Germaine Greer: Financial Eunuch



Teenagers are normally embarrassed by their mothers. Germaine Greer was particularly so. Elizabeth Kleinhenz in her new biography Germainewrites: “Germaine learned to be selective when choosing which boys to bring home, because her mother was quite likely to open the front door wearing underpants on her head (to protect her hairstyle) and little else ‘except [her] sun-tan’…”

The biography is the first to draw on Greer’s 487-box archive which she sold to Melbourne University in 2013. Kleinhenz concludes that Greer is a genius, but I’d exclude finance from Greer’s cornucopia of talent.

Her style was hazardous both to counter-parties and herself. Her father Reg signed as guarantor for her  four-year Victorian Education Department studentship that paid eight pounds a week. When Greer got her Melbourne Honors degree (second-class), Kleinhenz records that instead of teaching country kids for the required three years she lit out to Sydney, leaving Reg to pay back the salary and training costs. Ten years later, when Greer was earning well as a TV comedienne, she reimbursed him.


Sadly, her wealth from multi-million sales of The Female Eunuch didn’t last. She invested   in a  Ponzi scheme called Vavasseur Ltd promising returns of 70-160% a year. By 1975 she’d done her dough. The top US swindler Terry Lee Dowdell   got   15 years gaol.

By 1978 Greer’s finances were ‘dire’. In mid-1979, a decade after Female Eunuch came out,  Inland Revenue filed for her bankruptcy over   non-payment of pds 37,095 tax plus interest. Her accountant argued that Vavasseur had seemed “a most reputable and secure finance house” but its failure wiped out Greer’s tax fund. “What remaining funds Dr Greer had were invested in a property which, equally disastrously, slumped…”, he pleaded. Greer hadn’t been fraudulent or negligent but her income wasn’t enough to meet old tax liabilities, despite her valiant efforts and payment of substantial arrears, he said.

She escaped bankruptcy on the pleading that it would dry up her ability to earn from  writing. Her agent Peter Gross wrote in, “Authors are not machines and cannot be made to produce on demand.”

The Notting Hill house-investment disaster from 1973 involved a warren of five storeys and six doorbells,  infested with squatters and graffitied with “Boredom is counter-revolutionary” and “This too will burn”. She got the squatters ejected – they were comatose from dope – with the help of 50 police. Only her skip got set on fire. She   converted the place exquisitely and expensively back to a grand house but had to sell at a big loss to fund tax demands.

She took up a women’s literature professorship   at the provincial but wealthy Tulsa University, Oklahoma – partly to eke out her finances by living in a campus cottage there rent-free “surrounded by parking lots and dead trees” while letting out her London flat. Her seven closest Tulsa students  she described as “in  scholarly terms simply illiterate…Not one could name an English poet of the eighteenth century. One thought maybe Kipling.” Her  Tulsa interviewer Andrea Chambers wrote that to let off steam Greer “liked to hoon around the country in a rented Mustang with a bottle of Jack Daniels under the seat” and sit  at night in smoky corners of what, in Tulsa, passed for bohemian bars, quaffing bourbon. “I think I am a potential alcoholic,” Chambers quoted Greer, “and I can’t afford the only drug I like, which is coke.”

Detail on Greer’s finances is fragmentary but fascinating:

1984-5: She gets a pds110,000 advance from publisher Hamish Hamilton to write a book “Daddy, We Hardly Knew You” about her late father Reg, who had invented his colourful life story.

1996: She gets free pds360 seats for herself and her 75-year-old gardener Charlie at a Wembley Stadium performance of The Three  Tenors, better than the seats occupied by Prime Minister and Mrs Major and the Duchess of Kent. But her planned feature on the tenor trio for New Yorker is aborted amid libel fears and her harangues about sub-editing: “You fuck the whole thing up with blind abandon…”

1998: Doubleday Publishing pays her pds500,000 for rights to the Female Eunuch sequel The Whole Woman.

1990s: She commands one pound a word for press articles. She bats off requests for gratis contributions, “No fee no work”.

Late 1990s: She decides to buy a piece of Australian outback, and agrees to pay $360,000 for a lucerne farm near the James Range an hour out of Alice Springs. After six months regret at the impulse purchase, she manages to extract herself from it.

2001: She pays something like $500,000 – her life’s savings, for Cave Creek, a 60 hectare derelict dairy farm in the Gold Coast hinterland, to convert back to rainforest.

2005: Cave Creek is a money pit for equipment and five staff’s salaries. Greer takes up an offer of pds40,000 to go on UK’s Celebrity Big Brother   in role of a serving  wench to the mother of Sylvester Stallone and seven other vapid contestants. (In other words, to make a total goose of herself).  They complain about her ‘going on and on’. She wades through manure with a colander on her head, vomits from a merry-go-round and vainly tries to persuade her housemates into a naked sit-down protest. She  storms out after six days, complaining of the bullying and squalor of her ‘fascist prison’,  sharing towels and bathrobes “crawling with bacteria promiscuously collected from all eight bodies.”

2013: She transfers Cave Creek ownership to a UK charity Friends of Gondwana Rainforest’. Kleinhenz writes, “The day she gave away all her cash to the rainforest, she said, was the happiest day of her life.”

2013: Melbourne University buys her 487-box archive for $3m including hefty storage and cataloguing costs.  She intends the proceeds to go to her Gondwana charity, giving it “some financial independence”, she says.

2019: Consulting the charity’s annual report to March 2018, I find,“The trustees [including Greer] are keen to increase income from various sources so as to secure adequate future funding.” The accounts show net assets of pds 26,031 after the year’s spending of pds 56,831.  Keeping the fund topped up seems a priority.

Kleinhenz’s biography spares us nothing of her subject’s provocations, showwomanship, tribulations and formidable talent. Let’s hope her 80s brings calmer conditions, financial and otherwise. #





The ABC’s Bended-Knee Adoration of Al Gore

What delusionary world do ABC people inhabit?  The national broadcaster’s editorial director, Alan Sunderland, last year fulminated against “liars and cheats and deceivers” generating fake news for the gullible. He wrote, “All responsible media organisations promise to aim for accuracy, to tell all sides of a story… Some, like the ABC, promise never to take an editorial stand or express an opinion, while others promise to make clear the distinction between their reporting and their commentary…” (My emphasis)

Oh, I see. There’s no ABC green-left narratives on lovely wind and solar energy, or ABC tear-jerking for discredited Sri Lankan “refugees”, or for stacking panels with ‘progressives’ and blackballing the Institute of Public Affairs

My incredulity accelerated when I came across Sunderland’s 11-page audit of the ABC’s coverage of Al Gore’s Melbourne-Sydney visit in mid-July 2017. Gore came to push his new climate-horror film “An Inconvenient Sequel”.

Sunderland’s “Editorial review of ABC interviews with Al Gore, July 2017” checked if the ABC’s coverage of Gore was biased and/or excessive, and whether Gore suckered the ABC into unduly promoting his film. Sunderland also checked whether the ABC, as per charter, was “present(ing) a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented.”

Actually Gore was here again only last June, when the Queensland government spent $320,000 for his Climate Week appearance. (His regular fee is $100,000). My partial list of some Gore visits is 2003, 2005, 2006 (twice), 2007, 2009, 2014 (rostrum-sharing with Clive Palmer), 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019. He’s about as newsworthy as a Collins Street tram.

Moreover, Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film was deemed in late 2007 by the UK High Court’s Justice Burton to have nine errors,

the first two of which are apparently based on non-existent or misunderstood evidence, and the balance of which are or may be based upon lack of knowledge or appreciation of the scientific position, and all of which are significant planks in Mr Gores’ ‘political’ argumentation.

The Judge said the Education Department had also been violating laws against feeding politically partisan material to students. As a result the film can only be shown in UK schools if students are also given guidance notes both about the errors and the film’s agitprop content. Teachers must note

areas where there is undisputed scientific consensus …Areas where there is a strong scientific consensus but where a small minority of scientists do not agree (and) areas where there is political debate.

By the way, Gore successfully bluffed 7.30’s Heather Ewart in 2009 that he won the Justice Burton case:

EWART: There was also, though, a British judge who ruled that there were in fact, I think, nine errors when it was challenged in court?

GORE: Well, the ruling was in my favour.

Sunderland’s audit first deals with a “suggestion” that his ABC climate enthusiasts booked 18 interviews with Gore. Not true:

Our investigations revealed a total of 8 separate interviews were conducted.


Segments of some these interviews were picked up, edited and repeated across a range of different programs in addition to that [eight], meaning that Al Gore’s visit generated substantial coverage across the ABC.

He asks, was this “excessive and unjustified by the editorial value?” His answer:

There is no evidence to suggest this was the case.

The primary interviews are conveniently listed[1] as

# July 10 – 7.30 with Stan Grant; “Hack” interview with Tom Tilley

# July 11 – Radio National (Gregg Borschman); Sydney Radio Breakfast (Robbie Buck); Perth Radio Drive (Belinda Varischetti); Melbourne Radio Drive (Alicia Loxley)

# July 12 – Brisbane Radio Afternoon (Kelly Higgins-Devine)

# August 3 – One Plus One (Jane Hutcheon, doing a 30-minute lifestyle suck-up).

In the 7.30 interview, Stan Grant – who sometimes bucks the system – did ask about accusations that Gore exaggerated his alarmism, also making mention of the South Australian SA blackouts. His other questions were patsies, such as “Gore’s view of President Trump’s attitudes and their impact on the US reputation” — sheesh, there’s a hard-ball interrogation for you, not! Grant further asked if climate change agitation is “affected by the rise of populism” — “populism” being ABC code for any success from right of centre.

Sunderland is thrilled by Gregg Borschmann’s interrogation of Gore. He  hails the “highly experienced specialist journalist on environmental issues” who “explored a range of issues more closely”. The punchy ones included (I’m not making anything up):

# More pointed questions on whether Australia was an international ‘laggard’ on climate change

# Whether the world had reached a tipping point and the impact of climate change was now irreversible

# A detailed discussion of some of the more extreme methods and technologies for tackling climate change

Sunderland is miffed that Gore didn’t get a Dorothy Dixer from his ABC myrmidons on the dreaded Adani coal mine (as at 2017; now a mine which Labor is strangely fond of). This omission was remedied by ABC’s Brisbane radio and the Hack program.

Three key points which no ABC person brought up in the eight 2017 interviews are

(a) Why with your multi-million fortune did you never re-shoot Inconvenient Truth to correct the errors – which even included that all citizens of sinking Pacific islands have evacuated to New Zealand? Surely that failure’s Inconvenient when you’re offering a Sequel?

(b) Given that the swimming pool of one of your three mansions uses the same electricity as six average US homes, might you be accused of emissions hypocrisy?

(c) Does your partnership’s profit of $US200mplus from carbon trading in 2008-11 suggest a conflict of interest in your promoting of green energy? Are you now a big investor in Beyond Meat, a plant-for-meat substitute beneficiary of the UN climate push against real meat?[2]

Sunderland has a threefold justification for the ABC’s welter of publicity for Gore. First, he’s a former vice-president (1993-01 – two decades ago) and crusades on climate; second, he made an influential climate film (12 years ago), and third, he has a new film when Australia has “gas shortages, power blackouts, rising electricity prices and policy challenges informed by the recent Finkel Report.” Citing householders’ energy-price horrors is refreshing frankness for the ABC people, 3% of whom are on $200,000-plus a year. For that well-heeled cadre home energy costs are but small change.

Sunderland then checks how good Gore’s new film is by selecting what he presents as a representative sample of overseas reviews: two from the far-left Guardian; one from the liberal Washington Post; one from Variety, the bible of way-left Hollywood; and one from 9to5 Mac, a magazine specializing in Mac news and comment. Since Al Gore is a board member of Apple Inc., that might be seen as just a touch incestuous.

Sunderland’s selection of reviewers illustrates the ABC collective mind: legitimate views from right of centre are beyond his imagination. His sample found the film awesome (with quibbles about lack of fresh agitprop) and therefore “the actual content of the new movie was sufficiently newsworthy” for the ABC to tout.

Sunderland then wonders if the uncritical mass of ABC interviews of Gore “result(ed) in disproportionately representing a particular perspective”. No, he finds. And on the warming catastrophism
 hypothesis, he writes with straight face

Our coverage, like that of other media outlets, has included a wide range of other perspectives to ensure appropriate impartiality.

He lists views from the Bureau of Meteorology; the NSW Nature Conservation Council; the would-be $US100b a year Green Climate Fund (seriously); Flannery’s Climate Council; “a representative group of 35 local government bodies”[3]; Coalition, Opposition and Greens politicians[4]; the independent financial think-tank ‘Carbon Tracker Initiative’ (actually climate finance lobbyists); G20 leaders meeting to discuss the Paris Agreement (don’t mention Trump); the National Greenhouse Inventory; “Pacific leaders meeting in Fiji for a Climate Action Pacific Partnership event”; the ACCC on energy prices; Arrium in Whyalla; the Australian energy regulator, and the true-believing Queensland Resources Council.[5]

In the real world, the 2015 CSIRO poll (p4) showed that 54 per cent of Australians don’t buy the human-caused-warming story. There is no hint of this vast demographic in Sunderland’s “ diversity”.

Concurrently with Gore’s 2017 tour, the world’s top-rated warming sceptic, Marc Morano, also visited Melbourne to push his own film, Climate Hustle. Morano launched his film on Wednesday night (July 12) and Gore launched his on Thursday morning (13th). I got to both . Morano tried to give Gore the Hustle DVD, but Gore’s minders shut down this promising conversation. Gore’s security people physically stopped audience members and a Herald Sun photographer  taking pics and recordings during his speech. They missed me and I posted a full transcript on Morano’s New York blog.

Strangely the ABC which “presents a diversity of perspectives” and never knowingly downplays a legitimate point of view, did not interview Marc Morano in Melbourne. Morano was interviewed by Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, but the rest was silence. Nature journal has ranked 386 sceptics globally and placed Morano at No 1[6].

Sunderland, “having ascertained that Al Gore’s views were newsworthy and the ABC’s coverage of them was not disproportionate”, moves on to whether eight duplicate interviews robbed other ABC programs of resources.

Sunderland found that overall, the seven news interviews were duplicates except in style and “chatty non-material issues such as Al Gore’s more general views on President Trump…and whether he might make another movie in another ten years’ time.”

Sunderland, with 30-plus years at the ABC and SBS, knows how interviewees manipulate their interrogators. Gore has a sheaf of “talking points” which he “repeated in all the interviews”. Sunderland reconstructs Gore’s cheat sheet from regularities in the interviews. One staple is “comparing the spin used by climate change sceptics now and the tobacco lobby in the past (used in four out of the seven interviews).” That canard is of course from the crazed Naomi Oreskes’ Merchants of Doubt book of 2010.

Other Gore porkies include

“The price of electricity from solar and wind, and now the price declines in battery storage and efficiency improvements of all kinds – these are economic realities that are really kicking in in a very powerful way. (used in 6 out of the 7 interviews)”.

My Fact Check: In the first quarter of 2019, Victoria and New South Wales recorded their highest underlying energy prices on record, while Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania recorded their second-highest energy prices on record. Retail electricity prices have near-doubled since 2004.

# “In the last decade, the climate-related extreme weather events have become much more common, much more destructive” (used in six out of the seven interviews).

My Fact Check: Take just one of dozens of examples – “…as far as the climate scientists know there is no link between climate change and drought.” Andy Pitman, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, UNSW.[7]

There is no mention by Sunderland of any ABC interviewer challenging Gore’s mendacious cheat-sheet claims.

He finishes with one-hand/other-hand conclusions. Gore swamped all interviews with his talking points, so there was indeed ABC duplication. But the plethora of interviews earned a lot of “localisation” brownie points for state programs and personalities. Both Sunderland and Michelle Guthrie, then the ABC’s managing director, urged more coordination and rationalization, but neither showed an awareness that Gore is a hypocritical money-grabbing driver of the climate-apocalypse bandwagon.

Tony Thomas’s new book, The West: An insider’s tale – A romping reporter in Perth’s innocent ’60s is available from Boffins Books, Perth, the Royal WA Historical Society (Nedlands) and online here


[1] Date aired by ABC; they were all recorded earlier about the same time

[2] A long time Gore partner David Blood is co-chair of World Resources Institute which has released a 570-page report against meat consumption

[3] Sunderland doesn’t say but I’ll bet the 35 were those mobilized by the Climate Council for grassroots alarmism

[4] One Nation (4.3% of the national primary Senate vote in 2016 and 9.2% of the Queensland primary Senate vote) was not worthy of ABC mention let alone interviewing.

[5] “Climate change is a critical global challenge, which must be addressed by all parts of society. The resources industry is committed to being part of the global solution.”

[6] Perth’s world-reknowned sceptic Joanne Nova ranked 99th, Ian Plimer 51st.

[7] June 19, 2019, at 1.11.20 on Soundcloud. Hat tip: Joanne Nova

ABC of Pauline’s revenge

7 September 2019

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has two Bills at hand to clobber the anti-conservative ABC. The first would force it to disclose the pay of talent earning $200,000-plus. According to ex-boss Michelle Guthrie, at the top is a female on about $460,000. The other Bill is a symbolic slap adding ‘fair and balanced’ to the ABC’s charter of ‘accurate and impartial.’ Both Bills should be sub-titled Pauline Hanson’s Revenge. She dictated them to ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull in late 2017 as her price for supporting his media ownership liberalisation. ABC-lovers howled but the BBC was forced in 2017 to disclose pay rates of all talent earning more than £150,000, so don’t get precious about our local talent.

Problem: is Scott Morrison mongrel enough to try mauling the public broadcaster? If yes, will the new Senate let him? Or will he welsh on the Turnbull/Hanson deal by letting the Bills languish?

The ABC and the journalists’ union, the MEAA, are enraged about Hanson horse-trading the Bills. Their hacks and quasi-comedians have trashed ‘Pauline Pantsdown’ for two decades. In 1998, Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey (now governor) said:

[Hanson] contended that the broadcast material gave rise to imputations that she is a homosexual, a prostitute, involved in unnatural sexual practices, associated with the Ku Klux Klan, a man and/or a transvestite and involved in or party to sexual activities with children. The [ABC] essentially contended that the material amounted merely to vulgar abuse and was not defamatory. These were grossly offensive imputations relating to the sexual orientation and preference of a member of parliament and her performance, which the appellant [ABC] in no degree supports as accurate and which were paraded as part of an apparently fairly mindless effort at cheap denigration.

Unabashed, the ABC persisted with ‘Pauline Pantsdown.’ Its Complaints crew told me in 2016 there was nothing sexual about such a jolly satire and ‘the image was not in contravention of ABC editorial standards.’ In early 2017 Four Corners ran its ‘Please Explain’ expose which included secret recordings of Hanson’s phone calls with staffer James Ashby. This hit job inspired Hanson to use Senate power to torment her tormentor.

In a rough-as-guts exchange, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield told the ABC’s Michelle Guthrie and SBS’s Michael Ebeid to publicise the pay of their talent by November 2017 or he’d legislate. They told him (politely) to get stuffed. The Senate shunted his Bills to sundry committees. Meanwhile Morrison had tastier electoral fish to fry and the Bills lapsed in July. But Fifield’s successor Paul Fletcher has listed the bills for the session starting 9 September. His department tells The Speccie: ‘The introduction date is a matter between the Minister and the Prime Minister.’

In its cheeky style, the ABC board submitted, ‘As this [pay] Bill is neither in the public interest nor leads to any greater corporate governance, the ABC is of the view that the only intended outcome it actually achieves is the fulfilment of the Government’s agreement with One Nation.’ In another snark, the board said disclosure would catch only 3 per cent of ABC staff, whereas Fifield’s department had more than 6 per cent above $200,000.

On the ‘fair and balanced’ Bill, the ABC’s 2018 Annual Report shows the corporation’s pinkishness. There are two gloats about its fake Trump/Russia coverage (‘unprecedented in-depth analysis of President Trump’s Russian connections’) and on P. 38, Vol. 2 is a lurid montage of a sleepy Trump and a wide-awake Putin lurking in the shadowy background. Geez, who mocked that up? ABC artists also did Trump sandwiched between two onion domes.

The report cited polling that 75 per cent of Australians think their ABC is accurate and impartial and 82 per cent trust its information (conversely, one in three don’t trust Q&A and The Drum). The same polling shows nearly 70 per cent for the five years to 2018 ‘believe the ABC is efficient and well-managed.’ So well-managed that last September the board sacked the managing director, the chair committed hara-kiri and the leadership engaged in a mudfight, with taxpayers funding the lawyers and payouts. For five months until February, the ABC had no chair (welcome, Ita Buttrose) and for eight months to May, no managing director (welcome, David Anderson). To repeat, the polls show 70 per cent think the ABC is well-managed and 75 per cent think it is politically impartial.

The ABC got thrashed in submissions from the Farmers Federation and Cotton Australia. Cotton’s policy officer Angela Bradburn cited ‘misrepresentation, inaccuracies and sensationalism.’ The ABC’s campaigns against Murray-Darling irrigators, pitched to city audiences, ‘have been strongly driven by one or two environmental bodies,’ she said, mentioning the unmentionable.

The MEAA called the ‘fair and balanced’ Bill ‘a calculated insult directed at the ABC and its employees … rooted in a transgressive campaign to undermine the performance and reputation of the nation’s most esteemed (and scrutinised) broadcaster.’ The journos, typically paranoid, claimed the proposed ‘fair and balanced’ addition to the ABC’s charter was pinched from the old Fox News masthead, yet the annual report itself trumpets ‘Fair and balanced.’ Ranald Macdonald, my ex-boss as one-time Age supremo, wrote to Fifield blasting ‘media moguls’ chasing profits and power. ‘Just keep your mitts off and allow the ABC to do its job,’
he warns. The Bills are all ‘part of a deliberate and continued campaign of harassment and assault being inflicted on “Auntie” ABC with clear malice aforethought.’ Climate sceptics are no more entitled to balanced coverage than flat-earthers and Holocaust deniers, he writes. He excoriates ‘the IPA and members of the ever burgeoning Murdoch Empire who have everything to gain from weakening public broadcasting – we all lose if the Murdochs (Rupert, Lachlan or the aggressive James) totally rule the waves.’ Isn’t that the Royal Navy’s job ?

On salaries, ABC and SBS argued their boards were accountable for ensuring value-for-money, not public stickybeaks, i.e. ‘a public forum prosecuted by tabloid media.’ SBS, crying poor, said pay disclosure would drain off stars and drive up pay, as happened at the BBC, claimed then SBS boss Michael Obeid (pay grade $800,000). With respect, he’s wrong. Top male stars at the woke BBC are taking six-figure pay cuts to address gender pay gaps. We’ll see if Morrison gets the ABC Bills up. Meanwhile everyone right of centre can throw boots at the screen.

The Tear-Stained Flogs of Climate Science

Climate scientists of the apocalyptic persuasion are melting faster than Greenland ice sheets.  They sob, they rage, they suffer from what shrinks now call “environmental melancholia” or “pre-traumatic stress disorder” — mental anguish about stuff that hasn’t happened. They just can’t understand why the public – i.e. the befuddled Australian electorate – laughs off  computer-generated scenarios of the end of civilisation and, maybe, the end of the human species.

The doyen of Australia’s rising catastrophists, Dr Joelle Gergis, disclosed to August’s edition of The Monthly how she sobs about the climate peril during her kerosene-fuelled air travel.[1] Then she switches to “volcanically-explosive rage” because the hoi polloi don’t want to pay for windmill electricity fantasies.

Environmental scientist Dr Katharine Wilkinson is quoted by Mother Jones (circ. 200,000):  “For some, it’s anger or rage. For me, it’s deep grief… There is no way for me not to have a broken heart most days.”  At a recent panel discussion, she  blurted, “I have no child and I have one dog, and thank God he’ll be dead in 10 years.”

Senior weepniks include Yvo de Boer, former Executive Secretary of the UN group controlling the IPCC. Running the Bali UN climate summit, he had to be led off the podium in tears after losing a procedural motion  “as he worked round the clock to get a deal to protect the Earth from warming.”

The scientists’ pals in the media have got infected too: “Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist turned journalist, has written about his own efforts to contend with climate-change–induced depression:  ‘It’s only getting worse. I confess: I need help.”

Mother Jones featured interviews last month with top climate scientists about their mental well-being in the face of public indifference. In a piece headed,  It’s the End of the World as They Know It: The distinct burden of being a climate scientist, Washington oceanographer Sarah Myhre talks of her “profound daily grief”.  She doesn’t have clinical depression, she explains, just “anxiety exacerbated by the constant background of doom and gloom of science”. She asked a senior climate scientist how he communicated to ordinary folk about the “frightening scenarios” of CO2 emissions. “I don’t talk to those people anymore,” she remembers him replying. “F*** those people.” After that, Myhre went to her hotel room and wept.  

Psychologists now swarm among climate scientists suggesting meditation, yoga and therapy. New York magazine wrote that climate scientists are living a “surreal existence”:

One psychologist who works with climate scientists said they suffer from ‘pre-traumatic stress,’ the overwhelming sense of anger, panic, and ‘obsessive-intrusive thoughts’ that result when your work every day is to chart a planetary future that looks increasingly apocalyptic. Some climatologists merely report depression and feelings of hopelessness. Others, resigned to our shared fate, have written what amount to survival guides for a sort of Mad Max dystopian future where civilization has broken down under the pressures of resource scarcity and habitat erosion.

Meanwhile, let’s take a quick reality check on how the planet’s actually doing after warming by  one degree since 1890.

# World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim: “Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history. This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time.”  

# Global average life expectancy (72 years)  increased by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016, the fastest increase since the 1960s.

# World grains production in 2018-19 (2,685m tonnes) is  close to record highs; wheat is a record 770m tonnes; and so is rice at 517m tonnes.

# In real terms, the world food price index has been flat for the past 60 years, despite population soaring from 3 billion to 7.5 billion.

# CO2 emissions have not only contributed to crop yields but have greened the planet to an area equal to two-and-a-half times Australia’s, according to a massive study in 2016 with CSIRO involvement. A newer satellite-based study has found even more massive greening effects, with 25 to 50 per cent of the globe’s vegetated regions now greener than in the 1980s.

# Weather extremes are not worsening and are not generated by global warming,[2] regardless of claims by snake-oil salespeople wearing their “climate scientist” hats.[3] If in doubt, check the IPCC itself.

# The world’s 76 best-quality, long-term tide gauges, according to a new study this year,  show negligible sea rise acceleration in the past 120 years and no sign of the climate models’ predicted sharp warming of the oceans.

Now let’s get back to the psyches of Australia’s top warming spruikers. Geographers Professor Lesley Head (Melbourne University) and Dr Theresa Harada (Wollongong University) have published a breakthrough paper in the peer reviewed journal Emotion Space and Society.  It’s called  “Keeping the heart a long way from the brain: The emotional labour of climate scientists”.[4] This includes insights about climate-panic people’s “emotional labour” from “feminist perspectives” in which the scientists combat “a strong climate denialist influence”. The authors, straight-faced, found that our climate scientists use emotional denial to suppress the consequences of climate change. Guilt-free, they can then continue “extensive use of long-distance airplane trips throughout a scientific career”.

The authors accept, no questions asked, that 33-50 per cent of the world’s petroleum and over 80 per cent of coal should be left in the ground. Even so, they fret we’re set for maybe 6degC warming and transformation of society. From this bland starting point, they sample four female and nine male Australian climate scientists — half of a group of 26 rated “the nation’s leaders in this field”. Tragically, the names of this band of bedwetters are withheld. The 13 interviews are wrapped with references to  nearly 70 prior academic papers.

The study took at least three years.  The scientists were surveyed from mid-2014 . The paper was submitted in May 2015 and re-submitted after revisions in July 2017. It was funded from part of an ARC research grant of $2,467,256 [you read that right: nearly $2.5m] for “cultural dimensions of environmental sustainability and human-environment interactions, including climate change.”

The interviewees’ particular terror was the “strong climate denialist movement [that] was a source of pressure and a cause of anxiety”. Into the bargain the  denialist discourses were “seen to undermine the legitimacy of science authority”. The authors seem unaware that Australia’s leading “denialist”  is Joanne Nova, one-time professional science educator and now a housewife in outer  suburban Perth with a global reputation. Her only resource is her intellect and her only income is from her blog’s tip jar. No $2.5m taxpayer grants for Joanne…

The paper’s “Table 1” lists “Common themes from interview data”. It is not clear how much the 13 Australians contributed. Climateers were keen on self-preservation, the table said, since they “recognised their privileged positions (Western, well-educated, generally wealthy)”. Thus they scrabbled around “formulating strategies for escaping the consequences of climate change (dual passports, housing in alternative locations)”. The scientists hurry home to “engage in everyday banal activities (e.g. reading detective novels, gardening) to reduce stress.” To counter the denialists, these climate warriors can “(a) develop a thick skin  — ignoring media criticism”  and “(b) Avoid public advocacy for fear of retaliation”.[5]

Our troops, police, paramedics and casualty workers must be in awe of climate scientists’ stress levels in the cauldron of faculty clubrooms!

The paper also sheds light on climateers’ ungainly social life. When interviewee “Karen” knocks off from predicting the death of human-kind, she goes home “to read trashy novels and have cups of tea”. She says, “Oh God I never tell them [in a social situation] that I’m a climate scientist, it usually descends into them shouting at you, or yeah, like telling you either you’re not doing enough or you’re doing too much.” The authors add, shrewdly, “This quotation illustrates how Karen aligns herself with the scientific community as opposed to the ‘them’ of the broader community.”  Them = deplorables?

Another interviewee, Susan, argues,

Once you become convinced that the world, the way it’s going, is doomed, the human race is doomed, I don’t see how you can do anything other than keep trying and work in this area. I don’t understand why all scientists aren’t working on climate change. I honestly don’t, because if you don’t have a habitable planet, it doesn’t matter … nothing else matters … We really are screwed if we all give up.

Nice thought, Susan: the world’s only science should be climate change. Cancer research? Pfft!

In one respect Professor Head and Dr Harada hit the nail on the head. “Being a good parent”, an ethical climate scientist refrains from discussing the implications of climate change with their kids, to avoid passing on the “anxiety and fear”. Today in contrast. kids are dragooned as shock troops for anti-CO2 campaigns (Sweden’s damaged 16-year-old Greta Thunberg to the fore). These kids risk being inflicted with actual depression.

In 2014, Joe Duggan, an aspiring Masters student in Canberra, appealed to Australia’s warmist leaders to pen hand-written letters about their emotional traumas. “The result is 20 beautiful and heartbreaking lettersthat clearly display the frustration, guilt, anxiety and anger that plagues the researchers who have access to all the data, but can’t make people listen to their warnings.” The scrawls were put on display in Melbourne for National Science Week, rather like a cathedral’s relics of saints. Note the elitism of those keen to raise the fossil-fuel costs of working families:

# Alex Sen Gupta, Senior Lecturer (Oceanography), UNSW: Scientists who have spent years or decades dedicated to understanding how it all works are given the same credibility as poleticians, [sic] media commentators and industry spokes people with obvious vested interests and whose only credential is their ability to read discredited blogs.”

# Dr Ailie Gallant, Monash: “I often feel like shouting… but would that really help? I feel like they don’t listen anyway. After all, we’ve been shouting for years. How can anyone not feel an overwhelming sense of care and responsibility when those so dear to us are so desperately ill? Perhaps I’m the odd one out, the anomaly of the human race. The one who cares enough, who has the compassion, to want to help make her better. Time is ticking, and we need to act now.”

# Associate Professor Katrin Meissner (UNSW): “Knowing that I am one of the few people who understand the magnitude of the consequences and then realising that most of the people around me are oblivious … It makes me feel sick.”

# Prof Brendan G. Mackey, PhD (Griffith)[6]:  “Dear Earth, just a quick note to say thanks so much for the last 4 billion years or so. It’s been great!… I’m really sorry about the last couple of 100 years – we’ve really stuffed things up haven’t we! I though we climate scientist might be able to save the day but alas no one really took as seriously…”

It’s become fashionable for lightweight journalists to highlight the troubled souls of climate scientists. The Guardian UK’s environment reporter, Roger Harrabin, did a radio interview on  ballyhooed “ocean acidification” with an un-named woman professor of ocean geology.[7]The broadcast was titled,  Is it ok for scientists to weep over climate change?

Her passion for the oceans triggered tears…’Stop recording now,’ she said. ‘I can’t be crying on the radio. It’s demeaning to women scientists.’ I argued that the audience would be moved by her commitment, and the interview continued with tears flowing… A colleague was moved by her passion: ‘That was really powerful. She almost had me crying too. I persuaded [the professor] to let me broadcast the tearful radio interview but she truncated a subsequent TV interview when she became overwrought again.

Other weepniks include Michael E. Mann, author of the notorious “Hockey Stick” study of 1998 with source data that, for some reason, he insists must remain secret to this day.[8]

He was talking to students, so it got to him. They’re young, it’s their future more than his. He choked up and had to struggle to get ahold of himself. ‘You don’t want to choke up in front of your class,’ he says. About once a year, he says, he has nightmares of earth becoming a very alien planet. The worst time was when he was reading his daughter Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, the story of a society destroyed by greed… She burst into tears and refused to read the book again. ‘It was almost traumatic for her.’ His voice cracks. ’I’m having one of those moments now.’ Why? ‘I don’t want her to have to be sad,’ he says.

Mother Jones quotes Kim Cobb  44, a climate professor at highly-regarded Georgia Tech, on her tearful epiphany on Christmas Island in 2016 when she saw a lot of dead coral allegedly caused by warming seas and/or President Trump.

 I was diving with tears in my eyes,” she recalls. In a row house made of cinder blocks on the tiny island, she monitored the American election results. When she saw Donald Trump’s victory, she felt shock and soon descended into severe depression…  Back home in Atlanta, Cobb entered what she now calls “an acute mental health crisis.” Most mornings, she could not get out of bed, despite having four children to tend to. She would sob spontaneously.  “How could my country do this? I had to face the fact that there was a veritable tidal wave of people who don’t care about climate change and who put personal interest above the body of scientific information that I had contributed to.

Jacquelyn Gill, a paleontologist at Maine University, says, “Being constantly angry is exhausting.”  It takes a certain resilience to be a scientist in America, the interview continues: “There are so few jobs, so few grants. You’re always dealing with rejection. You have to have a built-in ability to say ‘f*** it.’”

I’m bemused about her “so few jobs and grants” bit. In the two decades to 2014, the US spent $US166b on climate change work (in 2012 dollars), almost as much as on the entire Apollo moon program. The IPCC last year called for $US2.4 trillion a year spending until 2035 against global warming. This is not a field short of money. Another climate scientist remarks:  “An accurate representation  would have more crying and wine.”

An  Esquire  writer finishes on a note  reminiscent of Euripedes’ Trojan Women[9]: “However dispassionately delivered, all of this amounts to a lament, the [climate] scientist’s version of the mothers who stand on hillsides and keen over the death of their sons.”

If we’re into classical allusions, I’d go for the flagellants of Perugia, 1259 whipping themselves over drought and famine. The distinction today is that the tenured climate scientists want to whip us, not themselves. #


Tony Thomas’s new book, The West: An insider’s tale – A romping reporter in Perth’s innocent ’60s is available from Boffins Books, Perth, the Royal WA Historical Society (Nedlands) and on-line here

[1] The Terrible Truth of Climate Change, August 2019

[2] For example, from the 2015 report: Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin…There continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale.”

[3] Here’s the real deal from warmist Professor Andy Pitman, UNSW: “…this may not be what you expect to hear. But as far as the climate scientists know there is no link between climate change and drought. That may not be what you read in the newspapers and sometimes hear commented, but there is no reason a priori why climate change should made the landscape more arid.”

[4] For those seeking more ways to beat themselves up, Professor Head in 2016 also published a book Hope and Grief in the Anthropocene.

[5] “Australia is one of the Western countries where consistently high levels of climate change denial [sic] have been recorded.”

[6] Mackay broke the rule and typed his letter, so it lacks the others’ pizzaz

[7] Asked by the New York Times in 2015 for an example of a species hurt by ocean acidification, NOAA’s acidification expert Dr Shallin Busch privately responded, “Unfortunately I can’t provide this information to you because it doesn’t exist.” See Thomas, Tony, That’s Debatable, Connor Court, Brisbane 2016, p164: The fishy “science” of ocean acidification.”

[8] Mann last week lost his nine-year-long lawsuit against sceptic Dr Tim Ball who had called him a fraud.

[9] “When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job.Among many climate scientists, gloom has set in. Things are worse than we think, but they can’t really talk about it.”

Confessions of an Honest Journalist

Journos’ memoirs don’t highlight their stuffups, those brands of Cain on one’s career. Best to stick with your triumphs.

I’ve got nothing to lose career-wise recalling my debacles, but even 50 years later, the memories put me on the rack. The two big debacles were from my decade in the Canberra Press Gallery, 1971-79. The first involved chemicals giant ICI; the other outraged the entire Australian second-tier tertiary sector.

I came home from Rigoletto close to midnight on Friday June 2, 1972, to find Age editor Graham Perkin calling from Melbourne.[1] I had filed an economic diatribe that afternoon against ICI’s synthetics monopoly, Fibremakers, and documented its tariff-bludging ways.

I was nervous that I’d misread Fibremakers’ profits. So I had sent my figures to a Tariff Board executive Bill X to check. Bill’s underling gave the figures an OK, but in fact I’d made a serious mistake. So I was about to blow myself up, along with Fibremakers, in the modern-day style of a suicide bomber.

ICI’s barons literally looked down on Melbourne from their blue-glass eyrie in Nicholson Street handy to directors’ favorite haunt, the Melbourne Club. Perkin was phoning to congratulate me ahead of Saturday’s publication. That was my walking-on-air moment after 18 months as The Age’s first “Economics Writer”. In real life, I was half way through Economics 101 part-time at ANU across the lake. Sadly I hadn’t started Accounting 101.

ICI’s lawyers spent Monday dictating to Perkin a super-grovel for next day’s paper. I expected to get fired but the axe seemed slow to fall. A fortnight later Perkin phoned: “Don’t let that business get you down. Pity you got the accounts wrong but it was a good try.” Wow! Such a great guy, Perkin.

In more detail, my xenophobic report was headed “Why ICI’s men love the land of plenty”. A box read, “Tony Thomas examines the Government’s astonishing treatment of Fibremakers Ltd and finds it’s no wonder the British think this is the lucky country.”

The real villain was the Special Advisory Authority on Tariffs, run by arch-protectionist Sir Frank Meere, 76. A month earlier he’d awarded Fibremakers another $18 million a year worth of protection (in today’s money: $200m). He wrote, “The share of the market now being supplied by Fibremakers as regards both nylon and polyester is smaller than I would regard as satisfactory for an industry of this nature.” So he delivered them a guaranteed 85-90% market share versus imports. This protection was equivalent to $10,000 a year per employee. Today that would be $100,000. Not bad since the workers’ average annual pay was only $3000. And all without any inquiry into the economics and efficiency of Fibremaker’s operation.

I also gave Fibremakers a blast for profit-shifting to the UK to minimize Australian tax, like an interest free $5.7 million loan to ICIANZ ($72 million in today’s money) of indefinite duration; raw materials bought from ICI UK at above world prices; and mysterious “substantial” payments to ICIANZ for “technical assistance”. Only a week earlier Labor’s Senator Lionel Murphy under Parliamentary privilege had accused ICIANZ of transfer-pricing rorts. My finance editor added Murphy’s Hansard to the piece, further twisting the British lion’s tail.

ICI   laughed off the attack because I’d wrongly added up Fibremakers’ five-year profit record using the annual line item “Total available profit”. Worse luck, that item was already compounding year-on-year so I’d double-counted. The correct total was $13m, not my “$20m”.

The Age’s grovel ran to 10 wordy paragraphs.

It is contended by ICI Australia and Fibremakers that this article was misconceived in that it contained a number of serious mistakes damaging to the companies and to their directors … The inference to be drawn … was that Fibremakers and those directing it had hoodwinked and deliberately misled the income tax authorities, the Tariff Board and the Special Advisory Authority on tariffs in order that ICI might be benefited … Such a possible inference was never intended and The Age unreservedly retracts and apologises for it.

The companies also contend that the profit figures reported in the article are misleading and do not give the true position. The Age concedes that the figures reported in the article do not accurately indicate the net profit figures made by the company.

It follows from this that the figures which the article quoted relating to the ratio of profits to fixed assets was wrong and we accept the companies’ statement that in fact this ratio was 8.5 per cent.

We also accept the companies’ statement that profit on shareholders’ funds for the year 1969-70 was 13.6%, not 23% as quoted.

It was not the intention of “The Age” to mislead its readers in relation to these figures and we unreservedly apologise to the companies and their directors for these errors.


My mate Bill X at the Tariff Board was contrite about dropping me in the manure. He invited the Thomas couple home to dinner (a unique event). Our evening’s small talk involved no mention of Fibremakers or “total available profit”.

From all this I learnt the hard way that experts (including the Tariff Board’s) weren’t necessarily so. The buck stops with me.

I kept my nose clean, grovel-wise, until I embarked in 1976 on an expose of featherbedding and rorts in colleges of advanced education, teachers colleges and technical institutes. My material became a two-part Ageseries under the heading “The great college perks”. The magic touch of Perkin’s successor, Les Carlyon, is evident in the great sub-head: “Academics ride the learning boom in new cloisters of paradise”.

My evidence was furiously disputed by the quasi-academics and The Ageran another abject apology. I lived in infamy for several days, until I convinced the editors to correct the correction. I say “editors” because the snafu straddled the last days of Les Carlyon’s term[2] and the first days of his successor Greg Taylor’s. For each, it was a mess.

So what was what? In the previous decade poky technical schools and teacher colleges, hardly bigger than a city high school, had been clawing their way up to the luxury staff conditions of the uni sector, although many staff barely had bachelor degrees. When the Whitlam government began fully funding colleges in 1974, the momentum surged. Even plumbing or dressmaking teachers were putting their hand up for a year’s paid sabbatical. Bunyip titles like “Professor” and “Reader” multiplied. Teaching loads halved (to make room for junior-grade “research”).

From my Parliament House dog-box, I saw that the Academic Salaries Tribunal’s Mr Justice Campbell [3] had just issued a tactful but critical report, after colleges had put in submissions defending their lavish conditions. The sole public copies were on a wall of shelves in the Remuneration Tribunal. I did my normal day’s work in the press gallery, and the kindly Tribunal people let me in after dark unsupervised to take notes and limited photocopies from around 100 submissions. It was a hell of a job.

I drafted the story and our teleprinter guy, moonlighting from the PMG, clack-clacked it to Melbourne, and then I immediately collapsed into bed with the flu. You might think the perks I wrote about are nothing much. But in the Spartan 1970s they seemed the height of extravagance — like paying staff salaries while they studied full-time for a higher degree on sabbatical. Other samples:

# Up to a fifth of some colleges’ staff were rated sub-standard, or in my own colorful terms, “unsackable drones”.

# “LaTrobe University rounds off the connubial bliss [of parental leave] by offering three weeks of ‘marriage leave’ on full pay to female administrative and technical staff. Even in the federal public service, ‘marriage leave’ is unheard of, the presumption being that honeymoons are covered by ‘recreation leave’.”

# I quoted the judge, “Most staff are, in fact, able to absent themselves from their institutions during vacation periods to a much greater extent [than uni staff. They] seem still to operate as though they were school teachers.”

# “But all this welter of leave is only icing on the biggest cake of all – one year’s ‘staff development leave’ (sometimes called ‘intellectual regeneration leave’) on full pay after a mere six years service, even to some senior tutors and admin staff. This glorious holiday is usually accompanied by a golden handshake of $1500 to pay for a round-the-world-trip, strictly for study purposes of course. The ‘intellectual regeneration’ in theory is so that students benefit from staff’s travels. This being so, it is odd that college staff can take their year’s intellectual fiesta within two years — or even one year — of retirement.”

# “… The effect is that the numerous staff became instantly eligible as soon as the colleges were upgraded. Only the need to have some staff actually at work, and an overall limit on funds, prevents a mass exodus of staff abroad for ‘intellectual regeneration’. But you can guarantee that as fast as you pour teaching funds into these colleges, the faster it will pour out in staff development leave.

In the way of all hacks, I led with the most lurid perk. This highlight was my next suicide vest. I wrote that Prahran College of Advanced Education gave “at least 24 weeks of maternity leave” on full pay, double the federal public service standard and way ahead of private jobs. I got the fact from a compendium of conditions from the Federation of College Staff Associations. I added rashly that Prahran itself had “neglected to inform the Tribunal”.

The first part of the story ran on Thursday, August 26.

At 5pm my wife roused me from my sickbed to take a call from one of editor Carlyon’s assistants, whom I’ll call Fred. He explained that a deputation of furious Prahran heavies had informed the editor that they gave only 12 weeks’ maternity leave, not my alleged 24. “Well,” I said, “they’re wrong, or at least their staff’s submission to the Remuneration Tribunal is wrong.” I assured Fred I’d get the document faxed down to Melbourne in hours. But he didn’t seem convinced and hung up mournfully as if he’d been talking to a condemned man. I was still groggy from the flu and not much concerned anyway.

I cursed my betters in Melbourne for alerting me only when Canberrans was shutting shop for the night. The Tribunal boss very decently hung around to let me get at the documents once more. The high-tech copy and fax operation was complete by 9pm. Next morning I shook the frost from my Age and, to my dismay, found a ‘We Were Wrong” alongside Part 2 of my article.

An Insight article in The Age yesterday erroneously reported that Prahran CAE provided 24 weeks on full pay plus certain other benefits to staff members on maternity leave, and it deliberately withheld this information from the Academic Salaries Tribunal. The College’s maternity leave provision is in fact 12 weeks on full pay … The error arose in a misinterpretation of a submission – for 24 weeks’ maternity leave – made to the Tribunal last year by the Federation of Staff Associations…

The Age’ apologises to Prahran CAE for any embarrassment caused by yesterday’s report and withdraws the allegation that the College withheld any information from the Tribunal.

This was garbled. The 24-week leave had been stated as existing, not as an application. The “We Were Wrong” was wrong.

College-wallahs hit the paper with a further blizzard of complaints, but apart from a technical glitch or two, the rest of my pieces held up. But the 24-week maternity leave item stayed an albatross round my neck. I was even accused by the staff association of wrongly trusting its own compendium because it had “a number of errors and this is made known to whomsoever the Federation might supply with a copy. It cannot be help up as a definitive statement…”

I now knew that for its own sake and mine, The Age had to ‘correct the correction’. I sent down a note to Carlyon, saying

# I had accurately reported the Prahran staff submission

# The Prahran board might have a quarrel with its staff association, but that wasn’t our problem, and

# I should have been supported, not let down.

I got no reply. After three days, I phoned. He snapped, “Yes?!”

“About that correction … I sent you that note …”

“What note!?”

“The note saying we weren’t wrong at all.”

“I never got any note!”

“Well, I sent it.”

He rung off, now perplexed as well as furious. He found that assistant Fred was first receiver of the note and had put it in his bottom drawer.

Carlyon anyway was clearing out his office, and the problem hit the in-tray of his successor, Greg Taylor, who told me to draft my own correction to the correction. But I figured that the more clearly I exonerated myself, the more silly I would make The Age look. Instead I merely drafted some facts which spoke for themselves and it became an inconspicuous footnote to a complaints letter.

My nemesis, Fred, rose to considerable height in the industry. My own self-vindication went unnoticed and peers continued to show Schadenfreude, or not-nice-joy, over my discomfiture. I went on to make stuffups aplenty, luckily not career-destoying ones.

Tony Thomas’s new book, The West: An insider’s tale – A romping reporter in Perth’s innocent ’60s is available from Boffins Books, Perth, the Royal WA Historical Society (Nedlands) and on-line here


[1] Tunes from Rigoletto, even La Donna e Mobile, remain anathema to me for this reason

[2] Carlyon was appointed at 33 when Perkin died of a heart attack on October 16, 1975. Carlyon left for health reasons a year later.

[3] Later Sir Walter Campbell

  • ianl

    Those with ambition, we all come up against a Fred in our working lives.

    Coincidentally, my sneaky anatagonist was also a Fred. After my first real tangle (he had waited until I’d gone on 3 weeks leave, thoroughly sabotaged one of my projects, then himself went on leave 2 days before I returned), I realised the only way of dealing with this situation, and it would recur without pre-planned defence, was to ensure that “Fred” had absolutely no useful information on anything I may be doing. Fred-proofing, I termed it.

    Tony T obviously understands this too.

  • Tony Tea


    My father worked for ICI at Nicholson Street from 1957 to 1973 before moving to the Pilbara, while my grandfather was on the board of Fibremakers.

Blainey’s blarney

Geoffrey Blainey, Australia’s beloved history elder, has written 40 books and his terms like ‘tyranny of distance’ have pervaded our culture. But what of his inner life? At 89, he’s given us Before I Forget, on his upbringing and progress to about age 40. He writes with great charm and whimsy and pens delightful portraits of old-timers and events. The angels are in the detail.

Political tragics will regret that there are asides but no further axe-grinding about black armbands and today’s culture wars, or Melbourne University, its academics and its virtuous student wolfpacks shutting him down over alleged anti-Asian remarks in 1984. In the book his tales stop around 1970.

Titles are a story themselves. As a 20 year-old undergrad he got the job to research what became The Peaks of Lyell (1954), although its hills are round not peaked. His Tyranny of Distance superseded a blah first choice ‘Distance and Destiny’. Other titles testify to his big mistake, agreeing to do too many corporate histories. ‘Instead I should have been blazing my own track,’ he laments. Thus he suffered to do two histories of Melbourne University, and had misfires with BHP and ICI ANZ –the former withheld for five years, the latter manuscript still blocked with only 6-8 readers. Contrast those with later freelance titles like The Causes of War (1973), Triumph of the Nomads (1975) , A Short History of the World (2000) and his big one, A Game of Our Own: The Origins of Australian Football (1990).

He was quite an athlete himself, coming third in a 40km Saturday hill race with wheelbarrows from Zeehan to Queenstown. For vacation money he lugged cement at Spencer Street rail yards, and biked 160km to farms to heave hay. But Australia nearly lost our lad at age five weeks, except that a surgeon managed to unblock his digestion. No fee either, in a kindly medical tradition for struggling clergy families.

Few others today are writing first-hand about Depression life in rural Victoria. The Blaineys ate toast with jam or toast with butter but never with both: ‘This frugal rule was observed in countless households.’

A blind parishioner could play chess but lacked opponents. Blainey’s father Cliff taught himself chess to keep the old chap happy – although he worked 70-hour weeks. Each church took pride in hearty hymn-singing. These tightly knit congregations… are no longer viewed very sympathetically in the media and sections of some universities, but the years will return when their merits – along with the defects – will be seen more clearly. With personal disaster and adversity they coped bravely.

Blainey was a swot, even resenting invitations to Saturday movie matinees as time-wasters. He was delighted to get from his grandfather ‘at an absurdly early age’ the 1,000-page statistics of the 1935 Commonwealth Year Book. At Wesley (on scholarship) his English teacher A. A. Phillips used the opening paragraph of an essay by the 15 year-old Blainey in one of his best-selling textbooks.

Poring over 1930s footy scores in state library newspapers helped him recover from a bout of early post-war depression over his fear of nuclear war.

While in a funk over deadlines, he realised how little time he actually spent in learning – colleagues got labelled ‘Failed (Billiards)’. With coloured crayons he mapped how he spent or dissipated his time. His reform was not to work longer but more intensively.

Humour bubbles below his prose. A Queenstown old-timer Jimmy when offered a cuppa at Blainey’s boarding room exclaimed, ‘China! China! You’re well set up here.’ He asked Blainey where he’d been on a trip. ‘Hobart!’ Jimmy replied in astonishment. ‘You certainly get around.’ Blainey himself as ‘Titus Mehaffey’ would slyly impersonate an old prospector, quavering on local radio. His best pranking came later. He’d take his own uni students on goldfields trips and at the next lecture he’d read from the country newspaper a colourful report of their visit. Those were his own inventions pasted behind the page.

At one stage Blainey set out from Queenstown with a diamond driller to find payable uranium. (They didn’t). Here’s a taste: The food we carried was the simplest. We had potatoes and onions, bacon which supplied the fat for cooking in the frying pan, and a large quantity of flour which, mixed with water and spiced with raisins, provided johnnycakes, either fried or baked over glowing coals. As a luxury, we carried a few tins of preserved peaches or apricots, and we had tea, sugar and a tin or two of condensed milk.

I could empathise with his agonising about a libellous para while Peaks of Lyell was being printed.  Luckily Blainey’s rashly-named arsonist was oblivious or dead: ‘But for my first book the flow and anticipation were dimmed by the fear.’ Poor Geoff. Moreover, the company had hired him at less than a labourer’s wage, and  publisher MUP gave him a puerile 3 per cent royalty.

On his later research of old National Bank files, he was ‘enthralled by the stories they told of youthful managers arriving at remote gold rushes with a revolver, an iron safe and a pile of gold sovereigns, and promptly opening a bank.’ This truth beats the US fiction: ‘Send lawyers, guns and money.’

He says the uneducated remember things better than professors. Having resolved from age 19 to write for non-academics, he declined even to accept his BA and MA degrees.

The memoir’s text can appear dated, maybe necessarily as he originally wrote a lot of it 15 years ago. Banks ‘bob up and down’ in public esteem; history and climate wars carry little heat; fellow historian and god-botherer Manning Clark gets a rare good wrap. Blainey laments that in his student era circa 1950 Melbourne University had gaps in its British, European and American courses such as medieval history. He doesn’t mention academia’s wholesale trashing of the Western canon today. He also seems faintly puzzled why green suburbanites condemn mining.

Still, the Blainey blarney is wonderful. Except for this awful last paragraph: Few other nations in the early 1970s were so absorbed in understanding their history, and debating it on so many fronts. A rising wave of clashing ideas, ‘history’ here was to grow like thunder.

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