Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Glover, Evandale

Two Gay Delights

The thought that, in a few weeks, there is the obscene likelihood that the hapless, hopeless, wooden wonder that is Tony Abbott will be our new Prime Minister is an outcome that fills me with something close to despair. More Howardian than Howard, this Catholic bully boy of negativity is just what our country doesn’t need as we warily tread deeper into the twenty-first century. There is so much that is detestable about his policies – his ‘turn back the boats’ dogma designed to appeal to the rednecks of Sydney’s west; his promise of a mega baby bonus to those already doing quite nicely thank you; his watering down of the mechanisms to alter a climate change he is yet to be convinced is a major threat to the planet. And then, to cap it off, there is his obdurate stance on gay marriage – despite the fact that his own sister is proudly reflecting the colours of the rainbow. At least Kevin has had a change of heart; I suspect responding to his savvy daughter’s pressure as much as to the majority views of the public. Of course Abbott’s entitled to his personal stance, but the sheer bastardry of the man in forbidding a conscience vote for his followers on the Liberal side of the chamber is inexcusable in this day and age. He knows fully two-thirds of the general population is for it. If only my own state’s jelly-livered upper chamber had had the courage to pass the recent bill from the more forward thinking House of Assembly legalising same sex marriage, we’d now be reaping the rewards in the same way as the Kiwis are across the water. Once upon a time Australia was at the forefront of this type of thing – now we drag our heels big time.

Ever since Sean Penn bravely portrayed Harvey Milk in that eponymous movie, even the Americans are now placing gaydom on the screen. More and more of their states have allowed their homosexual constituents their rights under the equality banner. In recent weeks I have had the pleasure of viewing two vastly different films, with gay couples at the core, emanating from that part of the globe. Despite being at opposite ends of the homosexual spectrum, the two couples featured in this duo of cinema delights adored each other – one pair for years, the other for a lifetime.

Michael Douglas, in ‘Behind the Candelabra’, displays the reason uber-director Steven Soderbergh waited patiently for the actor to recover from his close encounter with mortality, in the form of an unusually contracted throat cancer, to make this feature. Masterfully casting against type with both his main leads (Matt Damon plays the love interest), the director conjures the performance that I suspect the son of Kirk will be remembered for, even outranking his Gordon Gekko. Filmed with a Luhrmannesque flourish, if not quite the colour palette, this supposedly is Soderbergh’s last big screen effort before retirement. He has left us with a beauty. Douglas is Liberace, warts and all -including occasionally being minus wig. The man’s sequined high-camp presence is there filling the screen. Sadly this film also marks the end of the road for Marvin Hamlisch, who passed on last August. His piano score reflected all the vivacity of the larger than life pianist. Around the two compelling performances at its centre, there were also some fine turns from the supporting cast enhancing proceedings. In a blast from the past, Debbie Reynolds is delightful as Lee’s mother. Back in those days, of course, the thought of two men joining in holy matrimony was unthinkable. Liberace first wanted Scott Thorson as a lover, then as a doppelganger, then as a son. Finally, though, Scott is turned out into the wilderness as a drug sodden reject. The final scene between the two men was revelatory of the era when the scourge of AIDS was at the disease’s predatory peak.

The bonus in this terrific movie is the performance of Rob Lowe. He almost steals the show as the ultimate parody of a cosmetic surgeon – it’s a world away from his Sam Seaborn of ‘West Wing’ fame doings.

‘Cloudburst’ is a beast of a different nature, as well as of gender. Here the two protagonists were of a similar age – around Liberace’s. One’s apparel is bib ‘n’ brace and flannel shirt; the other’s, almost blind, is a matronly dowd. The former, stirringly played by a feisty Olympia Dukakis, has some tough choices when her partner for life (Brenda Fricker) is railroaded into a nursing home by a zealous daughter, being the only person completely unaware of the true nature of her mother’s relationship. Stella decides to break Dot out of her confinement and do a bolt to Canada, where gay marriage is legal. Of course nothing goes to plan, but with the aide of a very weird hitchhiker – Ryan Douchette – the old dames have some very interesting adventures en route. This film is certainly more conventionally tender-hearted than the biopic. As befits an indie, there’s none of the former’s outward glitz here. This is real life, complete with some blissful New England/Maritimes scenery.

The bonus here is the most in your face hilarious, full frontal male nudity encountered on the screen in quite some time. The point of it being there is uncertain, but it sure livens up the road trip.

These two movies were equally enjoyable for various reasons, but to my mind the best on the subject remains our own ‘The Sum of Us’, with a very young Russell Crowe as a gay son. The iconic Jack Thompson deftly plays his loving father. It is now somewhat dated, but still a joy to watch as I discovered when I inserted it into my DVD player a few weeks back. Given that this was made in 1994, it seems that Australia, once a world leader in social reform, is still only marginally closer, than back then, to granting equality to a significant sector of our society. With Abbott at the helm I fear we will remain as far away as ever. With this and our return to the fears once represented by the abhorrent White Australia Policy – what have we become?

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Guide Falls

A Blue Room Book Review - Mucked Up - Danny Katz

It would be unfair to say that Danny Katz has ‘mucked up’ with this enticement to get reluctant boy readers to do just that – read. It will probably succeed in doing the trick for it has all the right ingredients – naughtiness and all the yukky stuff in the world. Still, as a sequel to the gloriously anarchic ‘S.C.U.M.’, it paled in comparison. That novel made me wish I was back in the classroom, reading aloud to my students of all the mayhem going on within and around the ‘Students’ Combined Underground Movement’. The zany character of Tom Zurbo-Goldblatt was wonderful. The book possessed some depth and some lessons could be had. It also contained the incredibly ‘super-spicy’ Miss Valderama. She reminded me of all the alluring young female teachers I was taught by way back when at high school, as well as more than a few with sex appeal – apologies Tony Abbott - I’ve actually taught with. Sadly, Miss V was only a passing mention in his sequel.

I mentioned in my review of ‘S.C.U.M.’ that those making up its numbers were immature for their age in terms of their behaviour and vocabulary. They were operating in a manner I would have expected of Grade 7s. At least in that tome there were counter-balances. None exist in ‘Mucked Up’. As a teacher there would be the occasional underdeveloped lad in a class of Year 9s, but generally they are a mile away from the Toms involved here. I suspect that it would be those that are just about ready to embark on their teenage years who would be most attracted to the antics these novels contain, so it would have made more sense to have the age of the protagonists reflecting that. The Tasmanian system has no Year11/12 top to its high schools, so perhaps that could explain something, but I would find it hard to imagine that island boys have it all over their mainland counterparts in the developmental stakes. No, I think more than likely Danny simply has it wrong.

Yes, this publication is a disappointment compared to its predecessor, but I’d still love to wave it around after completing my reading of ‘S.C.U.M.’ to a Grade 6 or 7 cohort – ‘Here you go my cherubs – seeing how much you enjoyed this novel by Mr Katz, rush off to the library and get your hands on this and see what happens to all his crazy crew.’

Despite my reservations here, I trust Danny does go on to write a third installment as Tom finally seems to be making some progress at last with Jurnell. Maybe he’ll come of age and gain the smarts to woo the fair maiden – any maybe the author will recapture some of the spirit and joy of his first effort when this occurs.

Saturday, 17 August 2013


A Blue Room Book Review - The Forgotten War - Henry Reynolds

It struck a chord when the reviewer of this book for Melbourne’s ‘The Age’ newspaper, Raymond Evans, cited that the main street of a Queensland provincial town was derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘plenty dead’, being close to a site of frontier violence where the First Australians came off second best. It reminded me of how incensed I was when I discovered, through reading James Boyce’s fine history ‘Van Diemen’s Land’, that the main street of another provincial town, one in which I had lived in and taught for a while, was named after an official of a large colonial agricultural concern. It was revealed that this fellow had callously murdered an Aboriginal woman on a Circular Head beach, but of course a subsequent investigation exonerated him of any wrong doing. At least there was an investigation! I now realise that perhaps the Sunshine State’s Bundaberg and my own island’s Wynyard would only be two of a number of many former frontier communities with similar provenances for the nomenclature of suburbs and streets.

In another unrelated column in the same former broadsheet, the always readable columnist Stephen Wright recounted the tale of the brief but vicious Eumeralla War in the lava lands of Victoria’s south-west. Here native clans, led by warriors with the anglicized names of Jupiter and Cocknose, put up stout resistance before being quickly wiped out by a force of the colony’s mounted police in 1844. Of course Tasmania’s own earlier Black War is well documented. This conflict and other factors decimated the original inhabitants. Along with the ‘convict stain’, our country’s frontier struggles have been neatly pushed under the carpet of our history for a very long time. The former now seems to be a badge of honour. The turmoil on the fringes of advancing white settlement, in contrast, although well recognised for much of this nation’s first century, disappeared from sight in the second. Reynolds has been largely instrumental in pulling this story of imperial war back into the nation’s consciousness, for all, in the third.

Reynolds first came to my attention as one of the talking heads in the illuminating SBS series  ‘First Australians’ – and he does indeed have a very fine head for television. His manner and mode of speech carries with it a certain gravitas indicating one would be foolish to doubt his views. He was equally impressive in the launch of ‘Forgotten War’ at a Hobart bookshop recently.

Looking back, when we tally the figures provided by notoriously unreliable contemporary sources for the amount of death and mayhem caused in the frontier war, the approximate number of twenty to thirty thousand casualties make these times the equivalent of the Indian Wars of Wild West notoriety. It seems that Australia did not miss out on a conflict in which an imperial power, with superior armaments, defeated and subjugated an indigenous people. The question Reynolds ponders is whether or not the combatants of the time actually regarded what was happening as ‘war’. Reynolds leaves us with little doubt that, from the colonial administration down, they did. He enlists much historical notation to prove his point. This was no quick victory though. In many areas the locals did not put away their spears and waddies easily; organising opposition to the invaders that lasted right through till the 1930’s, only twenty years before I entered the world. That is a sobering thought. No state or territory was spared. There has been a ‘great Australian silence’ on the matter, but now the ‘whispering in our hearts’ has been frog marched out into the open. We finally have made a start on putting these matters to right, but I doubt that in my lifetime names such as Pemulwuy, Mosquito and Jandamarra will be as venerated as those of Monash, Morshead and Blamey.

Australia is an unusual country in that it takes as ‘its coming of age’ a military defeat on a far away foreign shore, as well as its national day being the moment the country was invaded, leading to another defeat; that of our native peoples. In my view, neither event is something we should be inordinately proud of – but if one is seared into our collective consciousness, it is only right and proper that so should the other. Henry Reynolds is doing his bit to ensure that happens.

Raymond Evans' review of 'The Forgotten War' =

Stephen Wright's column =