Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Booker Review: A Long Long Way, Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way is a novel about the First World War, and its basic story will be well-known to anybody who is familiar with this tragic genre. Indeed, when I began reading I wondered if Barry's novel might be redundant, given the myriad classic and not-so-classic treatments of the same subject already available. I need not have worried: A Long Long Way is a beautiful, brutal book, its existence well and truly justified.

For one thing, Barry's prose style, while occasionally overwrought, is brilliant. He unflinchingly details both the mundane and the horrific using vivid figurative language, a kind of poetic realism that is highly effective. Barry's Irish lilt feels intimate and genuine, never showy or contrived. The novel is also neatly structured, echoing the ebb-and-flow of a soldier's life.

Yet Barry's purpose runs deeper than merely detailing life in the trenches. His young Irish hero, Willie Dunne, is seventeen when war breaks out, and largely ignorant of politics. Back home on furlough, Dunne is involved in quelling the 1916 Easter Rebellion, an event which serves as his initiation into the conflict occuring in his own land between nationalists and loyalists. The conflicting loyalties of Dunne and his fellow Irishmen give the novel an undercurrent of tension reminiscent of the class-conflict of another First World War classic, Frederic Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune.

A Long Long Way is an extremely good novel. It is a harrowing read, at times overwhelming, but also intellectually stimulating and very well written. A shortlist contender.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Values Debate

The perennial values debate has reignited once more, with Federal Education minister Brendan Nelson suggesting that people unwilling to accept Australian values should "clear off". But what are "Australian values"? What does it mean to be Australian? Always keen to discover the pulse of the people, should it exist at all, Sterne headed into the streets to chat with the great unwashed. Here's what they had to say:

Kate, 16, student

I'm not afraid to say that I love Australia. I mean, we've got Andrew G, and he is like so much hotter than Ryan Seacrest! And we get TV and music and shit from like all over the world, from both England and America, so we have a really good mix of cultures. Like, you can be watching CSI: Delaware and then a minute later you're watching something British on Channel Ten, like have you seen I'm a Celebrity So Smash My Face In? It's so awesome and it just makes me feel so cultural, you know? I think it would be good to learn Australian values in school. I totally support teaching Muslims about Simpson's donkey. The only thing is we shouldn't stop with their donkey. Like, remember that time they had an elephant called Stampy? Now that was good value!

Bryce, 35, businessman

Australia's business is business, and you don't succeed in business without possessing the right values. Take mateship, for example. My mates are like my family. I watch out for them, comfort and support them, help them to grow. Then, when they least expect it, I stick the knife in and take them for everything they've got. And they're still my mates! To me, mateship means never having to say you're sorry. That why the Abbos are all wrong with this crap about their being "invaded" or whatever. 1788 was a corporate takeover. Nothing personal, so why can't we all be mates? Let's sit down, I'll buy you a beer - or a sniff of petrol, if you prefer - and we can all get on with our lives.

Barry, 66, Vietnam veteran

I didn't fight Jane Fonda back in 1972 just so Australia could be turned into an Islamo-fascist state. No, I fought the bitch to stop her making movies! Did you ever see Barbarella? What the fuck was that all about? And now here she is, back again with Monster-In-Law! We sacrificed our lives in 'Nam, but sometimes I wonder why we bothered. Did I watch my best friend dying face down in a Playboy Playmate at the USO show for nothing? What's wrong with good Australian movies, like The Man From Snowy River, or that thing with Paul Hogan as an angel? Saw that with me missus a while ago. Laugh? The fuckin' steel plate in my head was ringing for days afterwards! Gah, the whole place has gone to hell!

Jenae, 32, mother of three

The problem with Muslims is they hate our freedom. Because they all have to wear headscarves and commit hari kari if they're dishonoured, they think the rest of us should too. My Paul has one in his class at school. He's a little dark boy, wears a hooja or whatever they're called. I won't let Paulie go anywhere near the bugger. I want my kids to grow up with real Australian values, like tolerance and respect. Fuckin' towel-heads wouldn't understand tolerance and respect if it bit them on the bum, if you'll excuse my French.

Kenneth, 43, country and western singer

What does it mean to be Australian? It's one of those things that is hard to put your finger on, but I think John Williamson came pretty close with his song "True Blue". If I remember correctly, it goes something like this:

I've had other guys
I've looked into their eyes

But I never knew love before

'Til you walked through my door

I've had other lips

I've sailed a thousand ships

But no matter where I go

You're the one for me baby this I know, 'cause it's

True love

You're the one I'm dreaming of

Your heart fits me like a glove

And I'm gonna be true blue, baby I love you

That song always gets me, right in the ticker. God, what a country!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Grogblog - The Right Stuff

What makes good kids go bad? It's always a shame to see people with such promise, such passion and wit, forsake their talents so resoundingly and piss it all away on a life of blogging. Honestly, any good qualities they may possess go straight down the crapper the second they write their first post - intellect, good humour, cleanliness...I mean, I've known three dollar hookers with better personal hygiene than your average bloggist (which reminds me - happy birthday, Mum).

And what happens when they get together, these bloggists, these collective slaps in the face of the evolutionary process? They have a damn good time, that's what, and to hell with anybody that gets in their way.

A thoughtful observer - one that had not turned tail at first sight and second smell of the Grogbloggers congregating in Lygon Street on Saturday night - might have noticed some early frustration beginning to set in amongst the group. Having been denied entrance to Papa Gino's restaurant (some trifling matter to do with a lack of bookings) the small horde were beginning to turn ugly(er). As a result, Papa Gino's learned the hard way the perils of blackballing Melbourne's bloggists, and there were to be no second chances for them to make amends: by the time the broken glass had been picked up, the fires put out, and a small waiter coaxed down from where he quivered in a chandelier, I and my fellow Grogbloggers had stalked off to the Clyde Hotel, pausing only to spit at an elderly lady on the way.

And what went down at the Clyde after that shakey but amusingly violent start? Degeneracy and licentiousness, that's what. At least, I think so. Truth to be told, my recollections aren't particularly clear. Those memories left un-clouded by booze fumes I've largely managed to repress - though the nightmares and cold sweats persist; and, anyway, some things are best left unmentioned. Suffice it to say that the rumours about me demonstrating my prowess at interpretive dance on top of the bar are entirely untrue, and the knife fight which broke out at about half-past eleven was completely blown out of proportion by the media (we got the severed appendage on ice in time).

It is true, however, that I learned much that was arcane and/or fascinating about the 788 route to Mornington from Peter, about the cricket from Russell, and about the televisual industry from Bruce, when he wasn't hurling abuse at Brett Lee. Ben, I have found, is capable of the most admirable deadpan expression I've seen in some time, and knows of the strange connections betwixt Connect-Four and prostitution. And if Will doesn't take down that photo of me, I fully intend to sue him.

I'm unsure whether it was Alex's fault or mine that the evening devolved into some sort of demonic ceremony designed to raise the ghosts of the New Kids On The Block - although it's not going to matter who's responsible, as I doubt the angry spirit of Donnie Walhberg will discriminate when he comes to wreak a terrible vengeance. Much to my chagrin, pig's blood doesn't come out of my hair as easily as I had hoped.

Chris , well done for organising the event, well done indeed, sir. And a big shout out to all the other bloggists I have failed to mention, and probably failed to talk to on the night, largely due to the titular grog curtailing firstly my ability to move, and secondly my ability to talk (about anything other than the lyrics of Step by Step). I look forward to forgetting all your names again at the next shin-dig.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Boom Boom Boom Let's Go Back To My Womb

Yes, it's the "I haven't got anything substantial to post so here's a bunch of bullet points" boogie.
  • Lady Sterne had her first ultrasound today. Although the embryo (or Ichabod, as we like to call it) is only seven centimetres long at this point, we could make out its brain, heart, stomach, hands and feet, and even its face if we used our imagination. All is well with mother and baby, and although I don't have a scanned ultrasound image to share, I can confirm that the baby looks nothing like this:
  • I met the delightful Beth yesterday to do a spot of horse trading and plot the next phase of our Booker longlist reading project. It's pretty much like the first phase, i.e. we read books and then blog about them. If you're interested in the prize, Beth's reviews are well worth a look, as are Gayla's.
  • Speaking of meeting bloggers, Chris Fryer's long-awaited Grogblogging extravaganza is happening tomorrow night. I can't make it, but Jon will be there with bells on, and possibly clothes, too. Look for a full, uncensored report early next week.
  • Finally, Adam Ford has been kind enough to send me a copy of the new edition of his zine, Jutchy Ya Ya, surely the finest eight pages of random shenanigans this side of, er, the last issue of Jutchy Ya Ya. Check Adam's site for more details about the zine and all the other things he's involved in. (I mean creative activities of course. He's not involved in anything untoward. Not that he advertises on his site, anyway.)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Booker Review: The Harmony Silk Factory, Tash Aw

In a quotation reproduced on the front cover of The Harmony Silk Factory, Doris Lessing claims that Tash Aw is a fine storyteller, his work "unputdownable". Clearly Doris is confused. Unlikely as it sounds, there must be some other Tash Aw whose books are "unputdownable", because this particular book, by this particular Tash Aw, is eminently putdownable, and once put down is nigh on unpickupable. Yes, it is well-written in a clean, plain style, and there is the occasional interesting patch. Mostly, though, it is dull and passionless, and rather a slog to read.

Set in Malaya in the 1930s and '40s, The Harmony Silk Factory is the story of Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant who, through a mixture of ingenuity and ruthlessness, becomes a successful cloth merchant. As a sideline, Lim also heads the local communist guerilla army, and when the Japanese invade in 1941, Lim is torn between his many loyalties, and survival becomes intertwined with betrayal.

The story is told in three parts. In the first part, Lim's son pieces together a rough outline of Lim's wartime activities. The second part consists of a diary kept by Lim's wife, Snow, on their belated honeymoon. Finally, Peter Wormwood, a British dilettante who befriended the couple just prior to the outbreak of war, recounts the fateful events of 1941, filling in many of the gaps in the preceding accounts.

Aw does a good job of tying together the various threads of the story. Unfortunately, the three narrative voices are too similar to be convincing. The main problem, though, is that Johnny Lim's story is simply not stimulating enough to sustain one's interest. Aw seems to have realised this, hence the elaborate structure, and the inclusion of a good deal of incidental detail, or "padding" as the uncharitable (i.e. me) would call it. Overall, The Harmony Silk Factory is not a bad novel, merely unremarkable.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Booker Review: The Accidental, Ali Smith

Eve, the successful author of a series of contrived historical quasi-fiction books, is holidaying in Norfolk with her son Magnus, daughter Astrid and husband Michael. Eve is struggling with writer's block and a sense of futility; Astrid is teetering on the brink of puberty; Magnus is suicidal with guilt over the death of a classmate; and Michael is constantly distracted by his twin passions, literature and serial adultery. Into this fragile, fragmented household comes a young woman calling herself Amber. Nobody knows who she is, where she comes from, or what she wants, but she quickly develops very different relationships with each of the family members, ultimately proving to be the catalyst for much-needed change in each of their lives.

Ali Smith's Booker-nominated The Accidental is brash, experimental, unabashedly contemporary and genuinely affecting. Each character's story is related in a voice reflecting their personality and thought process, yet Smith eschew's a predictable first person narration in favour of an ironic, sympathetic, third person. It is a considerable technical feat, and one that allows a clever-yet-subtle interplay between the sections of the novel, and the characters themselves. The Accidental is also thematically rich. Set in 2003, it takes in the Iraq invasion, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, internet porn, and so on, depicting a world in which everything is connected, yet simulateously fragmented.

One of the limitations of this read-and-blog thing I'm doing with the Booker longlist is that it doesn't allow much time for reflection (especially when I'm half asleep, as I am now). I doubt I am doing The Accidental justice with this quickie review, but suffice to say I am very impressed by it. James Meek's book aside, The Accidental is vastly superior to the longlist books I've read so far. Hopefully the Booker panel will reward Smith's efforts with a place on the shortlist.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Ask A Hyperactive Fat Kid

Dear Hyperactive Fat Kid,

On the weekend my partner and I went to the movies. I wanted to see
Monster-In-Law but he insisted we see Land of the Dead or Kung Fu Hustle. It seems like we always see the films he likes, and whenever I suggest something he complains until I give in. I love my partner, but I'd love him even more if we didn't have to see these horror and action movies all the time.


Hyperactive Fat Kid says: What? Are you out of your mind? Like, what's wrong with horror and action? Hang on. Mum! Mum! Where's the fuckin' Mars Bar Pods? Ah fuck, Jamie's eaten them all. Mum! Jamie's gone and eaten all the fuckin' Mars Bar Pods! Hang on, Marjorie, I'm on level three of Big Mutha Truckers 2. Ya got Xbox? Ah, shit. Where'd I put those Cheezels? Mum! Jamie's gone and eaten all the fuckin' Cheezels! Marjorie, you've got to step back and shit, all right? You don't want to see chick shit like Monster-In-Law. Man, I heard Land of the Dead is the sickest shit. Like, one scene you see this zombie like eating some guy's leg, and it looks real as! That reminds me: Mum! Jamie's gone and eaten all the fuckin' KFC! Mum!

Dear Hyperactive Fat Kid,

Recently I discovered some porn on the computer I share with my husband. It was nothing extreme, jus
t naked women, but all the same I am offended and distressed that he feels the need to view such material. I want to ask him about it, but I also don't want him to feel like I've been snooping. What should I do?


Hyperactive Fat Kid says: Hang on, I'm just about to kill some dude on Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance. Oh! Take that you fuck! Whoa, hold up a sec, Carolyn. Did you say porn? Have you seen this thing, right, where the chick has like a fake dick strapped on her and she puts it in the other chick? Matthew Kingston showed me on his computer last week, his brother downloaded it or something. Ah, shit. Mum! Mum! Jamie's taken my Fiddy CD! What? 50 Cent! Give it back you fuck! Carolyn, you need to step back and shit, all right? Porn is like a natural thing. Like, you should see the shit Jack Bristow brought to school on his fuckin' iRiver last week! With like one guy and ten chicks and shit. Fuck! Jamie, give me the fuckin' CD back! You don't even know his fuckin' songs, you cunt! Yeah, fuckin' "Candy Shop", but what else, you fuck? Mum!

Dear Hyperactive Fat Kid,

I'm sixteen and fairly good looking, but I'm really shy. There's a girl in my class called Sarah. I really like her, but I'm so nervous around girls, and I don't think she even knows I'm alive. I really want to ask her out, but I don't know how to go about it. What's your advice?


Hyperactive Fat Kid says: Did you fuckin' see that? Jamie - check this out. Watch me shoot this dude. Ha! See his fuckin' face explode! Sorry, Jason, just playing some Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 2. Ya got Xbox? Je-sus! Mum! Mum! Jamie's taken the fuckin' instruction book. What? Well, how am I supposed to fuckin' figure out how to fire the stun grenade thing without the fuckin' instructions? Yeah, fuckin' genius, Mum. Jason, you need to step back and shit, and...hang on, Jason? Jason "Pigfuck" Jones? Is that you? Are you talking about Sarah Carter? "Poo-sags" Carter? Haha, you're a fuckin' dirty cunt! She's a scrag, man, a fuckin' scrag. Ah, shit, hang on a sec. Boom! Jamie, did ya see the dude's head? Like blown to fuckin' pieces. Where's the fruit 'n' nut block? Fuck it. Mum! Mum! Jamie's picking the fruit out of the fruit 'n' nut block and chuckin' it at me! Stop it ya fuckin' wanker! Mum!

Booker Review: This Thing of Darkness, Harry Thompson

I tried hard to like this historical novel, but unfortunately its author, Harry Thompson, has done his best to make it distinctly unlikeable. This is a shame, because his subject is certainly interesting enough. This Thing of Darkness follows the career of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle, a survey ship charged with mapping the wild coast of the Tierra del Fuego in South America. FitzRoy is capable, intellectually acquisitive, yet prone to bouts of manic depression. When the young trainee cleric Charles Darwin is hired as the ship's naturalist, the two men become friends. Yet Darwin's radical scientific hypotheses conflict with FitzRoy's religious convictions, and drama, as it will, ensues.

So what's wrong with the book? For one thing, it is far too long: six hundred pages in large paperback format. Darwin doesn't turn up until about page one hundred and forty, by which time the reader (this reader, at least) is utterly fed up with the whole exercise. There is so much flab. The good historical novelist understands that he or she is writing, first and foremost, a novel. He or she subtlely grounds the novel in fact, and lets imagination - of author and reader - do the rest. Thompson, on the other hand, throws facts and figures and bits of sea-faring jargon at the reader and hopes that it amounts to something. Even the dialogue is weighted down with back story and irrelevant factoids. It makes for sluggish, frustrating reading.

It also makes for dull characters. In Thompson's hands, Darwin and FitzRoy are, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf, sacks stuffed with straw, dummies, in a word: unconvincing. Once again Thompson's high regard for his own research is to blame. His characters can barely breathe under the weight of fact. Such psychological insight as exists is in the form of clunky italicised internal monologues. God, this book is interminable! You know, that sort of thing.

I found this book so annoying that I'm actually struggling to write about it. How it made it onto the Booker longlist is beyond me. It is not literature. It is not a good example of its genre. Rather, it is a long-winded exercise in authorial vanity. Clearly, natural selection does not exist in the publishing world or this lumbering throwback of a novel never would have made it to print.

Oh, and can we have a break from titles nicked from Shakespeare? It's getting old.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Weapon of Choice

Could it be? Is it true? Have all our Kwanzaas come at once?

Is this man the next president of the United States of Americainia? Pray, people. Pray to whatever dark and betentacled gods you believe in that it's so. Too long has the free world laboured under the leadership (so-called) of knaves, nymphos and knuckle-heads. Enough!

Isn't it time, my Americainian brothers/sisters, that you had a president that you can respect? That you can fear? Be terrified of, in fact - and not just 'cos he could explode us all, but because he might simply look at you?

The Western world will be safe again. Just think how easily high-level peace talks will be conducted, once Johnny Foreigner realises that the icy countenance across the table is in the habit of uttering phrases like, "Tell all the angels in Heaven, that you...never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you," before emptying a clip into someone's head. Enemies of freedom are going to be soiling their weird national garb, I tell you.

The interweb being what it is (i.e. rubbish), this is likely a hoax - but no matter. You can make it true, people. Get writing, tell Chris you love him, let him know you want him for Pres. Just don't give your real name or address. You don't want him knowing where you live after all. Come the hour, come the man; Walken will not let us down. With him - and maybe Vice-President Mr. T - at the helm, there will be peace in our time (or hideous, violent, possibly supernatural death. It could go either way. But it will be cool).

Friday, August 19, 2005

Booker Review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka

It is not a good sign when your first thought upon laying a book aside is, well, at least it was a quick read. Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is certainly that. It took me under four hours to get through, and I'm the kind of person who reads every word twice and moves his mouth as he does so. A Short History is not an odd book in itself, but it is an odd book for me to read, and I doubt I'd have gone near it were it not on the Booker longlist. From the quirky title to the cute cover art (with the words "A Novel" helpfully inscribed under the title, lest one think it actually is a history of tractors in Ukrainian), the whole package screams "winsome, quasi-literary rubbish". Thankfully, it's not that bad. Unfortunately, it's also not all that good.

A Short History tells of two middle-aged sisters, whose elderly, widowed father, a Ukrainian émigré who is depicted throughout as a kind of cantakerous idiot savant, enters into a marriage of convenience with a supremely unpleasant Ukrainian woman half his age. While she sets about breaking the old man's heart in pursuit of his (largely non-existant) fortune, the sisters do everything they can to get rid of her, and this forms the core of the novel.

This rather bland story is enlivened by Lewycka's ready, down-to-earth wit, and a smooth, episodic structure. Valiant attempts are made to tie the family's present-day tribulations to Ukraine's often tragic recent history. This can jar: one minute you're smiling over some piece of bubbly bitchiness, the next you're in the Drachensee forced labour camp, and smiling has ceased to be an option. That said, the historical threads do give the novel some depth, and help to cement identity and ideology as its key themes.

Lewycka struggles to flesh out her characters, and this is ultimately what makes A Short History a merely pleasant read, and a baffling choice for the Booker longlist. Of all the dull first-person narrators in history, Lewycka's Nadia would have to be near the top of the table. We learn about her politics, her home life, and we become very familiar with her world-weary wit, but still she fails to ring true as a person. Likewise the other characters, who are really functional creations, there to do a job, rather than to live on the page. Without any sense of the characters as real people (or "real" people, if you prefer, as you probably do if you're the one marking my lit essays), the reader of A Short History has no chance of getting under the book's skin, or vice versa. It becomes literally two-dimensional, existing on the page only, waiting to be skimmed and forgotten. In summary, I can do no better than to quote Andrey Kurkov's review in the Guardian: "Reading this novel gave me the impression that I had read a school textbook on Ukrainian history with one eye on an episode of Coronation Street."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Booker Review: The Sea, John Banville

John Banville knows lots of interesting words, and he's not afraid to use them. "Proscenium", "moue", even (and this comes distressingly early on) "apotropaic" are not beyond his employ. Reading Banville's The Sea, then, becomes an education as much as anything else. With a dictionary open beside you, and perhaps a copy of Brewer's or something of its ilk to help with the tricky mythological allusions, The Sea can be a breezy, bracing read. It is not, however, a particularly good novel.

Part of the problem is the familiarity of the story. Following the death of his wife, middle-aged art historian Max Morden is drawn to visit the seaside village where he holidayed as a child. Max's return to Ballyless (as the town is called; there is another up the road called Ballymore - one of Banville's more obvious, and less amusing, jokes) naturally evokes memories of his formative experiences there and so Max sets about weaving a rich tapestry(or possibly doona cover) of recollection and meditation, as he attempts to understand the past in terms of the present, or possibly the other way around. Whatever the case, you may rest assured that his tone remains hauntingly elegiac at all times.

Of course I am being flippant here, but it is hard not to be when confronted with such a mish-mash of well-trodden themes. The Sea is, quite simply, unoriginal. There are echoes here of everything from Orwell's Coming Up For Air, to Flaubert's Parrot and of course the great-grandfather of all memory novels, In Search of Lost Time. (This is most blatant: Proust's narrator also has formative experiences at a seaside resort and lives to return and wallow in self-doubt and nostalgia. And this is just the beginning of Banville's debt to the Frenchman.)

Derivative as it is, The Sea is never the less very well written, and Banville lives up to his reputation as the "heir of Nabokov" with his predeliction for word-play and allusion. Unfortunately, this too becomes irritating, as you become so preoccupied with the well-turned phrases and exotic vocabulary that the already slight storyline comes to seem almost superfluous. Also, the pitch of his prose barely changes throughout. You can open The Sea at almost any page and find something to like. Reading the whole thing, one page after another, is a different story, and not one I particularly enjoyed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

When Neighbours Become Good Bogans

As a regular Neighbours viewer (er, when I'm not reading Proust, of course), I have noticed that of late the show appears to be undergoing some serious reboganisation. Not only has the uber-bogan himself, Joe Mangel, returned, he has actually become romantically involved with Ramsay St.'s current bogan matriarch, Lyn Scully. The pitter-patter of little ugg-boot-clad feet can only be months away. However, the most striking example of Neighbours' bogan renaissance is the appearance of the Timmins family, who, for the uninitiated, look like this:

The Timmins's bogan cachet is such that even the other residents of Ramsay St. - many of whom are only a bit of chin fluff and a rat's tail away from being proper bogans themselves - refer to them as bogans. (One wonders whether this word requires subtitles for overseas markets, or whether they just dub over the local equivalent.) Individually, the Timmins family are bogans par excellence, but together they are truly a force to be reckoned with, a kind of bogan Fantastic Four. Except there are five of them.

Although it is hard to play favourites with such a loveable bunch of dags, I must confess to preferring mum Janelle (bottom left) and youngest son Stingray (bottom centre) to the rest. The latter was the first Timmins to appear on Neighbours, introduced last year as the troubled cousin of Toadfish Rebecchi. Stingray is a manic wunderbogan, his rapid-fire speech punctuated by such boganlogisms as "cake-taker", "spiggin" and "hufta". Needless to say, he's a devil with the ladies. Janelle, for her part, is the last word in bogan motherhood, advising her sixteen-year-old daughter to have plastic surgery, getting the family into debt, and constantly irritating everybody with her lack of humility. Currently, Janelle is writing a romance novel based on the lives of her neighbours which, given the storyline is one of the most hackneyed in all soapie-dom, will doubtless be met with much chagrin on its inevitable publication.

The best - or possibly worst - thing about the Timminses is that they keep mentioning two other children who have apparently remained behind in Colac to attend to the greyhounds or something, but who will almost certainly turn up in Ramsay St. at some point. I long for the day when the whole street is taken over by the extended Timmins family. Cars up on blocks on the nature strip, Kid Rock blaring from number 30, Harold getting in touch with his bogan roots and growing a mullet. It'll be sweet, it'll be noyce - yes, it'll even be spiggin awesome.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Booker Review: The People's Act of Love, James Meek

I decided to kick off my Booker longlist reading with one of the lesser-known contenders, Guardian foreign correspondent James Meek's The People's Act of Love. The U.K. press has been buzzing about this book for a couple of weeks now, and it has received high praise from a number of big name reviewers. I'm pleased to report the acclaim is more than justified: Meek's novel is something very special, and hopefully it will at least make the short list.

Siberia, 1919. A Czech army unit is stranded in the isolated town of Yazyk, cut off from home by the Red Army. Their captain, Matula, rules over his little patch of taiga with the deranged caprice of a Major Major or Colonel Kurtz. The town is also home to a secretive Christian sect, and a beautiful war widow, whose connection to the sect, and relationship with the principled Czech Lieutenant Mutz, threatens the town's uneasy stability. Into this frozen world of delusion and violence stumbles Samarin, an escaped political prisoner. When a Tungus shaman, held captive by Matula, is murdered, blame immediately falls on the newcomer. Samarin, however, has a strange story to tell. He is being followed, he says, by a fellow escapee called the Mohican, who has survived the journey south by eating human flesh. With the Red Army closing in, Matula baying for Mutz's blood, and a cannibal on the loose, the scene is set for a good deal of unpleasantness, with the outcome far from certain.

It is difficult, in such a brief synopsis, to convey the combination of deadly seriousness and humour, action and reflection, that comprise The People's Act of Love. Meek's sense of narrative drive, and the way he builds character and theme by patiently, almost teasingly, sewing together loose strands of detail, is admirable . The telling is disjointed, fitful, but this makes the book suspenseful rather than frustrating. The setting - isolated not only in space, but also in time - allows Meek to avoid superficial philosophising, and grapple instead with some very deep and disturbing issues. Having only just finished reading the book, I'm still thinking it through (and given all the essay-related shit swimming around in my brain, probably not thinking it through particularly well). I expect I will be reading The People's Act of Love again, sometime. That in itself is a not inconsiderable endorsement of its quality.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Two Arseholes and a Wedding

An old friend of Team Sterne got married on the weekend. But while we're happy for her and all, that's not particularly important. No - the whole event was put into perspective when, during a few post-ceremony drinks, an hilarious and terrifying discovery was made. An old aquaintance - who for the sake of propriety we shall refer to only as "M" - this old aquaintance...he had grown a second arsehole.

It's a strange but true fact that when you get a group of old school friends together, many of whom have not seen each other in years, it doesn't take long for age and experience to slough away, revealing that one's heady salad days are not so long past. By which I mean that we all behaved like a bunch of 16-year-old tits.

The devolution happened surprisingly fast (the slippery slope to immaturity having been lubricated by generous quantities of alcohol), but I think it was the fact that we were all a bit worried about how to pronounce the groom's surname - the potential mispronunciation would have had everyone pissing themselves, but would have been a tad disrespectful - that pushed us over the edge. That and the guilty, giddy pleasures of schadenfreude: I can't believe how fat they got! when did he lose all his hair? These twin catalysts soon had the conversation scraping the bottom of the good-taste barrel. Examples? I learned how to perform a Dirty Fishook (think Dirty Sanchez. Now think dirtier). I learned what not to wear when walking in a park in Amsterdam.

And that was when it came out: "You remember M? He had two arseholes!" Laugh? I nearly snorted my beer (a shocking waste). No, really, I swear it's true. It's a very real, quite painful, and hideously unseemly condition. And whilst I do not wish to make light of another's discomfort (too much), M - who was not present for the event, and has since been cured of his bifurcated butt - was SMS'd to confirm that the tale was a true one, and was a very good sport about the whole thing: in fact he went so far as to offer to SMS some pictures back. To my lasting gratitude, no-one took him up on his kind proposal.

I'll spare you the worst of the medical details...I'm trying to repress them as it is. Suffice it to say that it involves some sort of ingrown hair, which gets infected and degenerates into, yes, a second anus beneath the first. No, it doesn't function like the original, as one curious charlie in our party queried. At least, it excretes nothing but pus.

Inconsequential affairs, stuff like the exchange of matrimonal vows, the promise to share one's life with another - this all pales to insignificance beside the threat of replicated rectums. I mean, it could happen to anyone! Even you!

Nevertheless, let me take this opportunity to say congratulations, Mr and Mrs Semenchuk. May yours be a long and happy future. May you never live under the shadow of two arseholes.

Friday, August 12, 2005

A Lazy Shade of Blogging

I'm in essay hell at the moment, so in the absence of anything funny or intelligent to say, here is a brief round-up of stuff that is happening. Apologies in advance for the dullness which follows.
  • One of my favourite bloggers, Rex, is hanging up his boots or gloves or whatever it is bloggers hang up when they quit. Rex's intelligence and humour will be missed. I wish him well.
  • Inspired by Beth, I have decided to attempt to read all seventeen titles on this year's Booker Prize long list, and blog about them as I go. Given that the short list will be announced on September 8, and the prize itself on October 10, the chances of me getting through all seventeen are slim, to say the least. When you also consider the sheer quantity of reading I have to do for university over the next few months, the odds look even worse. Still, I'm going to give it a shot.
  • The tutoring job I posted about last week appears to have fallen through. I never heard back from the agency. It probably would have been more trouble than it was worth, but still it would have been polite to let me know what was happening.
  • Lady Sterne and I are still having a baby. We (which is to say, she) is at about twelve weeks now, and so far everything is going smoothly. Lady Sterne has a little bump happening, so at least we know something is in there.
  • The next six months promise to be pretty quiet. All I have to do is finish my degree, find another job, move house, buy a car, learn to drive, get my license, prepare for the baby's arrival - oh, and keep Sterne ticking over. Looks like I'll have to put off learning ancient Greek until next year...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hate List

Let me tell you this: I make a bad enemy. And at best an indifferent friend, it is true. But mostly a bad enemy. The last person that crossed me? These days he eats through a tube and shits into a bag. Mind you, he'd been a vegetable for some years before the incident, but that's beside the point. I gave him such a glare...he'll think twice before gurgling offensively next time, I can tell you. If he ever thinks again. Take that, Grandpa.

My point, and I do have one, is this - stay on my good side, or there will be trouble. Trouble for you. I am a powerful guy. Stop snickering! I am too (please don't lower my self-esteem; baseless delusions are all I have left)! But besides being ridiculously powerful (and handsome), I am also a fair man, and so that those concerned can prepare for the terrible vengeance that will be visited upon them, I have decided to compose a little list of those whom I hate so very, very hard. If your name follows, beware:

1. Jim Schembri - easily the worst professional film and television reviewer in the country. The way he to misinterprets movies, dismisses anything he doesn't understand (which is a lot), and venerates Inspector Gadget and Star Wars as the twin shining beacons of Western cultural achievement fills me with an untold rage.
2. Everett True - self-appointed doyenne of popular culture. Shut up, Everett True! Shut up! (Actually, I haven't seen M. True in a while; he may already be hiding from my hate)
3. Connex - a recent addition to the list - not because of stupefyingly high ticket prices, not because of their all-pervading fare evaders ad campaign, but because I haven't been on a train that ran on time in the last month. And the high prices and ads.
4. The Australian Idol Judging Panel - particularly Kyle Sandilands, but particularly Mark Holden.
5. Europe - I don't like Europe, Europe don't like me. Pretty soon, one of us is goin' down.
6. Prime Minister John Howard, et al. - an easy target? Yes, but it's pretty damn hard to lick a turd and call it icecream.
7. Pierre-Auguste Renoir - for obvious reasons.
8. Shop assistants - no I do not need a hand, thank you so very much. What do I look like, a moron? And don't you dare answer that.
9. Dan Brown - for lowering artistic standards everywhere so thoroughly.
10. Laura Bush - what a cock-sniff.
11. Teenagers.

You have all been warned.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Erotic Key

Pornography is another country, they do things differently there. Sometimes very differently. Sometimes with improbable objects. Sometimes with animals, for crying out loud (and they do that, too). And whilst during my teenage years I admittedly made an occasional tentative trip over the border to observe the quaint native customs and get my passport stamped, as it were, it is not a country I have visited in some time.

What? It's true! Stop looking at me like that! Oh, like you haven't. Don't come the wide-eyed Sunday-schooler with me. It's not like I don't know what you get up to behind closed doors. Uh-huh? Care to let me browse through your history file, then? I thought not. Pervert.

Inadequate protestations of innocence aside, there are some areas in which my knowledge is (and I'm ok with this, quite frankly) rather lacking. Now I ain't no prude: I know what to expect from smutty movies and naughty magazines; as an art historian, I've had to study thousands of images, ownership of which, though they are now considered masterpieces, would just a few hundred years ago have earned you not just disapproving looks from your Mum but possibly the attention of local religious authorities (the Church having pioneered the use of improbable objects and their varied applications). However, erotic literature has not only been a closed book to me, but one in which the pages are suspiciously stuck together.

Until now. My sources deep within the seamy world of book merchandising have happily fixed this deficiency in my education by placing in my hands the Erotic Key (no, that's not a euphemism - get your minds out of the gutter), the ultimate guide to pornographic literature - used in leading bookstores across the country, and now presented here for your edification and amusement.

I kid you not - there really is an Erotic Key. Publishers of erotica helpfully include a series of small but graphic symbols on the spines of their products, allowing the discriminating customer to choose a book which will best cater to his or her personal fetish. The elements appearing on this pornographic periodic table are as follows:

-Corporal Punishment - traditional
-Corporal Punishment - modern (there is a difference?)
-Uniforms ("Step out of the vehicle please, m'am.")
-Rope Bondage/Hojujutsu (I haven't dared look up the meaning of this word - braver readers are invited to type it into a search engine and report back).
-Restraint Bondage
-Period Setting (the sort of Jane Austen you wished was taught in Lit 101)
-Willing Captivity
-Medical (and here the mind boggles)
-Fem Dom (pornography is an equal opportunity exploiter)
-Sex Rituals (uh.....huh)

Of course, rather than having to pick just one category, one can mix and match. I am told, for example, that vampire smut is very popular, incorporating as it does Period Setting, Willing Captivity, and Sex Rituals. Mysteriously, however, erotica in which the protagonist is a Scot tend to be bestsellers - is it all those sporrans? all that caber tossing? One can do no better than to paraphrase Ambrose Bierce upon his discovery of the merkin, and ask: how can such things be?

Those of you who are especially curious should check out further titles that are available wherever hilariously bad books are sold. Truthfully, I'm unsure how anyone can stop laughing long enough to get turned on.

But there: now you, too, possess the Erotic Key, and can explore the deviancies and fetishes available in your local bookstore to your hearts content. You sickoes. I myself shall stick to more wholesome titillations. Like pigs - pink, grunty, and...oh! those curly tails...

Ahem. Excuse me.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Verandah Man

When Sheryl and I decided to move in together, I insisted we rent a house with a verandah. I suppose I could have lived with a porch, or even a patio or sailcloth awning, but my heart was set on a verandah. We used to have a verandah at Mum's place when I was growing up, and ever since I've had an affinity with them. So I put my foot down. Verandahs are my natural element, I told Sheryl. Without a verandah, I'll shrivel up and die, you just watch.

We finally found what we were looking for: a nice, two bedroom weatherboard with a cosy verandah out the front. Since I've been off work with a back injury since 1996, I decided to make a project of the verandah. I gave it a coat of paint, furnished it with an old couch and a radio, and even installed a bar fridge. With everything I could possibly want so close to hand, I began spending whole days sitting out there, watching the world go by.

Sheryl leaves for work about eight thirty, by which time I've planted myself on the couch, mug of coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other. Sheryl runs her hand over my stubbly jaw, and plants a kiss on my forehead. The nursing lark is a bit of a joke, if you ask me, all arse wiping and piss mopping, but Sheryl seems to enjoy it. Pays the bills, I suppose. Once she's gone, I settle back and finish my coffee, stubbing out the cigarette on the heel of my moccasin before flicking it into a nearby plant pot. At nine I open the bar fridge and grab myself a beer.

We're on a main road, so there's always plenty of people walking past. I see some crazy driving too. One time, this Asian guy ran right up the arse of an old woman. Cars are a new thing in Asia, so they don't have the familiarity with them that Westerners do. Driving is instinctive; it's genetic. Asians just don't have it in their biological make up. Also, their eyes are slanty, so they can't see properly.

Most mornings I'll fire up the radio, listen to a bit of Triple M. There's no rap crap or doof doof or any of that stuff. Just real music. I like their new random playlist. You never know which Cold Chisel song they're going to play next. They have some good comedy too. Like the other day, that guy off that TV show was on, and he told this joke about why women and men are different. It really spoke to me. Sheryl and I are like that. Different.

At about ten-thirty I open the bar fridge and grab myself a beer.

I like to read, too. At the moment, I'm halfway through James Patterson's new one, The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon. I like how he uses bits from nursery rhymes as titles. Sheryl says this is an ironic juxtoposition of innocence and depravity, but I don't know about that. Another one I like is that Matthew Reilly. I reckon I could write one of those thriller type books, but using a typewriter fucks up my back something shocking. I swear this injury has held me back from so much. The doctor says it is a class nine vertebrae de-flexification, one of the worst he has ever seen. I'm pretty much banned from doing anything more than scratching my arse, and some days Sheryl has to help me do that!

At about twelve, and then at one-thirty, two-fifteen and three-twenty I open the bar fridge and grab myself a beer.

Soon the school kids start wandering past, backpacks swinging from their shoulders. I like the older girls, the ones in their special VCE jumpers, a thin band of bare skin visible at their knees, between their skirts and their long, pulled-up socks. Don't get me wrong - I'm no perv. Just appreciative of the adolescent female form. Sheryl used to have a body like that, before she let herself go. I still find her attractive, but not so much in a sexual way. She's more like a mother to me than a lover. I think it's a perfectly natural relationship, and one we are both satisfied with.

At about four-thirty and again at four-forty-five I open the bar fridge and grab myself a beer. Sheryl usually gets in just after five-thirty, and plops herself on the couch next to me. We talk about our days - she's got some real horror stories, better than anything out of James Patterson! - and maybe I'll get a kiss of two before she nods off to sleep on my shoulder. I let her sleep for a few minutes before I nudge her awake and get her to open the bar fridge and grab me a beer. Then she heads inside to cook dinner. I worry about her sometimes. I find it sad, watching somebody I love wasting their life. Me, I just sit back and relax. All is well on the verandah - and tomorrow is another day.

Be Afraid...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Tute On!

Ring ring!

Hello? Yes, this is he. Do I want to tutor a Year 12 student in history? Specifically the French and Russian revolutions? What's the pay like? Really? That's pretty good. You know, it was some time ago that I signed up with your agency. Almost two years, in fact. Oh, I see, they closed down and sold their database to you. Well, that sounds dodgy, but a job's a job. Count me in.

Do I know anything about the French and Russian revolutions? Er, yes. They were in France and Russia, right? Haha, only joking. We're talking 1789 and 1917 here, aren't we, not 1830 and 1905 or something? Ok, good. I can do 1789 and 1917, but anything else I'm fucking hopeless on. Haha, just kidding. Nah, I'm all over it. Like a freakin' rash!

So what's the deal with this kid? Smart? Good looking? 'Cause I don't want to have to spend my time tutoring a fugly thicko. Although if she is a thicko, then it will take me longer to set her on the path to academic success, which will mean more money for me. Hmm. What? No, sorry, just thinking out loud. Really I don't mind what she looks like or how smart she is. As long as she doesn't wear those stupid ugg boots, count me in.

Do I have any tutoring experience? Does explaining to foreign tourists how to get to Flinders St. count as tutoring? Haha, just kidding again! Look, I'm no expert, but I think I've got the skills to pay the bills. No. Yes, I realise I won't be required to pay any bills. That's just a rhyme we young people use. You can see how I'm already on the same mental level as a seventeen year-old. I should have no problems tutoring her, as long as she already knows what she's doing. Anyway, thank you for giving me this opportunity. I won't let you down. Much! Haha, only kidding. Vive la Revolution, eh? Oh, you've already hung up...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sigur Ros

I don't want to keep harping on about the gigs I've been to, but I'm going to anyway. Sigur Ros were playing last night and, coincidentally enough, this was the gig I was at. Why were you not there, gentle reader? I waited and waited for you, but you did not come. I am beginning to feel slighted. Is it me? Do I smell? Or are you embarrassed by the way I dress? Loincloths and woad are back in, I tell you - very retro chic!

Anyway... here are some of the things you missed out on:
- Very creative use of wineglasses and musical saws.
- Buxom lasses playing said saw and wineglass with skill and verve.
- Some of the most amazing counter-tenor vocals I've ever heard: the sort of voice they used to achieve in the good old days via the careful application of cleaver to love spud.
- A truly horrendous opening support act - although this was possibly just a chromed-up busker who wandered in without anyone noticing.
- Thanks to the lingering effects of a cold, yours truly manufacturing mucus at a rate hitherto unknown in human beings. Attractive!
- Icelandic post-rock par excellence.

I will go so far as to say that last night was one of the best concerts I've attended - easily within the top ten. One can only assume that Iceland produces such great music because there's bugger all else to do - besides drink, complain about the cold, and hump like crazed monkeys. Bravo, chaps!

Such a pity that you missed it all, gentle reader, but that's what you get for snubbing me. I mean, you keep ignoring my emails; screening your calls; handing that sheep's heart I stuffed in your letterbox over to the police. It's very unfair of you, I must say. I'm back on the meds after all, and I did promise to buy you a new rabbit. Much more of this, and there will be trouble.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Vampire Movie Buff Mainly In It For The Lesbians

Self-proclaimed "vampire movie freak" Michael Gerd, 19, yesterday confessed that his enthusiasm for the genre is largely based on its tendency to feature buxom young women biting one another's necks.

"Don't get me wrong, I enjoy movies like Lust For A Vampire and The Hunger as cinematic experiences, even as art," Gerd told a press conference. "But mostly I enjoy them because they give me a reason to keep buying baby oil, if you see what I mean."

Gerd said that his favourite lesbian vampire film is Jess Franco's trashy 1970 take on the Dracula legend, Vampyros Lesbos.

"It's a very complex film, laden with symbolic meaning and featuring some quite innovative cinematography and an engaging psychadelic soundtrack. Also, there's a whole heap of titty, so, you know, two thumbs up from me."

The Adelaide-based masturbator said that although recent years had seen a decline in the number of lesbian vampire films being produced, he was looking forward to the DVD release of the ultra-cheap Vampire Lesbian Kickboxers.

"I used to do kickboxing and I'd love to do lesbian vampires, so it's like the perfect combination for me.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Review: Hell Island

Because I am elitist, and because I am a snob, I had completely dismissed the contents of the 2005 Books Alive Great Read Guide, and not just because of the rather tired attempt at half-rhyme by second-rate copywriters. Books Alive is a government selected (so you know it's good) panel of 'industry experts', who have, according to their website, created a programme that will encourage literacy by recommending material that is "a great read for every Australian." Cynical moi had therefore decided that the List, which advocates such instant literary classics as "The Complete Book of Working Dog Stories", Bryce Courtenay's "The Power of One" and "The Cook's Companion", was at best merely an exercise in getting rid of a stack of unpopular books that had been clogging publisher's storerooms; at worst, an attempt by our beloved leaders to steer the course of our country's intellectual development by proscribing a set list of texts, knowledge of which would soon become requisite to citizenship.

But I couldn't have been wronger. Or more unright. Some claim that you can't teach people to read by throwing a dictionary at them; I have always maintained, though, that you should try hurling both a dictionary and something worth reading at them, rather than undermining their intellectual capacity with something violently second-rate: Bryce Courtenay's Adventures in Turgid Triumphalism for Big Boys and Girls, say. But Books Alive has pre-empted me. Those buggers know how to think big. For you see, purchasing any item upon this list for budding literati scores you a free (just right for tight-wads like me!) copy of the latest masterpiece from Australia's greatest living author: Matthew Reilly's Hell Island.

I hadn't hitherto read any of Mr Reilly's oeuvre, having dismissed him as a Dan Brown/Tom Clancy manque. Now I am kicking myself. An extension of charity towards his work reveals Reilly as a master of modernist prose: like Joyce before him, he plays with sentence and narrative structure to dazzling effect. Gone are dead weights like simile and metaphor; gone are the unnecessary complexities of character development, subtext and realistic dialogue; gone are all four of those useless adjectives. Everything is rendered obsolete to make way for the unstoppable march of the plot.

And what a plot! Why, it charges at you with all the pace and ferocity of a genetically mutated, technologically augmented, heavily-armed psychotic gorilla. Which, incidentally, is what the story revolves around. A group of all-American special-ops Marine types with cool macho call-signs that reflect their characters (handy, since character is established by no other means) - and one greasy-wop-deigo Mexican Marine without a call-sign who inevitably betrays the others - parachute down to Hell Island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an army warship. What could have happened? Are crazy GM techno-apes responsible? I don't want to spoil things for you, but let's just say... yes. Yes they are. Pretty soon, there's blood flyin', guns are goin' Blammo!, and for our heroes, it's Hell on earth. You could say they've walked into Hell. Hell has no fury like... as you can see, Reilly's use of cliche is subtle, delicate, deliciously ironic.

The cumulative effect is to produce something akin to the writing assignment of a creatively defunct year seven student who has just watched Aliens for the first time. But this is not to equate Mr Reilly's work with the verbal jism of a thirteen year old boy who has one hand firmly ensconced in his Y-fronts while the other scientifically examines the contents of a cavernous nostril. Not at all! Hell Island's genius is that its form essentially mirrors its function: the satirically sophomoric, adolescent style is an implicit reflection of the immature and violent flailings of the military-industrial complex that dominates the book - a vicious and amoral child which, if not reigned in, may one day destroy us all. With a race of atomic super-gorillas.

This and many other lessons I have taken away from Hell Island, not least of which is that the sound of a bullet entering a skull is Sprack!, that despite scientific evidence to the contrary it is "Fact: gorillas are much better climbers than human beings", and that a real woman, when overwhelmed by a snarling pack of gun-toting death monkeys, will reduce their heads to a spray of bloody chunks whilst making quips that even Herr Schwartzenegger would find unrealistic.

A good read for all Australians? My god, it's glorious.

Monday, August 01, 2005

My Country Right Or Maxi-Washed

Lady Sterne and I did not take the decision lightly. We discussed it at length, bandying about such phrases as "Rent money is dead money" and "Do as I say, Tim" until we agreed to cast off the shackles of renting and live the dream of ownership. I think it's fair to say that our pioneer ancestors, soused rummies though they doubtless were, would have smiled proudly as Lady Sterne called Radio Rentals to discontinue our account. We no longer require your services, she said, for we have bought our own washing machine!

Rarely has the Great Australian Dream found a physical manifestation as glorious - not to mention as practical - as that oblong of prime white good that now sits in our laundry. Each time I fill it with dirty clothes I hum a few bars of the national anthem, cross myself, and kick an immigrant, so entwined are my ideas of patriotism and good housekeeping. I haven't felt this way since I celebrated Jodie Henry's triple gold at the Athens Olympics by purchasing a new toaster. Even though it was made in Taiwan, the toaster quickly assimilated, and these days the smell of burnt toast is enough to make me weep with pride.

Of course, appliances have long been central to Australian national identity. Henry Lawson's early story "The Meat Safe" tells of a drover's attachment to his meat safe that quickly develops into an unseemly fetish. At the story's climax, the drover wanders into the bush clutching the fly-blown box, mad with insatiable love. Clearly, the meat safe represents Australia, and the drover's willingness to love it though it be inert and covered with flies represents a significant nationalist stirring in Lawson's writing.

The appliance theme was subsequently taken up by numerous Australian writers and artists, including Sidney Nolan in his so-called "White Goods, Black Heart" series, featuring Aboriginal men and women in traditional dress against the background of the Harvey Norman white goods section. More recently, Tim Winton's novel A Frigid Heart employed the metaphor of a family trading in its faithful Esky for a new-fangled bar fridge to describe the changes which have swept Australian society over the past forty years.

Lady Sterne and I couldn't be happier with our new washing machine. Using pure Australian water, it makes soiled clothes inhabitable, just as the pioneers did the land itself, so long ago. Its rinse and spin cycles evoke this brown land's browness with a power reminiscent of Dorothy McKellar at her finest. Ownership and appreciation of appliances is part of what makes us Australian. I suggest the time has come for our government to reinstitute that much-maligned yet key piece of legislation: the White Goods Australia Policy.