatory and sexually titillating Nineteen Eighty-Four. Who after all needs to read George Orwell in the perfect Big Brother world of Rudd and Conroy?

The government’s proposed web censorship will appeal only to the god-bothering, the paranoid and the technophobic. Is this the constituency Kevin Rudd really wishes to swap, for the young and the educated? Censorship is and never will be a cure for perceived failings and dangers in others, but instead is an affliction of the mind suffered by the pompous and the self-righteous, and bloody-minded fools. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


by Larry Buttrose

Cards on the table. I was never remotely interested in Madonna or Michael Jackson, and cannot stand Elton John except perhaps for one or two early songs. I was never much impressed by Bowie’s make-up and costumery, though he did have a couple of decent songs, Sorrow being one. One of my brilliant careers was as a rock writer, but even 30 years ago the job title sounded like an oxymoron. I wrote a bit for Rolling Stone, once or twice for Interview. I wrote a lot for Roadrunner, a magazine named after the Jonathan Richman classic. I loved Jonathan’s sweet drollery in songs like Pablo Picasso and Egyptian Reggae, and I like him still for I’m Straight and I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar. I’ve always liked popular music quite a bit, but not a lot of it, and that remains pretty much the case now too. My only authentic musical regret, though it is not quite as strong as the word regret implies, is that I never listened Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby with my father, who used to describe the stuff I listened to as “jazzbo music”. I once had an R.L. Burnside tape I loved, and enjoy our Ted Hawkins CD. I panned a Midnight Oil concert in London in 1981 and felt the bad vibes frosting back a long time after. I saw Cold Chisel at the Thebarton Town Hall and loathed their dumb loudness and all that screeching, but I now like some of their songs like Flame Trees and Forever Now, and even sing along to the silly and somewhat offensive Khe Sanh. No, there were no V-Day heroes in 1973, but neither were there Australian troops at Khe Sanh. I never got the Bee Gees once they started all that mad falsetto stuff, and would listen all day to the Wiggles to avoid any random exposure to Kylie Minogue. The best concert I ever saw was Bruce Spingsteen at Wembley in 1981, three exhilarating hours, and the biggest let-down was Elvis Costello at the Apollo Stadium in Adelaide three years before that, when he begrudged the crowd half an hour in a punky huff. The last band I really liked was Nirvana. Although I occasionally hear something good on the radio or in a shop or happen to catch it on Rage, the dots don’t link up any more to an artist or artists I can admire, though of course it behoves one to remain a true believer that the kids are all right. But I cannot at all abide the corporate production line of whingy moany girl singers who need to be sat down and told to listen to Nina Simone singing Pirate Jenny and Ain’t Got No/I Got Life, and to Peggy Lee and Chrissy Hynde and Annie Lennox, and Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick. One of course might say I’m too old for pop music but I think it is the music that got old and died, with its corporate agents merely jiggling the corpse on its strings to wring the last pennies they can from us. I was too young for Buddy Holly whom I liked very much, and Elvis whom I didn’t at the time, thinking him a greaseball. I loved the Beatles, the Kinks, the Animals and The Who, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys and Joni Mitchell, and of course The Loved Ones, but was more ambivalent about the Doors, and the Rolling Stones, who always appeared to be trying too hard image-wise, nice art school lads posing as bad boys. I was a mad keen fan of the Incredible String Band for years. The 70s was a long dark Eurovision night of the soul, with all-grinning sequined horrors like Abba, a decade rescued only at the death by the snarl of the Sex Pistols and the stride of the Clash. I have warbled Waterloo Sunset at sunset on Waterloo Bridge and crooned Up The Junction going up our street to Clapham Junction. I would like to find songs I can do that now. I liked Silverchair’s Straight Lines but it did not get me walking in straight lines. Bands may have songs still, but not a spirit that sweeps you up to entrust them with your faith and your belief. It is my humble opinion that the finest popular musical performers of the last hundred years were Nina Simone and Louis Armstrong.

Monday, January 4, 2010


My New Year’s resolution is to get rid of the states. Not only are their governments all but useless, but they have such pathetic names too. Western Australia and South Australia are little more than mud-map directions to get there. Queensland and Victoria - in effect the same name for two of our most populous states. What, couldn’t we think of another one?

As for New South Wales, it’s confusing. Did Cook mean “New southern Wales” or the “New Wales in the South”? Who cares anyway - either way it smacks of Postman Pat and Cardiff on a rainy day. The only decent state name we have is Tasmania because at least it has a little mania, and that nice zesty Taz straight off the tongue.

The real question we should ask ourselves as we enter the brave new year of 10 is what are we doing without a single national education system and a single national health system when we are a single nation and not the jigsaw of states our colonial forebears stencilled upon this continent. 

The states give us “states rights” too, the scurrilous catcall of lamebrain senators who sit in that benighted place, the bush lawyers, eccentrics and spoilers who somehow know more about climate change than all the world’s scientific experts put together. 

Paul Keating rightly labelled the senate “unrepresentative swill”, because Tasmania elects as many members as New South Wales or Victoria. But we are not Tasmanians or Victorians, nor Welshmen new, old nor southern, for heaven’s sake - we are Australians, and both our national houses of parliament should recognise this simple fact by properly proportional representation. 

The current situation is a ludicrous colonial hangover, matched only by the fact that the entity we call the Australian Commonwealth, the one that comprises the jigsaw of states, has a head of state in a slate grey snowed-in capital on the far side of the world and whose main interests are horseflesh and small dogs.

The only reason we still have a foreign head of state is that we are too lazy and apathetic to replace her with someone who was actually born here, just as we are too lazy and apathetic to revisit the arrangements made more than a century ago, to go about reforming the senate and abolishing the states. For those who remain to be convinced of the need for senate reform, three names: Albert Field, Brian Harradine, Steve Fielding. 

Once abolished, many of the roles of state governments could be replaced by an enlarged local government sector, and for all those who immediately cry out “Shonky Wollongong Council!”, I reply “I’ll see your shonky council, and raise you one utterly and terminally useless New South Wales Government!”

The other state governments might possibly be a tad more acceptable, but we don’t need them. We have three tiers of government for a nation of just 21 million people. State governments are superfluous and by and large useless for anything more than sod-breaking photo-ops. 

I urge all readers to make getting rid of them their New Year’s resolution too. Think of it: we have nothing to lose but one entire unimaginative, wasteful, and expensive tier of government. 

While we’re at it, our city names could do with a revisit too, Sydney and Melbourne in particular, named after our English lords and masters of the time of colonisation. Are we to be burdened evermore with the legacy?

Bennelong would seem a fine name for Sydney, and as for Melbourne, a friend suggested Batmania, which may at least give it more popular appeal than that big ball of wool. For Brisbane, Bogan has been suggested, fusing with its satellite Logan to become the tropical metropolis of Boganville. Perth I move to retain as my emigrant family came from Perthshire, and Adelaide I should like to retain too as with enormous foresight it was named after my daughter.

Darwin is our best-named city, a permanent annoyance to Creationists and flat-earthers. In honour of the great man one might suggest that the imaginatively named “Northern Territory” become Galapaga. Or if not that, how about Gondwana?

Alice Springs must be retained too, in honour of Neville Shute, Helen Morse and the telegraph, and for the famed on-air blunder of the ABC radio newsreader who opened a bulletin with “Here is the news from South Australia, read by Alice Springs”.

Alice springs eternal. But as for the states, abolish them; the senate, reform it; and as for the republic, may we at last be grown up enough to bring it on.