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October 2015
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February 2017

Artless Bastard?



Did you know that NSW has an official “graffiti removal day”?

Well it does. And it’s today.

Just saying.

That’s the message the Premier, the Hon Michael Bruce Baird, MP posted to accompany a photographic portrait of himself standing next to a satirical painted portrait of him as ‘Casino Mike’.
It came to my attention via Christopher Moriarty, who’s Facebook page is one of the handful you need to stay atop what’s going on in the world at any time.

He added:

Did you know that NSW has an official "Premier removal day"?

Well, it does. And it's the next election.

Just saying.

I couldn’t help but point out that, come next state election, I’d be voting for Christopher Moriarty. Just saying.



I also feel I should add, for the edification of the Premiere and for anyone else: the painting is definitely [street] art rather than graffiti. The difference is the care taken with the artwork, the fact that it's making a statement, offering social commentary that speaks of the milieu (temporal, political, social) in which it was created, rather than merely the ego of the artist. But, you know, removing it, ‘disappearing’ the artist etc also speaks volumes.

By now, lots of people are passing judgement (thanks Katie and Simeon for pointing this out) and of course überblog Junkee has written it up, the site going on to note some of the cleverer comments such as ‘will you replace it with a mural of apartments?’




The most important points to be made at this point are these: the brilliant artist is Scott Marsh; and if the Premier could have just handled the political commentary, spectacular and larger than life though it is, he would have likewise been ‘embiggened’ by it.

Unfortunately, this supposedly ‘humorous’, light-hearted approach to creative political commentary has backfired – as the contributions under the picture on the Premier’s Facebook page attest.

One of my several buddies who’s a comic, bemoans the collective reaction to the Premier’s post.

“Mike Baird takes playful, ironic dig at himself on social media. Irony zooms miles overhead of the usual suspects and Facebook goes into meltdown,” he says. “Bloody hell Sydney, you deserve everything you get.”

Look, I’d like to agree, or feel guilty that I’ve over-reacted, or go easy on that good bloke the Premier (after all, I’ve seen him dressed as a civilian, chowing down on the best restaurant-bought pizza you’ll ever have, at Mimmo’s Pizzeria in Brookvale). And maybe I could. The day after NSW Graffiti Removal Day, if it turns out the mural’s still up then we clearly over-reacted at playful ironic self reflective Premier with a sense of humour. If, however, it's gone the way of live music venues, century-old houses and trees, affordable public transport etc, then I stand by my disdain and that of every detractor.

Only, it seems the mural was painted over; “months ago,” according to one Facebook commentator, “reportedly… one hour after Mr Baird finished the Facebook post,” according to an ABC report.

So as far as interacting humorously with the media, the Premier, that supreme wag, isn’t quite as much of a cool dude as, say, former PM Sir John Gorton, who in 1975 told journos trying to doorstop him that he couldn’t stop to talk, he had to “get home to watch Countdown!”

Not very Gorton at all, our Casino Mike. In fact, if he were to be compared to a former PM, some may go as far as to consider his manner less swimmingly, and his behaviour, more ‘bottom-of-the-harbour’, than Harold Holt.

Just saying.




Falling the Jac

Main quad jac


When, as an undergraduate enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Sydney, I was told – or perhaps it was written in a handbook or on a noticeboard – to sign up for Philosophy subjects under the jacaranda tree, it sounded very quaint and ‘fairies at the bottom of the garden’ English.

Until I realised the entrance to the faculty offices were in the part of the Main Quadrangle behind the jacaranda tree, and the relevant notice boards were around the entrance.

I was to discover just how much of a role the jacaranda played in campus life, as much a part of the quadrangle as the tables laden with jugs of juice and platters of pastry (provided as post-graduation refreshments back in the day when budgets allowed such lavish morning and afternoon teas); Christians dry rooting on the lawn in front of the clock tower; and random students inviting you to bible studies.

I remember signing up for SUDS (Sydney University Dramatic Society) auditions under the jacaranda, and reclining on a lawn garlanded with the tree’s petals during marathon O-Week debates featuring PUIs (pronounced ‘poo-ease’, and standing for ‘prominent university identities’) who have gone on to careers in politics, media and, occasionally, international celebrity.

It was said that students who hadn’t started studying by the time the jacaranda began to bloom would fail. I was oblivious to this element of folklore – probably because my own experience had proven that students who didn’t take Sudafed had a harder time pulling all-nighters to cram or complete essays.

But don’t mistake this for evidence of nostalgia for my varsity days – my most fondly recalled days were after the degree, editing publications for the Student Representative Council and then being employed by the University of Sydney Union.

I am saddened by the passing. Not of those days, or of campus life, which, back in the 1990s, seemed only a pale imitation of previous decades as depicted in various collected memoirs of past students (but shine more vibrantly than the ensuing decades til now). Rather, I am saddened to hear that the landmark jacaranda tree, around and under and behind which students gathered to fulfill a myriad of agendas, collapsed on Friday 28 October. it had ‘thrived’ in the Main Quadrangle since 1928, apparently planted by Professor E.G. Waterhouse, McCaughey associate professor of German and comparative literature, in preparation for a visit by the Duke and Duchess of York.


Jacaranda collapse



After 88 years its passing is sadder than that of free education, compulsory student unionism and legendary halcyon days of 50-cent cappuccinos and 20-cent donuts. (Did such days exist? Oft-promised by many a candidate in the lead-up to student elections, I can remember no occasion of the 20-cent donut discount taking place in the same week as a 50-cent cappuccino discount, during four years of my three-year degree, or the subsequent two-and-a-half years of forgetting to leave the campus and editing publications for my supper…)

However, I’m not shedding a tear. To everything there is a season, turn, turn, turn, etc.

The jacaranda’s imminent passing was announced in 2014 – it was nearing the natural end of its long life. Cuttings were taken by a specialist jacaranda grower, two clones produced, and thus, the university reports, the now defunct jacaranda will be replaced with genetically identical stock.

Future PUIs – the offspring of PUIs past who progressed beyond dry-rooting on the lawn – will go on to marathon debate, dry root, audition for SUDS productions and register for courses and subjects on or around the jacaranda in the future, just as they have always.


Collapsed tree




A life more-or-less Auden-ry


I find myself part owner of a book shop – Desire Books & Records, in Manly. How I came to own a fifth of it is a blog post for another time (I know I say that a lot, but it’s too long a story to tell now, especially as a preamble for the quick post I want to write right now).

The other day, I was behind the counter when an older gentleman came in. He was in boardies and t-shirt, and though getting on a bit, was built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Like he’d been surfing since surfing was first introduced to Australia by Duke Kahanamoku (or not, as it turns out).

However, I was taken aback by his choice of purchase – a paperback biography of the poet W. H. Auden. (I’d love to be able to tell you who the biographer was, but I didn’t pay enough attention; I was only clever enough to put it towards the end of the a’s in the poetry section, figuring someone looking for Auden’s work might also be interested in his life.)

If you’re not familiar with the work of Wystan Hugh Auden, I say you’re mistaken. You’ve most likely been exposed to one of his poems; it’s read out at the funeral in Four Weddings and a Funeral, the so-called ‘Funeral Blues’ (AKA ‘Stop All the Clocks’):

If you studied him at school, particularly a generatation-and-a-half ago as I did, you would have analysed ‘Lay Your Sleeping Head My Love’, but have been told repeatedly that the fact Auden was homosexual and the love addressed would have been a same-sex partner, was not at all relevant. And then when you got to university, a lecturer would have insisted that of course the poem has a greater imperative, given it deals with ‘the love that dares not speak its name’. Even less mature school kids, nowadays, are generally much more chilled than adults a generation-and-a-half ago – even the adults whose professional duty it was to broaden the educational horizons of the children in their care.

And of course, if you did study him, you probably had a copy of a Faber & Faber anthology, the one adorned with a headshot of the poet quite late in life, where his face was so wrinkled that were you trace every contour with the tip of a fine marker, you could stretch out his skin and come up with a map of the greater London area – or something quite like it.

None of this is, strictly speaking, relevant.



However, being a chatty, interested seller, I of course couldn’t just sell the book, I had to do some ‘interesting chat’.

“Ah, Auden,” I said. “I remember studying him in high school. I can still remember my favourite poem of his, ‘The More Loving One’. It’s about unrequited love.”

I left a polite pause, in which the customer could have directed the conversation away from me; handed over cash, taken change and scarpered. Instead, he looked interested and made an ‘okay, go on’ kind of sound. So I began quoting from memory – not verbatim, because I haven’t looked at it for some 25 years, but as accurately as I could remember it:

Looking up at the stars, I know full well
That for all they care I could go to hell.
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be one be me.

Again, I left a little pause to give him time to close the transaction, or at least give me a ‘look’, to let me know that I should. Still nothing, so I continued.

Lover as I think I am
Of stars that could not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see one, say
I missed one terribly all day.

This time my only pause was a dramatic one, the first of the few that rendered the final stanza a tour de force as I grew in stature and whatever the god or patron saint of hamming it up, possessed me…


Should all stars disappear or die
I should learn to look upon an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime –
Though this might take me a little time.

Although the look on the customer’s face never quite said, “you’re clearly a freak!” it was at this point that he did feel the need to explain, “I just wanted to read about him before I read his poems!” as he literally backed away, and then escaped from the shop.

To be honest, though, he did get off lightly: I only recited a poem. Depending on the audience – ie non-older, former surfy, built like the proverbial brick shithouse – I usually prefer to share a particular anecdote about Auden. It’s one I remember Stephen Fry telling, and, as with the poem, I quote it as I remember it, so I’m almost certain it’s not verbatim.

Apparently, the artist David Hockney, tasked with sketching the poet, looked upon Auden and said, “Christ! If that’s his face, imagine what his bollocks must look like!”

But I barely had time to tweet about it before the customer returned. “What was the name of that poem?” he asked. “I’m going to go to the library and find it!”