Archive for December, 2007

Moti – unless you are in Queensland or possibly anywhere in Australia

December 27, 2007

In today’s SMH:

The Fiji-born lawyer denies the charges, saying they were dismissed in a Vanuatu court and revived by Australian authorities to prevent him becoming attorney-general.

But Moti fought his deportation from the Solomon Islands to the very end before finally being put on a plane to Australia to face the courts.

I’ve no idea whether Moti is guilty or not: I wasn’t there (I swear!) and he hasn’t been tried.  Even if he had been tried, I would only ever know he was guilty in the the sense that he had been found so, and conversely likewise if he were acquitted.  The timing of the revival of these charges does seem to be a remarkable coincidence.  The AFP say it isn’t, but the problem is that the AFP charged Dr Haneef, so their credit is pretty well shot on this sort of issue.

In the meantime, why this But?  If you aren’t guilty and maintain that the offence has already been dealt with, why the hell should you return to Australia for a trial?  The suggestion in this but is that there is some kind of implied admssion of guilt or at least shirking of an honest determination of the issue in Moti’s reluctance to return to Australia.  That’s sloppy journalism.


I’ve thought about this a little more.  On one view Moti is a fugitive from justice because of the peculiar circumstances in which he left PNG.  I think my real objection to the but is that it entails an intrusion of comment into what ought to be a purely factual story. I still think that is sloppy journalism, because what it means is that the journalist has accepted somebody’s spin and then passed it off as reportage.  There was more of this in a further story, which included the following:

Moti claimed that in 1999 a Vanuatu magistrate cleared him of child sex charges involving a 13-year-old girl. However, it was reported earlier this year that Vanuatu prosecutors had sought to have the decision overturned.

Once again, what’s the however doing there?  Maybe it’s just an attempt at graceful prose, but it would be better if journalists eschewed such editorializing adverbs altogether.

Do not read the rest of this if you are in Queensland! or anywhere else in Australia!

Finally, and bizarrely, you will see that Moti (presumably as a result of his being charged and I expect because a (then) young person is involved) has now turned into an “Australian lawyer and former politician.” The latter description seems wrong and presumptuous, since it doesn’t appear that the Solomon Islands Attorney-General is in fact a politician (he seems to be more like a solicitor-general – his appointment was revoked by the SI Public Service Commission) and alternatively, what is to say, if he was a politician, that he has given that up? It appears he cannot be identified in Queensland.  Beyond that, I guess we have Mediawatch’s po-faced self-righteousness on this front to blame for this circumlocution. 

On reflection, as the law is a Commowealth law, you possibly shouldn’t read this if you are anywhere in Australia and its territories, which doesn’t leave many people who would be interested really.

Ghosts of Christmas past

December 27, 2007

A quiet Christmas: just D and me.  Sent me thinking about the last few Christmases, and memorable Christmases in the past.

Childhood Christmases

My parents left Western Australia in 1950, arriving in Sydney in about 1954.  They were part of a cohort of fellow Western Australians. Many, including my father, were scientists for whom there was little in the West: they were internal expatriates.  Most of them lacked Sydney relatives, and even before I was born, they had taken to spending their Christmases together, and specifically the evening of Christmas Day.  This became for us as children an ad hoc Christmas extended family.  Save for a few Christmases which for one reason or another we spent out of Sydney, we gathered this way every Christmas in this way up until, I think, 1986, though by this time my sisters had left Sydney and the only other family involved was that of my father’s best friend, with whom he had moved out of college into a flat in 1945.

We were also friends with the Lxes, who initially moved in across the street in 1963, and later moved just down the road.  Usually we would see them on Christmas morning, when presents (apart from those urgent ones which just could not wait) were exchanged.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the Lxes were also without an extended family in Sydney, as they (or to be precise, the parents and the first two children out of four) had migrated from the UK.

There wasn’t much overt religion in all of this at all.  My main contact with religious Christmas was through music, first in a boys choir, and later at a church school, where Christmas was an important part of the musical year.


OK, I’m being coy about the year.  Allow me my foibles.

The Christmas after I left school was my first Christmas singing in the choir at St James King Street, Sydney.  For some reason, I went to the morning service on Advent Sunday.  (This was not entirely out of the blue: from time to time when at school I had gone to evensong on weekdays at St Andrews Cathedral on the way home.) At this time at St James, the practice in Advent was for the clergy, followed by the choir and accompanied by the various processional accessories (crucifer, thurifer, etc) to process around the church singing the Litany, which is a set of penitentially-minded prayers.  To each prayer of a long series, the choir would respond (in 5-part harmony based on a setting by Tallis) “We beseech Thee to hear us, O Lord.”  I was hooked, and joined the choir that very day.  This was the beginning of almost 20 years of involvement in church music and the ecclesiastical camp which that entailed.

I can’t say that I have ever been able to believe in God in any but the most metaphorical of ways.  In the same way that converts motivated by dispensation of food by missionaries are sometimes known as “rice Christians,” I was in truth (despite some initial enthusiasm) a “music Christian.”  In addition to the music, the emotional rhythm of the church year was something which definitely resonated with me.  One part of that rhythm is the way in which the greatest feasts are preceded by preparatory penitential seasons, namely Advent and Lent (Good Friday has always been my favourite day in the church year).  Even though now I do not profess any religious faith, I have to acknowledge that Christmas approached in this manner is more rewarding than the tacky agglomeration of Santas and reindeer which seem to make up so much of the televised popular Christmas.

The high point of Christmas at St James was definitely the midnight mass, celebrated with a packed church and generally in sweltering conditions (we often wore very little underneath our cassocks).  It normally finished with Adestes Fideles some time after 1.00 am, by which time we would all be exhausted, exhilarated and dripping with sweat.  Christmas Morning itself was usually something of an anti-climax.

Even in the two years in which I lived and worked in Canberra after I first graduated, I returned to Sydney at Christmas and sang at St James.  When I returned to Sydney I rejoined the choir.   The choir aspired to be a men and boys choir in the Anglican choral tradition, though necessity and circumstances diluted this with some girls and women.  I drifted away from the choir and the church at some stage not long after I became a school teacher.  The atmosphere and primarily homosocial environment were too much like work.


I could be wrong about the year for this – it may be 1987.  I cooked my own Christmas Pudding (try asking for suet at a butcher’s!).  I spent Christmas, sweltering but well fed, in the tiny Newtown terrace in Bailey Street with my then housemate/sub tenant, Hz.  This was my first Christmas spent away from my parents – not because I had moved away, but because my father had moved away – to Canberra.  By this time both my sisters had left Sydney.

There is a rather good picture of this occasion which I will try to find and put up later (I don’t want to delay this already over long and overdue post on its account).


In 1989 I had returned to university to study law.  On my way to Glasgow to compete in the World I-V (Intervarsity) Debating Competition, I stayed with my elder sister, L, in her non-centrally-heated (and not very heated at all, in fact) house in Holloway, London N7.  We were joined just before Christmas by my younger sister, R, and her then boyfriend, G. They had left Sydney the previous August for their big trip round the world and were subsequently to stay in London for another 18 months.  This was our first Christmas reunion as adult siblings.

My friend Lars, whom I had first met in a music shop on Unter den Linden in (East) Berlin in 1987, arrived by train for his first trip to the west following he coming-down of the wall.  He travelled with a bag full of apples and hard little cakes together with his entire family’s allowance of foreign currency. 

Funnily enough, two memories which have stayed with me from that Christmas involve beggars.  Two nights before Christmas, at Covent Garden on our way back from the ballet (very cheap tickets arranged by a friend), Lars, who to my knowledge only had ₤3.50 to tide him over for another week, gave 50p to a beggar.  This was a tourist experience for him as East Germany did not have beggars.  I was dismayed, not to say furious, because I was sure that the beggar had more cash than Lars, and because I knew that it would fall to me to make up the shortfall. I wasn’t so flush with funds myself. I also remember being abused by another beggar on our way to midnight mass at All Saints Margaret Street the next night. I used to be able to remember more of this exchange but now I just remember the scene and rejoinders exchanged whilst rushing to get to the service.


This Christmas was spent travelling as a (paid for but not paid) pianist and bass in the choir of the school where I was teaching. We spent Christmas in Paris.  On Christmas Eve, I went with A, the (married, female) organist to Sacre Coeur for Midnight Mass, where her former teacher was the organist.  Midnight Mass from the organ loft was a memorable experience, but not quite so memorable as the sinking feeling when, having dallied for post-mass conversation and winding down with the organist, we missed the last metro.  No taxis were to be had, and we ended up spending the night at the organist’s place sleeping on couches.  This caused no little consternation back at the hotel when, by the next morning, we had not returned, as the choir was singing the main morning mass at Notre Dame.  A, in particular, was needed to play the organ.  We were back in time for breakfast and the service, though I had to have a nap back at the hotel and missed a by all reports splendid Christmas lunch before returning to sing a concert at Notre Dame that afternoon.


L came out to Sydney with her then new (and still, in 2007) boyfriend, Ix.  It was a very hot summer and this was probably a shock to Ix, especially as they were sleeping on a mattress in the living room of my one-bedroom flat (a quarter of a house) in Petersham.  The first day they arrived, they drove into the city to pick me up an take me to Clovelly for a swim.  My car had blown its head gasket, so that Clovelly was pretty much the limit of its range before it would boil dry.

This did not bode well for our trip down to Canberra to spend Christmas with my father and stepmother.  Taking the exit just before Campbelltown to fill up on water, we drove straight into a police random breath test.  I did not have my licence with me, not having seen it around my flat for some time, and I probably didn’t help things when I explained this to the police officer, telling him that I had lost it, but “literally, not figuratively.”  (What I was trying to convey was that I had not been disqualified.)  Fortunately, he could see that we were in for a long trip ahead and he took pity on me and let us proceed.  It must have taken us 7 or 8 hours, pottering along no faster than 80 and stopping from time to time to refill and cool down.

At Canberra we went swimming au naturel in the Murrumbidgee at Kambah Pool.  This included a memorable encounter with an AIDS outreach worker who clearly loved his job… 


I declined an invitation to Canberra for Christmas because I wanted to spend it with my then (and first announced to my father) boyfriend, O.


In Perth with D.  R, who had given birth to a son, M,  that September, joined us from Geraldton, and L flew out from London.  Various other West Australian relatives, as well as M’s father, joined us.  Although we had been living together for 3 years, this was D’s and my first Christmas together, as previously he had always been in Shanghai with his family leading up to Chinese New Year.  In January, D and I flew off to Shanghai, leaving both my sisters in residence in our house before they went their various ways.  I later learnt that they put up with no hot water for three days because the pilot light in the (outside wall-mounted) gas hot water blew out in a strong wind and they didn’t know how to or think to re-light it.


Back in Sydney. L came out from London; R and M from the West.  My father and stepmother came up from Canberra.  This was my sisters’ and my father’s and my first reunion in almost 10 years.


D and I flew from Perth (where I was working up to the very last minute) to London, and spent Christmas with L and Ix.  This was D’s first trip to Europe.  Something went wrong with the message settings on my mobile phone and I ended up running up a bill of some hundreds of dollars, mostly attributable to conversations in the nature of (in a supermarket, for example) “what aisle are you in?”


D went to China.  L, R, M and my father and stepmother came to Sydney.

2005 & 2006

I spent both of these Christmases in Beijing, where I was studying Chinese at BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University, though it has now dropped “Culture” from its official name).  This was my first time in a non-Christian country for Christmas, which in China is becoming quite a retail festival.  If anything, I saw more shop assistants in red santa hats and heard more of those American semi-secular Christmas songs than I had ever heard before.  Bizarrely, they were piped throughout the campus at BLCU.  In 2005 Christmas fell on a Sunday; in 2006 I had my first ever experience of going to class on Christmas Day.

So what does Christmas mean to me?

D is opposed to Christmas.  It offends his communist past and secular present; he objects to its quasi-establishment of a religion which is foreign to him.  I try to tell him that Christianity was only grafted onto older festivals, and that it fulfills many of the functions of Chinese New Year (where family reunion is a very important element).  My account above shows this, at least by those elements of reunion which I have singled out.  D still objects that the Chinese tradition may have superstitious origins but is not theistically religious.  That is a tricky point for the drawing of even negative analogies because as far as I can gather the role of deities in Chinese religion/beliefs of the supernatural is quite different from the Western tradition.

I watched with a slighly awful fascination the various Christmas outdoor carol services broadcast on TV.  To me they are pretty tacky, mainly because they gather so much of the kitsch of Christmas with so little of the religious element. On one show somebody even sang Irving Berlin’s “Let it snow” – which is the height of our topsy-turvydom, since it is about the winter which we lack.  To be fair to these occasions, and to own up to my own mixed feelings in this regard, I’m not much happier with any religious content delivered at them.  Like opera in English, the more demotic the cultural form becomes the less I find it conducive to even a temporary suspension of disbelief.  It is also possible that the reduced religious content of these affairs is owing to a perfectly decent circumspection about imposing religion on the audience who by now are really after something quite different – even if, for D, there is still not circumspection enough.

I also watched or listened to some of the more churchy occasions, though I think if I went to church I would be bored – all those years as a participant in church services make me impatient of a role as mere spectator!  In all of these I couldn’t help being struck by the frequency of cut-away shots of parents with their children.

This brought me to the not altogether startling thought that Christmas is about children – either actual children now, or of recreation in some way of something recalled from childhood.  I don’t think it is entirely coincidental that my fellow blogger Jim Belshaw has found himself meditating at this time on cultural memory.  In fact, Christmas as we experience it now is a historically recently invented tradition (think Dickens and Prince Albert for starters).  I wonder if this served to synthesise traditions when the industrial revolution had done so much to break up much else of traditional life.  Subjectively, however, tradition doesn’t need to go back very far to seem almost timelessly inscribed: our own childhoods are about as far back as we can go, supplemented by memories related (such as by way of parental recreation for our sake) to us.  Elizabeth Farelly has turned to something of the same theme in the Sydney Morning Herald.


December 17, 2007

As any Australian knows, one of the harbingers of summer is the bushfire season story: “the state is a tinderbox!”  On reading the stories (1) and (2) about the recent internet child pornography arrests, I wonder if we have a new type of seasonal story on our hands.

At one indent below is the short form of the story, as it first hit the presses. At two indents I have interpolated its later version.  I have added my own emphases in bold for comment, together with numerical references to notes below.

A former police officer and two teachers (1) are among six men police say are implicated in the Australia wide child porn ring raided overnight.

A FORMER policeman, a swimming instructor and a student teacher (1) are alleged to be members of a pedophile ring that sought to groom children for internet pornography.

The alleged Australian network, which police say had links to others overseas, comprised six men and a 17-year-old youth, all of whom were arrested in an operation by NSW, Queensland, Victorian and federal police yesterday.

NSW Child Protection and Sex Crimes Squad Commander Helen Begg said police were tipped off in February by another government department.

Superintendent Begg said Strike Force Pymont was formed following information provided to police by a NSW government department, but she declined to nominate which agency.

Six men were arrested and charged with various offences including disseminating and producing child pornography.

“The offenders that were arrested came from all walks of life including those in positions of trust,” (2) Supt Beg told reporters in Sydney today.

The commander of the NSW Child Protection and Sex Crimes Squad, Detective Superintendent Helen Begg, said she was alarmed that three of the four men arrested in NSW, all from regional areas, had been in positions of trust (2) in the community.

Among those arrested are a former police officer, a trainee teacher and a swimming teacher (2) as well as a truck driver.

One of those arrested, David Bruce Lindley Elliott, 55, of Orange, is currently awaiting sentence after last month pleading guilty to charges laid in June last year of using a carriage service to transmit child pornography.

Elliott, an unemployed swimming instructor, faced Orange Local Court yesterday on 10 fresh charges of producing and disseminating child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. He was refused bail to reappear before the court today.

At the same time three other men were facing NSW courts after their arrests in raids by 59 detectives from Strike Force Pymont, which was established in February to investigate the scope of the alleged network.

…[this ellipsis stands for a part of the second article which was not in the same sequence as the first article]

In Wagga Wagga court yesterday, Matthew DeMartin, a 22-year-old student teacher, of Griffith, was refused bail. He will reappear there today charged with one count each of disseminating and producing child pornography and possessing child pornography.

A Coonabarabran truck driver, Chris Trindall, 29, faced Tamworth Local Court following his arrest in the town on Saturday afternoon. He was refused bail and will appear before that court today charged with two counts of disseminating and producing child pornography.

Police said a 31-year-old man from the inner-Sydney suburb of Rosebery, whose home was raided, was charged with drug offences and released on police bail to appear before Waverley Local Court on January 23.

In the interstate operation, police arrested a 49-year-old Melbourne man who had been charged with using a carriage service and two counts of possessing child pornography.

In Queensland, detectives arrested a 17-year-old male (3), who has been charged with using a carriage service for child pornography material.

Supt Begg said it was “very frightening” that there were people who were willing to abuse their positions within society to gain the trust (2) of children.

One of the men arrested, a 38-year-old from South West Rocks on the NSW mid north coast also has been charged with grooming (4) a child to take part in the abuse.

As Elliott was appearing in the Orange court yesterday, a 38-year-old former policeman, Gregory John Minehan, was appearing before Port Macquarie Local Court charged with 14 counts of using a carriage service to transmit child pornography.

Minehan, who was arrested at his home at South West Rocks, was further charged with four counts of disseminating child pornography, six counts of possessing child pornography, one count each of using a carriage service to groom a child aged under 16 and producing child pornography (4).

He was refused bail (4) and will reappear before Port Macquarie Local Court today.

His and Elliott’s homes were among nine premises raided in the operation, in which police said thousands of images had been seized.

Supt Begg said police were “not aware of any contact offences that have occurred during the course of the (11 month) operation”.(4)

Police believe most of the child pornography was produced overseas and it was being collated and then distributed in Australia, but they say they are still examining large quantities of computer equipment and footages.

Police said some of the children involved were infants but their ages ranged up to 16 years (5).

Commander Kevin Zuccato, from the Australian Federal Police’s Hi-Tech Operations Centre, said 59 police officers had been involved in the operation over the last couple of days across Australia (6).

He also said the investigation should lead to further arrests overseas.

The arrests followed an 11-month investigation by Strike Force Pymont.

Superintendent Begg said the undercover operation was likely to lead to further arrests.

Commander Kevin Zuccato, the head of the Australian Federal Police high-tech operations centre, which took part in the raids, foreshadowed some of those arrests taking place abroad, although he would not say where.

“We will allege this syndicate was involved in the production and distribution of child pornography. However, there are many more exhibits, including computers and discs, still to undergo forensic examination,” Superintendent Begg said.

“Police will also allege that the risk of future harm to children has been minimised as a result of this investigation. We uncovered information which indicates this network spreads across the country and internationally, not only sharing illicit material but also using the network to identify potential victims and avoid detection by law enforcement agencies (7).

“Our investigation should serve as a warning to those people engaged in this type of criminal activity. You can’t hide behind the anonymity of the internet. We have the technology and skills to covertly monitor your usage of the computer and you will be tracked down and charged.”

Commander Zuccato said the arrests were a stark reminder to parents and children to remain vigilant, particularly during school holidays, (8) about who they provide with their details via the internet and who they associate with over the holidays.


  1. “Two teachers” turned out to be an unemployed (for obvious reasons) swimming instructor and a student teacher.
  2. Abusing positions of trust is a big theme here, even though the only charge so far of anything approaching this is on-line grooming by the former policeman – hardly a situation where he was in a position to abuse a position of trust.  However, I think this theme works well to whip up fear in a kind of Alger-Hiss way.  (OK, I know, Alger Hiss could have been guilty as charged…)
  3. 17?  Practically a child himself! It appears from the police press release that he was arrested in August.
  4. “Grooming” over the internet is likely to become one of those categories of offences like attempt, or conspiracy,which I predict will test the limits of the criminal law.  The police have taken 11 months to investigate this (though there is some suggestion in The Australian of a relatively recent breakthrough), are not aware of any contact offences and have taken the man’s computer.  It seems rather heavy handed that bail was refused. Could it be in order to avoid a repetition of the rash of suicides (reported as 6) which occurred when Operation Auxin hit the headlines?
  5. This seems logically trivial: the children were up to 16 years old because older than that they wouldn’t be children.
  6. 7 arrests; 59 officers?  That seems like a lot of police overtime to me.
  7. This seems calculated to feed the conspiracy/paranoia mania.  Of course these people use the internet in the way that they do in order to escape detection.  I don’t think that makes their conduct any more wicked.  As to identifying potential victims, there only seems to be the one grooming offence alleged at this stage.
  8. Tinderbox! 


Further reporting of this includes:

Eight separate raids by 69 officers over the weekend resulted in six arrests plus the seizure of computers and equipment containing thousands of images of child porn.

Officers posed as children on the internet to infiltrate the network during a police sting operation.

Mr Keelty said some children abused in the paedophile ring were Australian.

Subject to Mr Keelty’s final comment being made good, this suggests that the subject of the “grooming” offence may have been a police officer. 

Too late

December 12, 2007

On Tuesday with D to see Keating! – The Musical.

I booked our tickets well before the recent election.  So must have practically all the rest of the audience, if the person I spoke to at the Belvoir Box Office about available seats was telling the truth.  This seems to be confirmed by Belvoir’s advertising in the foyer that tickets to next July‘s revival are avaiable to Belvoir subscribers now.

Maybe I am just getting old, but for me the music was too loud and the sound system could not cope with the volumes offered, so that the intelligibility of quite a lot of the words was compromised.  D felt the same, which just made life as a NESB Zuhörer (no satisfactory English equivalent) all the more difficult.  From remarks overheard on the way out, I don’t think we were the only ones who found the sound system unclear.

The audience knew they had a hit on their hands, and were ready to applaud practically anything.  But I couldn’t help feeling that it would have been more fun if we’d got there before the election.  The moment for nostalgia for Keating has passed for the time being at least (though it may very well return);  the cause for hating Howard, even if vindicated, has lost its immediacy.

Most of all it reminded me of those school concerts mounted by students where the principal theatrical fare is satirical impressions of teachers.  One song, “The Mateship” had Howard donning a series of “common man” disguises whilst declaring his allegiance to the doctrine of mateship (on his own particular terms for various excluded categories) and his own eligibility to be a “mate.”  This was for me the most telling satirical blow, but it would have been even more telling while he was still headmaster.

Sydney Omega Ensemble – Paddington Uniting Church

December 9, 2007

This afternoon D and I went to hear the Sydney Omega Ensemble.

The program was:

MAURICE RAVEL Introduction and Allegro for flute, clarinet, string quartet and harp
CHRISTOPHER GORDON Chamber Symphony: Freefall
(a new work commissioned for SOE by Ars Musica Australis)

The chairman of the Ensemble gave me these tickets after I complained to him at the drinks function after the last concert about the poster outside Angel Place which misstated the start time and misled me so that I missed the first half. In truth, it is quite likely I would have gone anyway – except that, because we are going to Keating! on Tuesday night, I was obliged to accept tickets for, in my opinion, the less favourable of the two venues.

On Tuesday night, the concert is repeated at the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. Earlier this year I went to both venues when they played the Spohr Nonet. The Independent Theatre was an incomparably better venue. Recently it has been substantially restored. It has a very favourable acoustic and raked seating which is only a little odd because the seating is still old-fashioned-theatrical, which has a semiotic difference from contemporary-concert-hall.

Unfortunately, it sounds as though the Ensemble won’t be persisting with the Independent next year simply because it hasn’t been a box office success. This is exacerbated in the Ensemble’s eyes, I am sure, by the price of the venue – the Paddington Uniting Church, by comparison, must be comparatively practically free to them, or so the ambience suggests. Given the size of the public for those concerts, the much healthier attendance at their Angel Place concert (the one I missed the first half of, as if I shouldn’t be letting go of that!) was very impressive. I don’t know how much that owed to their guest artist, clarinetist (and son of the conductor) Dmitri Ashkenazy.

As when I last attended at Paddington, the afternoon was hot, and the musicians’ working conditions were ameliorated by blower fans which, however acceptable for putting a breeze up a cassock or surplice on a muggy day, are not an acceptable form of professional concert environment.  Perhaps this is why the public which was attracted was so pathetic – perhaps 40-60 people at most, of whom a good 15-20 were probably on comps of one sort or other (including, in this case, us).  How is this sustainable for a concert with 11 or 12 performers?

There were a few substitutions for the usual line-up, and I’m not so sure that all of them weren’t improvements.  I assume the regular pianist, Katie Golla is at present in Melbourne on account of her day job with Opera Australia.  Her replacement, Clemens Leske Jnr, is an altogether higher class of pianist.  He represents more the level of pianist which such a group requires: the pianist doesn’t need just to be the equal of the others (as I think Katie to be) but, because of the role the pianist plays, equal of 2 or 3 of the others if not all of the others put together. 

It’s a pity the house was so poor, because the ensemble’s standard of performance deserves more notice, and the program was excellent.  The Ravel is a luscious work designed to exhibit the virtues of the pedal harp over a chromatic rival; the Nielsen is a classic with a particularly charming minuet and a poised set of variations on a theme at the end.  The Gordon was a premiere: it was strongest in its hectic fast bits, which owed something to chugalug minimalism for the way in which it rang the changes on repeated patterns; bravely, it ended with a solo for the viola.  At first I was thinking, “No, No! Don’t risk it! Don’t give the big moment to the viola! ” but in the end it somehow worked, even if as something of a deliberate anti-climax (or do I mean post climax in a sighing kind of way?).

 And afterwards there was wine and light refreshments – very civilized and especially so since, in this case, free!

Funereal thoughts

December 7, 2007

On Friday I went to the funeral of EN, my year 12 English teacher, who died suddenly on Monday having been taken ill the previous Friday leading to a triple quadruple heart bypass and then a stroke.  A little surprisingly, it was a requiem mass.  I never knew EN to be particularly religious, and I suppose it was the choice of his family – that is, his brothers and sisters who came over from New Zealand.  He was the second of seven children of (sociologically speaking) humble Irish stock.

I learnt of his death by email.  “EN” in this case is not simply a pseudonym: it was the name used in the message, being his designated abbreviation in the school’s timetable system.  This is Mr Chips territory of a sort.

He was a charismatic teacher, though not in any glamorous way.  His teaching style was a rigorously sustained piece of performance art mixed with loads of irony and a degree of teasing.  Later, when I knew him as an adult, I formed the view that some of the qualities which made him such an attractive and effective teacher were otherwise not necessarily so admirable in adult social intercourse.  We had a bit of a falling out, possibly just a growing away on my part.

His age had always been a very closely guarded secret.  We learnt now that he was 67, which means that he was 37 when he taught me, and about my age now at the time we last had much to do with each other, though I have seen him occasionally since then.

It was not an enormous funeral, though the numbers were bigger than I expect ever to command.  Thankfully, there were not too many of the great and the good who make it their business to go to funerals of those who they see to be their fellow great and good.  EN was never respectable enough to be recognized by such people as one of their own.  As well as EN’s former colleagues (he retired about a year ago) there was a significant representation from amongst denizens of the Ashfield Hotel, where he held court for many years – dispensing help with tax returns and brushes with officialdom, including, it seems, a line in golden testimonials which, typed on the school letterhead and perhaps somewhat liberal with their compliments,  apparently proved favourably determinative on more occasion than one.  “You should have seen what he wrote about me!” said one fellow mourner, who said that Immigration had told him back in 1980 that it was EN’s letter which had swung things in his favour.  On another occasion which EN liked to relate, a magistrate had sombrely recounted that the character reference from EN was of great assistance, without knowing that this was in fact the somewhat unruly shouter from the gallery in protest at some particularly outrageous piece of police testimony whom he had threatened to eject from the court.

My year 7 French teacher, at whose retirement farewell EN had spoken on the Thursday before he was taken ill, gave one of the eulogies.  EN’s elder brother gave the other.

I was interested to see just which other former students turned up.  It wasn’t many but it must have been about 10.  I was the oldest, because he taught me in the first year after he came to Australia from New Zealand.  EN tended to teach either the very top students or the very bottom ones (academically speaking).  Those of us who came to the funeral were all, I think, in the former category.  I wondered if there was some other factor in common to us (that is, apart from having had him as a teacher) which drew us to attend – that is, was I looking at my fellow souls, and if so, how were we so?  (Category: narcissism).  I don’t think it was simply a question of being on the end of a still live line of communication, though that is probably part of it.   I wonder if a partial answer is that some of us had become teachers, including me for a while.  Most of the others were still in their 20s – was this because the influence or recollection of teachers fades quite naturally over time?

A relatively recent student teacher was also in attendance.  One former student (not a teacher) had taken the 4.30 am bus up from Canberra to be there. 

I had to knock back a paying gig at the Supreme Court this morning to go, but I’m glad I made the effort (and it wasn’t paying that much).  There have been a few funerals I have stayed away from in the past which I have since regretted missing.  This sort of thing is really the church’s core business and they do know how to do it.

Afterword – Saturday afternoon

I went to the funeral because I wanted to, and at that stage I still didn’t really feel particularly sad or bereaved. I only stayed at the gathering at the Ashfield for an hour or two, and things never really became unbuttoned.  Perhaps I should have stayed longer, because the unresolved sense of loss only began to catch up with me afterwards, including in my dreams overnight. 

Juditha Triumphans

December 7, 2007

On Wednesday night to the opening night of Pinchgut Opera‘s performance of this oratorio by Vivaldi.  Although an oratorio, this was realised by Pinchgut as an opera, but in Latin (though tending to fairly Italianate and unchurchified delivery).

This is the only one of 4 known oratoria by Vivaldi to have survived.  It was written for the girls at the Pieta, an orphanage/nunnery.  It seems it was quite the thing in Venice to go to performances given by these unfortunate girls, who would perform from behind a screen.  There is some speculation that the colour of the instrumentation was an attempt to compensate for this invisibility.

Originally all the parts were sung by girls.  In this production Holofernes was played by a counter-tenor/male alto, and the chorus was also beefed up to include men.  That is a little inauthentic, but we wouldn’t want to waste half of Cantillation, the excellent choir which provides Pinchgut with its chorus.

The revelation of the production was the amazing variety of Vivaldi’s orchestration.  The quiet arias were the best for this: there was a turtle-dovish aria voiced by the chalumeau (a precursor to the clarinet); another aria accompanied by just 2 violins and a viola d’amore; the aria with the mandolino (a tiny mandolin).  I am struggling between budgetary restraint and the tantalising prospect of hearing these and many others (including a turbulent aria that seemed to suggest Pissaro in Fidelio) again.

The first of these is:

[2017: that link is no longer available but there is here – the introduction also features as a station promo at present on ABC “Classic” FM – I think from memory featuring Julia Zemiro]

In a nod to contemporary relevance, before going to see Holofernes, Judith strapped on explosives under her bodice.  Yes, its anachronous, but that’s opera.

The plot doesn’t have all that many twists and turns, and there were times in the first act when things seemed to be moving rather slowly, but then the many magic moments started.  It was a memorable evening.  The house was healthily full in all but the top (second) gallery.


Frugality won out and I didn’t go on Monday, not so much out of frugality as because the available seats weren’t so good and I didn’t want my memory of the first performance to be overshadowed by an inferior vantage point for the second. Instead I listened to the live broadcast at home. It wasn’t the same, of course and I spent the evening wishing I’d been more extravagant. The close-miking of the singers for the live recording destroyed the balance between them and the instruments, and failed to convey the gleam of often very quiet instruments and the assembled hush of the rapt audience. You can hear the live broadcast until (I presume) Sunday 16 December from this page for ABC Classic FM. The chalumeau aria is at about 48:50 of Act I; the mandolino at 9:15 of Act II. One of my readers may, apropos this, be interested in this aria sung by Juditha (at about 41:55 of Act I) which has the following text:

Agitata infido flatu
Diu volatu
Maesta hirundo
It plorando
Boni ignara.
Sed impulsu aurae serenae
Tantae cito oblita poenae
In dilecta
Dulcia tecta
Gaudii ridet haud avara.

This is translated by Natalie Shea as follows:

Tossed about by the fitful wind during its long flight, the vagrant swallow grieves, weeping as it flies, for the good things it has never known. But carried on a fair breeze it soon forgets its sorrows. In the comfort of its soft nest it laughs for joy, desiring nothing more.

I think the good things that Judith has never known are happiness and good food since she has become a widow (she’s just been invited by Holofernes to a feast and, or so he hopes, more). If so, that’s a little odd, since presumably things were happier while her husband was alive. The relevant text is at page 4 or so of the libretto.  I wonder if it was just an opportunity for a little musical pictorialism.

Acting on impulse

December 5, 2007

On Sunday afternoon, D and I drove towards Parramatta, intending to go for a walk.

We took the motorway from Strathfield, but on account of my aversion to paying a toll if not necessary and braving for that reason what I recently read to be one of Sydney’s most dangerous intersections on that account, we left the motorway at James Ruse Drive.  I suggested that we look briefly at a riverside park just on the left after we had crossed the Parramatta River.

As we walked by the river, we saw a Rivercat approach a nearby wharf, and ran to catch it.  Could we take the ferry to Parramatta, go for a walk, then return again by ferry?  Why, yes we could, and we jumped aboard for our impromptu adventure.  Standing on the front deck as the ferry made its stately (but probably still environmentally devastating) way through Potemkin-villages of mangroves thinly concealing factories and a container depot, it felt a little like The African Queen, but with less sexual tension.

So we walked around Parramatta for an hour and a half – mostly along the river and in the park, including to the old King’s School and the strikingly rebuilt Roman Catholic Cathedral (we even poked our heads into some ballet school’s Christmas show at the Riverside Theatres) before returning to the ferry wharf, taking some light refreshments (there is a licenced cafe; the food at least is reasonably priced) and finally strolling down to take the 6pm ferry back with the sun now behind us and bathing all in a sunsettish glow.  We made land at Rydalmere, where we had got on. A short walk back to the car, and we were home before 7.  A very enjoyable afternoon.

On Monday afternoon, I was walking through Darling Harbour as the heavens were about to open.  Just by me was the IMAX theatre.  I’d been toying with going to see Beowulf there. A session was about to begin.  In I went.  

I knew the film had received some lukewarm reviews, so my expectations were not too high.  I was pleasantly surprised. Allowing for some animating exaggerations, the film was reasonably faithful to the poem.  It adds a kind of back-story involving Grendel’s mother, but that gives things an interesting twist, and also binds the episodes together rather well.  And as David and Margaret had said, the 3D effects are spectacular!  This was my first experience of either the IMAX or a 3D film, and it did not disappoint on either front.  I wouldn’t necessarily rush back to the IMAX unless there was a film which deserved the big big screen treatment, but it is an experience worth having at least once. If you can’t get to the IMAX, the 3D treatment is probably the more important distinctive feature of the film anyway. 

It’s good to act on impulse occasionally.  However, if you feel impelled to take the Rivercat ferry to Parramatta, you’d better do so soon, given the present rumblings about its curtailment or abolition.


December 2, 2007

On Friday afternoon, I went to Fisher Library. The book I actually went there to borrow was:

306.7660977 1 : The evening crowd at Kirmser’s : a gay life in the 1940s / Ricardo J. Brown ; edited by William Reichard ; foreword by Allan H. Spear. c2001 1

I came upon this book somewhere when following some (relatively predictable) chain of inquiry on the net.  – I’ve been reading a bit about “pre-Stonewall” gay history lately – not that, subjectively at least, my own pre-Stonewall period has ever really ended.

It is a memoir of the “evening crowd,” which was the gay and lesbian crowd, of a downtown bar in St Paul Minnesota.  In 1944 the memoirist (the book was edited and published posthumously) returned to St Paul, having been kicked out of the army (6 months after he had enlisted) as “Undesirable F4” – meaning homosexual – at the age of 18.  He discovered Kirmsers – a bar which seems to have become gay in the evenings through a combination of its hosts’ tolerance and the lack of any better patronage for the bar at that hour of the day.  The account finishes in 1946 or 1947, when (as per genre) the memoirist leaves for New York.

When I came to  307.6  was one of those moments you come face to face with history in your own lifetime. This is definitely a number which has come along since I was first a student: and 307.66 is the chink in the Dewey Decimal conception of the world (or at least the library) where books about homosexuality have been belatedly squeezed in. You can check this yourself if you click on that link go a page up or down (or more) – that is, you can see what other matters are snuck in at this point or thereabouts, and, if you sort by year, how relatively recent most of the books are. 

On my reckoning, of the 453 items now at this number in the entire university library, only about 33 were published at the time I first started uni, rising to about 50 by the time I first finished. 

It’s not that there weren’t books about homosexuality to be found, but they were with very few exceptions discreetly hidden away in other substantive classifications.  Even within those books the gay bits often took some finding or reading between the lines. Now gay is off the index and onto the syllabus.

I should tell you more about the book, but if you are interested you can find most of the more interesting bits on the net anyway, one place or another.  My one criticism is that, far from being an A B Facey or John Shaw Nielsen plain narrative, it is dressed up by the author (a lifelong journalist) in a slightly too jaunty tabloidese mode of recounting – I guess it’s meant to be folksy.  So just occasionally it seems to be a bit self-consciously guying to the reader.  But only very occasionally.