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Dope on the Rope

I have had the pleasure of speaking to Andrew Denton a number of times and he remains one of my favourite interviewers for several reasons – including his humour, intelligence and ability to be both interesting and interested. However, when I first spoke to him regarding Enough Rope, I felt the need to take issue with some of what I perceived to be shortcomings of his work – like letting Rene Rivkin and Rachel Griffiths off the hook a little too easily when he interviewed them (I blogged about this at the time – not knowing I would subsequently interview Denton about the show, for FilmInk, in honour of the first Enough Rope DVD release). Surely calling a show Enough Rope was a reference to the phrase ‘give ’em enough rope to hang themselves’. Why did conversation always turn to child rearing? What happened to the angry young Denton? Did he have to mellow so annoyingly?

I’d first had the pleasure of interviewing Denton when he had nothing at all to promote. His time on breakfast radio was drawing to close – although I didn’t know it – when I happened to accost him in public. He was happy to be interviewed but the finished product unfortunately never saw the light of day. I was writing for the street press then and since there was no potential for advertising revenue, they had no particular desire to publish a profile of one of my heroes. As I wasn’t yet blogging and I hadn’t made the acquaintance of the right editor at some party, there didn’t seem to be another outlet for it.

One of the things that came up during that chat was Denton’s belief that documentary as a form of entertainment was going to take off. He likened it to non-fiction literature, that had overtaken fiction in the best-sellers lists. So when I got to speak to him about his new television show, I put it to him that Enough Rope was the televisual equivalent of ‘non-fiction’ entertainment. Although he didn’t quite agree, Denton has since made good on his instincts regarding documentary with God On My Side. (And since it was broadcast within the [More Than] Enough Rope slot, Enough Rope may not be television doco, but television doco can certainly be Enough Rope.)

In the course of the Enough Rope interview, Denton also pointed out that his show wasn’t about taking interview subjects to task – that his use of the title was about giving people the opportunity to do rope tricks, rather than hang themselves. He explained his take on all of the things I took issue with and allowed me to see another side (not necessarily ‘the other side’, note), pointing out that an interview is like taking a picture, and if I don’t like the interview, really, I’m only taking issue with his choice of camera angle. I liked the metaphor, but more importantly, I liked the point he was making. It gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate the work and what I thought I didn’t like about it. It’s not every day that someone invites you to voice a criticism of his work, to his face, and have him address your criticism, all in a rational manner.

One of the things that I wanted to know about Enough Rope – particularly when it came to the DVD release – was with regards to where edits had clearly been made in the interviews. What was it that didn’t make the final cut? And why couldn’t ‘extended versions’ of the original broadcasts – with some of the edited material re-instated – have been included on the DVD? After all, that’s pretty much what DVDs are for. “You know what?” Denton said, “there just isn’t the time, unfortunately.”

Thankfully, time has made itself available. I’m really enjoying More Than Enough Rope, the series of Enough Rope currently being broadcast that re-visits some of the best interviews, re-instating some of the bits that were originally cut. More than that, the interviews often pause in order to allow Denton to offer some commentary about the proceedings. Again, this is what DVD is supposed to provide. How cool is it that we’re getting it for free on the telly? No doubt one day all entertainment will have the ‘extended with commentary’ option – but we’ll have to pay a little bit extra each month to be able to download and enjoy it.

At this point, the logical thing for me to do is revisit that FilmInk interview, and present it in it’s original question-and-answer form. It serves as a follow up to my earlier blog about the show, since it addresses – as Denton did – my original criticisms. I promised at the time to follow up and present the other side of the story. It’s only taken me about three years!

I’d also like to add a bit of trivia I discovered a little while ago. The title Enough Rope originally graced a radio show hosted by Meshel Laurie and Josh Kinal on Melbourne’s Triple R. That program no longer existed by the time Andrew Denton wanted to use the title for his television show. There is no provision to copyright a title, and so anyone can use a pre-existing title if they want to, even if the other thing with that title still exists. However, Denton still made contact, to ensure that it was okay to name his show Enough Rope, despite having no obligation to do so. I love it when a powerful person makes an effort to behave honourably, even if he doesn’t have to.

After that rather long introduction, here is the long interview.

Dom Romeo: Andrew, is it okay if I start by hitting you with a quote from an interview we did some years ago?

ANDREW DENTON: Go ahead.

Dom Romeo: You said,

“Documentary is the great unexplored form of entertainment; ten years ago, non-fiction was the ugly cousin of publishing. Now non-fiction is the thing; that’s where the best-sellers are. I firmly believe the same of documentary. I believe that documentary could become the non-fiction of feature film, done right.”

Is Enough Rope the televisual equivalent?

ANDREW DENTON: No, not really. I don’t see it as documentary. It’s conversation. It’s a different thing. And it’s not something that would readily translate to cinema, I don’t think, although probably The Fog of War belies that.

Dom Romeo: Where did the concept of Enough Rope come from? It’s kind of like a chat show, but a chat show done the way ‘chat’ hasn’t been done for quite some time.

ANDREW DENTON: I quibble with the term ‘chat’; ‘chat’ is something that you do over the back fence when you’ve got five minutes. I sit down and talk to people for an hour or longer. I don’t mean to sound wanky, but it’s a conversation. I think ‘chat’ speaks of a whole different genre, which I’ve also done, which is usually a few anecdotes, a few laughs, a joke here and a product endorsement. I don’t think I’m doing that.

Where the idea came from was sitting out of television for a long time, and particularly watching the rise of reality television, feeling very strongly that there was too much chat and not enough conversation, and usually the chat happened to be about the same few subjects – a lot of them revolving around reality television. I felt, watching shows like Australian Story and listening to things on the radio like The Search for Meaning, that in fact, at a particularly stressful time in world history that we’re undeniably living through, that many people wanted to talk about matters much closer to their hearts, and that were bothering them, than simply what the latest evictee from Big Brother was like.

Dom Romeo: Is that just symptomatic of the state of the world at the moment? Entertainment seems to be the ‘opiate of the masses’.

ANDREW DENTON: No, I think sport is the opiate of the masses. And I’m a willing partaker of it on occasion. I think entertainment is a distraction, not an opiate.

Dom Romeo: You referred to the things that we hold dear to us: how does that manifest itself on Enough Rope?

ANDREW DENTON: The simplest way to put that is you will see a lot of times when I talk to people, we talk about their own parents or their own children, the fundamental things of society. It’s not to do with what you’ve earned or who you’ve met; it’s not what you’ve earned, it’s what you’ve learned. I think that’s one of the strong senses I’ve had, and discerned in the people I’ve had around me – we feel like our society is fracturing; we feel like it’s fracturing under the weight of trivia and under the weight of so many distractions – going back to the point about entertainment; and we feel like it’s under threat from a very dark force, which is fundamentalism. And the very spiritual strength of fundamentalism underlines in some ways our spiritual weakness and our weakness as a society, as a group of people who care for each other. So when I talk about parenting or children, that’s talking about the fundamentals of society: how we deal with other human beings.

Dom Romeo: There were times when I felt that, because you have a young child, you always seem to bring up the ‘young child’ topic in the interview if your interview subject also has a young child. Although it seemed more pertinent for your ‘Australian of Year’ interview with Professor Fiona Stanley in which you discussed the growing incidence of drug addicted parents and depressed children. How important is it that we address procreation and children as issues central to where we’re going as a society?

ANDREW DENTON: Well, it’s about as important as the future. They’re the next generation. Whatever we do now will shape the next twenty years. And whatever our kids do will shape the twenty years after that. As we all know, the way we’re parented has a profound influence on how we deal with the world. So it couldn’t be more important.

Dom Romeo: Did you have any idea when you were younger, before you started a family, how important the family was? Were you always aware of that?

ANDREW DENTON: Look, I come from a very strong family, as does Jennifer [Byrne, Denton’s partner], and one of the reasons we get on so well is that we’re great believers in ‘family’. Family takes care of family. But that’s on a personal level. On a societal level, no, I think you begin to understand it more when you become a parent and when you talk to other parents and start seeing the school community. You begin to see how many problems are shared and how many problems are different.

All this is important to the show, but the mission statement for the show is ‘where entertainment and ideas meet’. It’s okay to be entertaining, it’s okay to have ideas; they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Dom Romeo: What about the title of the show, ‘Enough Rope’? I’m familiar with the phrase ‘enough rope to hang himself with’. You don’t often seem to let ’em hang. You don’t let ’em dangle…

ANDREW DENTON: No, and for a very good reason. I think a good title is good for a show, and I based the title of the show on this very simple guide: if I just arrived from overseas and knew nothing about what was on TV and only had the guide to go by, I’d pick the show with a neat title. So, for instance, I would have watched The Money or the Gun, even if I didn’t know anything about it. So I think Enough Rope is a really good title. But having said that, yes, the saying is ‘enough rope and they’ll hang themselves’, but my view is always, ‘enough rope, and if you’re good, you’ll do rope tricks’.

The whole purpose of the show is not set up to trap people or to trick them. The whole purpose of the show is to let people shine and that’s one of the things we’ve found. As we talk to people and give them a chance to talk about things away from the normal publicity rounds, most of the people I speak to, they’re where they’re at because they’re intelligent, they work really hard, they’ve got a world view.

Dom Romeo: Well that puts the Rene Rivkin interview into perspective. The first time I watched it I thought you went a little easy on him. You didn’t take him to task on his alleged wrong-doing. Watching it again, I realise that none of that has anything to do with you letting him tell his story.

ANDREW DENTON: No, and with very good reason. The chronology of this – and we should get it very clear – first of all, we asked him to come on the show well before the legal stuff happened… in public, anyway. I asked him to come on the show because I’d seen him on Clive Robertson a decade earlier and never forgotten him; he was so interesting. And the night in fact he came on the show was before he’d been found guilty of anything. We knew he was before the court, but there was no point in discussing something that a) was before the court; and b) something that hadn’t been decided. And indeed, what we saw and found there was the marvelously flamboyant and eccentric individual that Rene Rivkin is. The second interview, which was in fact after he was found guilty, was a different interview all together. One that Rene left extremely unhappy from, because he was asked a great deal about his business dealings, and about the fact that he’s been found guilty. He was extremely unhappy.

So it’s very easy for people – and I think people have – to take that first interview and say, ‘you were just giving a criminal a free ride’. He wasn’t a criminal at the time, and he was and still is a fascinating man that I hate to think we’ll kick to death regardless of what he’s done wrong.

Dom Romeo: What are the criteria for the selection of guests for the show?

ANDREW DENTON: People who we feel have led enough of a life to be interesting – or who have enough of a view of life to be interesting. And they can be different categories. There have been actors and famous people that we’ve said no to, not because they’re not famous enough, but because they perhaps haven’t been around for long enough to have really formed a view on life. And then there are other people we choose who aren’t famous at all, but whose attitude towards life, or what they’ve done with their life, is really instructive and extraordinary. It’s pretty simple but they’re interesting enough to sustain a longer conversation, as opposed to a ‘chat’.

Dom Romeo: Tell me about the ‘non-celebrity’ guests. It’s an interesting and vital angle that no other conversation show or chat show has dealt with.

ANDREW DENTON: It was actually the starting point for the show. Some years ago I remember watching Parkinson, and wondering what the same show would be like – with the band and all of that – but if you just spoke to people that no one had ever heard of. When I first was putting together the outline of Enough Rope in fact I envisaged a show with no celebrities at all. Now that was a fairly ‘Stalinist’ view, which was wrong for two reasons: one, because it assumed that people who are celebrities hadn’t led interesting lives, which is manifestly untrue, as Mel Brooks showed early this year; and two, because part of the secret to the show’s success is that any given week, when you tune in, you don’t know what you’re going to get. If we had completely excluded entertainers and performers, it would have limited our palette greatly.

So it comes from all the TV shows I’ve done; whenever I’ve had a break in taping I’ve gone and spoken to members of the audience, and I have been, almost without exception, astonished by what people have to say. You just never know who is going to amaze you with something they have to say, be it an opinion or something from their lives. I’ve often walked up the street and thought, ‘I could walk into any house here and with the right questions, I could unlock one thing in this person’s life, be it a relative or something they’ve done, which is astonishing’.

So it comes from that and the thought that we have spent so much time in the last ten years elevating celebrity to a religion that again, getting back to that idea of ‘society’ and ‘values’, I think we’ve actually forgotten that the far more interesting, or the equally interesting people are next to us on the bus or the train. I’m not a great believer in religions of any sort and I think the religion of celebrity is a particularly stupid one, and I just wanted to remind all of us, I suppose – myself included – that the so-called ‘ordinary’ is more extraordinary than those things that are promoted as extraordinary.

Dom Romeo: So what you’re doing, when you do interview celebrities, is trying to provide enough comfort and freedom for them to reveal something about themselves.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s something that we’re all aiming for. We research a lot, and really, there are two schools of thought on this – some people think that the approach is too soft, but my view is, there’s a lot of adversarial television around, that’s not really what I’m interested in doing. I think if you sit there with a searing list of questions, trying to tear someone apart, often those questions are about the interviewer, not about the guest.

Let me just say, I think there are places where that’s really appropriate, particularly in day-to-day current affairs. But in the stuff that we’re doing – if I attack a guest, what am I likely to get out of them? All heat, no light. I’d much rather try to open somebody up by being empathetic, by actually being interested in what they have to say, and why they might have reached a certain point in their lives, and within the course of that, throw in challenging questions so it’s not assuming that this person isn’t to be challenged.

I think most of my guests walk away feeling challenged by the experience, but it’s not that old fashioned adversarial way of, ‘right, I’m taking a position on you and I’m now going to go in hard’.

Dom Romeo: After that, and as good as that is, to suddenly meet someone in the audience who is a – I’m trying not to use the word ‘nobody’…

ANDREW DENTON: We call them “so-called ‘ordinary’ Australians” because that’s how they’re viewed.

Dom Romeo: Excellent. Then you talk to “so-called ‘ordinary’ Australians” and again, I’m astounded by their stories.

ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. And that’s always the case. And all we’ve done is put on camera what I’ve been finding for years. One of the interesting points is the lie, the commonly held belief that Australians can’t talk. I’m constantly astonished by the eloquence, let alone the honesty, with which people explain things that are very, very difficult in their lives.

When the show started and we started doing that part of the show, the response to it was very negative: ‘why are you talking to those people? We’ve never heard of them before’. And by the end of last year, for many people, that was their favourite part of the show.

Dom Romeo: Early on you featured three nurses – it was an amazing interview because of the stuff that it revealed, that we – non-nurses – just wouldn’t be aware of.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s the hardest thing to get together, because there is no starting point for those interviews. Literally, researchers have to go to the phone book, and if we’re doing truckies, we have to go to ‘t’ for trucks. There’s no registry of ‘truckies ready to talk on television’. They take a lot of lead time to find three people of sufficiently different experiences who are sufficiently confident to talk about their experiences on television but every time we do it, it’s very rewarding.

Dom Romeo: One of the nurses spoke of ‘FLKs’ – ‘funny-lookin’ kids’. That was a challenge to the way you’d think. Of course nurses are going to have to discuss their work in that way with each other, to let off steam, to cope with the job…

ANDREW DENTON: That’s right. We got some complaints about that, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t respect those kids. In the way that we all do, we all apply humour to our workplace, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t do our jobs sincerely. Something you just said there – ‘it made me think differently’ – that’s my definition of the sort of television that I’m interested in, both as a viewer and as a practitioner of it, which is, I would like to think – though it’s not always possible – that, with Enough Rope, in any given episode, if you sit down and watch it, you’re going to walk away with one thing that made you think differently about something.

Dom Romeo: Congratulations on the Kennett interview, then! In my book, he was always a bastard! I’d never seen a caring, human side to him, and you almost got him to reveal it, reluctant though he was.

ANDREW DENTON: Our website has lots of different opinions on the Kennett interview, ranging from he was a bastard to I was a bastard, and I think they might both be legitimate. He was tricky, and I just felt… the peculiar moment for me was where he couldn’t find it within himself to say something good about his wife. I was surprised because before the interview he was funny and charming and interesting, and then he came on determined to be none of those things. And I know he was there because he wanted to push the ‘Beyond Blue’ cause, which is admirable, and he did it very well. But I think if you want to speak to human beings about a really deep problem, you have to be human yourself. And to deny one in order to promote the other, I’m not sure that that works in the long run.

Dom Romeo: But he did get his message across, and you did reveal a side to him that we don’t often see.

ANDREW DENTON: Again, I think that has a lot to do with time. We do take the time to have a conversation, because it takes a while for people to relax into stuff. I’ve done the other sort: I’ve done ‘chat’. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this. When I was at Channel Seven, doing a show that I loved and that I’m very proud of, I used to come away from interviewing extraordinary people for maybe ten minutes if we had a long time, and thinking ‘we only just got started’!

Dom Romeo: You said that it takes you a while to let them settle in and they’re longer interviews. Obviously they have to be edited in some way for television, but there are times when edits are apparent, that suggest sizeable chunks are missing… you make Sir David Attenbourgh laugh, for example, and we cut to you, we cut back to him no longer laughing and clearly a huge edit has taken place…

ANDREW DENTON: As with everything, there are always things that we could go back and do better.

Dom Romeo: Sure, but all I was going to say is, did you feel tempted to go back and reinstate bits that had to be edited out, to give us ‘extended versions’ for DVD?

ANDREW DENTON: You know what? There just isn’t the time, unfortunately. One of the astonishing things about this show is how ‘all-consuming’ it is. We just did Bill Clinton last week and I was just thinking about it the other day: in our terms, he’s already in the waste paper basket now. One of the interviews that, for years, I’ve wanted to do, and it’s just gone. You’ve got to turn around to the next thing. There wasn’t time to be tempted, though it would have been nice.

Dom Romeo: How did you decide what would be released on the DVD?

ANDREW DENTON: That was the ABC. They nominated what they thought would be good, and I said ‘no’ to a couple and said ‘yes’ to those ones.

Dom Romeo: Can you let me know what didn’t make the cut?

ANDREW DENTON: Oh god, I couldn’t even remember. I just thought this was the better range. I really wanted to have Fiona Stanley in, for instance, and I think that wasn’t one that they originally nominated. I wanted, like the show, to have a range of guests.

Dom Romeo: I quite enjoyed the Kath & Kim interview.

ANDREW DENTON: That was an interview almost entirely for entertainment. You weren’t going to get a great deal of enlightenment, but it was great fun. And the fact that they wrote the whole series as school mums – that’s pretty damn impressive. There’s an enormous discipline required in writing this stuff, and the fact that they were able to do that around their parenting lives is really quite something. There it is again: parenting.

Dom Romeo: When I’ve watched an interview that didn’t sit so well because I took issue with something that you didn’t take issue with…

ANDREW DENTON: I think there are many criticisms you can make of any given interview and I view it this way: there’s no such thing as a right interview. It’s just me taking a snapshot with my camera, and you don’t have to like the camera angle, and you might have wanted a completely different picture or you might of wanted it from further away or closer up – but it’s just a conversation. If a criticism is made out of ignorance or out of prejudice, well I’m happy to counter that. But if it’s an opinion – ‘you should have asked that’ – or the criticism ‘you didn’t even think to ask about this’ – well, the fact of the matter is often we do think about stuff that people wished we asked about, but we decided that’s not where we wanted to go with that interview.

Clinton is a case in point. People said to me, ‘why did you call him “Mr President”? You were just fawning all over him’. Well, the fact is that’s what he’s known as, that’s what ex-Presidents are addressed as – ‘Mr president’ – and I could have chosen to call him ‘Bill’ or ‘Prez’, but I was only there for half an hour. Why would I put an unnecessary obstacle between me and trying to talk to him about more important stuff? Of course I addressed him by the term with which he is generally addressed. Which is a long-winded way of saying, there are many criticisms, and whatever take we decide to make on an interview may not be yours, in which case, you probably have a right to be frustrated, but as I say, it’s just a snapshot.

Dom Romeo: How do you feel about the series?

ANDREW DENTON: Really happy. In a good place, in that we’re all still working our butts off – we’re really working hard – and that’s the best place to be: it’s going well, but you’re not thinking, ‘gee, this is easy’. Every interview and every guest, we’re working to keep ourselves challenged. I know that may sound very Presbyterian or very wanky, but we’re up to show 21, we’ve got 34 to do this year, and I look around the office and everyone’s ‘head down, bum up’ and I think they’re the great times in your career, when you look back and it’s a bit of a blur, and then with some perspective you can look back and say, ‘gee, we did that, and that was pretty good’. The show is where it should be, but it’s still a battle to keep it fresh for the audience and for ourselves.

Dom Romeo: You do manage to get people to feel comfortable and be themselves. I’m thinking of both Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin. I don’t know what I was expecting from either of them, but I found myself smiling – grinning with joy – throughout both those interviews.

ANDREW DENTON: I got to say, with Hoges, that was the rarest of things: he agreed to come on and he had absolutely nothing he was trying to flog. He came on because he just enjoyed the show and he wanted to come on. He was such a pleasure to talk to. I’d never met him. I’d spoken to him once on the phone. I’m nervous before every interview, so it’s not just the guest that needs to get relaxed, it’s me too. And when a guest settles into it and it becomes a good conversation – that word again – it really is fun. Sorry I keep referring to Clinton, but that’s the most recent. I found myself ten minutes into that, in the back of my mind thinking, ‘this is really cool; this is a guy I really wanted to talk to’.

Dom Romeo: Was there any moment in that when you thought to yourself, ‘I know the other side to this story’?

ANDREW DENTON: Oh look, I reckon I’m one of the few people in the world who has that bookend: signed books by both of them. And yes, the mischievous part of me was thinking, ‘I could really drop a few things here’. I did raise Monica in the interview, but in a really limited fashion, because I just think there are far more interesting things to talk to the former President about. But yes, I was struck by the weird shape careers can take sometimes.

I must say, the day I packed to go to LA to interview Monica Lewinsky, I remember thinking ‘this could be the single weirdest moment of a career that has had some pretty weird moments’, because I was heading off to interview Monica Lewinsky for New Idea, and I was packing into my bag a Gold Logie because that was also the first year I was hosting the Logies. If anyone had said to me, at any point in my life that those three things would come together – ‘Lewinsky, Logie, New Idea’ – and me, I would have said, ‘what drugs are you on?’ It was one of those moments that was so absurd, it was delightful.

Dom Romeo: Andrew, thank you, I’ve taken up half an hour of your time. You’re a busy man…

ANDREW DENTON: That’s okay. Now, before you go, are there any other things you want to take issue with that I can respond to or are you happy to leave it as it is?

Dom Romeo: I’ll leave it as it is; although, I am a blogger and I did feel the need to blog about the episode with Rachel Griffiths – particularly on her comments about the Free Trade agreement leading to everyone on Australian television having an American accent. She appears on Australian television in the show Six Feet Under, for which she uses an American accent.

ANDREW DENTON: You weren’t the only person who made that remark. That may have been you on our website, and it was a fair call. The only thing I can say is that, in looking at Rachel’s career, I didn’t really want to talk about Six Feet Under because most Australians hadn’t seen it and that’s why it was under my radar when she was talking about Free Trade. It was just not something at very front of mind. But it was a good call.

Dom Romeo: Well, thanks for letting me take it up with you; it’s not often I get to blog about something and have a reply to add to it, so I can actually be balanced, which I like to be, too.

ANDREW DENTON: That’s a rare quality.

Dom Romeo: One other thing. Zapruder’s Other Films [Denton’s production company]. I love the name.

ANDREW DENTON: Thank you. Most people don’t get that. You’re one of the half dozen people anywhere in the world that have ever got that joke.

Dom Romeo: Do you want to talk about it or is it better not to explain the joke?

ANDREW DENTON: I’m happy to talk about it. It actually comes from an idea that I’ve never actually made. I’d like to. It was an idea for a documentary called Zapruder’s Other Films. To explain the Zapruder film – it was by Abraham Zapruder – the hand-held home movie of Kennedy’s assassination that we see every year, which was taken by the Warren Commission and referred to thereafter as ‘the Zapruder Film’.

My concept of ‘Zapruder’s Other Films’ was this mock documentary where you’re interviewing his kids, talking about his father’s career after this film, and how disappointing it had been for him that he’d had this one huge hit film and he went around the world trying to film other assassinations, hoping to relive the glory of the Kennedy one, and he never quite got there. Indira Ghandi was blown up an hour before he got there – the frustration of never quite being able to match the original Zapruder film.

Dom Romeo: That’s such a naughty idea; I like it.

ANDREW DENTON: It’s very black. But it’s lovely to me. I remember the first time anyone ever got it. I went up to Bond University on the Gold Coast to talk about the media, and the people who organised it, afterwards were going to give me my cheque. They said, ‘who will we make it out to?’ and I said, ‘Zapruder’s Other Films’ and both of them just stopped and said, ‘Aw, that is soooo cool.’ I thought, at last, I’ve found somebody that gets it.

Dom Romeo: I’ve got to commend you on some of Zapruder’s Other Films’ other films… like the Chaser stuff you’ve produced.

ANDREW DENTON: Thank you.

Dom Romeo: I look forward to the day that I can chat to you again about some of the other comedy series being released on DVD.

ANDREW DENTON: Good. I think that’s fairly soon.


Spied a spider

Spider Web_04

I suppose I’d better offer some background. My dad worked in the construction industry. He had a tractor equipped with a back hoe and a front-end loader, which he drove around on the back of a big International tip truck. He’d often be hired to clear land, dig footings, pools and driveways when a house was being built, or to cart the rubble away when it was demolished. As a result, there was loud earthmoving equipment around our house that would make noise from the early hours, before work, and late into the night after work when repairs were required, or teeth or buckets had to be replaced on the back hoe.

Thus, despite a garden full of fruit trees, we never had cicadas around our house in summer – all scared away by the vibrations and noise. (Flies and mosquitos still thrived, rest assured.) Once the old man retired and sold the equipment, the bugs teemed. A follow-on effect was a multitude of spiders. Sure, there was always a redback in the proverbial woodpile, the odd funnel web surfacing to make a more obvious nest if something big was left on the front lawn, and heaps of ‘garden spiders’ that thrive in the summer. Now, however, we have a cicada breeding ground.

cicada 01

cicada11

And during the spring and summer, every day presents a different, elaborate spider web. Or one arachnid empire that contiues to grow!

spider web empire

I usually grab the digital camera and take a quick snap of the web, knowing full well that even were I to manage to keep the right things in focus, it’s still not going to look anything as impressive in the photograph as it did in real life. So when I recently transferred about a year’s worth of random spider and spiderweb photos to my computer, only a handful came close to looking good.

Spider Web_03

Spider Web_02 Spider Web_01

The post script to all of this is that, after processing these images late into the night, I of course was plagued by dreams, bordering on nightmares, of encounters with spiders, the one I awoke from involving an extensive network of webs in and around my computer and desk, heaving under the weight of nasty looking spiders. Which, metaphorically at least, is now exactly the case.


Some pun about not giving a fig…

Fig Tree Bugs_01

The leaves of the fig tree in the front yard were looking eerily translucent… obviously of no value to Adam and Eve had they been created in the Romeo garden in North Manly (as opposed to Eden) and coerced by me mum (rather than the Serpent) to eat the fruit of the blood orange tree (in winter) or the mango tree (in a non-drought summer when the cockatoos would be feeding elsewhere, and the fruit could grow beyond the size of a plum without being gobbled) instead of an apple.

Fig Tree Bugs_02

Closer inspection revealed that something had in fact been eating of the leaf of the fig tree… the creepy, crawly, caterpillar larvae of some insect or other…

Fig Tree Bugs_03

Despite my instictive reaction of wanting to squish or spray the lot of them, I hold back; they’ll most likely feed the cockatoos. And if not, who knows what manner of insect they grow into? It’d be a real pity if there were a multitude of these on the way, and I put an end to it all.

butterfly


Rattus norvegicus

Formerly A Rat

Okay, I admit, I opted as a title for this blog entry, the (erroneous, as it happens) Latin name for the brown or common rat, mistakenly dubbed the ‘Norway’ or ‘Norwegian’ rat by John Berkenhout in his 1769 study Outlines of the Natural History of Great Britain, just so that fans of The Stranglers will come across this entry by mistake while trying to google the band’s first album.

I couldn’t help but rush back inside and grab the phone to snap this image, after wandering out on the balcony during a break in the recent torrential rain. The balcony tends to flood. There’s a tiny drainage hole in each corner, but it is usually blocked by the debris of macadamia nut shells, since one of the several macadamia trees around the house towers over this balcony. It is a favourite dining spot for possum and rats, who can often be heard chowing down in the ceiling in the early hours, having shelled their booty on the balcony.

The poor creature depicted must have been overwhelmed by the rising floodwaters during the downpour. It somehow managed to decompose without creating enough of a stink to be noticed.