Thursday, January 31

Why not use John Howard's sincere and moving apology?

A fortnight to go, and we will hear that long awaited sorry. Kevin Rudd has promised his new national government will deliver its apology to Australia's Aboriginal people on February 13.

It will be an emotional time. I expect to see some of my fellow Australians weeping, Aboriginals who experienced or know of the years of dispossession, family separations and social exclusion. And more than a few whitefellas, too. Even your grumpy old blogger will have a box of tissues nearby, just in case.

The Federal Government is still negotiating with Aboriginal leaders on the phrasing of the apology.

However, I'd like to suggest we use the text of an apology given by John Howard on July 3, 2000. (There's a bit of trick here, but if you don't know of it I'll explain later.)

Good evening. My name is John Howard and I'm speaking to you from Sydney, Australia, host city of the year 2000 Olympic Games.

At this important time, and in an atmosphere of international goodwill and national pride, we here in Australia – all of us – would like to make a statement before all nations. Australia, like many countries in the new world, is intensely proud of what it has achieved in the past 200 years.

We are a vibrant and resourceful people. We share a freedom born in the abundance of nature, the richness of the earth, the bounty of the sea. We are the world's biggest island. We have the world's longest coastline. We have more animal species than any other country. Two thirds of the world's birds are native to Australia. We are one of the few countries on earth with our own sky. We are a fabric woven of many colours and it is this that gives us our strength.

However, these achievements have come at great cost. We have been here for 200 years but before that, there was a people living here. For 40,000 years they lived in a perfect balance with the land.

There were many Aboriginal nations, just as there were many Indian nations in North America and across Canada, as there were many Maori tribes in New Zealand and Incan and Mayan peoples in South America.

These indigenous Australians lived in areas as different from one another as Scotland is from Ethiopia. They lived in an area the size of Western Europe. They did not even have a common language. Yet they had their own laws, their own beliefs, their own ways of understanding.

We destroyed this world.

We often did not mean to do it. Our forebears, fighting to establish themselves in what they saw as a harsh environment, were creating a national economy. But the Aboriginal world was decimated. A pattern of disease and dispossession was established. Alcohol was introduced. Social and racial differences were allowed to become fault-lines. Aboriginal families were broken up.

Sadly, Aboriginal health and education are responsibilities we have still yet to address successfully.

I speak for all Australians in expressing a profound sorrow to the Aboriginal people. I am sorry. We are sorry. Let the world know and understand, that it is with this sorrow, that we as a nation will grow and seek a better, a fairer and a wiser future. Thank you.

John Howard, July 3, 2000

To my mind, the apology, delivered by a John Howard seen indistinctly but heard clearly across the nation on ABC television, says all the right things, and could provide the basis of our nation's apology.

The John Howard who delivered the apology was not, of course, the Prime Minister we have recently voted out, but the Australian actor hired to appear on the ABC's satirical and somewhat manic series The Games.

In this episode, the Olympic Games organisers are frantic – visiting dignitaries will strip the games from Australia unless they hear that apology. So they call in the actor to pretend to be the Prime Minister, stand him in shadows, and have him read the words above.

The ABC noted: Any other John Howard who wishes to make this announcement should apply for copyright permission here, which will be granted immediately.

Most sorry resolutions passed by our state parliaments about a decade ago were apologies for the Stolen Generation, and it seems this will be focus of the Rudd government's apology on behalf of the nation.

I believe our nation should express sorrow for the wider suffering experienced by Aboriginal people since Europeans arrived on their lands, including the removal of children from their families. We need not assume the policies of our governments and the actions of some of our white settlers had evil or genocidal intent – although, at times, that may have been true – but we should acknowlege that often they were disastrous, and for that we should be sorry.

Nobody else seems to have noted it, but there's a remarkable resonance between the apology above and words written by historian Geoffrey Blainey quarter of a century ago.

In many ways the European history of this land has been a remarkable achievement. Today this land feeds fifty times as many Australians as it fed in Aboriginal times. We clothe hundreds of millions of people, across the seas; we supply minerals to hundreds of millions of people; and we feed millions in other lands.

But this great European achievement has been accompanied by failures. And the greatest of all the failures is the dispossession of the people who once roamed these lands.

As a nation we have to redeem that failure. We have to remind ourselves that we were not the only pioneers. We have to give back to Aboriginals the hope and the sense of security they have lost.

Blainey goes on to express reservations about land rights, but says:

Aboriginal land rights is not a gateway to paradise. But I can't help thinking that if this land is to be one land, and we are all to be one people, then we have no alternative but to give Aboriginals a
reasonable share of that land which was once their own.

The historian wrote these words in the opening chapter of The Blainey View, which accompanied the ABC television series of that name in 1982.

* I'm a member of the Central Coast Reconciliation Group. My views might not be shared by all members of the group, and I appreciate their tolerance and understanding if at times we differ.

Tuesday, January 29

At last, Granny shows some spine over Wendi

It's been a busy week, and this Tuesday your blogger is still wading through the opinion and review sections of Saturday's Weekend Australian and Sydney Morning Herald. That sort of reading backlog explains why I seldom bought The Bulletin on Wednesdays.

If enough people shared the same problem with information overload, it would go a long way to explain why its owners saw no future for the Bully, whatever its claims to be a national institution.

Anyhow, it's only today that I came across this article in the News Review section of Saturday's SMH, telling of Rupert Murdoch and the young, vivacious and ambitious Wendi Deng, who swept him off his feet.

Aha! I thought. Granny – for the benefit of you youngfellas, that's the old colloquial name for the SMH – is finally showing some backbone.

It wasn't so strong less than a year ago, when the SMH refused to publish a most interesting feature about Wendi Deng Murdoch which one of its editors had commissioned. As a result, the well respected journalist Eric Ellis took his feature to The Monthly, which published it in its June 2007 edition.*

At the time Murdoch had a 7.5 per cent stake in SMH publisher Fairfax, presumably to secure a seat at the table if Fairfax came into takeover contention.

* One has to be a paid Monthly subscriber to read Ellis's feature online.

Sunday, January 27

A memory of Paddy McGuinness

Years ago, when the hour was late and the bar was dim, strangers would come up to me and say: "Jeez, Paddy, you're not looking so good. Is everything all right."
So when I heard on the early ABC radio news that Padraic Pearse McGuinness had died overnight, I felt much more than the usual sadness at the passing of another of the people who enriched Australian life over so many decades.

Not only because of the extraordinary power of his intellect, but because he was a genuine character in a style which may soon disappear from our society.

Sometimes Paddy would walk into a journalists' pub, prop himself on a stool, and hold court. With his trademark black shirt and a schooner of beer in hand, his conversation was genial and knowledgeable, but you always felt that he'd have trouble concealing his scorn if you said something too inane.

Paddy scored a Bachelor of Economics (Hons) at Sydney University while also knocking around with the Push, that loosely associated group of students, ratbags, intellectuals, wharfies and vivacious young women just out of private schools who mingled in those few Sydney pubs which began to allow women in their front bars.

He went on to earn a Master of Science degree from the London School of Economics, then became an adviser to the Moscow Narodny Bank in London. Back in Australia, he became adviser to Treasurer Bill Hayden in the Whitlam government.

I believe he was an architect of Medicare, and if so he's left an enduring benefit to our nation, although it seems he wasn't always proud of it.

Later, Paddy became editor-in-chief of The Australian Financial Review, and later of Quadrant.

Perhaps you'll let me note our differing experiences with melanoma. I survived melanoma in the mid 1970s after allowing surgeons to carve bits from my body. I always speak freely about my experience, hoping I may persuade others to have that checkup in time.

If an unsourced report on The Australian's website this morning is correct, Paddy died of melanoma after a long illness. Yet few knew of it.

Paddy annnounced his retirement as Quadrant editor several months ago, and we all believed he felt it was time to move on after ten years. The current issue, for January-February, is the 100th he edited, as well as his last. Now it seems Paddy resigned knowing he had cancer with a bleak prognosis.

The photo above comes from the Henry Thornton website, on which Paddy was a contributor. I suspect Henry Thornton may also have been an alter ego of Paddy. The website says:

Henry Thornton (1760-1815) was a banker, M.P., philanthropist, and a leading figure in the influential group of Evangelicals that was known as the Clapham set. His 'Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain (1802)' is an amazing performance.

". . . it anticipates in some points the analytic developments of a century to come. No other performance of the period will bear comparison with it, though several, among them Ricardo's, met with much greater success at the time as well as later ...

He was one of those men who see things clearly and who express with unassuming simplicity what they see."

Specialities: Economist, Corporate, Sport

No, that couldn't have been Paddy. I'm sure P.P. McGuinness believed sport to be one of the more pointless fields of human endeavour.

Thursday, January 24

So long Bulletin, F--k all editors

So The Bulletin's gone. Would Gwen Harwood (pictured) have been pleased? Probably not. She'd made her point, and the world has moved on.

In a hoax similar to the better known Ern Malley/Angry Penguins affair, she slipped the messages above into two sonnets published by the Bully in 1961.

She was protesting against what she saw as prejudice against "lady poets". Today, it finally is "So long Bulletin", but Harwood – who died in 1995 – might concede that recent editors fought hard and well to save the magazine.

And no-one likes to see the death of Australia's oldest publication. The Bulletin has been part of Australian life for almost 130 years.

At times it was boldly forward-looking, particularly in the Australian nationalism of its early days and its publication of the early bush poets and story tellers like Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.

Through the thirties, too, it won credit for the space it gave to writers such as Kylie Tennant.

But by the 1950s, when I used to ride my bicycle to the corner of Pier and Hay Streets to peruse it in the old Perth Literary Institute, it was – even to a schoolboy – hopelessly anachronistic. Inside its red newsprint cover, it had sections with labels like "Aboriginalities" and "Business, bushranging, etc." And its motto, "Australia for the white man", remained on the leader page.

In 1960, Sir Frank Packer bought The Bulletin and sent in the bright and youngish journalist Donald Horne, who was yet to reinvent himself as an academic and public intellectual, to revamp it.

According to Horne (whose most recent book, Dying, A Memoir, co-authored and completed by his wife Myfanwy, is a moving account of his own illness and death in 2005, aged 83), Sir Frank bought The Bulletin only because it came bundled with The Australian Women's Mirror, which he wanted to keep out of the hands of his brash young rival, Rupert Murdoch. Sir Frank owned The Australian Women's Weekly and already had a successful opinion magazine in The Observer.

In his memoir Into the Open, covering 1958 to 1999, Horne gives a hilarious account of the way he and Sir Frank stormed the fusty offices and minds of the old Bulletin staff. But in a more serious tone, he says: "I had to knock down what was left of this nasty national edifice in a few sharp blows, so that they would never be able to put it together again."

Sir Frank Packer and his editorial whizzkids did pull The Bulletin into a bright, contemporary magazine. But despite our fuzzy nostalgia for the 1960s, we forget some of the misogyny of the times. Most women newspaper journalists worked on the social pages, and the Sydney Journalists Club refused to allow women members.

Down in Hobart, "lady poet" Gwen Harwood grew more frustrated at the rejection slips she received while The Bulletin published male poets she considered inferior. When she submitted her poems under male pseudonyms, magazines published them.

In 1961, she sent two sonnets to The Bulletin, re-using the pseudonym Walter Lehmann. Peope reading down the first letter of each line discovered the acrostics: "So long Bulletin" and "F--k all editors". As soon as Bulletin editor Donald Horne published them, Harwood's poet friend Vince Buckley broke the story.

In the ensuing publicity ("Tas. Housewife in Hoax of the Year"), Harwood felt that her point was not understood. The poems were "poetical rubbish and show up the incompetence of anyone who publishes them".

Useful information about Harwood and the hoax can be found here. It's unclear whether Harwood meant to keep the acrostic secret. In this analysis on the online Australian Public Intellectual Network, Cassandra Atherton takes a closer look.

The hoaxer did go on to win more appreciation, and the book Gwen Harwood: Selected Poems (Penguin, 2001) shows her work well.

Meanwhile, as I type this, old friend David Haselhurst (we were cadets together in Perth) is at The Bulletin's wake. He's written its Speculators Diary for many years, and I guess that's gone.

It's hard to blame anyone for The Bulletin's demise, although some will mount their ideological steeds and charge in anyway. Over the years, the Packers have hired the best journalists, artists and columnists in efforts to drive the Bully into a new era.

Perhaps, however, we can note that the old-time media tycoons like Sir Frank Packer invested their personal status and ego into their publications, and weren't that worried about incurring losses to do so. If outside shareholders didn't like it, they could just get off. For the new breed like James Packer, there's more money to be made in casinos.

In a pattern becoming more common today, media are owned by investors who see just another business, not institutions important to the functioning of healthy societies.

And the so-called private equity investors usually demand fast turnarounds, slashing the fat from moribund businesses, then onselling them for a quick profit. But without a longer-term involvement, they may also slash the company's foundations for growth.

Perhaps that's behind The Bulletin's death. In's first report, Andrew Dodd writes:

Just a few months in the hands of venture capitalists and Australia’s most famous magazine is dead ... Perhaps the new rallying cry for the nation’s media should be 'Australia for the Venture
Capitalist,' as the bean counters at CVC Asia Pacific – the company that now owns 75% of the former Packer family’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited – have had their way at the expense of one of the nation’s great institutions.

Tomorrow morning, the pundits will waste acres of dead trees analysing the death, and most will blame the internet per se. Some may allude to claims in The Economist last year that the internet will have killed all print newspapers and magazines by 2040.

But I think it's more than that. Fundamentally, the changes come in the way we expect to receive information, entertainment and analysis. Perhaps in our crowded lives, we cannot wait for a weekly newsmagazine – but we may turn to increasingly high-powered television and radio as much as to the internet. And perhaps, as a relief from increasingly stressful working lives, we prefer our non-vocational media dumbed down.

Why read a thoughtful analysis by The Bulletin's Laurie Oakes when newspapers, TV and radio grab his reports and beat them up into something more hard-edged, concise and "sexed up"?

A year ago, I thought The Bulletin was building its online presence as it planned for closure of its print version. But in today's announcement, there's no reference to a continuing online publication, and early reports suggest management has ruled it out.

Paid subscription online magazines now appear less viable to general publishers. There may be more revenue to be earned with free online magazines, with higher readership allowing higher advertising charges.

After his purchase of the Wall Street Journal last year, Rupert Murdoch announced its online edition would become free, funded by advertising.

Australia's may soon face a similar dilemma. Go for subscription material, with the free stuff just a teaser to get them in, or make it free altogether to get the readership which would justify higher ad rates? At present Crikey seems to be having two bob each way.

There's an excellent illustrated history of The Bulletin, Patricia Rolfe's The Journalistic Javelin (Wildcat Press, 1979).

Monday, January 14

We resume our normal transmission!

Grumpy Old Journo is in high spirits again. If you read the last post, you'll have detected some despair as I contemplated the likely need to restore basic software.

Checking through Windows' Control Panel's "Add or Remove Programs" feature, I confirmed that a freshly downloaded version of OpenOffice had not installed property. But then I found it needed only the press of a button to fix it. Pressed "Repair", and Windows reconfigured it and installed it correctly.

A few minor glitches remain, such as occasional hiccups while closing the computer down, but hopefully they'll diminish with a more conscientious approach to maintenance.

Come back soon. I should have a new post up within a day or two.

Thursday, January 10

After a troubled start, 2008 can only get better for Old Grumpy

Not the best start to the new year. Computer problems have come back into my life, not with a crashing bang, but with a growing volume of otherwise minor misdemeanours which are making time at the keyboard less and less productive.

First, it was just an increasing tardiness as the computer booted up. Then Outlook and Internet Explorer decided they'd connect to BigPond only when they happened to feel like it, which was about half the time.

A friend who knows a lot about computers, and is also scornful of open-source software, suggested I'd asked for problems when I downloaded and installed the free 2.0 suite as an alternative to paying heaps for Microsoft Office and Publisher. She suggested I run Registry Mechanic to rectify a stuffed-up registry.

But Mechanic was sixty Australian bucks in a box at Domayne, bundled with some other program I didn't want, so I researched registry cleaners online. This took me into lion country.

I don't suppose you ever found yourself surfing porn sites, but from what I've been told of them, modern online software retailers must now be fully au fait with the techniques pioneered years ago by pornbrokers.

Such as "independent" review and appraisal sites set up by vendors to spruik their wares. Popup windows which won't close unless you click "yes", or take you to another popup if you hit the "close" button. "Free" test scans which disclose hundreds of errors, then demand your credit card details to fix them.

In the end, I bought ErrorSmart and Registry Easy plus a few add-ons for almost $90 Australian. They seemed to run OK, although I didn't feel they improved things all that much.

Then I ran some of the add-ons, to delete junk and duplicate files. After that, Windows refused to start at all. The computer would bring up the black and white screen with some basic BIOS commands, sit there for perhaps a minute, then shut down again. And that's all.

Up the road, the computer repair guys reinstalled the important bits of Windows (another seventy bucks), and fixed all the apparent problems like BigPond connections.

Alas, OpenOffice fell out in the process, and I was still unable to access important files. The only answer was to download OpenOffice (now up to version 2.3.1) and its installation files. A couple of hours and 136 megabytes later, everything seemed to have run like clockwork. Except OpenOffice refuses to open.

It's certainly there, lurking in the entrails of the computer, because it's in the menu and labelled OpenOffice 2.3 (so it's not the old software), with startup and desktop icons where they're meant to be. It's listed in the menus of a some files which ask you to select the program in which they are to be opened. But no way can I coax it out into the light.

So I talked it over again with the computer repair guys. The registry must still be cluttered with the detritus of a couple of years' heavy use. So now I'm going to reinstall the basic software from the disks supplied when I bought the computer. First, however, I have to copy everything I can on to backup CDs.

Anyway, don't expect another post to Grumpy Old Journo before the Australia Day weekend. Before that posting, I must give priority to a club newsletter which must, absolutely must, be finished by February 4.

To think that when I retired four years ago, I thought I'd said goodbye to the tyranny of deadlines! Cheers for the festive season, and wish me luck.