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It was Peter Slipper’s turn today. ASHBY v SLIPPER. Day 2.

It was Peter Slipper’s turn today in Day 2 of the Ashby v Slipper Appeal. Slipper was represented by well-known Sydney silk, Ian Neil SC. He had to wait for twenty minutes or so while Michael Lee SC endeavoured to add further to his submissions from yesterday.

The issues Lee wanted to expand on were questions about the urgency of Ashby’s application preventing Ashby and his representatives from pursuing all alternative remedies available to him on the sexual harassment issue.

Lee also raised the question of whether there was evidence given on what was in the mind of Michael Harmer on the question of ‘genuine steps.’

He got short shrift from Justice Siopis. As Mr Lee had a right of reply following Ian Neil’s submissions it may have been more circumspect to wait until then to raise these issues.

It is the role of Mr Neil SC to argue that the decision of Justice Rares is correct and should stand. He outlined in order nine subject headings raised in the written submissions of Ashby and Harmer he wanted to address.

“The best laid plans of mice and men …” on paper this would have looked neat and logical. In reality their Honours were feisty and challenging. For most of the remainder of the morning Neil’s oral submissions were punctuated with rugged questioning as we bounced from issue to issue making it increasingly difficult for those few from the media and the general public present to follow with any confidence.

At no stage did Mr Neil show any impatience with or discomfiture by this morning’s proceedings. It is worth noting that he didn’t wilt under the pressure either, but continued to argue the merits of his case.

Neil started his oral submission considering the questions of procedural fairness as raised in the Ashby submission. In his decision Rares J is satisfied Slipper established that Mr Ashby had combined with one or more of the persons named as part of the conspiracy that would result in his finding ‘an abuse of the process’.

Justice Gilmour asked whether it only related to Mr Harmer. Mr Neil’s answer took the court down a grammatical path. A definitive “No Your Honour” was his response. The relevant paragraph in Rares’s decision ‘has to relate conjunctively/disjunctively with each, some or all of the persons named… It’s inelegant English but it’s not bad syntax and its meaning is clear.’ His Honour didn’t continue asking questions about sentence structure.

The grammar lesson set the tone of the rest of the morning’s hearings.

Rares J found in his decision that Mr Harmer wasn’t part of the conspiracy to abuse the process of justice that he was then an innocent party in bringing the court into disrepute. However, Rares was very critical of the ‘professional conduct’ of Mr Harmer commencing with his drafting of the originating application.

Justice Siopis asked whether it was legitimate to question the decision’s criticisms and their severity of Mr Harmer on professional grounds. Mr Neil replied that Mr Harmer was ultimately responsible for both the 2003 allegations and the Cabcharge allegations being included in Mr Ashby’s originating application. Both of these allegations were abandoned in Mr Ashby’s 15th May 2012 statement of claim.

Of course by then these allegations had become font page news as they formed part of the originating application.

Suddenly we were off track again and trying to ascertain Mr Harmer’s purpose in the inclusion of both the 2003 allegations and the Cabcharge allegations in the originating application.

Neil was steely in arguing that there was just no legitimate forensic purpose to the inclusion of 2003 allegations. It is just ‘salacious detail’ with no illegality or wrongdoing on Mr Slipper’s part, and ‘which can’t give rise to any legal consequences or any cause of action.’

Bounce. Bounce. Suddenly the court’s in the middle of discussing Mr Ashby’s predominant purpose which Rares found, after looking through a truckload of text messages and emails, to be the intention of bringing Mr Slipper into disrepute.

Mr Slipper was representing himself when these issues were raised before Justice Rares. Mr Harmer went into the witness box, and Mr Ashby could have been called by Mr Slipper, but wasn’t. Both men were not cross-examined by Slipper as to their intent. All their Honours have raised, through thorough questioning, the lack of cross-examination by Slipper of both Ashby and Harmer, which would indicate it could be a problem.

The difficulty of hearing concurrently both an application for leave to appeal and the substantive appeal itself, was made abundantly clear when Mr Neil suddenly raised arguments against Mr Harmer being given leave to appeal the Rares decision.

The morning came alive, and stayed on topic when Mr Neil raised the question of Mr Harmer’s ability to appeal as a non-party. He argued that Mr Harmer didn’t have a ‘sufficient interest’ in the matter to appeal.

Neil argued that despite the fact the Rares J raises questions with regard to the professional conduct of Mr Harmer, such findings in themselves have no legal effect. The right to appeal can only happen if and when orders were made against Mr Harmer. They haven’t.

Neil went on to state ‘there is no authority anywhere’ that supports a non-party being given leave to appeal if he doesn’t have ‘sufficient interest’ nor does Mr Harmer meet any of the tests outlined in the Federal Court Rules, 2011.

The implication of Mr Neil’s point was clear. If their Honours grant Mr Harmer leave to appeal they will be creating a precedent that could well open the flood gates to aggrieved third parties who may be mentioned adversely in findings.

Justice Mansfield went from saying ‘that doesn’t sound right’ and for the first time in the morning’s session their Honours became very quiet as the implication of Neil’s point sank in.

The remainder of Mr Neil’s arguments in support of the Rares decision seemed almost inconsequential by comparison. It dealt with the General Steps Statement and the matter of Ashby’s perceived urgency.

The right of reply by both Mr Lee and Mr Pritchard were thankfully brief. Mr Pritchard endeavoured to counter Neil’s arguments against granting Mr Harmer leave to appeal. He raised the issue of natural justice, which had already been dealt with by Neil in his original written submissions.

Mr Neil earned his money today.

The matter is now for the consideration of the Full Court. These are the options they have before them.

1. Neither leave to appeal is successful and the Rares decision stands;
2. Harmer’s leave to appeal is unsuccessful but Ashby ‘s leave to appeal is successful but Ashby loses the appeal and the Rares decision stands;
3. Harmer’s leave to appeal is unsuccessful but Ashby wins both his leave to appeal and the appeal itself. The result is that the trial of Ashby v Slipper is then heard in full;
4. Harmer and Ashby win their leave to appeal, but lose the appeal proper and the Rares decision stands;
5. Harmer and Ashby win both their leave to appeal and the appeal proper. The result is that the trial of Ashby v Slipper is then heard in full. Slipper will be open of to pay legal costs for Harmer as well as Ashby.

Your guess is as good as mine as to how their Honours will find in this case. Options 2 and 3 provide easier alternatives without creating a precedent for which the rest of the legal fraternity won’t thank them.


Steve Rodgers (Dave) and Elizabeth Nabben (Rachel) in the STC's production of DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES.

Steve Rodgers (Dave) and Elizabeth Nabben (Rachel) in the STC’s production of DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES.

The Sydney Theatre Company has a little gem in DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES now playing at the Wharf 2 theatre.

This play is for every bloke who tells his wife he can’t dance because of two left feet, and every wife who’s heard the excuse a thousand times. Do yourselves a favour and get your collective arses off to see DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES. It is a play where you laugh frequently, go ‘awhhh’ a lot, and are even moved to near-tears in a few scenes.

The play is a two-hander. Dave is a widow who’s a little gormless and most certainly a klutz. His body seems to move one or two beats behind the normal rhythm of life. All Dave wants to do is dance better at parties. He’d like to be able to steer a woman around the dance floor without being embarrassed. Dave wants to get a little bit of a life. The play is the journey he takes to get that and more along the way.

Steve Rodgers is Dave. His performance is subtle, breathtakingly honest and delightful. His comedic timing is perfection-on-a-stick as is his one-beat-behind dancing. This woman wanted to pop Dave into my handbag and take him home. Rodger’s Dave is very endearing.

Elizabeth Nabben plays the Latin ballroom dance teacher with such skill you’d swear she’s been doing this all her life. All the exaggerated movements of those professional ballroom dancers are on display. She too goes through an emotional journey, which is bittersweet and a joy to watch unfold.

The story line for DANCE BETTER AT PARTIES comes from director Gideon Obarzanek’s interviews with middle-aged men who were attending a dance studio.

The play’s duration is less than 90 minutes long so it doesn’t have to be a late night. The play ends 11th May.’s-on/productions/2013/dance-better-at-parties.aspx

WHO or WHAT WAS ROSEBUD? … Well, come closer

CITIZEN KANE  (1941) Poster

CITIZEN KANE (1941) Poster

The Dendy Quays has reintroduced their ‘Autumn Allure’ showcase of old films. Every Monday at 10am or 6pm for $9 ($7.50 for members and even cheaper if you possess a Senior’s Card) you can delight in seeing a classic.

To be able to view with an audience such films on a big screen as ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, films that you have come to know well from constant reruns on the small screen, is nothing short of the occasional revelation and always a joy. You do miss a lot of on-screen business when viewing is confined to the small screen.

Last Monday was Orson Welles’s CITIZEN KANE’s turn. It was an old film print, which snapped half-way through requiring a hasty splice and dice before the film recommenced, and with the audio snap crackle and pop of an old print.

As I sat through this film I had to keep reminding myself that it is over 70 years old. The screening reinforced why it keeps winning the greatest film lists. Every component of the film-making process is just brilliant.

Of course assisting the film’s ability to remain as fresh as a daisy and totally relevant in today’s digital instant-news media world is the film’s narrative of a man who owns and runs a media empire and who becomes totally corrupted in the process until on his deathbed he dies totally alone and with just one word on his lips – “Rosebud.”

The story of Kane’s life is told via a series of flashbacks facilitated by a journalist as he interviews those who knew Kane in an endeavour to discover who or what was ‘Rosebud’.

It’s a simple but effective technique and one that’s become a trifle clichéd. This film is why this story-telling approach is now a cliché. As so much of the story is set in a newspaper it further adds to legitimizing the technique. You never see the reporter’s face, always the back of his head and yet it is this anonymous reporter’s questions and voice-overs that drive the narrative.

The film’s themes are the big over-arching themes of power, wealth, corruption, loss, abandonment, betrayal, and the impact they have on an individual’s humanity. The acquisition of unimaginable wealth, and with that, great power and influence walking hand in hand with the temptations of personal arrogance and corruption.

The perceived betrayal of his mother when removing him from the family as a child is the catalyst for Kane’s ultimate downfall.

Kane, as a boy, leaving home with Mr Thatcher.

Kane, as a boy, leaving home with Mr Thatcher.

The family home may have been poor but there was a level of happiness, contentment and the feeling of being wanted in this simple home that Kane was never able to experience throughout the rest of his life. This loss and sense of betrayal establishes a personally disastrous and unsatisfying pattern of behavior in the way in which he engages with all those with whom he shares a part of his adult life.

The technical aspects of the film were also ground-breaking. They include the use of different lenses, the framing of individual shots, the lighting of each scene giving it a film-noir, quasi-gothic feel, how the moving camera was used with new editing techniques to make those shots work effectively, the use of wipes and soft cuts, and the uncluttered sound track.

Also of interest, with the exception of Welles himself, is the sparse, minimalist, naturalist acting style and qualities of those Mercury Players who are Kane’s cast. In contrast Welles’s chewing the scenery performance further highlights the difference between what Kane can get away with when there are no constraints on his behavior as opposed to the behavior of Joe Ordinary. For Agnes Moorhead and Joseph Cotton, CITIZEN KANE was the break for on-going stellar careers.

Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.

Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.

There are two options that can be pursued by a first time feature film director. The first is to play it safe because you haven’t done it before. The second is to just go for it and it’ll be fine on the night.

Welles had been given a contract by RKO, which gave him total control. His ego made him comfortable with following the latter course. CITIZEN KANE was the immediate result and a revolution in film techniques then followed.

Everyone knows CITIZEN KANE was loosely based on the American media giant, William Randolph Hearst, who hated the film so much he ran a campaign against the film and relentlessly pursued Orson Welles until Hearst’s last dying breath. I still don’t understand as the subject matter of the film could have been far worse. CITIZEN KANE never deals with the Hearst scandal of the mysterious death of Thomas Ince that occurred on Hearst’s boat, the Oneida, in 1924, and which became the subject of the Peter Bogdanovich’s film, THE CAT’S MEOW (2001). One interesting fact about the Ince death scandal is that Louella Parsons walked onto that boat as a hack society writer for one of Hearst’s papers, and walked off it with a life-time contract as a syndicated columnist throughout Hearst’s empire.

Hearst’s campaign against Welles personally and his film in particular almost certainly cost CITIZEN KANE the Best Picture Oscar for 1941. ‘How Green is my Valley?’ is a great melodrama, but ‘Citizen Kane’ it isn’t.


Iconic shot from CITIZEN KANE

Iconic shot from CITIZEN KANE

The film opens and closes with an ultra-extreme close-up of a mustachioed old man whispering the word “Rosebud” before dying. At the film’s end those of us in the audience have come to learn what Rosebud is as the trash of Kane’s estate is confined to the incinerator and we zoom in as a child’s sled with the faded painted name, Rosebud, is reduced to ashes.


However, ancient common gossip that emerges whenever talk gets round to either CITIZEN KANE or the illicit relationship between Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies, suggests that ‘Rosebud’ was the name Hearst gave Davies’s vulva, or to put it more delicately, her private parts.

Whether it’s true or not, it offers a more logical reason for Hearst’s obsessional life-long pursuit of Welles. As the quest to find Rosebud drives the film’s narrative it just adds another layer to be enjoyed as you quietly chortle at the double-entendre offered up in one of the world’s finest films by this outrageous piece of titillating scuttlebutt.


May Gibbs

May Gibbs

I have often wondered why it is that local residents don’t do the touristy thing in the city they call home. When I’m in foreign cities I take great delight in visiting the homes of well-known artists and other historically important persons. My favourites are Charles Dickens house in London, Rodin’s amazing house in Paris and the home of Henry Frick in New York – all now museums. But this sense of adventure and discovering the homes of locally produced artists and persons of note seems to evaporate as soon as one arrives back to Kingsford Smith.
May Gibbs's house, Nutcote, in Neutral Bay where she lived for 44 years.

May Gibbs’s house, Nutcote, in Neutral Bay where she lived for 44 years.

Like the vast majority of Australians over 45 years, my sister and I grew up on the Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, the gumnut babies, written by May Gibbs. These much loved tales were then read to our children from what is now a tatty and very old compilation of these fairy stories. I continued to read the daily comic strip of ‘Bib and Bub’ well into adulthood, never failing to be delighted by the strength of the narrative and the skill of the artist. Yet, I am ashamed to say, I have never visited Nutcote, May Gibbs’s Neutral Bay home for forty-four years until her death in 1969; that is until recently.
The Gumnut Ball

The Gumnut Ball

For the latter part of the Victorian era until well into the 20th century children’s stories with artwork in the Art Nouveau style, quintessentially English fairies, pixies, elves and the like were created by a host of English children’s novelists and readily available in the Australian book market. This was made easy as Australia was part of the English publishing geographical foot print, a legacy of the Imperial reign as I think we still may be, but May Gibbs was among the pioneers who created children’s fairy stories using identifiable Australian flora and fauna. Her first tale was “the Gumnut Babies’ published by Angus and Robertson in 1916.

Art School in 'Little Ragged Blossum'

Art School in ‘Little Ragged Blossum’

I think the first published Australian children’s book was written by Ethel Pedley in 1899 who created ‘Dot and the Kangaroo’, which I always found to be as boring as batshit. Norman Lindsay wrote his wonderful ‘The Magic Pudding’, which wasn’t published until 1918, and is really intended for an older audience.

‘The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ were fabulous stories so beautifully rich in heroes and very scary villains. Who didn’t have nightmares involving the wicked Banksia men? Like most fairy stories Gibbs writes morality tales with lessons to be learnt for, and hopefully remembered by, young children, but there is also substance to her characters and a complexity in her stories. This is why they endure and why adults take as much pleasure from reading them as do children.

The wicked Banksia Man

The wicked Banksia Man

His Nibs, when we were planting a garden at our Jervis Bay beach hut, wanted a banksia tree. I didn’t. He won. To this day I cannot look at our banksia tree without thinking of the wicked banksia men who kidnap naughty Gumnut and Gumblossum babies. What a brilliant use of a bush flower as a character in a fairy story. Might I add when we get bush fires at JB you should see the banksia trees. They go up like a packet of crackers, which was the main reason why I didn’t want to plant one near our house in the first place. We pick the dried banksia cones as they are the best fire starters for our open fireplace.
There’s a wonderful book on May Gibbs entitled ‘More than a Fairy Tale – an Artistic Life’, written by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt, and published by Hardie Grant (2011). It could be easily dismissed as a coffee table book because of the most extraordinarily beautiful reproduction of so many of May Gibb’s illustrations but that would be a serious error.
'More than a Fairy Tale. An Artistic Life' by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt

‘More than a Fairy Tale. An Artistic Life’ by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt

This book concentrates on May Gibb’s early life and the influences that would play a part in her creation of the Gumnut baby adventures. From the backwater that was Perth in the latter part of the 19th century, a precocious talent was given ‘a voice’. Early examples of her talent and skill as a prepubescent teenage artist are shown here, some for the first time publicly, others have not been published for nearly a century. Just for the range and variety of May Gibbs’s work alone this book is a must.

You should see her Christmas card to a friend, which she drew when she was only 9 years old.
STC timetable
May Gibbs was first published in the Christmas Edition of the WA Bulletin in 1889 when she was twelve years old. There are a series of socially satirical cartoons published in Perth’s ‘Spectator’ from 1903, which I especially love.

‘More Than A Fairy Tale’ takes you on her journey until the publication of the stories that we have come to know and love. It deals with her return to England to attend various art schools and colleges to perfect her technique, her connections and friendships with members of and involvement with the suffragette movement.
In addition there are examples of her work used as part of the war effort.

Attempts to create for herself a career meant having to escape the claustrophobia from an overly protective family so typical of late Victorian and Edwardian times, which she did by moving to Sydney.

One of a series of satirical cartoons drawn by May Gibbs under the pseudonym  of Blob. This one was published in 1903 in the WA Spectator

One of a series of satirical cartoons drawn by May Gibbs under the pseudonym of Blob. This one was published in 1903 in the WA Spectator

All are dealt with in an illuminating story resulting in examining the essential elements required in the artist’s struggle to find an environment in which an artist can work freely.

The problem for the two historians who wrote this book is that Gibbs didn’t keep a diary, nor did she seem a regular letter-writer; or if she was, most of her correspondence has been destroyed. What she did do to chronicle her experiences was draw. Her diaries are the sketches, water-colours, pastels, cartoons she left behind.

One example of the exhibits painted by May Gibbs sent to the Paris Exhibition in 1900

One example of the exhibits painted by May Gibbs sent to the Paris Exhibition in 1900

There is the occasional assumption drawn by the authors. The major example with which I have an issue is the chapter on the Paris Exhibition. There’s no evidence she attended the Paris Exhibition of 1900 even though some examples of her work were on display in the WA Court and were very well received. There are no sketches of the Paris Exhibition at all. Yet the authors, understandably, can’t believe she wouldn’t have gone so they make the assumption that she did. I know I’m being picky, but the story is then why isn’t there evidence either one way or the other.
Gumnuts  - a rear view.

Gumnuts – a rear view.

However, despite this lapse they conclude with a brief comparison of the lives of Gibbs and English children’s author, Beatrix Potter. One I found fascinating and for which I’m grateful as I wasn’t aware of the similarities in their lives.

The lives of May Gibbs and Beatrix Potter seem to be totally in sync being lived out at the opposite ends of the planet. Both were precocious talents. Both had progressive political ideas involving conservation and the rights of women. Both were suffocated by the protective constraints of their immediate family (although Gibbs was always given support by her parents when it came to pursuing her artistic dreams unlike Potter). Both women left home to escape parental control. Both were married very, very late in life. Both women became the leading children’s novelists of their time in their respective countries. Both women have, long after their deaths, continued to be beloved by all. Against all odds, they became uncompromising, successful women of independent means whose fairy tales still resonate with the very young and delight the rest of us.

Nutcote, Neutral Bay.

Nutcote, Neutral Bay.

Do yourself a favour and visit Nutcote where so much of May Gibbs’s work is on display. The house is on the harbour with absolutely stunning views that can be enjoyed as you have a Devonshire tea. A lot of her work is here and there are two fascinating little videos, one being her last recorded interview.
The house is an interesting mixture of style. It’s a three-bedroom cottage. The exterior is a Californian bungalow style with Mediterranean finishes. The inside is a good example of the English Arts and Crafts Movement. (A lot of her drawings reflect that in their style in my view). There’s an elegant simplicity in each of the rooms allowing in light as well as the views of either the Harbour or her much loved English garden.
As with any Arts and Crafts house the use of wood in all things dominates the space and is gorgeous. Jarrah wood for all the floors had to be shipped in from the West Australia and, despite their age, look as fresh as a daisy. Beams, skirting boards, picture rails and fireplaces, built in cupboards, all made from cedar. A lot of the furniture on display belonged to Gibbs. Of particular interest is her work desk, and the room she chose as her studio. There is a kitchen with a Kooka stove and a sink and not much else. How they cooked huge meals in those days is a total mystery to me and the other tourists who were visiting. It became a lengthy discussion about what can be achieved in no or little space without kitchen appliances to help. My view is that men didn’t cook in those days so the kitchen was deemed unimportant. But I do remember my grandmothers’ kitchens and they were similarly tiny and inadequate.
Nutcote dining room.

Nutcote dining room.

If you are ever in Chicago go to the University of Chicago and visit the Frank Lloyd-Wright house on campus. As brilliant a designer as he was, his kitchens are hopeless. If he had been a hobbyist cook he would have got stuck in to designing brilliant kitchens and kitchen appliances.

So Sydneysiders as we move towards celebrating 100 years of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie support the good work done by the volunteers at Nutcote and pay this lovely historic house a visit. There is a great collection of memorabilia you can also purchase. It’s bookmarks, coasters and linen tea towels for me. A girl can never have too many linen tea towels especially when they have the cute derrieres of gumnut babies on them.

For those with a slightly warped political bent. Guess who these two are pretending to be Bib and Bub.

For those with a slightly warped political bent. Guess who these two are pretending to be Bib and Bub.

I’d like to thank all at Nutcote for giving us such a special day and permitting me to take some photos without flash for this piece. It’s greatly appreciated.

I’d like to thank Hardie Grant Publishers of ‘MORE THAN A FAIRY TALE, An Artistic Life’ by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt for allowing me to use some photos from their book.

THE SESSIONS: The must-see in what’s left of the year film

Mark O'Brien

Mark O’Brien

Going to see THE SESSIONS which is a movie where the lead character is incapacitated by polio from childhood, was not my idea of a fun time. This genre I usually find to be maudlin, overly sentimental and with enough pretentious affectation that hopes/tends to resonate in the run-up to awards’ season.  As this season is supposed to be the season to be jolly it was apparent this philosophy was not going to apply to our choice of movie. But His Nibs was keen to see it so off we went with me groaning inwardly.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is one of the best films I have seen all year.

I had not seen any advertising, reviews, or the episode that aired some six weeks ago of Australian Story on Ben Lewin the writer-director, an Australian ex-pat now living in L.A., and himself a polio survivor.

The Sessions is such a brave film, and I am not surprised one jot that the film makers had difficulty getting studio and film distribution money or guarantees. Hollywood has two major taboos when it comes to story lines for feature films. The first is having lead characters with a profound disability, unless they are a cute kid. The other taboo is any film taking a  realistic, almost clinical, non-romantic take on sex. At the heart of this film is a story of a profoundly disabled person and his journey to discover all the ins and outs of sex in the optimistic hope of losing his virginity at 38. This film is the double whammy taboo film of taboo films multiplied by a factor of a gigillion.

What I didn’t expect was for the film to be so funny. From go to woe, this film will have you loudly chuckling at the combination of wit through the insightful observations of Mark, our hero, to the repartee in which he engages with all those with whom he shares his adventure. Of particular delight is William H. Macy who plays his local priest and unwilling, although increasingly intrigued, voyeur.

John Hawkes is Mark O’Brien, the journalist-writer-poet who starts his journey when commissioned by The Sun Magazine to write an essay on Sex and the Disabled. The stories he collects cause him to muse “Who are these people?” Their stories provide the catalyst for his own personal journey of sexual discovery. Hawkes is wonderful. You can understand how and why women fall in love with him. I did.

Helen Hunt is breathtakingly gobsmacking as the sex surrogate. She spends a large part of the film naked. Although she has a great body, her’s still obviously is the body of a nearly 50 year old woman. Her sessions with Mark and the relationship that results are important for both our leads. His journey becomes one for her too as she reassesses her relationships, her role and its importance. Her performance is gutsy. Her technique is so deft, so light in touch and nuance, and ultimately, heart-wrenching. Hunt is amazing.

There is no room for malarkey in this film. There are no fancy camera angles, soft lighting, mawkish music and fancy sexual choreography in the sex scenes. There is a truth that can be simultaneously confronting and delightfully engaging.

This film is a joy. There were a number of members of the audience who, quite frankly, didn’t want to leave the cinema delaying the process by chatting, laughing, crying. It is an up-lifting film dealing with two difficult subjects as seen through the eyes of one man. The film is given additional street cred as it is based on a true story. An essay written by Mark O’Brien entitled ‘On Seeing a Sex Surrogate’ was published in The Sun Magazine in its May issue, 1990.

If you miss this film you miss a gem. Apparently it is scheduled for the Moonlight Cinema during the Sydney Festival. It can currently be seen at the Dendy Theatre Quays. 1030am. 445pm Do yourself a favour and play hooky from work to see a great film. When was the last time you did that?

Mark O’Brien’s web page.

Mark O’Brien’s essay


This is a statue of a sleeping Maenid found on the southern side of the Athenian Acropolis. Circa AD117-138. Photo by JE

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens was my favourite museum of all those we visited. It was serendipitous that we visited this museum and were able to see the Antikythera Exhibition.

This is a statue of a kouros made in Naxian marble and found in Souniaon at the Temple of Poseidon. Circa 600BC. Photo by JE

I hadn’t  known where this extraordinary exhibition was when scheduling our trip and it is one I’ve longed to see. It did not disappoint.

Notice the difference in the detail between the two kouros statues despite the mere seventy or so years between their creation.

This is a statue of a kouros in Parian marble. It was removed from the grave of Kroisis and liberated from France in 1934. Circa 530BC. Photo by JE

The inscription on the memorial to this young man reads as follows:

Stop and mourn at the grave of dead Kroisis whom the raging Ares destroyed when he fought among the defenders.”

This museum had been renovated for 2004, and it is fantastic. There is a chronological logic to the way the permanent exhibits are now displayed.

Head statue

Part of a sculpture from the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina Island. circa 500BC. Photo by JE

The written history to each item – where it was found, what its purpose was and its significance to the people at that time – is always informative and often insightful.

A bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon found in the sea off Cape Artemision. circa 460BC. My money is on Zeus. Photo by JE

So many of the archaeological sites we visited had signs stating that the items discovered were now on display at this museum.


The figures depict the leads in the story of Troy. It was used as a funerary urn and painted by Polygnotos in circa 430-420BC Photo by JE

3D comes to Ancient Greece with this funerary relief / statue found near Piraeus. He was Alexos, son of Stratokles of Sounion. Circa 320BC. Photo by JE




We were able to catch up with artefacts from the Temples of Aphaid and Apollo, Aegina Island, the ancient city of Corinth, the Temples of Poseidon and Zeus, archaeological digs on Santorini and Rhodes, sites whose stories were now so familiar to us.

The statue of Poseidon was found on Milos. He is missing his trident but has his trusty helper, the dolphin, next to his right leg. Circa 125-100BC Photo by JE

I hope the many photographs give you the feeling of wandering through galleries filled with the wonders of Greece.

This bronze head of a boxer was found at Olympia. He was a champion and they, the museum powers that be, believe that it belonged to Satyros of Elis, who was the Muhammad Ali of his day. The sculptor was Silanion. Circa 330-320BC. Photo by an impressed JE.

Portrait of a head with speculation as to the identity of the man it portrays. Some say an unnamed poet, others believe it is Attalos II from Pergamon who ruled from 159-139BC. Does he have the face of a poet or a ruler? This was my favourite piece among the main body of the museum as I spent hours trying to decide. His face is so ‘modern’, if that makes any sense. The jury is still out. Photo by JE.

Bronze of the Emperor Augustus (29BC-AD14). This bronze was found in the Aegean Sea between the islands of Euboea and Agios. It is thought to have been cast between 12-10BC. Photo by JE

This extraordinary bronze statue was retrieved from a shipwreck off Cape Artemision in Euboea. It is called the Artemision Jockey and is circa 140BC. Photo by JE

Pan is, as usual, making a pest of himself to Aphrodite with Eros helping her out. Made from Parian marble. Circa 100BC. Photo by JE who was laughing at the scene as she took the photo. Be impressed it came out at all.



This is the famous Gold Mycenean death mask known as the Mask of Agamemnon. Circa 16th century BC.
Photo by JE.

More from the Mycenean Age. Circa 16th century BC. Photo by JE.

However, what made our visit to this museum a knock-out was the Antikythera Exhibition.

The Antikythera Discopvery

A depiction of the Cousteau’s 1976 retrieval of the Antikythera shipwreck and its artefacts from the bottom of the sea. Photo by JE.

In 1900 a sunken shipwreck chokka-block full of Ancient Greek artefacts and destined for Rome in approx 60-50BC was found off the coast of Antikythera.  Many of the relics from this over-laden ship lay scattered on the sea floor.

This is the head from a bronze statue that is now known as the Antikythera Philosopher. Circa 230BC. Photo be JE.

Some of the artefacts were recovered especially bronze statues, glass bowls and ceramics, and clay pottery. Archaeologists knew they didn’t have the equipment to recover most artefacts, especially anything carved in marble as well as parts of the boat itself.

The Antikythera Youth, as it now famously known, is a bronze statue that experts date specifically to 340-330BC. There is so much speculation as to the identity of who it may be that I prefer he remains a mystery with a six-pack. Photo by JE.



In an act of blissful disregard for the bottom line, they left the vast majority of the artefacts at the bottom of the sea until they were able to recover them without causing further damage and further loss of life. A number of the deep sea divers succumbed to the bends.

This is an amazing bowl as it is so stylised with multi-leaved olive branches over the entire surface of the bowl. Photo by JE

Glass Bowl from the second quarter 1st Century BC. Photo by JE.











After more than 70 years since its discovery, Jacques Cousteau was asked in 1976 by the Greek Government to lead a team to finally bring this precious find to the surface.

The  exhibits are displayed well and the story of their recovery is well told. The bronze statues are undamaged.

This is the largest of the glass vessels found in the shipwreck. It is from the first half of the first century BC. I wish I had something to use as a yardstick to indicate how large this bowl is. They didn’t include the dimensions unfortunately. You’ll just have to take my word for it. Photo by JE who nearly chewing gummed her phone on the glass to give it some perspective but refrained.

However, beautiful marble statues have been disfigured by the 2000 years spent underwater.

This statue of a boy is made from Parian marble and is dated in the early part of the first century BC. It is what I call one of the Jekyll and Hyde statues. The boy’s left side has been corroded by the sea organisms while the right side, buried in the sediment of the sea floor, has been preserved and is almost perfect. They are fascinating. Photo by JE.

Those parts of the statues covered by the silt of the sea floor stayed in pristine condition, while those parts remaining uncovered had been under continual attack from salt and marine life, and are damaged beyond repair. These Jekyll and Hyde statues become compelling viewing.

This statue of Hermes is disfigured almost completely except for that part of his face and head that was covered by sediment. It is dated from the early part of the first century BC. Photo by JE.

Glass bowls, jewelry and the minutiae of daily life are also on view. Some in such remarkable condition you stare in wonder.

The Antikythera Mechanism. Its rear view. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Antikythera Mechanism. Discovered in 1901. It was a mystery for decades but is now called the world’s first computer. It is over 2,000 years old. Photo from Wikipedia (bless ’em).



But then you come to the Antikythera Mechanism, described as the world’s first analogue computer. It is an astrolabe. This amazing piece of technology, more than 2000 years old, is what sets the saliva going.




An astrolabe is a mechanical device which calculates astronomical positions. The Antikythera mechanism is ancient and has been dated to  approximately 80BC . It is made up of a number of interlocking bronze gears causing the main mechanism to rotate resulting in the desired astronomical information. There are theories that it was designed and built on Rhodes which was the centre of studies in astronomy, engineering and the sciences at the time. All inscriptions on the device are in Greek.

This is a model designed by Ioannis Theophanidis in the 1930’s. Photo by JE.

To underscore the significance of this one single find, the exhibition also includes a whole section on astrolabes.

Price’s Model of the mechanism was designed by Pro Derek de Solla Price and constructed in R. Deroski in the late 1970’s. Photo by JE.




Models of early astrolabes, including Ptolemy’s, are there for the benefit of those who are intrigued by technology and not confronted by being constantly reminded that technology isn’t a modern phenomenon. Reproductions of the Antikythera Mechanism recreated by modern day nerds underscore how extraordinary this one piece is.



The academic responsible for the definitive analysis of the Antikythera Mechanism is recognised  as Pro Derek de Solla Price. The mechanism had been put away with little real understanding of what it did until Pro Solla Price first looked at it in the 1950’s. He published a number of papers but in 1959 he released a major publication called ‘An Ancient Greek Computer’. In 1974 he also published ‘Gears from the Greeks: the Antikythera Mechanism – a calendar computer from circa 80BC’. To demonstrate how he believed the mechanism worked he designed a model which he subsequently donated to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. (see photo above).

Modern replica of what is believed to be Ptolemy’s Astrolabe. Photo by JE.

You can spend an entire day in this one museum especially with the Antikythera Exhibition, which remains there until April, 2013.

Mark Colvin @colvinius kindly referred me to two short videos whose links I hope are below and successfully work. Now you know why I’ve been delaying including them in this blog post. Sometimes technology is a little overwhelming. Not, apparently, for the Ancient Greeks. Please watch these short films. They are fascinating.

This is NATURE’s video on Antikythera Mechanism Part 1

This link is to Nature’s video on the Antikythera Mechanism Part 2.

Digby Wolfe: 1929-2012

Digby Wolfe. c/- SMH


Every now and then the phone rings. It will be a call that can be life changing or open up possibilities for an unexpected journey that enriches the soul.  In August of 1980 I received such a call. It was from Faith Martin, an old friend and one of the nicest and most generous people in the Australian film and television industry. She asked me to send over some of the longer human-interest stories I’d done while working at Channel 7 and Film Australia. Send them I did.  She rang to tell me that Digby Wolfe had a project in mind, had seen my stories, wanted to meet me, and was I interested.

Was I interested?!  Digby Wolfe! You bet.  The first time the name Digby Wolfe entered my consciousness was in the TV show Revue 61 and 62.  My mum was a huge fan.

Off I went to meet Digby. He really was a very good-looking man with a ready smile, firm handshake all wrapped up in an urbane elegance.  But it was his extraordinary blue eyes that struck me. They twinkled and were full of intelligent understanding. Whether you were in a one on one chat in an office or in the middle of a crowded room, Digby would focus only on you and not scan the room to see who had arrived. He had the happy knack of making people feel special, and that whatever you were talking about was so very important it required 100% of his attention.

He was putting on a show. The show’s premise was that every person has at least one good story to tell and we would facilitate the telling. He criticized my existing TV reports because there was very little of me in them. I regarded that as a compliment. I had learnt in an earlier era that if journalists removed themselves from a story, leaving the talent to tell it, they had done their job well.

Digby’s show was going to do the opposite. The interviewer was going to be as much the ‘star’ as the subject of the interview.  He talked about what he wanted to do.  I listened.  I said yes.  I knew that the show would thrust me back into the spotlight for a time, a place in which I’ve never been comfortable, but after my first meeting with Digby I also knew I wanted to work with this man.  My job interview descended into a multi-hour chat primarily about politics, both domestic and international.  Digby was passionate about politics, and any chat would always turn to the current political situation.

Robyn Nevin, Digby Wolfe and me. Photo: Kimbal Baker

The 10 months pre-production and production period, before the show was unceremoniously dumped because of poor ratings, was the happiest work experience I’ve had in my eclectic career.  I worked with the most amazing group of people both in front of and behind the scenes, including Faith Martin, Ray Taylor, Robyn Nevin, Col Joye and Sarah Grant. Frank Hammond, Jebby Phillips, Dennis O’Brien, David Mitchell, Wil Davies, Roseanne Andrews-Baxter, on and on, writers, producers, editors, shooting crews – a funny, warm, generous group of people.  It was a pleasure to go to the production office. There was always the sound of laughter, quick-witted banter, political discourse and the work.

You can tell the measure of a man when he is a boss who inspires loyalty freely given, provides a working environment people break their neck to be in, and who maintains enduring friendships.  That was Digby Wolfe.

Not long after he returned to LA. I had my first child naming her Sophie. I received a telegram from him saying “Agh. A perfect choice”. I had no idea what he meant so I replied “But of course”, hoping that this telegram missive would cover all bases. Unbeknown to me a film was about to be released called ‘Sophie’s Choice’ based on a novel I should have heard of but hadn’t. Six months later when the film was released in Sydney I got the joke. When I had my next child, a boy we named Darcy, I received a telegram from Digby, which said, “Elizabeth would be pleased”. This I understood so my reply was “…as would Jane, I hope.”

My trips to LA throughout the 80’s, whether for work or pleasure, required lunch with Digby at his second home, the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, allowing me to have brushettes with the famous and infamous. The luncheon conversation would start with gossip about family and mutual friends, new films, theatre and show business generally before getting round to politics.  Lunch would finish when we remembered we had dinner engagements.

Digby wore his political heart on his sleeve. His political stance was unashamedly left of centre. He had worked on Bill Haydn’s Federal election campaign in 1980, not long before I’d met him.

He believed in social equality. His view was that governments had a responsibility to ensure the health and overall wellbeing of their people. Education should be available to all enabling talent to be recognized and potential realized. Discrimination in gender, race, sexual preference or religion must always be fought against.  The Reagan years in USA and the Thatcher years in his homeland UK, he found intolerable. A man who was so full of generosity of spirit railed against the meanness that had found a home in politics then and since.

During the mid-90’s our correspondence had dwindled to an annual letter of considerable length about anything and everything, and the odd telegram usually about a new film/play I absolutely had to see. As he said when I apologized for being the world’s worst correspondent, “Joanie, it’s called life”. And Digby Wolfe lived it to the full.

It would have been so easy after his successes in LA with ‘Laugh-In’ and ‘the Sonny and Cher Show’ to have fallen into that two-dimensional schmooze fest that is Hollywood.  He didn’t. He remained an engaging, intelligent, erudite, disarming, witty, fun to be with man, who saw everything in terms of possibilities and potential, who encouraged new talent to try, and old talent to try something new. His unending enthusiasm was infectious.  In a world of costume jewelry he was a diamond of the first water.

I wish I could be in Albuquerque, New Mexico for Digby’s memorial in June. I know it will be peppered with laughter as a life that was well lived and lived well is remembered.  Just know that in Sydney, his OZ family will share a drink as we thank him for letting us be a part of his life, and yes, it will be a cup of Earl Grey tea, black, no sugar and with a slice of lemon.

Digby Wolfe and Laugh-In Producer, George Schlatter.Photo c/- LA Times.

MONA – A must visit.


The Museum of New and Old Art. (MONA)

A visit to MONA is now a must on any bucket list.

Situated not far from the centre of HOBART, this extraordinary museum is a short ferry ride up the Derwent River or a brief car ride to Berriedale, a village-like suburb on the Derwent.

I was in Launceston hanging around with not much to do while His Nibs went to a conference. A friend and I decided to drive the hire car to see MONA, which had only been opened a matter of weeks, and was already receiving rave reviews.  A two-hour jaunt on a very good road through spectacular countryside, saw Margaret and I arrive without once getting lost (a minor miracle).

Whatever I was expecting it was not that which confronted me upon arrival. It takes a lot to make me so gobsmacked that I am unable to speak at all, much less coherently, but MONA succeeded.

On an isthmus jutting out into the river and in the middle of a picturesque vineyard, is a building you cannot see. The entire museum appears to be underground.  The ground floor entrance is like walking into the Doctor’s TARDIS where you are greeted by any number of staff willing to walk, talk and guide you through what you will see over the next few hours.Bottom Level Gallery

The Museum is free, as is the i-pod like audio device, named O, you are given upon entering. It doesn’t matter where you are in the museum there is a GPS tracking device within your O locating your position and up-dating the on-screen information about the exhibits you see around you. Not only does O have information about all the exhibits it also has audio interviews with the relevant artists. I personally could have done without the artists’ interviews, and wished for more of the gossip behind the exhibits; I know I’m a philistine! I have yet to hear an artist bang on about his own work and not put me to sleep, yet they can be so interesting when talking about another artist’s work. WEIRD!

At the risk of sounding churlish, I also would have appreciated the labelling of exhibits with their title and the artist’s name as I subsequently lost my hand written notes of the works I especially liked.

With your O in your hot little hand you take a lift or walk down the easily managed staircase to the bottom floor. The space you walk into is huge and breathtakingly beautiful.  The museum’s sheer size is somewhat overwhelming and on one side is a hewn sandstone wall, a natural feature that dominates the museum. A waterfall spelling out words – simultaneously enchanting and bloody clever – falls down one section of the sandstone enriching the natural spectacle.

The wine bar on the bottom level is a very pleasant way to start your visit. You have a choice of antique chairs or lounges on which to sit while tasting the locally produced wines and gazing in wonder at the scale of this privately funded project.

If this building does not win major architectural and design awards there is no justice in the world!

The exhibits are from the private collection of the extraordinarily generous philanthropist, David Walsh, whose vision and tenacity to get this museum off the ground has resulted in a world class venue. The exhibits are eclectic – from ancient archeological artifacts to pornography that is confronting and will seriously offend some people.  I’m not sure that a video of a man taking a dump is art, however, it may be of intrinsic artistic value to someone-else. In my meanderings through the pornographic section I followed three little old ladies who kept tut-tutting but didn’t cut short their stay in this section, giving it a thorough going over. As they left they were overheard to say ‘that it takes all sorts, … wasn’t the building fabulous,… and where do we find the Nolans?’

All artistic forms, periods and mediums are represented. The visitor is encouraged to be engaged by what they see and participate in assessing the exhibits which you can do through your O device. This museum is without the ‘normal’ theme unless having fun and forcing you to be engaged counts as a theme. Certainly it is a philosophy that other museums and galleries might do well to consider.

There are very good eateries dotted throughout the whole complex; but they are inadequate in size and number. I think the museum has seriously underestimated the number of people who will visit.

As there was a very long queue at the nice looking museum bistro with an interesting range of edibles on show and a good menu, Margaret and I decided to go looking for alternatives on site. We found it in a bar overlooking the vineyard and the Derwent. It had a very limited menu but that didn’t matter a jot because you can create your own anti-pasta platter from the range they have on offer, which we did.

Prosciutto, smoked ham, local brie and kalamata olives, freshly baked sour dough bread and the richest and fruitiest olive oil I’ve tasted in a long while made up our lunch. Margaret had a local white wine (pinot gris) and I had a very, very good coffee. PERFECT! 

Replete, we returned to Launceston and our very curious, and subsequently envious, spouses and friends.

This is a definite must return – worth the airfare and accommodation costs of a weekend (preferably a long weekend). I would like to share the experience with His Nibs and also have more time to meander through this remarkable building with its interesting and varied exhibits.

A serious raspberry as well as a fruity howler to QANTAS who are reducing the number of direct flights to Hobart. Shame on you!

For more information on MONA you can visit their website and the link is:



ENJOY.      J.


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