Turnbull the blackbird has been obsessing me, stealing what’s not his. He’s hovering by a nest right outside my study window that was actually built by a wattlebird. Whenever the wattlebird flies off for more food, Turnbull jumps onto the nest and seemingly snatches goodies from the mouths of the three fledglings, beaks gaping for more. Steve Price, my 2GB co-host, is so sick of me suddenly shouting GETOUTOFTHERE mid-broadcast (I’m on the line from home) that he gets an animal rescue expert on our show to help me chase off Turnbull. The expert tells us he’s seen nothing like this thievery before. He doesn’t follow politics.
Only later do I learn from a radio listener that the male wattlebird looks spookily like a blackbird. Oh no.
I’ve been cooking for two days for the annual Bolt Report Christmas party, thrown by a bloke once too shy to invite anyone to anything. The only thing now making me nervous is the likely reaction to Kees the keeshond, who we had to have shorn after letting his fur get too matted. Poor thing: he now looks like a koala, or so I prefer to imagine to ease the shock of seeing such a handsome dog reduced to this spectacle. Anyway, Kees the koala hovers at my feet in hope as I cook three moussakas, a lamb and pumpkin casserole and two fennel sausage casseroles with potatoes and lemon. Not party food, but I always prefer comfort to style, and no more so than with food.
But first, there’s my last Bolt Report of the year to put to air. I jump in the car at 6.15am to get to the Channel 10 studio. I’ve always considered dawn the most wonderfully virtuous time of the day, especially if I’m going to work down still-sleeping streets. I had these early starts even as an 11 year old delivering newspapers in Darwin on my Malvern Star bike, and, later, helping to release a carriage-load of racing pigeons in the rosiness of a desert dawn in Tarcoola, when we lived in the middle of the Nullarbor Plain. Later still, I’d be driven east of Tailem Bend down a dirt road to a shearing shed lit by the rising sun, or I’d start picking apricots along the Murray in that brief coolness before the heat set in.
As I drive to the studio I tune in to the ABC – a guilty indulgence for an otherwise absolutely loyal Macquarie Radio person – to catch 10 minutes of Macca on Australia All Over. This connects me not just to all those other dawn starts of my country past, a centering before show time, but also to the kind of Australians I like to imagine I’m sticking up for. I’m talking about the early risers. The slow talkers. The people who see honour in labour. Who see the sun rising and hear the birds heralding, and feel glad for a new day and excited for what can be done with it.
The show is filmed and the incredibly supportive staff thanked. I sprint home to finish the cooking. The party is a blast, despite much sighing for Tony Abbott from the political guests, including the Labor frontbencher who last year looked considerably more optimistic. At least the fledglings have flown and Turnbull is gone.
Guests gone and house clean again, I duck out to the preview of the latest Mossgreen auction to squiz at two works by Richard Crichton, an 80-year-old artist from Eltham I met last year at Rod Eastgate’s gallery. Such a nice man. From Rod I bought Blue Christ, which Crichton did more than 60 years ago, hoping to enter it in the annual Blake prize for religious art and make his name. Sadly for the teenage artist, he couldn’t find the cash to send over his big canvas. Happily for me, I now have the painting Crichton kept at his home, where it was admired by the likes of Albert Tucker and Arthur Boyd. I asked Crichton how he felt at seeing it so many years later, in Rod’s gallery. He studied it and answered in a tone of wonder: ‘I don’t know how I did it.’
I was a bit cross to find one of his two paintings at Mossgreen had suffered rough handling, leaving it with a couple of chips and scuff marks. I hope to give it a more loving home.
A party guest surveys the paintings on my walls. ‘Eclectic,’ he murmurs diplomatically to my wife. My wife is far blunter. True, I must stop buying with the eye of a magpie and the tight wallet of a Dutchman out for a bargain. But my mid-life art obsession has left me with something far richer than this jumble. My eyes have been opened to colour. This year, driving to the beach I’ve seen Jason Benjamin skies, Tim Storrier clouds, a Jeffrey Smart overpass, Streeton-blue seas and a dab of green fields in the hazy hills over the bay that reminds me of Clarice Beckett. One afternoon, just for a moment, the heavens even seemed to turn that peculiar green van Gogh painted at San Remy.
I’ll spend much of my holidays working on a documentary with Linda Burney about indigenous recognition that Simon Nasht is making for the ABC. The temptation to appear in the homes of horrified ABC viewers was just too great. But now I am fretting. Filming starts tomorrow in my home, to capture the ‘real’ me before we visit various Aboriginal and Maori communities. I must make sure the real me is charming and utterly non-confrontational for every on-screen minute of the four weeks of shooting. I’m told Linda is pleasant. She also has advantages of gender and ‘race’ that leave me cast inevitably as the villain. Worse, for reasons of privacy and security, none of the family will be filmed with me to show I really am human, and Kees looks like a hound from hell. And can I really keep smiling beatifically until 2016?
Andrew Bolt is a columnist with the Herald Sun and host of The Bolt Report.
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