Old vs new Parliament house

New Parliament House

Canberra is supposed to be a dull place but on a recent visit I found it interesting. I discovered monumental architecture, Australian-style; I noted the noisiness of sulphur-crested cockatoos about the War Memorial; I saw the effects of aggressive hail on trees; and I noted the geography of where the old and new parliament houses stand. I never knew that the old parliament house sits in front of the new one.

Old parliament house has some pleasant gardens on each side. New parliament house has a lawn on top. But the main thing that struck me was the contrast between the two buildings.

I swear I once heard someone say on tv that they preferred the old building to the new and I think I heard a relative express a similar view. I decided that this was just a matter of prejudice. The new building only dates from 1988 so for an older generation the original building is what they grew up with. The famous dismissal of the Whitlam Government on 11 November 1975 was announced on the steps of the old building. But times change, mine is a newer generation and the newer building is where it’s at.

But I had second and then third thoughts about this during my recent visit, and it comes down to the architecture. When I was much younger I just accepted that new Parliament House looks how it does. It never occurred to me that there had to be decision-making about its design. Nowadays I think about such things and from the exterior appearance I genuinely prefer the older building.

It’s not that it’s handsome, though it is not unpleasant to the eye. Nor is it that the building is exactly modest. Rather, it’s that it is not pretentious. It is exactly what it is. It is the building of a country that does not need to boast.

The newer building is much grander but it has the bluffness of a piece of modern monumental architecture making a statement. Which is exactly what it is. It is bold and confident, but also brash.

I eventually concluded that architecture is at least somewhat about storytelling and that’s why I prefer the old one. I prefer the story it tells. However the new building is also essential. Both buildings tell stories about the nation. Neither tells a lie, but nor does either tell the whole truth.

In other words, both accurately reflect the country. Make of that what you will.

The Melancholy Roman

Bad decisions can kill

One thing I never understood about Breaking Bad was how characters could be dumped in the desert but could always walk out of it. Admittedly my own perceptions of deserts were formed by the tragedy of James Annetts and Simon Amos in Western Australia’s Great Sandy Desert in 1986 but my overall impression was that if you got lost there, you died. Nowadays things are sometimes different with the invention of personal beacons but overall deserts remain dangerous.

It’s not just deserts, either. The 2007 film Into the Wild is about Christopher McCandless, who died aged 24 in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. I understand the film puts a romantic spin on what was a tragic series of bad decisions.

Bad decisions can kill. In 2016 the remains of Geraldine Largay, aged 66, were found a scant two miles from the Appalachian trail in Maine. She had gone missing in May 2013 after leaving the trail to relieve herself. Marred by a poor sense of directions she hadn’t been able to find her way back again.

It took her 26 days to die and in the first 24 hours that she was lost she tried to sent two text messages to her husband. Due to non-existent phone signal those texts would not leave her phone – indeed, weren’t even known about until her body was found. It’s now known that searchers came within 100m of her camp at least three times.

But there are older cases. In mid-1979 the remains of 20 year old Tammy Mathre were found in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. She had died the previous summer, believed to have succumbed to the effects of starvation and exposure. It was speculated from diary entries that she had been injured where she was and hence was unable to leave the remote area where her remains were found. She had seen aeroplanes flying overhead and speculated that maybe they were searching for her. In fact nobody even knew she was there. She has simply informed her family that she had gone on a long holiday.

There are probably a few more cases exactly like this that I don’t know about. Indeed, not to be gruesome but there are probably cases like this that nobody knows about. The World War II pilot Denis Copping crash-landed his plane in the Egyptian desert in June 1942 but his fate wasn’t known about until 2012 when his aircraft was found. There was nothing he could have done to save himself. He’d had a mechanical failure.

But the others, unfortunate as their fates were, had made bad decisions that got there where they were. The moral of the story: take care, and take precautions. And never, ever assume that things will not go wrong. Sometimes they will. Also, do not assume that you yourself will not make errors. The cases of Annetts & Amos, McCandless and Mathre come from a different era. Hopefully no one else will have to suffer their fate.

The Melancholy Roman

The Bond Films, part 2

Imagine from loveisspeed.blogspot.com

Continuing the series I started two years ago; better late than never.

You Only Live Twice

So Bond gets fake executed, buried at sea in Hong Kong, carried into a submarine, neatly but predictably requests permission to come aboard, then gets briefed on his mission.

…and is near-immediately dropped off in Japan. Hell, Royal Navy submarines move fast!

One thing that’s interesting about watching the Bond films is that you can spot geopolitical and other trends simply in the themes and locations that the films cover. Thus, the rise of postwar Japan as an industrial power explains Japan as the main setting for the film.

It actually starts pretty well and a real highlight is the delightful Akiko Wakabayashi as Bond’s love interest, Aki. This, funnily enough, is the source of my main gripe with the film. She’s a smart and capable spy herself, saves Bond’s life and falls in love with him. Then she dies taking poison meant for Bond – and he doesn’t seem to care. Never in the entire series is Bond ever a cad more than he is in this movie.

Tiger Tanaka is also a great character, but the slide that leads to his headquarters, and his secret train, are both so incredibly contrived that you can’t take them seriously.

And then there’s Bond disguised as a Japanese fisherman, and that long light sequence atop the volcano.

Don’t get me wrong. I genuinely liked the film. I just think it could very easily have been better.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Famously George Lazenby’s only outing as Bond, and a film wrongly considered by many to be one of the best of the series. Actually, Lazenby isn’t nearly as deficient an actor as is commonly said, and we get something with him that we never had with Connery – at times, his Bond seems genuinely frightened.

Another intriguing detail is that during a lot of the film Bond clearly has an assistance who never seems to be named. According to Wikipedia he is Shaun Campbell. It’s after Campbell’s death and Bond’s flight that Bond is scared.

For me, a highlight of the film is seeing the Swiss locations. Having been several times to Lauterbrunnen Valley I certainly recognised it in the film. Blofield’s lair, called Schilthorn, is an absolute highlight of the Jungfrau region.

Weirdly, the thing about the movie that doesn’t work for me is the love story. After a bit of conflict Bond inexplicably falls in love with Tracy in about 90 seconds flat. And yes, I’m being serious.

And then the film is the love story and the mission story awkwardly pasted together, and it doesn’t really work. And it ends, well… badly.

Still, one bit of trivia that probably isn’t that well known: Gabriele Ferzetti, who plays Bond’s father-in-law, is the same actor who played the crippled rail magnate in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Diamonds Are Forever

This is the movie that Connery made a comeback for. It is unfortunately the one undeniable turkey among the Connery Bonds. I’m not saying it’s the worst Bond film made but it’s certainly down there.

It involves diamond smuggling, it’s set main in Las Vegas, it’s actually quite a dull film, and you won’t believe it’s as bad as it is. But it is. Even the henchman, a pair of gay assassins, are on the nose.

Can I think of anything good to say about the movie? Only the brief scene in Amsterdam when Bond pretends the man who tried to kill him was called James Bond. “You can’t just kill James Bond and get away with it,” says Tiffany Case. Amen to that.

Live and Let Die

Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond and pretty much a return to form for the series. Yes, this one is pretty good.

The Bond films reflect the social more of the times, and it’s no real surprise that Shaft was made two years earlier. We are now deep in the blaxploitation era and boy is that obvious. Felix Leiter is now black. Rather than an industrialist we now have a drug baron as our chief baddie. And for some reason there’s a strong voodoo element.

I suppose the film is an odd fish in that Q does not appear and gadget use is kept to a minimum but on the upside the speedboat chase is pretty darned good and even better, on both occasions where the villain tries to kill Bond in an unusually complicated way, it actually feels pretty natural.

Do I have anything bad to say about the film? Well, the complicated plot whereby one bad guy turns out to be another is pretty contrived. But overall it’s a pretty good effort. Heck, even the theme song is pretty good.

The Melancholy Roman

Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly was a cop killer. He certainly wasn’t a hero.

There, I said it.

On Boxing Day (26 December for the Americans out there) I stopped off briefly at Glenrowan. It’s a small town now bypassed by the Hume Freeway but famous in Australia for being the site of Ned Kelly’s last stand. I went there literally out of curiosity, because I was passing by. But it was 35°C and far less comfortable in the street than the air-conditioned comfort of my car. I stopped long enough to photograph the big Ned Kelly statue that you see above. I also saw the plaque in front of it, part of which reads:

Ned Kelly – Hanged a murderer in Melbourne, November 11, 1880 – not 26 years old – described as a rebel, bushranger by necessity, a bush battler, underdog, sometimes gentleman, sometimes larrikin and a man with a strong sense of family.

In a country born of brutal convict settlement, the Kellys were one of many to suffer the English notions of class distinctions, property and land tenure and Anglo-Irish hatreds. With the continued persecution of his family by the police, Ned fought back. The donning of his armour made from plough mould boards here at Glenrowan, June 1880, made Ned Kelly an Australian Legend.

About an hour away by car I came to the similarly small town of Euroa. There you can find a sign on the side of a building where the bank used to stand. This sign says:

December 10th 1878 saw a daring raid by the Kelly Gang on the 2nd Euroa National Bank, built at this site in 1876.

Ned, Dan & Steve held the bank. Joe stayed at Faithful’s Creek Station 3.5 miles away guarding captives taken the previous night.

The gang took £2,260, gold and 14 hostages in a hijacked hawker’s wagon & spring cart. That night, 37 people were left at the station when the gang escaped into the Strathbogie’s.

The present building was built in 1974 using the original bricks.

One can hardly fault Glenrowan or Euroa playing up their Ned Kelly connections because he remains very famous indeed and the association is good for tourism. However the proclamation of Ned’s heroism, with one notable exception, is completely unjustified. The exception is the time he saved a child from drowning – his one noble act in an otherwise ignoble life.

Ned Kelly was undoubtedly intelligent, almost certainly charismatic, a natural leader and a talented self-publicist. However he was also an unrepentant cop-killer and despite his protestations there was no justification for his criminal acts. Was his family persecuted by the police? Possibly, but then they were a criminal family. There were plenty of other people who lived in the area who didn’t behave as the Kellys did.

The notion of Irish persecution doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny either. Peter Lalor, famous for leading the Eureka Rebellion in Ballarat, was Irish. As it happens, the Eureka Rebellion took place in the same month that Ned Kelly was born. Lalor had been elected several times to the Victorian Legislative Council by the time Kelly was hanged.

Kelly tried to justify his actions in his Jerilderie Letter of 1889. I used to read a lot of true crime and in the letter we hear his voice, which is the same self-pitying dribble used by any other criminal. He never took responsibility for his actions.

The Ned Kelly mythology won’t ever be erased. Too many people have found it useful and the idea of his rebelling against a cruel establishment is attractive to people with their own agendas. But we don’t celebrate the Walsh Street killers, nor the murderers of Gary Silk and Rodney Miller. I don’t think we should celebrate Ned Kelly either.

The Melancholy Roman

The real prize

The Ashes

The Ashes are in Melbourne.

To say “The Ashes” I mean the small terracotta urn that allegedly holds the remains of a cricket bail, ceremoniously burned in 1883 after the first defeat of an English cricket team by an Australian one. The event is rather mythologised and alternate series of cricket matches between the countries are referred to as contests for “The Ashes.”

The actual urn rarely leaves Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Either England or Australia are said to “hold” the Ashes but the urn remains where it is, possession being symbolic. Only three times have the Ashes left England, the first time being during Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988.

The Ashes are currently at the State Library of Victoria and interestingly, this is the first time they’ve actually been in Australia while Australia has officially held them.

The cricketer Peter Siddle saw the Ashes there and despite having participated in several series, admitted he’d never actually seen the urn before.

The Ashes have sometimes been referred to as the most important prize in cricket, an absurd claim considering that only two countries compete for them. Both teams remain important in the game but their era of utter dominance has long passed. The current top ranked team in the world is India’s and is likely to remain so. And yet, the official prize for being the top ranked test team isn’t nearly as famous as the Ashes are.

But then I think of prizes for other sports and indeed, outside of sport. Every year Nobel Prizes are announced for Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Economics and Peace. Every four years there are announced four winners of the Fields Medal.

There are cash prizes for some of these things and the top sports men and women may be very lucratively rewarded indeed. Roger Federer has won 20 grand slams and has received a winner’s cheque each time. The best cricketers make millions. The Nobel Prize is an actual medal and has a cash prize attached. I expect that the Fields Medal is an actual medal, too. I don’t know if it comes with money attached but there is certainly prestige.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter what these prizes look like. Roger Federer probably has a lot of silverware. Michael Phelps, the swimmer, has a lot of gold medals. I could probably google to find a picture of a Fields Medal.

But it isn’t important because it’s not the actual possession of the artefact that matters. Rather, it’s the knowledge of the possession that is important.

The actual Ashes urn is small and appears to be made from terracotta. It is slightly wonky and there’s the suggestion that it might have once been a perfume bottle. Its actual value is negligible. The contents may or may not be the burned remains of a cricket bail. Heck, there might not even be anything inside.

But as with the Nobel Prize or any of the other awards I have named above, its importance lies in the fact that the rest of us know who has it. That’s the real prize.

The Melancholy Roman