The editor rings in a sweat. Tony Abbott was to have written this diary but dashed off to South Africa for the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, taking Bill Shorten with him. Can I scribble something in the few hours before my radio show?
This kind of thing is ticking me off. I mean, there’s the Prime Minister doing the Christian thing, caring and sharing with the opposition leader who’d just called him a ‘liar’, and where’s the credit? Abbott also invited Shorten along to visit our troops in Afghanistan, yet none of the journalists who’d decried his ‘hyper-partisanship’ in the Gillard years praises him for extending the hand across the business class aisle. Indeed, I was bailed up at the chemist this morning by a Liberal who denounced Abbott’s insipid leadership. I wish I’d put up a stronger defence, but Abbott seems to be neither disconcerting his enemies nor cheering his friends. Too much the Christian?
That’s the thing about Christ: great in theory. Those who knew him would have died disappointed he hadn’t led them to something grander on earth than meetings in someone’s back room. Now take Mandela. No Christlike wittering from him about turning the other cheek. He instead formed a terrorist group in 1961 to fight fire with fire. And bombs. He stayed in jail for 27 years because he refused to swear off violence if released. I guess it worked out for him. Mandela became a great healer, yet embraced other men of violence even as president of allegedly reconciled South Africa. He handed his country’s highest award to Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and fellow dictator Suharto of Indonesia. He even hugged the terrorist Yasser Arafat. When I wrote that, Queensland newspapers ran a news story suggesting I was a Nazi — a ‘right-wing attack dog… putting in the jackboot’ into Mandela’s corpse.
George Orwell wasn’t out by much. Not 30 years after 1984, Newspeak is here. I’m a Nazi for deploring political violence. I’m a ‘racist’ for arguing against the identity politics of this ghastly New Racism. And now the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council accuses free speech campaigners like me of ‘dishonesty’ for lacking the integrity to ‘openly defend racial harassment’ — which, it implies, is what we’re busting to indulge in. Two years ago it was all so different with me and AIJAC. I’d been feted for defending Israel against slanders — lightly disguised as ‘anti-Zionism’ — now so fashionable in the media class. When I holidayed in Israel with my family one Christmas, a grateful AIJAC showed us around for a couple of days. But Jewish groups today lead the fight against Abbott’s promised reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act used to ban two of my articles. During my court nightmare a Jewish QC claimed my ‘kind of thinking led to the Nuremberg race laws’ of the Nazis. I recently mentioned this grotesque slur to a very prominent defender of the RDA and was rebuked for seeming to believe in the ‘Jewish conspiracy’. I feel like collateral damage.
This holidays I’ve been grounded by my family. They’ve given me the severest criticism for a conservative: I have not respected tradition. For three years we have not celebrated Christmas at home. Where was our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, with our Salzburger nockerl for dessert? Where were my traditional Mario Lanza Christmas carols, now transferred to an iPod playlist? Ungrateful wretches. Wasn’t spending a Christmas Eve in driving rain in Bethlehem under a gigantic poster of Arafat Christmassy enough? So we shall not go overseas this break. We shall go instead to New Zealand. That doesn’t count. After all, we don’t say we’ve gone ‘overseas’ if we fly to Tasmania – which I will also do.
I’d never considered visiting New Zealand. They speak English there, and then there’s all that scenery. Sorry, but there’s no nature that isn’t made more meaningful by a human’s touch. If mass tourism ever came to Antarctica, I’m certain the number one attraction on TripAdvisor would be Mawson’s Hut. In fact, the only reason my children agreed to New Zealand is that they’ve seen those hills climbed by Hobbits.
Same with Tasmania. It’s not the forests but Anthony Trollope that brings me there. In 1871 this wonderfully sane writer sailed to Australia, where one of his sons, Fred, was a squatter. Among the many insights of his brilliant travelogue, Australia, is Trollope’s description of the difference even then between the cultures of Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne’s botanical gardens, he noted, were ‘a perfect paradise of science for those who are given to botany rather than to beauty’. Sydney’s, however, had a ‘beauty which can be appreciated by the ignorant as well as by the learned’. And so it has stayed: Melbourne priding itself on its brains, the Emerald City on its sensual beauty. Literally, as the twig is bent…
Trollope also visited Tasmania, and talked to the last of the convicts in Port Arthur. One, the gravedigger Barron, lived alone on the Isle of the Dead but told Trollope he dreamt of going to America once his sentence was served, though he was already 60 years old. ‘I have great troubles when I walk about, thinking of my sins,’ he sighed. I want to see that island, so evocatively painted by Rodney Pople — not because it is beautiful, nor even because the late John Daly, a brilliant warming sceptic and school teacher, studied sea level marks scratched in its rocks from 1841 and demonstrated sea rises had been exaggerated. No, I want to see where Barron dug and dreamed. That will give that place meaning. Not the trees but a ghost – my Ghost of Christmas Present.
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Andrew Bolt is a columnist with News Limited papers and host of The Bolt Report on Network Ten.
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