Anthony Burgess, book reviewer extraordinaire, amongst many other things, dared to opine that book reviews have no effect. That cannot be true, for when I saw the (very favourable) review of the first volume of his confessions, Little Wilson and Big God in the Sydney Morning Herald, I took my brand new Commonwealth Bank key card from my brand new job and hopped on a train into the city for late night shopping on a Thursday, and headed to Abbey’s Bookshop where I splurged and bought it in hard cover. Of course, at that stage I would only have needed to see that it had been published to hunt it down, such was my delight in reading his work. (I also bought Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in hardback the same night, and over a quarter of a century later, I still haven’t finished it. Barely started it. Every time I see it I feel guilty. Lucky it is safely packed away in a box. Lord I must read at least 100 books a year, just read the bloody thing you idiot.) And the time I lucked upon a bookseller going out of business and picked up a brand new copy of Homage to Qwertyuiop half price. Both those books are so well thumbed now, read over and over. I enjoyed his prose even when I did not understand his vocabulary, I loved his opinionatedness even when I did not share his opinions, oh I don’t know, he was not scared of bigness of theme and language and passion, he told stories with confidence – I liked his voice, there, I’ve said it. Then of course he died and there was no more, and with the prodigious output stopped, memory drifts away, we all fade, and what we loved fades unless we consciously return to it (nostalgia and TV are the only true purposes of the internet). How delightful ( a word I seldom use) then to be flicking through last week’s Guardian and to come across this on Burgess. Read it. Read Earthly Powers. Read You’ve Had Your Time. I look forward to unpacking his books from my boxes when I return home (though with a careful eye out for the Kennedy, least it leap out and guilt me).
I am sad today to hear of the death of Tom Uren, a big man with a huge heart, one of those rare people, a politician of conviction who lived to be of service to others. He survived the horrors of imprisonment by the Japanese during the Second World War, and witnessed the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Neither those experiences nor his Depression era working class youth left him bitter, rather they gave rise in him to a desire to work for peace and to live a life of love of others. His politics were about getting a useful job done, for the betterment of those in need, never forgetting the people he came from. A more fitting tribute than I could write may be found here. I am happy that I got to shake his hand, and that he occasionally called me ”Boy” in passing on the street. (“Hello Tom!”. “Hello, Boy.”) May he rest in peace.
Given it is a public holiday in Australia it would be un-Australian for me to work, regardless of the fact that I am not there, so I lazily repost my alleged poem that I have posted on previous such occasions. In Australia you can tell when it is Australia Day by all of the people walking around dressed in Australian flags. Otherwise, you might not know that it is Australia Day, or that you are in Australia. And you wouldn’t want to make a mistake about that, there could be consequences. One day, wearily pushing a pram and dragging some kids through the end of a hot day, I was accosted by two scantily clad girls who yelled in my face ‘Smile! Be happy! Its Australia Day’. I was about to quote some poetry at them, when I noticed two burly boofheads in the shadows, waiting for an excuse to flatten some unpatriotic idiot like myself. So cowardice being the better part of valour, I walked silently away. I still remember when Australia Day was a dusty little public holiday tucked away towards the back of the summer pack after the Big Guns of Christmas and New Year, hey another day off, thank you very much. Now it is a thing. Not unlike a sad party thing. Oh, how I hate being told how to feel! Oh, how I hate not being on a quiet south coast beach like Bulli, not stylish enough for the body fascists (and as yet unnoticed by other fascists). There are things I miss about home. But there are things that I detest. Rosie Batty was named Australian of the Year. Congratulations Rosie. Rosie’s young son Luke was murdered by his father at cricket practice, in public, in daylight, in front of all his friends, in front of their parents. She now campaigns against domestic violence. To read some of the comments on Facebook from her fellow Australians, denigrating her award, besmirching and blaming her, you would think that she was a murderer. Lord, some people should keep their mouths shut. Walking through life without a heart.
It was Flag Day
so we wrapped ourselves in flags
and went to the pub.
Everybody else had the same idea, but.
And all the flags were the same
because we are all Flaglanders.
It would have been nice to wrap myself
in the flag of difference
but I was too scared.
Everyone looked the same.
The fun idea had become
A Sad Party Thing.
It doesn’t matter.
The flag unites us.
Our fear of looking different unites us.
All eyes are wary on Flag Day.
Everyone smiles with their mouths
as they lift their beers,
but all those eyes are looking about.
And those eyes are quick.
You don’t want to stand out.
Not on Flag Day.
There are no excuses.
It is not “I pay my taxes” day.
It is not “I am a human being, I have rights” day.
It is fucking Flag Day.
You sad party thing.