For some, it’s spiders or public speaking. For others, it’s being un-friended on Facebook or Jar Jar Binks returning to the Star Wars franchise. My biggest fear is to be stuck with nothing to read. So, my pockets are always lined with newspaper and magazine clippings to peruse during a quiet moment. I found myself in such a state while waiting for the start of mass at Christmas time. Prayers done, I dipped into my pocket and randomly pulled out a piece on Percy Grainger and his whips: ‘How sadomasochism inspired Australia’s greatest composer’. His fugues rather than flagellation interest me. Despite the incongruity with my surroundings, I read on. After all, I was in a ‘broad church’ church.
My fetish for clippings extends to printed headlines inspired by lines from Shakespeare. The bard habits of subeditors were on brilliant display over the holidays. Malcolm Turnbull was expected to endure a ‘summer of discontent’ while across the Pacific ‘the crown lies uneasy on the head of the US President’. In contrast, monarchists ‘Cry God for Harry and Australia’, with the popularity of the young royals battling back support for a republic. Property developers bemoan being under constant regulatory assault yet ‘methinks they doth profit too much’, whereas the mania surrounding bitcoin has produced a genuine ‘to trade or not to trade’ dilemma. And whatever you think of the ‘much ado about #metoo’ movement, it’s a ‘brave new world ahead’ for the entertainment industry and just about every other one too. Wily Will continues to make sense of our world. Just as I like it.
It took a season or three, but I also like the Big Bash League. I don’t know if it’s cricket but it’s great entertainment. And addictive. Except for the bit about wearing an empty bucket of fried chicken on your head. My favourite team is the Hobart Hurricanes. It might be because they’re clad in imperial purple, the colour of the Caesars. Nero decreed that the wearing of purple by anyone other than the Emperor was punishable by death. Death certainly came to the unfortunate species of sea snail – the murex – found off the coast of modern Lebanon from which the colour originated. Thousands of the creatures had to lie back and think of Rome while being crushed to produce the dye for just one toga. I’d be content with a crushing win over the Perth Scorchers. According to the commentators, almost every player can ‘hit a big ball’. Surely, they mean ‘hit a ball big’. A ‘big ball’ is something only Steve Smith sees given his gargantuan accumulation of runs this season. I wonder when bowling machines will take over the role of bowlers. Let’s face it, it’s not called the Dot Ball League.
One of the joys of being on holiday in Sydney over summer is playing tourist in your own town and visiting the city’s galleries and museums. The Australian Museum, Australia’s oldest public museum, is a favourite and the recently restored Long Gallery (home to the Bone Ranger and other skeletal marvels) is magnificent. The Long Gallery is displaying 200 Treasures of the Australian Museum, which showcases 100 of the most important and intriguing objects in the collection and 100 people who shaped the nation. One of the objects is Australia’s first bank note, on loan from Westpac. The bank helped fund the restoration and now has naming rights over the Long Gallery. Westpac customers even receive 25 per cent off the price of admission. It’s almost enough to waive the Royal Commission.
I learn something new each visit. The last remaining large diorama at the museum, showing seabirds nesting on Lord Howe Island, is the oldest natural history diorama in Australia. It was developed in the 1920s and was a forerunner to the awe-inspiring habit dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in New York (think Ben Stiller and Robin Williams in Night at the Museum). Dioramas enrich the viewing experience, providing a ‘you are there’ authenticity. My first stop at the War Memorial in Canberra is always the gallery with dioramas of scenes from WWI. I don’t mind a bit of taxidermy either and the neo-classical splendour of the Long Gallery still has plenty. I was reminded that the zoological name for the study of reptiles and amphibians – herpetology – comes from a Greek meaning ‘to creep’. It occurred to me that this is the same root, as it were, from which we get the word herpes.
I learnt something I should have known (given my industry) at the Rembrandt and the Dutch golden age: masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. The first company in the world to have an initial public offering of its stock, list on an exchange and be truly multinational was the Dutch East India Company, the commercial powerhouse that controlled most of the lucrative trade routes across Asia and established its international administrative centre in Batavia, modern Jakarta. The company had the authority to strike its own coins, establish colonies, wage war, negotiate treaties, even imprison and execute convicts. And we think Google has too much power! I also discovered at this grand exhibition, that the lemon is the most featured fruit in Dutch still life painting. Go figure.
The Dutch, like Australians, are among the world’s best when it comes to airline safety. KLM of the Netherlands and the major Australasian carriers are all among the global top 20 as adjudged by the website airlineratings.com recently. No lemons there. One of the least safe was a Nepalese carrier with a name to suit – Yeti Airlines. Abominable.
It’s time for me to return to work.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free