13 October 2009

"Fredy Neptune - a novel in verse" by Les Murray

Below is my review of Les Murray's novel in verse, Fredy Neptune. I finally finished it last night and have been captured by its spell of poetic mastery. I reckon its a candidate for "the" Australian novel. There might be some resistance to that because it is not written in prose. But who said a novel could not be a poem?

Fredy Neptune: A novel in verse

By Les Murray.

This novel was first released in 1999. It is arguably a candidate for “the” Australian novel. It is in verse. That is, it is written in eight line stanzas with a semi-rigorous metrical beat. Do not be daunted. You quickly forget that you are reading verse, and it is more than worth any little initial effort. The compression and lyricism that the poetic form allows, provides a loadstone in which Murray lavishly embeds polished gemstones of insight and he creates a word music that mere prose would labour too hard to emulate. It makes for a spectacularly rich and multi-faceted yarn, filled with action and drama a plenty, a driving narrative and humanistic and spiritual reckoning.

Fredy Neptune is the circus name given to Friedrich Boettcher, a German/Australian child of the rural back blocks, who travels the twentieth century world as a farm labourer, sailor, circus performer, film extra, Zeppelin crewman, fisherman and confidant of the famous and the forgotten. Fredy is infused with much of the flavour of Les Murray’s own life. But here he is nothing less than an Odysseus, an Aussie Homer Simpson like everyman, with superhuman strength and a Forest Gump like bent for bumping into history. His is a rough journey. He gets marooned in foreign lands unable to return home to wife and family, battling a hostile and implacable universe of forces beyond comprehension, indifferent to all caught in its sweep. We traverse the Great War, the Depression and the Second War; via Constantinople, Jerusalem, Paris, Switzerland, Hollywood, Hitler’s Germany, Soviet Russia, Shanghai, Egypt, Japanese occupied New Guinea, Queensland, Sydney, Newcastle and Dungog; befriending and alienating a large cast including Marlene Dietrich, Lawrence of Arabia, Chaim Wiezman, Basil Thoroblood and a mentally handicapped German boy Fred smuggles out of Germany and brings back to the Hunter to protect him from Aryan cleansing.

In metaphor, and in the telling, Freddy is confronted by some of the twentieth century’s worst moral atrocities, loses all feeling as a consequence and then struggles to find a way back to emotional and physical wholeness. He heals himself only when he realizes he needs to forgive the victims: Jews, the disabled, women, Aborigines. Only once he finds that he has forgiven them for the responsibility that he, as a non-victim, feels for their plight, can he “pray again with a whole heart”.

But this book is not turgid, stuck up or intellectualised. It is a tale that is, above all, Australian. Its idioms, its pre-occupations, its world view could only have been conjured by an Australian with a love for story telling and a poetic genius of Les Murray’s gifts. Read this Australian Ulysses without being intimidated. The great Dublin novel by the incomparable Joyce remains without peer, but this Australian homage to Homer’s epic poem, is also delight to read, especially to an Australian ear.


08 October 2009

Cambridge: Political correctness is insane

I was going to post on the delightful news, via Garth Godsman, after a lengthy and curious embargo by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, that another dead specimen of the "extinct" Australian Night Parrot, has been found in Queensland . This is great news for ornithologists and Monty Python fans. It is also a refreshing change to have some developing news from the natural history world that is not yet another tale of environmental woe or human devastation (excepting that this night parrot was found decapitated by fencing wire).

There's been another piece of apparently good news that recently almost broke. It seems that based on satellite data this summer's Antarctic summer ice melt was at an all time recorded low. Presumably this means that waterfront property will continue to hold its value and Governments will now not have to spend taxpayer funds on the engineering works necessary to hold back the tides. This good news for mankind seems further enhanced by a developing understanding in scientific communities that the scary data the IPCC relied on for its frightening "hockey stick" projections for global temperatures in its 4th Assessment report, looks to have been flawed. This suggests that, if we do in fact have a global climate change problem, we could at least now have some time to solve it without going broke.

But amongst this good news is some more truly awful news from the UK today, via Drudge: the Cambridge University Union has just cancelled its scheduled debate on political correctness at which the radio jock Michael Savage was going to participate in via video link from the US.

I posted in May this year about my disgust with Her Majesty's Government that they saw fit to ban a radio jock in the US from entering the UK because they don't like what he can freely say on the airwaves in the US. I've never heard the guy speak so I can't comment on whether I agree with him or like him. That is beside the point. It does seem pretty clear that the Home Office is not accusing him of recruiting terrorists or inciting the violent overthrow of their government or any government. It looks like they simply think he is a right wing redneck loud mouth who doesn't like gays or liberals and says so to a large radio audience in the US. And they somehow think that justifies banning him from the UK. Where is this coming from and going to, I ask you?

I was subsequently heartened by the good news that the Cambridge University Union had invited him to participate in one of its prestigious public debates. He was to speak against the motion that "This House believes Political Correctness is sane and necessary" . Here is what the CUU said in its invitation to Mr Savage dated July 2.:

“ ... The Cambridge Union has been following you with great interest in recent weeks ... The decision to ban you has caused quite a stir and we are keen to know how your situation progresses ... "

Well not anymore. Here's what the CUU said in withdrawing its invitation by email on 7 October:

" ... It is with great regret to inform you of the difficult decision we have taken to cancel the event... We have reconsulted with our counsel, and been informed that there are numerous legal issues with Dr Savage speaking here, ... and so because of all of the technical, financial and legal problems involved, we have come to the reluctant conclusion that the event cannot proceed. ... "

Did you notice those chilling words "... reconsulted with our counsel". So it seems that CUU had initially consulted with counsel, presumably before it sent the invitation, but decided to consult with counsel again after its invitation was accepted (why would they do that?), and counsel then changed their counsel.

Just to spell it out for those who persist in believing that the good intentions of legislators and bureaucrats are enough to protect people from the pernicious evil of widely drafted, selectively enforced, politically correct laws; this is yet another travesty of justice.

The thing speaks for itself, but I will take the liberty to speak for it here nonetheless, lest this event not speak clearly enough to some.

A citizen of the US who had been banned from entering the UK, by its Home Secretary, for speech in the US that was legal in the US, is asked to participate by video link from the US in a public debate at Cambridge University in the UK on Political Correctness. The University subsequently withdraws the invitation because it receives legal advice that having that person participate in the debate in the UK will cause legal problems for the University.

The good news for Cambridge University is that it now doesn't have to go to the expense and bother of having a debate on whether Political Correctness is sane and necessary. The very fact that the University has chosen the timourous course, by acceding to the latest version of the vacillating advice of its counsel that it now not allow this previously invited person to speak at the University via video link on this issue, wins the case all by itself for the side arguing that:

"This House believes Political Correctness is insane and unnecessary".

The bad news for British citizens is that there is now no debate on whether Political Correctness in the UK is at insane levels.

Britain is now pretty much a totalitarian state. After 12 years of Labour government its citizens may no longer hear words spoken by people the Labour government doesn't like or agree with.

Fortunately this totalitarian Labour government can now be removed at the ballot box. Democracy is an escape valve against perpetual tyranny. It not however a safeguard against the tryanny of the elected, if the elected do not see themselves as having a responsibilty to protect freedom, between elections. Freedom is a higher order ideal than democracy. Democracy is just the least worst process we have found for keeping in check the necessary evil of government authority.

01 October 2009

Earthquake tsunami floods explosion

Amidst the current surge of disasters in our region with tsunami in Samoa, quakes in Sumatra and floods in the Philippines, which provide more incontrovertible signs of the impending and inevitable Anthropogenic Continental Drift catastrophe, there is some good news for the Federal Labor Government.

This disaster deluge has provided the cover necessary to release the long awaited results of the NT Police investigation into the deaths of five asylum seekers in April 2009. You remember this don't you? The media was playing out its carefully crafted narrative that these desperate boat people were all tragic victims of turmoil in far away places who required our sympathy and support not hostility and rejection. The increase in their numbers arriving here was not due to a perceived softening in the Government's stance, but to heightened troubles in the world.

And then there was an explosion on a Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel. It burnt to the waterline killing five refugees and injuring twelve, whilst under tow by the Royal Australian Navy. The early indications then were that it was self destructive act of sabotage by the asylum seekers. But before this narrative busting fact could take hold whilst fresh and new, the Federal government went into overdrive to declare that the full circumstances were too complex to determine. A full enquiry by the NT Police was to occur and they, the Labor Government, would have nothing to say until the NT police reported.

Well here we are five months later on 1 October and the Police report is in:

"A BOAT that exploded killing five suspected asylum seekers and seriously injuring dozens more off the Territory coast was deliberately doused in petrol and set alight. Northern Territory Police - who headed the investigation into the blast - have revealed on completion of their investigation into the fatal blast that the explosion was a result of sabotage."

So the early indications were right all along. The press didn't need to be muzzled after all. Is the Government going to comment now? Or will they be "cautious" about rushing to judgement again and await the outcome of coronial inquiry. The SMH report:

"The Northern Territory coroner, Greg Cavanagh, will hold an inquiry into the explosion early next year. "

So if the inquiry starts next year it could be even be able to publish its findings as soon as 2011. We can all wait 'til then I guess. Meanwhile.