Abbott declares himself Minister for Queen.

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

Following on from his role as Minister for Women, Tony Abbott has this morning declared himself Minister for Queen.

“I have spoken to Queeny and she’s fair-dinkum blue. Yes, it’s a diverse portfolio, but I want to make one thing clear: it’s long overdue. I will personally oversee a hat-to-Corgi review that will deal with the long-standing inconsistencies associated with this area, such as the Queen’s Christmas Morning Address, which always falls in the evening.”

Abbott acknowledged criticism of the reshuffle from with the party ranks, and denied placating members of his Cabinet with new Ministerial responsibilities,

“Look, we’re a broad church, and there will always be room for robust debate, especially around Cabinet portfolios. However, I think it’s best to let the incoming Minister for Barn-Dancing and Not Shilly-Shallying About, Mr Barnaby Joyce respond to that criticism on behalf of all of the Ministers who have seen changes to their portfolios as a result of my executive review.”

Commentators have offered a different view. In an interview with the ABC’s Phillip Adams, Gough Whitlam described Malcolm Turnbull’s rebadged Ministry for Media and Equivocations and Julie Bishop’s new role as Minister for Perfume and Onesies as ‘own goals’ for the Abbott government.

Standby for eggplants.

Bok bok! Theatre in Australia! Bo—k!

Screen shot 2015-01-18 at 8.42.22 AMThere’s a delightful symmetry in cleaning out the chook run and listening to ABC arts. Yesterday I listened to actor Lex Marinos, writer Annette Shun Wah and Stephen Page, Artistic director of Bangarra talk about diversity and accessibility in the arts.

Usually I avoid these kind of discussions, as too often they descend into the usual arts-speak, where regular words, like ’embarrassingly juvenile’ are replaced with words like ‘powerful’ and everything starts ‘resonating’ like a lone chook in a drum.  Nouns are turned into verbs and before you know people are asking questions like ‘What does it really mean to be doing church?’ as you’ve sat down for a cup of tea with Peter Sellers’ Indian alter-ego.

I tuned in halfway, to hear the panel bemoaning Australia’s theatre audiences which are apparently brimming with middle aged, middle class, predominantly Anglo-Australians. Why instead don’t they resemble carriage D on the Mt Druitt line? they asked. 

Panelist Annette Shun Wah answered this question the best: because these people have got better things to do.

Cue much breathy pontificating about theatre and its failure to resonate with ‘everyday life’. And just like that we’ve shifted gears, from ethnicity to class. Because middle class Chinese, Indians and Greeks DO engage in the arts, but they’re not on the Mt Druitt line. And they’re less interested in the peculiarly Australian form of ‘misery theatre’ so lauded by the arts establishment where production is charged with a almost evangelical humanism.

I’m talking about the kind of theatre that ‘engages’ with its audience, that ‘opens and sustains a dialogue’ about what it means to be’a one-eyed, meth-addicted minority bandicoot. Or something. 

Compelling and hard-hitting theatre too often descends into a kind of tour-de-force of social dystopianism and decay, a form of middle class titillation, populated by audiences for whom ‘engaging in a dialogue’ about being on the wet end of life’s colonic irrigator is a form of ponderous emotional tourism. For everyone else, including the unreachable ‘Mt Druitt’ crowd, life can and does already deliver more than enough drama to keep a bulging class of overfed NIDA graduates shaking through the dishes with faux gravitas.

The only person who came close to answering the question was Stephen Page, who rightly observed the ebullient and durable zeal that surrounds Bangarra. Simply – Bangarra allows people to tell their own stories, and they can be glorious, and inspiring, and beautiful.

Bangarra is an oasis of aspirational images. Whiteys have TV for that. This is why the only time the other panelist, Lex Marinos, says he sees an Anglo doctor in a hospital is on T.V. Because T.V isn’t theatre, it’s aspirational art – Anglo Australians think being a doctor in a hospital is far more honourable than working three days a week as a consultant dermatologist in between flat-whites and stand-up paddling boarding. T.V is performance as uplift, it’s story-dictating rather than story-telling, how you want to be rather than how you are. TV versus theatre invokes the old ‘entertainment’ versus ‘message’ tension, a perennial question I’m glad the ABC is still hashing out, even if only for the benefit of my chickens.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole discussion though was Lex Marinos’ statement that ethnicity played an inconsequential role in the T.V version of Christos Tsoilkas’ The Slap. I find this particularly surprising, given that he was in it (and bloody good).

I only saw two episodes of The Slap, both of which ran along almost paint-by-numbers tensions involved in being first and second generation Greek immigrants. It was a high-pitched manifesto detailing the shifting definitions of success laid out very clearly along ethnic lines, There’s the voluminous tension between the bling-on-my-thing mechanic brother seething at his middle class, coke-snorting lawyer cousin, both of them unmoored by traditional expectations of masculinity and success enmeshed in and refracted through their ‘Greekness’. Or how about the ‘immigrant wife’ – highly qualified vet and her faltering attempts to slot into a regime of benign suburban racism? Or the Anglo Australian couple, hopeless bogans, flip-flopping through half-hearted, tragic new-age parenting, the booze picking up where the entitlement leaves off? Tsiolkas’ characters are plotted out on the x-y axis of class and ethnicity like a game of Battleships.

But then what would I know? I’m up to my eyes in chook-shit. And I still love Tsiolkas.

Reclaimer.

You see, sometimes I write things and then I go back and think; ‘I’m not sure that isn’t actually breathtakingly offensive’. This usually happens when I write about women, or what are traditionally seen as women’s issues, like when I wrote about pregnancy the other day, or piston rings before that.

What I wanted to say about pregnancy was that some people enjoy scaring the shit out of pregnant women, especially regarding birth and the following 18-20 years, whereas in fact, for almost all women in Australia, it’s a nigh on certainty that their newborn skills will range between ‘perfectly adequate’ to ‘far better than the 1970s when 70-85 percent of newborns were sponsored by Rothmans’  Every parent that know personally has fallen into the category of ‘bloody excellent’.

Even I’ve managed to keep my child from getting the mange, which, as I mentioned previously, is something of a miracle given my mother’s previous statement that ‘it doesn’t take a genius to lie still’. Incidentally, this was her way roundabout way of making me feel more comfortable about impending parenthood, one that probably just seems offensive, on reflection. For some reason being reminded that I was dumber than a box of hair did actually make me feel less freaked out about having a kid. What’s wrong with that picture?

I’ve digressed. What I’m wondering, and why I’m sitting here on the computer well past my bedtime, is why do I start of writing one thing, and then end up writing something else? I know this question isn’t new. It’s something people have wondered ever since Tolstoy sat down with an envelope to jot down Aunty Svet’s onion soup recipe. But I still wonder….

I used to write a different blog, for years. It ended up being rather popular, and I was even feted by some well-known media thingo as being “a guy who wrote about the most incredible range of things”. Apparently, after 7 years of blogging almost every day about everything from cultural politics to vaccine refrigeration it wasn’t apparent to readers that I was a woman.

So I thought on this blog I’d write about more kind of ‘exclusive woman stuff’. But I don’t think I’m going to cut it. I just can’t help being breathtakingly offensive, it’s my special gift. I’m rather good with sharks though.

So from here on in it’s ‘inclusive women stuff’, like engineering, surf reports and fruit trees.

Goodnight.

Bang!

John Ramsbottom, Engineer, Hipster

John Ramsbottom, Engineer, Hipster

My New Year’s resolution, alongside eating clean food and living authentically, as dictated by any number of hand-drawn vignettes on Instagram, is to learn more stuff. For me this means answering all those questions that pop into my mind while I’m filing my nails or flicking my hair.

Today’s question is about piston rings.

Piston rings are rather important. In fact, without them internal combustion is more or less impossible. Although Mr Beau de Rochas and Mr Otto are credited with inventing the internal combustion engine, there are a couple of important precursors that are often overlooked. One of them, of course, is the fuel – combustable diesel doesn’t just woosh out of the ground on its own. But that’s a question for another day.

The other precursor is the piston ring.

The piston ring was invented for steam engines, by an English engineer with the winning name of Mr Ramsbottom, in 1852. Prior to Mr Ramsbottom’s invention engine cylinders were sealed with lubricated hemp wadding. Now as you can see from the picture above, Mr Ramsbottom was a hipster, and, as any contemporary hipster will tell you, many things, from lukewarm coffee to menstrual blood are much, much better when filtrated through several layers greasy hemp. High pressure steam on the other hand, is not.

We’ve become rather inured to the magic of combustion engines but in the 19th century these developments seized the public imagination. Whereas now combustion engines are the domain of dreary bogans or cardigan wearing boffins, in the 19th century internal combustion engines were the the stuff of the adventurous experimenters, ‘road tested’ through staggering feats of exploration and challenge. It’s a romantic adventurism we’ve lost touch with. Had Shackleton’s team set off today they’d be tricked out in matching black-and-one-primary-colour polo shirts emblazoned with tired epithets like; “A Good Seal is a Tight Seal!”.

So there you go: Piston Rings. Mr Ramsbottom. Hemp and Hipsters. Happy Monday, people.