Unfinished books 2

April 25, 2017

back end cartload

This is the second in a series.

Amongst the books I have salvaged from my late father’s house is a copy of George Johnston’s last book, A Cartload of Clay.

My copy is ex the YMCA library in Sydney.  A pristine date due slip and loan card in an envelope pasted inside the back cover suggest it was never borrowed from that library.  The front page bears the name of a colleague of my father’s, with whom he lunched practically every day when they were both at work (I joke that he was “the other man”).  Judging from another, pencilled note “1st ed. $1” he bought it second-hand.

Published in 1971, this the third instalment of Johnston’s “David Meredith” trilogy, following My Brother Jack (1964) and Clean Straw for Nothing (1969).  I heard My Brother Jack read (abridged, obviously) as a serial on ABC Radio some time in the early 70s and later read it and Clean Straw for Nothing when I was about 16. I surely also read Cartload of Clay then, if only out of completism, though I have no real recollection of that.  I was probably too young to get what it was on about.

The trilogy is autobiographical – David Meredith is Johnson, subject to the usual fictive rearrangements. Cressida is his second wife, Charmian Clift.  Johnson and Clift returned to Australia in 1964; Clift committed suicide on the eve of the launch of CSFN.

Cartload follows a day when the widowed Meredith sets out on a “practice walk” up the street to the church where his daughter is to get married.  Like Johnston, Meredith has lung problems.  He doesn’t get far.  Taking a breather at a bench by a bus stop he meets various local characters and dozes off and his mind wanders – to an interlude in wartime Kunming – an affair and his friendship there with the poet Wen Yiduo; – to a trek on the Tibetan plateau with a photographer friend who later fell off a mountain when stepping back to take a picture; to his time in Greece; to his return to Australia and his encounters with the younger generation; to the suicide by Cressida with the stock of barbiturates he had kept by his bed to do the deed for himself; to his childhood in Elsternwick – revisiting a subject already dealt with in My Brother Jack, but now treated with less scorn.

It is hard to see how the novel could have finished other than with the death of David Meredith.  In the end, Johnston beat his character to it and the book was published unfinished.  There is a good introduction by Sydney’s Mr Literature of the day, John Douglas Pringle.

I realise that I am pretty much exactly same age that Johnston must have been when he wrote this – he died just two days after his 58th birthday.  I am sure this makes me more receptive to its themes than I can have been when 16.

I’ll squib the duty of a literary critic just as I do of a musical one: I don’t profess to say what the book is about  (as if a novel can be reduced to a syllogism).  There are some quaintnesses of period (the Youth generation; women) but also much that is resonant to me – poetic even.  I have enjoyed reading it.

Here is an extract – omitted yesterday on account of ANZAC day.

Meredith discovers he has bitten his fingernail down to the bleeding quick:

Meredith fingernails I

Meredith fingernails II

That is in chapter 14.

Chapter 16 starts with Meredith sitting at the bus stop:

“If at this stage you were to imagine the scene as being presented on the stretched-out oblong of the modern cinema screen it would be most interesting to visualize it through whatever is the opposite to a zoom lens; the retreating viewpoint, that is, soaring higher and higher like an escaped balloon, focused at the figure of Meredith huddled lonely and solitary on the mundane suburban bus seat…”

to the point where he is just an invisible speck amongst “the drab red expanses [of red tile and red brick and …cement and asphalt], now from our great altitude resembling a parched desert.”

16.1 Meredith

End of chapter 16

There’s something a bit overbearing, like an old-style newsreel voice over, about the second person address in this chapter, but I love how the fingernails come back into it.

One funny thing.  Johnston’s final home was in Raglan Street, Mosman – thinly disguised in the novel as Inkerman Street, “Northleigh.” I cannot imagine that I knew this before I looked it up in a biography of Johnston also salvaged from my father’s house, but as I read the book I already had a distinct picture in my mind of a street in Mosman and the bus stop where Meredith pauses. It wasn’t the exact street, but it was pretty close.

Unfinished books 1

April 23, 2017

KMurr

D is out of the country at present.

D sometimes complains that days, even weeks when he is here can pass without any substantive conversation from me.  Nevertheless, whilst he is away I find I have more time to read.

Inspired by Daniil Trifonov’s performance of Schumann’s set of pieces Kreisleriana, I decided to track down their literary namesake – ETA Hoffmann’s literary alter-ego, Kapellmeister Kreisler.  Hoffmann first adopted this character as a journalistic pseudonym in about 1809, but he reached his greatest fame through Hoffmann’s final work, Lebensansichten des Kater Murr  – translated as The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr together with a fragmentary Biography of Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler on Random Sheets of Waste Paper .

Yes, that is the Hoffmann of the Tales of Hoffmann, author of the story on which The Nutcracker is based, and famous in music history for an equivalent to Schumann’s “Hats off, gentlemen” welcoming of Chopin’s genius when, about 20 years earlier, he acclaimed Beethoven’s Instrumental Music (in a review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) as the apotheosis of romanticism.

It is popular sometimes to mock the insularity of Americans who know little of countries outside the USA, but it is no less shocking to contemplate the literary insularity of the Anglosphere when you realise how little presence there is in English of a writer such as Hoffmann.  Most of what little the University of Sydney library has is confined to its stacks (as so much is these days) and a visit to Abbeys bookshop in town proved fruitless.

I have read two of Hoffmann’s shorter stories in the original German. That was when my Deutsch was in better nick than it is now.  Fortunately, Penguin Classics published a translation by Anthea Bell of Kater Murr usw in about 1997.  It was obviously a labour of love on her part.  I doubt if it has been a great commercial success for them.

Gratifyingly I was able to track down a copy in the City of Sydney Library.  It is marvellously easy to order a book to be delivered to the branch of your choice.  Public libraries are wonderful things.

The conceit is that Murr, a tomcat of literary pretensions (he has surreptitiously learnt to read and write by carefully observing his original master, Abraham) has written his autobiography.   By the time of writing this, he is living with Kappellmeister Kreisler.  He has adopted and treated as scrap paper an account of Kreisler’s life (in fact, more like a gothick novel featuring Kreisler) and left pages of it as if used as blotting paper amongst those of his manuscript.  Accidentally, according to Hoffmann (describing himself as the editor) the printer has printed everything, with the result that sections of Murr’s narrative are interspersed with sections of the story of Kreisler.

Murr’s account is continuous, subject to these interruptions – that is, with one exception each extract takes up from where the last left off; the extracts of the Kreisler story are discontinuous and in some disarray – Murr, the “editor” tells us, seems to have torn up some of the paper or used it for something else.

A cat’s life is short, so periods which in a human biography would be designated in  years are designated in months, such as “the apprentice months.”

On occasion, Murr mixes with dogs.  In this fictive world, dogs are cats’ social betters. Murr lives in fear of them even when they befriend him.

Following the restoration of the status ante quo at the Congress of Vienna, there was a crackdown against the student movements which had arisen and been while tolerated for so long as useful in the struggle against Napoleonic France.  Hoffmann, by then holding a day-job as a judge in Berlin, was involved in investigating these nationalist student fraternities with which he likely sympathised.  Murr joins a cat-fraternity until it is broken up and his friend killed from a dog-bite.  Some political satire appears intended, albeit obscure to me.

The plot of the Kreisler story revolves around a princely household in a former microstate which has been swallowed up by neighbouring states (probably a reference to the consolidations imposed by Napoleon). Whilst appearances of a court are maintained, it is all pretence with which the prince’s erstwhile subjects go along. The prince himself is satirized as a ridiculous figure much given to French phrases and punctilious in his observance of now meaningless aristocratic niceties.

To this “court” comes Kreisler after quitting a Grand-ducal Court where his art was not respected, true German art being overshadowed by Italianizing fashions – Rossini is amongst the resented. Hoffmann himself wrote an opera, Undine, favourably noticed by Weber, and spend some years in the theatre at Bamberg after he lost his legal job in the Prussian part of Poland as a consequence a Beethovenesque (cf Eroica) lack of respect towards the occupying French.

One Prince Hector,  proposed suitor of the ex-micro-Prince’s daughter, Princess Hedwiga, has designs on Julia, daughter of Madam Benzon, widow of a councillor at the little court and mother also of a mysteriously disappeared illegitimate daughter of the micro-Prince.

Kreisler loves Julia with echoes of the impossible artist’s love (OK, he is an “impossible artist” but I probably mean “artist’s impossible love”) which is the theme of Offenbach’s operatic adaptation of other Hoffmann tales.  Kreisler confronts Hector with a painting given to Kreisler by Master Abraham, Kreisler’s mentor and (if you can recall that far back) Murr’s master.  Set upon by a retainer of Prince Hector, Kreisler kills his assailant and flees to a monastery.

There is plenty of critical writing, much of which I have dipped into on the internet since reading the book, about the comparison between the self-satisfied Murr and the restless, mercurial Kreisler.  Whilst the general trend of this is to prefer the Kreisler narrative, even Murr encounters some of the difficulties and humiliations of an artist amongst society.

Gradually we learn that something terrible happened in Naples involving the Prince Hector, his brother,  and Master Abraham, of which the painting was a reminder.  The missing illegitimate daughter was murdered, and then there is the question of what has become of Abraham’s wife, whose psychic powers were an essential element of Abraham’s “Invisible Girl” trick.  She is supposed by him to be missing possibly dead; we we know she was abducted and imprisoned at the instigation of Madam Benzon by arrangement with the petit-Prince for fear she would expose their liaison and maybe she is the Papagena-like crone in Naples.

Master Abraham goes on the road and entrusts Murr to the care of Kreisler.  Presumably this is when Murr uses the Kreisler “waste paper” to write his life history and thoughts.

At the end of book 4, which is the end of the second published volume, Hoffmann as editor sorrowfully announces that Murr has died.  Some fragments by Murr survive, which Hoffmann hopes it may be possible to publish with the remainder of the Kreisler story in a volume 3.

Hoffmann himself died shortly after.

So no volume 3, which is pretty maddening.  All those dark gothic secrets unresolved on the Kreisler side!  I can accept the Murr material stopping so abruptly because suspense is not an element in that.

I haven’t really captured here the humour of the book and its charm: cats in novels are almost as good as on the internet.  Hoffmann, who is said to have had an actual cat, Murr, must have been a cat lover.  This endears him to me.

 

I think that I shall never see…

April 15, 2017

P1110935

IMG_0354.JPG

A trinity of concerts

April 9, 2017

Last Saturday to the SOH to hear the SSO.  I met up with my friend and former student (though I don’t think I ever directly taught him in class), Db.

It feels as though Db and I go even further back than we actually do.  His PhD supervisor, M (who died relatively young in about 2001) was a close family friend and neighbour when I grew up in West Pymble.  M told Db a few anecdotes about my family which gave a perspective on that time which I would otherwise not have had.  And retrospectively going even further back, Db is now responsible for and from time to time travels to a scientific facility which is just up the road from the sheep station where my father grew up before WWII.

The program, conducted by Asher Fisch, was:

Dorman, After Brahms, 3 orchestral intermezzi
Brahms – Schicksalslied and Gesang der Parzen (with the Sydney Philharmonia)
Strauss, Alpine Symphony.

The first two of the Dorman pieces are based on/derived from aspects of late Brahms piano pieces, respectively Op 118 No 1 and Op 119 No 1.   I can’t say the Brahmsian spirit really struck me in the first one.  It seemed, in its orchestral version, simply too helter-skelter.  The second was closer to its original. Funnily enough, it was the third piece, claiming no specific Brahms model, which felt the most Brahmsian.

This was the SSO’s first performance of Schicksalslied and also of Gesang der Parzen.  For that matter, I’m not sure if we’ve had Nänie and the Alto Rhapsody is only infrequently done.

I had been particularly looking forward to Sl and GdP.  Both texts have rather similar themes, and even a metaphor in common of mortals’ destiny (as opposed to the Gods’) being like water falling downwards over Klippen (cliffs).  GdP (Goethe from Euripides; a song sung by the fates to poor old Tantalus) was grimmer.  They are both a reminder of a Hellenism which is definitely a bigger thing in German literary culture than English. I enjoyed them both, notwithstanding rather whiter-than-ideal tone at an exposed high and quiet tenor part of the Gesang

At interval Db reminded me that it was at the SOH that we had been to what he counted as his most memorable Strauss performance. That was on (if Ausstage be my guide) 13 September 1991. After taking part in a school concert in the Concert Hall, we slipped into about row C of the stalls for the last act of Der Rosenkavalier.  This was Stuart Challender’s last ever performance, three months to the day before he died.  You can only imagine what he must have been feeling when he conducted the bit where the Marschallin muses on the passing of time.

I’m afraid I didn’t really get into the Alpine Symphony.  I must have been in the wrong mood for it. There are definitely some bits which are a bit like the fight between Telramund and Lohengrin and which are only just music.  Until the final section, it just seemed so loud and fast.  I wanted to pause for a few more breathers on the way up the mountain.  The playing, however, was fine, and I’ve since listened to the broadcast on air and online and enjoyed it more.

On Friday, I went impromptu to Angel Place to hear/see the St John Passion – stirred by the rehearsal I had stumbled across the day before at St James King Street.  Inevitably in Angel Place the choir could not match the exhilarating power of its opening chorus when sung in an almost empty church the night before.  Whilst the church would have been less resonant when full and obviously its capacity is less than Angel Place, I wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off staying in the church – sticking the kids up in the back gallery with maybe a few in the choir stalls if they wouldn’t fit upstairs. Fewer people would have got to hear it  and yes those pews are not comfortable, but Angel Place is so expensive to hire that I imagine the financial outcome could have been about the same and there are other reasons – let’s call them authenticity for short – for keeping it in the church.

I was surprised at how few solo arias there in fact are.  Sally-Anne Russell was better suited to her second than her first.  I’m not sure that I have ever heard an unequivocally successful rendition of the second soprano aria, which may be more about the aria and its place near the end of work than the performers.

I find myself less in sympathy with the religious content than I would once have been. The St John is the more blood-libelly of the Passions (“If thou lettest this mango, thou art not Elias’ friend.”) At one time I affected to prefer it to the St Matthew, on account of its more punchy narrative, but now I suspect it would take the more elaborate stage machinery of the latter to sweep me past the Religion to my own higher sphere.

It was an estimable performance.  “You look exhilarated!” said the cloak-room attendant when I went to get my bag at the end, and I suppose I was.

On Saturday just past to UNSW to hear the Australia Ensemble.

The concert was entitled “Fantasy and Variations.”  The fantasy was a work for piano quintet by Carl Vine.  This was very effective without necessarily sticking its neck out very far.  I enjoyed it.

The remaining works all featured variations: the Carl Nielsen wind quintet; a Prélude, récitatif et variations for flute, viola and piano by Duruflé, and the Mozart Clarinet Quintet.  The Duruflé was a discovery to me: it’s only his Op 3 and it seems his only published chamber work, so I wouldn’t say it is really typical of him; it was quite lush.  The Nielsen is deservedly a classic.

I had been blasé about the Mozart in prospect.  It is a work which suffers a bit from over-exposure. But blasé was good because things could only get better once the quintet started. Although the clarinet is prominent – the opening movement is almost a duet between the first violin and the clarinet – what was really striking was the way that David Griffiths integrated himself within the ensemble as a whole.  It’s not the kind of piece where you stamp and shout at the end, but you know you have heard, at least in a performance like this, a masterpiece.

Of the three concerts, I enjoyed the Australia Ensemble’s the most.

The pursuit of hoppiness

April 6, 2017

On second thoughts (this post originally had a more mundane title) I might as well borrow this pun, which was a promotional poster in the building where I work. I expect it was borrowed in turn from some US source.

I confess my first thought was of some (preferably Czech) beer before I divined a reference to the Easter bunny was intended.

Meanwhile, in the courts, timetables become more spacious as the law’s delay accommodates the Easter season. From time to time in a Friday list someone proposes 14 April as a date on which a matter might next be listed.  This becomes a great joke.

There is a famous legal anecdote, told of a number of judges but most often of Lord Mansfield, the late eighteenth-century Scots Lord Chief Justice of England.  When he announced that he intended to sit on Good Friday, some courageous counsel is claimed to have said that, if he did so, he would be the first judge to have done so since Pontius Pilate.  Even if the story happened, the courageous counsel was almost certainly wrong about that.  In 1824, when this anecdote was brought to his attention by one Mr Chitty, Mr Justice Park observed that  “There have been 5,000 persons brought to trial on Good Friday.”

Chitty’s motion was to arrest judgment (the jury brought in its verdict of guilty of murder on 7 January) on the grounds that the court had sat on Epiphany.  Chitty claimed this was contrary to a statute of Edward VI concerning days (including Epiphany) which were to be kept holy.  Oddly enough, Good Friday was not one of the days listed in the statute.

You have to say it was a desperate application.  Chitty went so far as to invoke God:

“It is my solemn opinion before God [Mr. Justice Park, “Oh! Oh!”] that the ground for an arrest of judgment is valid, and I therefore move it.”

Mr Justice Park was distinctly unimpressed:

I am of opinion that there is no validity whatever in the ground laid for this motion, and I must hope, that in future Counsel will not appeal to the Deity for the sincerity of their opinions, because such an appeal gives a sort of sanction, approaching to the nature of an oath, to their assertions, which they are not called upon to give. A Counsel is not only not blamed, but honoured, for advancing an opinion with ingenuity which his deliberate and impartial judgment might not confirm, but he is not called on to sanction it by appeals to the Deity.

The prisoner was hanged on 9 January.

But I digress.

This evening, as I walked up King St to the station, Queen’s Square was filled with frolicking schoolchildren.  The side door of S James was open.  I wandered in: the St John Passion was being rehearsed for a performance at Angel Place on Friday night.  An “early instrument” orchestra has been assembled – perhaps a bit stronger at the front desk of the violins than further back, but impressive nevertheless.  Some soloists are drawn from the choir with distinguished supplementation.

I stayed to the end of Part I.

The schoolchildren (from Shore and Santa Sabina, the latter accompanied by the redoubtable Mrs Carey, now translated from MLC School) were there to make up the massed choir for the chorales.

It should be and I hope it will be a great experience for them.

 

Attitude problem

March 26, 2017

CRM, aged about 80, wanted a working with children check clearance so that he could work in a volunteer capacity.  Regulations under the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act specify a wide range of volunteer roles for which such a clearance is required.

He applied to the Children’s Guardian for this on 24 June 2015.

In 1953 CRM was charged with and was subsequently convicted of an offence of carnal knowledge.

If CRM was 18 at the time of committing the carnal knowledge offence this would count as a disqualifying offence under the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012.  The Children’s Guardian would be obliged to refuse CRM a clearance. CRM could apply to NCAT for an enabling order to be issued with a clearance, but under section 28 of the Act, he would be presumed to pose a risk to the safety of children unless he could prove otherwise.  This is known as “the onus.”

The Children’s Guardian could not tell how old CRM was when he committed the carnal knowledge offence.  The relevant court records were missing and it may be presumed that CRM, if he had referred to it in his application, had not given the precise date.

CRM also had a conviction for obscene exposure.  On a Friday in May 1961 he exposed his penis to a 15-year-old girl on a train.  He was aged 26 at the time.

I am a bit surprised that this was not also a disqualifying offence but it was probably still an offence which would trigger a requirement that the Children’s Guardian undertake a “risk assessment” to determine whether CRM posed a risk (over and above the normal risk anyone poses) to the safety of children before deciding whether issue him with a clearance.

The first step if there is to be a risk assessment is that the Children’s Guardian inform the applicant of this and give the applicant the opportunity to provide further information.  Obviously, the Children’s Guardian would need also to find out from CRM when the carnal knowledge offence was committed.

CRM’s application went nowhere for about a year because he had not given an email address and apparently this prevented the Children’s Guardian from even sending him a letter.  As with Centrelink, the Children’s Guardian has moved its systems online in order to deal with the enormous volume of applications it has to process.

In May 2016, CRM rang the Children’s Guardian to complain that a year was a long time to wait to hear from them.  It’s not clear whether he got to speak to a person then but you can assume that at this point his call was merely logged.  A month later they rang him back.

Even then it does not look as though they asked CRM the right question.  CRM told them he was 18 when he was convicted.

A Children’s Guardian officer went ahead with a risk assessment and decided that CRM did not pose a risk to the safety of children.  Then someone higher up spotted the carnal knowledge offence and determined that CRM was a disqualified person.  The Children’s Guardian was obliged to refuse CRM a clearance, and accordingly knocked him back.

CRM applied to NCAT for an enabling order.  As is always the case, a barrister appeared for the Children’s Guardian.  CRM, by now 81, appeared for himself.

At these hearings, the Children’s Guardian puts into evidence (though the legal rules of evidence do not apply) its file and all the information it has collected.  CRM filed what the Tribunal called a “bundle of material” including the following:

  1. a Certificate II in Security Operations,
  2. a Notice of probationary appointment as Commissionaire at a Government Office, dated 23 June 1982,
  3. a Certificate, dated 18 June 1987, stating the applicant held the appointment of Special constable for the State of NSW in the capacity as Commissionaire,
  4. a heavy vehicle driver licence, a security industry licence and a bus drive licence in the name of the applicant,
  5. a number of references from past employers and friends dated 17 September 1978, 17 December 1981, 21 December 1982, 17 November 1987, 22 February 1988, 28 May 1988, 31 May 1990, 15 May 1991, 20 December 2001, 2 October 2003, 23 June 2008 and 3 May 2011, and
  6. a couple of newspaper articles in regard to “sex offenders” and the “criminal classes.”

You can tell from (6) that CRM really didn’t have much of a clue about how such hearings might proceed.  You can also infer that the point he wanted to make was that he had worked in a number of jobs with exposure to the public including children (he had retired as a bus driver in 2002) where he was trusted and without any incident or further complaint since 1961.  I expect his view was that what had happened was a long time ago when he was a much younger person and should not lead to the conclusion that he was a risk to the safety of children in the light of his blameless life since.  He obviously did not appreciate what the fuss was or would be about.

The tribunal in its reasons states that at the hearing CRM conceded that he was over 18 years of age at the time the carnal offence was committed.  That probably means that without that concession the Tribunal would not have been sure of that.  How sure could CRM have been of that?  Nevertheless, the concession stood.

CRM had spoken on the phone with officials of the Children’s Guardian when they conducted the assessment (which had led them to form the view that he did not pose a risk apart from being a disqualified person).  Notes of these conversations were amongst the material produced by the Children’s Guardian.  He also almost inevitably, since he was presenting his own case, gave oral evidence on which he was cross-examined by counsel for the Children’s Guardian.

The following is the Tribunal’s account of that material in relation to the carnal knowledge offence:

In July 2016, when initially asked by an officer of the respondent about the circumstances giving rise to the carnal knowledge offence, the applicant explained that at the time he was working for the salvation army and he had picked up “the woman” in a bus stop as she was all alone and had no place to go. He said he invited “the woman” to stay at his place. He said the woman “undressed herself” and they engaged in “consensual sex.” He said he later found out that “the woman” was underage and that she had escaped from the dormitory of a high school.

In a subsequent conversation that day, with another officer of the respondent, the applicant added he met “the child who was waiting at a bus stop and as he came from ‘Christian upbringing’ he felt compelled to assist her.” He said the child had indicated she had been kicked out of home and as his mother worked in social welfare he assisted the child to obtain appropriate accommodation. He said that when he returned, “nature took its course.”

In his oral evidence in these proceedings, the applicant said the victim of the carnal knowledge offence wore “a very revealing blouse” and that there “should have been something to protect” him. He said the victim jumped into bed with him and he re-iterated “nature took its course.”

The first two of these excerpts above are based on file notes of officials of the Children’s Guardian  It is likely that CRM called the (under 16) victim a “woman.” The use of the word “child” in the second is probably the official’s wording.

This is the Tribunal’s consideration of that material, emphasis added in the second extract:

While the age of “the woman” is unknown, the applicant has acknowledged she was a high school student and given the nature of the offence she must have been under the age of 16 years.

While we accept that the applicant’s recollection of events dating back to 1953 may not be clear, we nevertheless have considerable difficulty in accepting his account of events. The victim was a child, a high school student, who was unknown to him. She was vulnerable, alone and in all probability trusted him; otherwise she would not have gone with him. In such circumstances it cannot be accepted that there had been consensual sexual intercourse. Having regard to his evidence, we were left with the impression that the applicant has a complete lack of understanding about his offending conduct and the impact it may have had on the victim. He appeared to blame her for the situation he found himself in, rather than questioning his own behaviour.

it cannot be accepted that there had been consensual sexual intercourse

WHOAH!  Where did that come from, and what use is the Tribunal making of it?

With those weasel words I think the Tribunal has taken a step too far.  Of course I wasn’t there (and nor were they in 1953) but I have to very seriously doubt whether they have made a proper assessment of something an 81-year-old man has said about how it is that he came to commit an offence when he was 18 – when he was a lot younger than he is now and when the victim was not much younger than he was.

When charged with the obscene exposure offence in 1961, the victim had first told the police that he was (as the phrase used to be at railway toilets) “adjusting his attire” and that he should have been more careful.  However he subsequently admitted that was false and pleaded guilty.  The following is based, I expect, on the magistrate’s sentencing notes:

He told the Magistrate he had a very bad home life and his father sent him to a church home for boys. He explained his prior stealing convictions were due to having “got in with a crook mob”. He explained he had married in 1955, but his wife “had lost her desire for sexual relationships”, but they were still living together. He said this and their money worries had placed a great strain on him. The money worries were due to him having not been able to work because of illness. When asked if he had seen a doctor about his offending conduct, the applicant responded he had seen a psychiatrist once and that he didn’t take to him very well. He said he had discussed the matter with his wife and prior to admitting guilt he told the Magistrate that he had come to the “point of asking for some help in medical ways.”

The Tribunal noted that CRM did not in fact obtain any treatment.

The Tribunal was required to consider “the likelihood of any repetition by the person of the offences … and the impact on children of any such repetition.”  They found:

Given the applicant’s age and the fact that he has not reoffended in a similar manner for many years, the likelihood of him re-offending as he did in 1953 and 1961 is probably low.

OK, you might think – give him the enabling order.  But no, they were obviously troubled by all this “woman,” “revealing blouse” and “nature taking its course.”  They went on:

However, given his account of past offending, we are not persuaded the applicant the has any understanding today of child protection issues, or what he should do in circumstances where a child protection issue may arise and he is required to deal with it. As we have noted, the applicant appears to have blamed others for what occurred and we doubt he has at any time appreciated the seriousness of his offending in so far as it concerns issues of child protection.

Accordingly, even though there was a low risk of re-offending, CRM had not discharged the onus of proving he was not a risk to the safety of children because of his lack of insight when accounting for, at the age of 81, his conduct when he was 18 or (though I can’t quite see where this comes from in the tribunal’s account of his evidence) blaming his wife for his conduct when he was 26.

What is of concern to us is the applicant’s lack of understanding about the seriousness of his offending conduct in 1953 and again in 1961 and the impact that conduct may have had on the victims. Instead he continues to blame the victim, or his former wife, for the situation he found himself in. While we do not believe the applicant is likely to offend in a similar way today, given his responses to his prior offending, we are not persuaded the applicant has any understanding of child protection issues, or what he should do in circumstances where a child protection issue may arise and he is required to deal with it. It is for this reason that we find the applicant has failed to discharge his onus.

Older Russians

March 15, 2017

Last Saturday night with my old friend and some-time piano teacher P to the Australia Ensemble’s first concert of the year, entitled Russian Legends.

The program was:

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971):L’histoire du soldat (Soldier’s Tale Suite)(1918)

Sofia Gubaidulina (b 1931):Allegro Rustico (1963) and Sounds of the Forest (1978)

Anton Arensky (1861-1906): Piano Trio no.1 Op.32 (1894)

[Interval]

Elena Kats-Chernin (b 1957): Three Rags (1996)

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887): String Quartet no. 2(1881)

The Stravinsky was an arrangement by the composer for violin, clarinet and piano written for a patron who had financed the original work.  The clarinettist was the ensemble’s seemingly now-permanent guest artist, David Griffiths.  That probably means that the UNSW is never again going to make a permanent appointment to the Ensemble of the sort the other members enjoy.

Dene Olding was in particularly fine form for the devilish violin part.

I really enjoyed the Gubaidulina, which were for flute and piano, despite  a few really shocking audience noises.  I find I am a sucker for flutter tonguing on the flute in much the way I am for mutes on strings.

I expect it is because I have heard Geoffrey Collins so often with the Ensemble that I find his style highly recognisable when he pops up on the radio, either in some Australian chamber work or by his distinctive (to me) contribution to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as their principal flute. Wouldn’t it be nice if he could fill in a few principal gigs with the SSO while they don’t have their own?

The Arensky didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but that was more the work than the performance and my expectations were probably pitched too high.  It features a massive piano part – in previous years set as a choice but rarely if ever chosen in the Sydney International Piano Competition.  In the first movement, the effect was almost comic with Dimity Hall and Julian Smiles seemingly unperturbed by fairly straightforward material for the violin and cello whilst in almost a parallel world Ian Munro cooked up a storm behind them.  The balance of energy became more even in the last two movements.

I wasn’t so crazy about the Kats-Chernin.  I feel a resistance to pieces where all the audience feel they have to have a little sighing chuckle at the end, especially if I’m not feeling it myself.  Of the three rags (all, I think, originally for piano), the first was an arrangement by Kats-Chernin and the second and third were arrangements by Griffiths.  Without knowing that, P thought the Griffiths arrangements more successful.

The first time P came to hear the Ensemble the Borodin quartet was on the program and with it they won her allegiance.  The third movement is the most famous and the audience anticipation was palpable as the players took a moment to tune, though Dene O never seemed to me to quite settle in the famous tune.

I most enjoyed the first movement, which from the start feels like a conversation that you have just walked into, and the amazing second movement which opens with a kind of whirling without bass – as if of birds or other objects in the air.  Wikipedia tells me that the last movement is a masterpiece of counterpoint but it is hard for it to live up to what has come before.

In the pre-concert publicity Irina Morozova was quoted as saying how much she loves the Borodin quartet on account of its being Russian and “in her blood.” It is certainly a quartet with a generous serve of gratifying moments for the viola.

This year the Ensemble has gone the Eventbrite way with bar-coded tickets printed on A4 sheets of paper.  You also get an email and perhaps it is possible to put the barcode on your phone.  I guess this saves them money but I would still rather have a traditional ticket – the A4 printout is so daggy.

At least our tickets were not being scanned with a device as we entered as they now very officiously (and delay-makingly) are at the Opera House.

Earlier in the week, I went to Daniil Trifonov’s recital.  It was very much the hot ticket in town and everyone was there (2).   Trifonov is a phenomenal player.  I’m afraid all the excitement about his virtuosity got a bit in the way of my really losing myself in the music.  I don’t mean by that to accuse him of any meretricious display; it was mostly me.

 

 

 

Young Russians

March 5, 2017

This was the title for my first SSO concert for this year which I went to on Saturday night.

The town was abuzz with Mardi Gras.

The “young Russians” of the title were Shostakovich and Rachmaninov, aged 18 or 19 when they wrote their first symphony and piano concerto respectively (the concerto as we now hear it has some slightly more mature-aged revision) and Prokofiev and Daniil Trifonov, aged 26 (actually Trifonov turned 26 today, Sunday) – Prokofiev for his Classical Symphony (his No 1) and Daniil Trifonov as piano soloist.

Conductor Gustavo Gimeno, a Spaniard, was the odd man out though he is still comparatively young in conductor terms.  Just because I’m not going to talk about him more in this post does not mean he didn’t do a good job. In the Shostakovich in particular there was a big job to be done.

The Shostakovich 1 was the rarity – last played by the SSO as part of a Shostakovich festival in 2002.  I missed that as I was in Perth.  I expect that means I haven’t previously heard it live.  I felt as if I’d heard the perky little march in the first movement before.  Could it have been Peter and the Wolf?  Apparently when Prokofiev admired some of Shostakovich’s work at about this time, a mutual acquaintance suggested that Prokofiev just liked it because Shostakovich had imitated his style.

The Symphony is a bit like a first novel or a kind of musical scrapbook where Shostakovich pasted in everything he had stored up to date.  It switches gear half way through to a more sustainedly tragic mode with a rather tacked-on,  it seemed to me, obligatory big finish.

At first I felt that if it wasn’t by Shostakovich we wouldn’t have been hearing it.  That’s probably because it’s easy to take for granted elements of his style which are familiar from later works.  My friend and former teacher, LW, starting from the view that he didn’t like the symphony very much, expressed himself as converted to it by this performance. I enjoyed it and am glad I heard it.  Despite some restive coughing from, I assume, the Rachmaninov crowd, it received rousing applause.

I say the Rachmaninov crowd because Trifonov was without doubt the big draw-card for this concert.  His recital on Monday at Angel Place is all-but booked out (2 seats available when I checked just now).  His approach to the Rachmaninov was a bit on the cool, objectivist, side, but it was undeniably thrilling.  It was a solace to mere mortals and probably a symptom of youth that he managed to beat the orchestra to the finishing chord by a microsecond in the first movement and a microsecond or two in the last, but this in no way detracted from the whole, and I’m definitely looking forward to Monday.

For an encore Trifonov played – what was it?  I could tell that it was an arrangement of a Gavotte from a Bach unaccompanied string suite but as for me all of those works are a bit like a dog walking on its hind legs exactly which one was a bit of a mystery.  Could it be a cello suite? We’re always hearing so much about these.  Well, no. The key should have given the game away, as it was in E and is an arrangement by Rachmaninov of the  gavotte from the Violin Partita No 3- evidently one of his party-pieces.  Jayson Gillham gave Rachmaninov’s transcription of the Preludio from the same partita as an encore last year.

RG, arts-savant and cultural tour-leader, complained about this, because now after all that Rachmaninov, the Bach would inevitably become the ear-worm – and in my case he  proved to be right. Does that mean we can have no catchy encores? I am not such a purist though I see RG’s point about this particular one.

I don’t think it was the earworm alone which kept me awake well into the morning – which I find occurs if a performance has really made an impact on me.

Happy Birthday Mr Trifonov, and see you tomorrow!

 

 

 

Amber Harrison and joking Justice MacDougall

February 27, 2017

Plenty have been transfixed by the feud between Amber Harrison and Channel 7.

In December 2012, Harrison, who worked for Nick Chan, in charge of Pacific Magazines, a Seven subsidiary, embarked on an affair with Tim Worner, CEO of the Seven Network.  Worner was older than Harrison, and married.

The main shareholder and chairman of Seven West is Kerry Stokes, a very rich and powerful man.

The Pacific Magazines offices were in Redfern (you can see the Seven offices, in the Eveleigh precinct, when you go past in the train). Worner worked at Jones Bay Wharf, in Pyrmont.

In October 2013, Ms Harrison’s work relocated to Jones Bay Wharf.  According to Harrison, that was when the difficulties with the affair began.  Amongst other things, she felt he was ignoring her and disregarding her during work hours.

Excuse me?

What part of a clandestine affair with a married man did Harrison not understand?  OK: theory is one thing but coming up against the practice could be another.

Harrison asked to be transferred somewhere else within the organization so she wouldn’t have to endure this.  Nothing came of this.  You might wonder about the governance implications if it had.

One thing Harrison also apparently wasn’t ready for (though again surely she should have been)  was the possibility that there might be other other women.  That seems to have precipitated the end of the “relationship” in mid 2014.

Right at the same time, Harrison became the target of an investigation about corporate credit card misuse.  Harrison doesn’t see that as a coincidence and you can see why she might see it that way.

Harrison agreed to pay back $14K of expenses and Seven paid her $100K.  But Seven wasn’t leaving things there.  It commissioned a report from Deloittes which identified $262K of unjustified expenses over a period of some years.

In November a second deed was entered into.  Under that deed, Harrison was made redundant.  Seven agreed to pay Harrison various amounts upfront and a further $150K in monthly instalments over 12 months.  A procedure was established for Harrison to be given access to documentation concerning the $262K.  To the extent that Harrison could establish that these expenses were legitimate, she would also receive those amounts.  A Mr Kite SC was appointed as a kind of referee for this.

There were other obligations on both sides, including “non-disparagement” clauses – though critically Seven’s obligation to not disparage Harrison was conditional on Harrison keeping her side of the bargain, whereas Harrison’s obligation was not so conditional.

Bruce McWilliam, Seven director and former Allens partner was in charge of things on Seven’s side and signed the deed for Seven.

Seven stopped performing its part of the bargain, including making the instalment payments, in March 2015.  Seven says that was because Harrison wasn’t performing her side of the deal, and in particular did not hand over her phone so that Seven could be sure that she had not retained any dirt on Seven or on Worner.  Given what has happened since there has to be something in that.

There must have been much more that went on.  In December 2016, Harrison went public with “explosive” allegations.

Some of Harrison’s more inflammatory claims were of affairs by Worner with other women (including some prominent broadcast personalities).  These were given internet exposure by muckraker, Stokes-hater and serial disregarder of court orders Shane Dowling, despite various court orders seeking to shut him down (1, 2, 3 and see als0 4).

Harrison also made claims of illegal drug use by Worner.  Nothing particularly out of the ordinary – just your usual cocaine stuff –  but potentially the most damaging allegations of all given the alleged criminality.

Seven was embarrassed.  It’s a bit of a governance issue if a company is paying $300+K to a discarded lover of a CEO, even if, as may be the case, some of this was taken off the top of bonuses which were otherwise to be paid to Worner.  And that’s before it became public that if Harrison could vouch for all the disputed credit card transactions she would have received over half a million dollars.

Seven commissioned Richard Harris of Allens to undertake an “independent review” of Worner’s conduct.

The review concluded that Worner hadn’t done anything wrong within the company apart from the affair itself, and that (unsurprisingly) the claims about illicit drug use could not be substantiated.  Nothing to see here.  The Seven board said that Worner had been punished enough already and that it was on with business.

One member of the board resigned at about this time, though she’s kept quiet about why.

Harrison was furious.  As far as she was concerned, the report was a whitewash and the investigation perfunctory and a foregone conclusion.  She started releasing material damaging to Seven which she still had (which you might think rather vindicated Seven’s claim that they were justified in breaking off the deal when she wouldn’t hand over her phone back in 2015) and tweeting about material which she had brought to Harris’s attention which she felt should have led to a different outcome.

Seven went to court and got an ex parte interlocutory injunction from Justice MacDougall shutting Harrison up – that is, without giving Harrison a chance to be heard. It was due to come back a week later, on 21 February  when Harrison would have her chance  to argue that the injunction be lifted or varied.

In the meantime, Jeff Kennett, a director of Seven, engaged in a twitter debate with Harrison.  Asked some needling questions in a press conference Kerry Stokes bridled at a question which referred to ‘alleged stealing’ by Amber Harrison.  He responded: “You say alleged stealing.  The facts of the matter are there were significant amounts of our money taken by her and no other excuse for it than just plain taken.”

It didn’t seem fair that Harrison should be subject to a gag order whilst Seven directors were free to take a kick at her.  That became a big part of her lawyer’s argument when the matter was back in court before Justice MacDougall on the 21st.  Not that it got very far.  Andrew Bell SC persuaded MacDougall to continue the injunction until further order.  The interventions by Stokes and Kennett were tut-tutted over but not so as to disentitle Seven to the continuation of the orders.

One of Harrison’s complaints was that, as well as stopping the payments to her, Seven had stopped the process of reviewing documentation for the credit card in order to vouch for the payments – which she was to receive if they were found to be legit.  So not only was the injunction preventing her from defending herself, but Seven’s halting of this process had prevented her from vindicating herself.

Here is the relevant passage of her affidavit:

harrison-affa-pars-35-36

harrison-36-40

The reference to paragraph 14 is to an earlier part of her narrative, about when the credit card discrepancies were first raised with her:

harrison-para-14

If I read this correctly, that means that of the $262K she was accused of misappropriating (on top of the $14K she had repaid) she had proved about $70K was legit in November 2014 (though possibly Kite SC had yet to determine this), found documents which would substantiate another $130K up to March 2015.  That’s about $200K out of $262 or $276K.  It’s not clear if paragraph 40 takes things much further – does she mean that overall she could justify a majority of the expenses?  200/276 is already a “majority.”   Maybe she meant “most.”

In his judgment, MacDougall summarises this evidence and this argument as follows (emphasis added):

Next, as to the submission that Ms Harrison could not respond to Seven’s campaign of “vilification”, it is enough to point out that she has had a full opportunity of putting her case before the Court, in an affidavit that would be read in open Court. She has done so. She has said what she wishes to say as to the matter of expenses. Her response was, if I may put it this way, a little coy. She said that, had she but world enough and time, she would be able to justify “the majority” of the suspect expenses identified in the Deloitte report. That is far from a complete disavowal of any improper use of the cards.

First, I don’t think that’s a fair summary of Harrison’s evidence.

And as for the allusion to Marvell’s “To his coy mistress” – I suppose that counts as a kind of judicial joke.  If so it is just plain unseemly, especially since his Honour downed the “mistress” by his decision.

Postscript

Harrison has foreshadowed a cross-claim.  In my opinion it is simply a rational response to MacDougall’s acceptance of an argument that the deed between her and Seven was on foot and she was bound by it.  Harrison has always claimed that Seven broke the deal.  If she wants to pursue that argument that is probably the only course she can take.

The link reports that Justice Sackar has given Harrison two weeks to file a cross claim. That strikes me as an unnecessarily brisk timetable when Harrison is the less-well-resourced party (whether she is right or wrong) who has already been forced to respond in very limited time frame to Seven’s ex parte application.  That can only be a limitation on her right to bring her claim as a cross claim – she would in my opinion always be free to take much longer to bring a claim in separate proceedings.

An opera-lover writes

February 23, 2017

My friendship with ST was forged in the mid 1980s at Newtown taxi base over our shared interest in opera and classical music.  In fact we had been students together a few years earlier in the Arts faculty at Sydney Uni and were in some common courses.  He was a slightly older student and shy and retiring; I was a bit of a youthful show-off.  So he already knew who I was.

ST devoted much more energy to the opera than I did.  I was a weekend night driver.  ST drove nights full-time – doubtless with some nights off to go to the opera though I wouldn’t put it past him to have sometimes left his cab for the duration of a performance.  A fellow barrister who in an earlier life doubled up cab driving with gigs as an opera extra tells me he used to leave his cab at the rank and slip in to do his stint as an animal in The Magic Flute.  Things were more relaxed in those now-olden days.

ST naturally knew when the opera came out on any given night and if he was nearby he would be there to work the Opera House rank.  Over the years he overheard quite a few conversations between company members who might have been more discreet if they’d realised how well-informed their driver already was.

ST gave up opera-going about eight years ago when he devoted himself totally to the care of his mother. She died in the middle of last year.

After allowing for a period of grieving, this summer season I tried to coax ST back to the opera.  The following, with one omission as indicated, is his response:

Greetings & Happy St Scholastica’s Day.

I’m not exactly fired up for recondite musical tableaux at the moment so I may end up giving the Polish offering a miss.  Not sure I know either Honeyman or Gore so that angle doesn’t help either [….] Even checking the brochure for dates enrages me as I see the highly good-natured, not to say personable in any of its misapplications, Jonas Kaufmann so misused, indeed abused, on its cover.

In Spring I was all for “Come back Moffatt, all is forgiven” but am currently reading his book, or at least constantly dropping off (after sleepless nights) over its pages.  Many productions go past with no mention at all, even singers like Eva Marton are completely ignored BUT there were EIGHT productions in the Concert Hall, the most surprising for me being Otello & Romeo & Juliette – why none this year?  The SSO has ‘squeezed’ dates before and one-offs should use the State.  Britten was sometimes used to ‘double’ Concert Hall shows & except for Dream they would all fit in the State,  There was much less destroyed in the Ultimo fire than I thought, so sex up some Kalmans, Lehars & Sullivans & use the Royal.  The opera theatre’s been closed before for Summer!  Mastersingers, Don Giovanni and Boheme have been done in English!  Grace was here in 1991 (recession time!) for Turandot. I can’t believe it – did I see her live?!  If I need to calm down I boil the kettle & recall that there’s a recital of Rachmaninov & Mussorgsky at Angel Place – but in the mid 70s there was a whole series of recitals in the Opera Theatre – the youth crowd getting Ewer & John Winther.  Cheers.

It doesn’t look as though he will be going back.