The saga of Sydney’s Barangaroo has finally reached the point where its twists and turns are no longer predictable. The developer Lend Lease and its resolutely faux design, once paced to a seemingly unassailable lead by a compliant government and a shameless PR operation, has punctured a tire. Without a spare tube or pump, they wait by the side of the road for a team car which itself has been totaled. Meanwhile “sandal-wearing, muesli-chewing, bike-riding pedestrians” are gaining fast. No one knows how many kilometres there are to go. Consider recent events:
The following treatment, provisionally entitled “The Better Part of Valour”, was leaked to me by a source at a major Hollywood studio. In the wake of recent controversy over “The Kennedys” it is an interesting political document. Is Hollywood responding to a change in the American psyche, or pandering to a fake demographic which lives only in the headlines in the New York Times? Will movies for Tea Party folk become the norm? The document I received was stained with pork rind grease in the lower right hand corner, leading me to believe that someone authentically conservative must be involved with the project.
The people of New South Wales have been anticipating the upcoming state election almost since the last election four years ago, never a good situation. As regular readers of our dispatches from Sydney know, the soon to be defeated Labor Government has for the past sixteen years, with its inimitably bland, shiny-suited glee, trashed poor old Sydney. A place which with the slightest effort could be the most beautiful city in the world has instead deteriorated into a kind of Los Angeles without a Raymond Chandler, a Melbourne without intricacy, a Singapore without ambition.
One of the most urgent tasks facing the next state government will be the reform of NSW’s broken planning system, a system I saw in action (if that is the right word) during the disillusioning two years I spent in a cubicle at the NSW Department of Planning.
For a long time I was afraid of spiders. My arachnophobia was only cured by moving to a Sydney, a place where some spiders can actually kill you. With the potential of an evil looking funnel web spider under the refrigerator, it seemed silly to recoil at a daddy longlegs. At this time of year — mid-late summer — nonlethal arachnids begin to dominate the bush. With a copious supply of rain earlier this summer, the spiders got an early start. Going down to pick up the paper in the morning means coming back with a web across your face; the same encounter on a bike ride or run is even more unpleasant, especially if you end up eye to eyes with the angry arachnid and its demi-deliquescent protein breakfast. It is one of those moments when you wish nature spoke English — “I’m sorry, but it’s not like wrecking your web gave me any pleasure…”. As the summer progresses we adjust to one another, or they to us; the smarter spiders learn to build their webs up high, with the greatest eight-legged engineers weaving the lowest edges of their webs just above the head of the tallest human.
Amidst the patchy availability of important Hollywood films of the golden age, it’s sometimes surprising what turns up. Douglas Sirk fares better than most directors — his characteristic melodramas are available in well-produced editions. Beyond the famous films of his mature period — Written on the Wind (1956), All that Heaven Allows (1955), Imitation of Life (1958) (perhaps the ne plus ultra of weepies) — some more obscure Sirks are available, gems like All I Desire (1953), curiosities like the western Taza, Son of Cochise (1953), and the fascinating, startlingly bitter screwball comedy No Room for the Groom (1952).
Three weeks after deposing Kevin Rudd, as though ticking off another item on her to-do list, Julia Gillard called a federal election (one of only three winter federal elections in Australian history). I can’t summon the heart to give much of an account of the five week campaign which followed, especially since the twist in the story only came once the votes began to be counted. You really had to be here. The campaign was truly godawful, a complete extinguishing of the hope which had seen Kevin07 elected three years before. Both major parties pandered to the same focus groups in the same few marginal electorates. They peddled small bore middle class welfare and indulged trumped-up fear; they blandly appealed to the most disgracefully narrow-minded tendencies in the darkest marginal corners of the Australian electorate, the people who fear their leaf blowers will not be powerful enough to defend their McMansions against Taliban invasion. It was easy to to believe that the entire country had become, as one correspondent to the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, a Boganocracy.
For a White House in need of a few moment’s levity, recent events in Australian politics might have provided an opportunity for a bit of fun. A meeting was planned between the Australian prime minister and President Obama after the G20 meeting in Canada next week. A supreme prank could have been devised whereby the president’s aides agreed not to mention Australia and somehow deprived their boss of any news thereof, surely not too difficult with more pressing business at hand. On the day of the meeting, the Oval Office door would have opened and instead of his good mate Kevin Rudd, in would walk a smiling redhead, Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Alas this prank will never come to pass. Obama thankfully seeks out his own news, and in any case after this week of extraordinary upheaval in Australian politics, the newly sworn in Prime Minister Gillard is far too busy to travel overseas.
If you go to church this Christmas, you will very likely hear, either as a passing remark, or even as the topic of the sermon, some lament about how secularized, [ … ]