Monthly Archives: May 2015


I wonder if it happened under the Nut? Yes, that Nut. Stanley’s Nut. Was its genesis overseen by that striking North West Tasmanian landmark? It would be lovely to think they fell in love on the rich soils of that corner of our island. Perhaps, somewhat naively, the Scandi-actress is trying to keep her private life well and truly separate from her public, according to reports. It would be a fair bet that it occurred here though – that she and her co-star commenced their relationship in Tassie. Some filming had already been completed over in West Australia for ‘The Light Between Oceans’, the film adaptation of ML Stedman’s best selling book. Ergo, she would have had plenty of time to get to know Michael Fassbender beforehand, presumably having already dumped previous squeeze Alexander Skarsgard. The actress has been hailed as the new Cate Blanchett, such has been her impact, even this early in her time in the spotlight of international film-making. She’s only been in the game since she gave up her dance career, due to injury, soon before making her first movie in 2010. Already she has taken on an eclectic choice of roles across several continents, requiring many variations of accent for the native Swede.’TLBO’ is her second outing to our shores after the brave attempt, but fast disappearing, ‘Son of a Gun’ with Ewan McGregor.


Alicia Vikander first entered my radar, I have since realised, with a turn in the Danish costume drama ‘The Royal Affair’ – a nomination for the best foreign product at the Oscars. She followed that up with ‘Anna Karenina ‘ alongside Keira Knightley, a film not liked in some circles because of its staginess, but one that this scribe really took to. It was through this production she first encountered Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson.

I suspect, though, it will be via her performance in ‘Testament of Youth’ that, sometime in the future, it will be agreed that Ms Vikander really hit the big time. Of course, this is a film version of the memoir by Vera Brittain that came to represent the experience of a generation. It reminded a nation of the appalling effects war has by outlining what happens when utter folly sends young men to charnel houses such as Flanders. Here the author lost her fiancé, brother and several of her friends. Then she, as we discern in the movie, left academia to nurse their wounded and dying colleagues at the front.


Presumably the question needs to be asked. Why not choose a British thesp to play such an important figure in their literary landscape, a quintessentially English character? It’s not as though there aren’t enough commendable natives to take on the task, particularly as in the movie’s two hour running time there is barely a moment when the lead is not required to be the focus of attention. That question outstanding, the Scandinavian gives a flawless turn as the wordsmith who later became a leading pacifist. In her outing we see the new woman of her times, breaking away from the subservience required by the social system of Edwardian days – one dominated by the male gender. It was a transformation for many that followed on from the groundwork completed pre-war by the suffragette movement. Girls like Vera certainly did not know their place. Although there were set backs to the cause, as the current television series of ‘Mr Selfridge’ is demonstrating, the tide was starting to turn.

It is worth noting that, in preparing for her role, Alicia was bought into the orbit of Shirley Williams, a doyen of British Labour – who also happens to be the daughter of Vera Brittain. She was therefore well primed for the film. Although one could point out that, although it was certainly demanding, playing the gritty, determined lead was well within the range of this new, luminous screen presence. The film itself truly brings home the senselessness of that conflict, of all conflicts. It is superb. It is very moving.


It’s probably too late to give such advice in a year already awash with commemorative film and television paeans to the Great War, but if there is one worth your viewing time, it is this production. Told completely from our heroine’s perspective, it doesn’t focus on battles or gallantry in the face of impossible odds, as so many do, but the aftermath – the human toll on mind and body of the killing fields. It’s films like these that should be watched by the pollies before they decide, yet again, to put our young men and women in danger’s way.

And now for something completely different featuring Alicia V. In ‘Ex-Machina’ this beautiful actress becomes an android. It’s a clinically cool imagining from first time writer/director Scott Garland. The only aspect of the film that may have been a stretch for gifted Vikander could have been the costume and make-up she was expected to don – and maybe the nudity towards the end. Think a mix of ‘Metropolis’, ‘Her’, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ and even ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’ and you have a taste of the flavour of this offering. Initially the movie is an epistle to man’s desired control over women, even if (spoiler) they all turn out to be mechanical ones. Wide-eyed Caleb (here Ms V is reunited with her ‘Anna K’ buddy Gleeson) is bought to an isolated laboratory, set deep in the forests of some undisclosed country, to run artificial intelligence tests on the human-like outcomes of semi-alcoholic digital genius Nathan’s vision of the future. This character is played, with relish, by Oscar Isaac. This creator of gorgeous women may be possessed of a great mind, but he is one total sleazeball and not to be trusted. Nathan has Caleb wrong – he’s not a totally mindless nerd in thrall of his misogynist boss. Caleb is sensitive enough to discover he has feelings of sort for Ava (Vikander) and starts plotting her escape from Nathan’s devious clutches.


I must say for the first half this movie is a bit of a plod and alone, in an icy cinema room at the State, I was struggling to hold interest in it. But as the conditions slowly thawed and Caleb starts his machinations for freeing Ava, events on screen hot up, It becomes quite watchable for all sorts of reasons, none the least being the antics of Nathan’s sexy, mute offsider Kyoto (Sonoya Mizuno). It all climaxes in fascinating, pot-boilerish ways. Just who will win out?

And now take a gander what we have to look forward from this exquisite actress from films already in the can or listed for production. She’s in Guy Ritchie’s new take on ‘The Man From UNCLE’, is with Eddie Redmayne in ‘The Danish Girl’, Christoph Waltz in ‘Tulip Fever’ and, of course, beau Fassbender in ‘The Light Between Oceans’. Can’t wait to see the Nut up there on the big screen with fascinating cinematic happenings occurring under its ramparts, placing Alicia V front and centre.

fassbender vikander bondi

Alicia and Fassbender at Bondi

Trailer – ‘Testament of Youth’ =

Trailer – ‘Ex-Machina’ =


She’s beautiful, has the most infectious guffaw on television and loves being ordinary. But, to her fans, she’s anything but – am I’m included in that bunch.


‘Poh and Co’ introduced me to much I didn’t know about not the winner of of 2009’s series of MasterChef – the most watched single episode of any small screen series during the noughties. This, I guess, says something about the prominence of tucker in the national consciousness and the ‘taste’ of the Australian viewing public. Competitive cooking has become a staple of the networks’ infatuation with the reality genre in this country. I have refrained from watching any of them – partly, I suspect, from fear of getting sucked in along with the masses. No, I am far more comfortable with the less frenetic fare put our way by SBS and it’s rota of not-so-celebrity cooks – Peter Kuruvita, Adam Liaw, Luke Nguyen and so on. When the big guns come on, like the King of Cornwall, Rick Stein, or Antonio Carlucco, I am up for that too. Many of these also take us to exotic locales, cooking on beaches, in primitive villages, in rainforests and on mountain passes. But Poh is over all that – been there, done that. Her latest offering takes her not too far away from her Adelaidean suburban abode. ‘Poh and Co’ charts the course of some garden renovations under- taken by hubby Jono, together with a bevy of family and friends, not to mention two cute pooches. They’re an eclectic lot as one would expect from our multicultural, hipster society of today. All are either competent with a pitchfork and shovel or on the culinary front. The latter group’s job is to keep the troops fed with easy to be assembled tucker from easily accessible ingredients – or to distract Poh from the task at hand.


It’s a simple premise, free of the manufactured in-fighting and crises over a poorly poached egg so central to the big cooking behemoths of commercial television. Jono is a natural – and it was on the set of that MasterChef series that their eyes first locked on to each other. He’s a knockabout lad, flexible enough to put up with wifely whims and the peculiar hours she keeps. The others that feature are an immensely likeable bunch – so its easy to see the reason for Poh’s reluctance these days to stray too far from the embrace of kith and kin.

‘Poh and Co’ also highlights the host’s artistic leanings – prior to MasterChef these were her major claim to fame. They, until recently, faded into the background after Auntie snavelled up her potential and formed ‘Poh’s Kitchen’ around her skills with edibles and her winning personality. Being so thoroughly in her thrall, I can’t help but like what she produces with this other expertise once she has a paintbrush in her hand. Some may feel her figurative style is far too cutesy to be taken seriously, but she is garnering some amount of success and is a regular exhibitor on the South Australian art scene. And what she did with those annoying dints in her metallic grey fridge was a revelation. Something was peeing her off, so she thought outside the box and came up with a solution – albeit a labour intensive one.


‘Poh and Co’ has finished its run now but no doubt, if you missed it, it would be out on DVD. I am hoping, in conjunction with SBS, Poh Ling Yeow Bennett will soon come back to grace our living rooms with a similar low-key project. Long may she remain on our screens.

po and jonno

Website for Poh’s art  =

The Pause – John Larkin

This is an important book.

Every book, it goes without saying, is important to its author. I suspect for John Larkin this is the most important book he’s written – perhaps the most important he’ll ever write. We get a hint why with the knowledge that it took him three years to get the manuscript to a stage he was happy to submit for publication. We receive another indication when we read its dedication – firstly to his children ‘.., the brightest stars in the darkest night.’ and then to his wife ‘.., for helping me to find my way back into the light.’

In January 2012 Larkin had a complete breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He describes it as ‘…an awful time in my life.’ He left with an ambitious goal for what was to become this novel. He wanted his words to give hope. He wanted it to save lives. This scribe has no doubt that, in the hands of those who need it most, ‘The Pause’ will indeed save lives. For some those words will be the most important they read in their short, to date, existence.

The book deserves a wider audience, as well, for it shows that even when the darkest thoughts envelope one – so dark that the ultimate price is contemplated, a pause to think, if only for an instant, can drive that destructive urge away. It demonstrates that always, always there are silver linings up ahead.


Coming at it with adult eyes this is far from the perfect product. Clichés abound as do annoying repetitions (every laugh to be had was snorted). The structuring may not work comfortably for some – particularly those who have managed to keep the black dog at bay. I doubt Larkin’s effort will make a gong’s short-list on literary merit alone. But it is not written for those who are able to look back, but for those unable to see a way forward. This book contains something far more important than literary perfection. It speaks to vulnerable young people, many of whom may be despairing, in a way that connects. Despite its dark themes, it engages in a manner that is downy light, infused with a humour that makes it immensely readable. It is a page turner. ‘The Pause’ does not shy away from the barriers to happiness that life puts up, but demonstrates that most people have their hearts filled with goodness and they are here to help. In a country, such as Australia, there are plenty of safety nets when the path ahead seems only to be filled with potholes leading to an abyss. ‘The Pause’ asks that these good souls are looked to for support, for this is a novel full of the possibilities of life.

Its two central characters have a deep and abiding love for each other, despite their terrible situations, past and present. Its no spoiler to say that, against incredible odds, love wins out. It’s beside the point whether Declan paused or not before he took that plunge. What is important is the journey he went on after the event.

From my own experience, after forty years in the public education system, I know how important library workers are in schools. Libraries are the refuge of the vulnerable. Therefore those adults in there are the front line in many cases, often taking on the role as counsellor as well as providers and organisers of resources. As I’ve noted before, these are the people who will know which of their flock would benefit from having this important, uplifting YA book directed their way. Through them John Larkin will succeed.

Larkin, John

YouTube trailer =

Don Draper and the Artist from Oz

At time of writing, all across America, in lounge rooms and in bars, farewell parties/wakes are being held. By the time these words make it to blog we’ll know how it will end – whether it’s with a bang or a whimper? As the final episode makes its way down the digital pipelines of the nation and is devoured, goodbyes will have to be said to the characters that have become part of the social fabric of the land. Goodbye Dan Draper. Goodbye Joan Harris. Goodbye Roger Sterling. Goodbye Pete Campbell. Goodbye Peggy Olson. Goodbye….

don d

There are some shows that are so good we just don’t want to let go of them – shows that, like good wine, as they progress through the various seasons, the viewing public never looses its taste for them. In recent times, from the US we have seen that in small screen productions like ‘The Sopranos’, ‘West Wing’ and perhaps ‘Breaking Bad’. Internationally there’s the behemoth that is ‘GofT’. ‘Vikings’ and ‘Borgen’ are on my personal list. But I really have a problem with final seasons. I find it very difficult to bring myself to watch their terminal runs. I have a list of these – ‘Californication’, ‘Boardwalk Empire’, ‘True Blood’, ‘Weeds’ – it’s such a wrench to think there’s no more Hank, no more Nucky, no more Sookie and Bill, no more Nancy Botwin. Therefore they remain unviewed on my DVD shelf. But I reckon none of these will be as difficult to say adios to as Don and the crew. Don Draper, there is no doubt, is one of the great flawed characters ever created for any medium – as flaw is tipped on flaw as the show progresses through time from the late fifties into the seventies, so we become ever more in his square-jawed thrall. As well, Christina Henricks has sashayed into our lives, displaying all the glories of the fuller figured woman and bringing her ilk back into vogue. We have the icily detached January Jones as the first Mrs Draper and those of us who watched will never forget the second’s (Jessica Paré) serenading of her philandering hubby. It was a great ‘Mad Men’ moment to rival the day the ride-on mower was let loose in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

There’s an Aussie artist who doesn’t even particularly like ‘Mad Men’, but nonetheless is garnering fame because of the show. She reckons Don and his male colleagues in the advertising firm are all complete tools. But soon she, too, will be out of a job. For years she has been exhibiting on the Melbourne arts circuit with her architectural canvasses, described as a cross between Howard Arkley and Edward Hooper, as well as her portraiture. The latter have been lauded as, for the viewer, registering ‘… encounters beyond the frozen moment.’ (Robert Nelson). Track along to her website and see for yourselves.

penelope metcalf

On a recent trip to the Big Apple the Yarra City painter caught up with her good mate, US writer Heather Havrilesky over coffee and talk got around to the possibility of a joint project – one’s art, the other’s words. That sort of thing is possible these days, despite the duo living an ocean and continent apart. How on earth they managed to come up with their take on ‘Mad Men’. It’s a pen and ink comic strip surmising each episode of the seventh and terminating season? Perhaps, as the meeting wore on, they were partaking of something a tad stronger than coffee, but come up with that notion they did. Through the writer’s connections they eventually spruiked the plan to the folks at New Yorker magazine and they took it on for their web version. It’s popular, but of course its longevity has been limited. Will the pair move onto something else? They’ve already discussed ‘GofT’, but with its complexities of plot and myriad characters it’s unlikely they’ll proceed that way. Penelope Metcalf has declared that her own beloved ‘Parks and Recreation’ is out of bounds. We’ll stay tuned.

mad men metcaffe

They would feel, no doubt, as I do – nothing soars quiet like ‘Mad Men’ – like it or loathe it, one cannot discount its influence. It will leave a hole and it will be intriguing to see what, if anything, comes along to create the same long-standing buzz. If I cannot quite bring myself to watch the aforementioned’s last suites of episodes, how will I cope doing it for the show I love the most? It’s just so hard letting go.

Penelope Metcalf’s website =

Columnist Ruth Ritchie’s response to the demise of Mad Men =


For the UK, seventy years ago this week (at time of writing), the long wait was over. Since D Day Allied forces had been pushing east, with other forces fighting up from the underbelly and the Russians heading towards the heartland. Germany was finally done for, an evil regime consigned to history. In the streets of the British nation, on the day the official announcement was made that hostilities had ceased, as well as later in entertainment venues across the country, it was party time like there was no tomorrow. It was VE Day.

Part 1

We know where she was playing that night of VE Day. At the personal request of Field Marshall Montgomery her band had been flown to Berlin to perform at a concert for the troops celebrating that their time in a war zone was soon to end. Christmas that year saw her back in Germany broadcasting, for BBC radio, from Hamburg, to the folks back home. Her girls’ show followed the King’s speech.

We all remember the great entertainers of those dark war years – Dame Vera Lynn and Glen Miller, for instance – but few these days remember her. But back then she was a household name and was arguably the most ground-breaking musician of her time.

When we think think girl bands of our own era, names like the Spice Girls and the Supremes would probably hit our synapses first. But after more consideration, well, they didn’t play instruments, did they? Delving further, then, we possibly would come up with the Bangles and the Go Gos who did – but all-girl bands are, even today in this enlightened age, few and far between. There are plenty of women playing in bands, but an all female gendered one is a rarity. It was the same back in the forties, but Ivy Benson set out to change all that.

1913 saw her emerge into this world atop the Malt Shovel Inn in Leeds. Her father was a musician. Digger Benson taught her the piano and by nine she was a regular performer on the local circuit and on radio in her city. By her teens, under the influence of Benny Goodman, she changed her instrument to the clarinet first of all, then later the saxophone. On leaving school, for a while Ivy worked on a factory floor, but soon music took precedence. She turned professional and left for the bright lights of London. She was quick in establishing herself due to obvious talent and her glamour. It was then she had a radical idea – she would form an all girl band.


She knew to be successful the members would have to look the part, so she set about designing some alluring outfits. Above all, though, they had to possess the necessary musical chops. From her own territory in the north, with that area’s brass band heritage, she found a ready supply of young misses with what she was looking for – and she did need a steady supply. Many were no sooner up on stage than they were being courted. It was 1939 and the country was at war. Armed forces’ personnel were looking for comfort before they headed off, or later, when on leave. This often blossomed into romance and marriage in these desperate days – which, of course, back then precluded marrieds from continuing on in the band. When American GIs hit town the problem was accentuated. Despite that, shortly after their formation, the band was winning accolades and excellent reviews for their shows, despite the addendum that Ivy abhorred – ‘for girls’. Her band was packing them in in dance halls all around the country and she hit the big time when her troupe performed at the Palladium and Covent Garden. Then in ’43 the BBC came calling and invited Ivy to become one of the broadcaster’s resident dance bands – and the shit really hit the fan. The furore over this became known as the Battle of the Saxes.

It seemed the BBC’s decision was an affront to male musicianship and the Musician’s Union set to work to put matters right by sending a delegation to the top brass of the Beeb in protest. But her popularity ensured that, despite this brouhaha – or because of it, the Ivy Benson All Girl Band remained on everyone’s lips. She personally was receiving over three hundred letters a week in fan mail, mainly from besotted servicemen. As the Allies closed in on their prey after the 1944 landings – Ivy and her girls were close to the front entertaining them every inch of the way

ivy benson band

There were usually around twenty musicians under Ivy’s charge and their signature tune was ‘Lady Be Good’. She led her band, in various guises, until well into the 1980s. It is reported Ivy loved bling in all its forms, was partial to a tipple and that her private life was always in a state of flux. Although she married twice, she couldn’t hold on to a man because of her constant touring – they always had affairs in her absence – or so she said.

Through her bands hundreds of women went on to professional careers in music – and Ivy helped make that not only possible but perfectly respectable for them to do so.

ivy benson poster

In her seventies Ivy finally retired, although she’d still occasionally perform for charity. Her friends were by now actively lobbying for her war efforts to be officially recognised and three months before she passed away, she was informed that she would be made a Dame. Sadly, before she could be invested, death took her. Damehoods cannot be given posthumously.

It is appropriate that today her memory is being championed by another force of nature in the annals of girl power, former Spice Mel C. She wants Ivy Benson to be granted the recognition she so richly earned for the light, colour, hope and glamour she provided in dark times. Those who know Ivy B’s story are hopeful Mel C will prevail, as Ivy did all those years ago.

Part 2

On the 8th May, 1945 – that is, VE Day – around the same time as Ivy Benson was getting ready to lead her all girl band in entertaining the victorious troops in Germany, a large crowd was gathering outside the gates of Buckingham Palace, back home, in the expectation of an appearance by the Royal Family on the balcony. Now, if you believe the hokum hoisted on us by a ‘A Royal Night Out’, the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, nineteen and fourteen respectively at the time, were on the wrong side of those gates, celebrating with the great unwashed.

royal night out

Yes, history tells us that the young princesses did leave the confines of the palace that night and tottered off for some prim levity at the Ritz, heavily chaperoned of course. The premise of this production is: what if they deviously jilted their minders – an unlikely pair whose preference for a jolly time overrode their instructions re the royals – and made a bid for freedom? It then goes on to imaginings of all their adventures. Despite their quite chaste behaviour, given the often tempting circumstances, whilst off the leash they certainly had a hoot – truly a night to remember.

Now do go to this offering in the right frame of mind. Suspend belief and not look at the plot line too critically. There are holes as big as the House of Windsor in logic with the piece from director Julian Jarrod.. Some of the acting is also a tad ‘how’s your father’ – but ignore all that and you’ll be fine. I thought it most delightful.

The recreation of that ‘roll out the barrels’ night of nights around London was terrific with all and sundry letting their hair down after all that ‘stiff upper lipping’ during the war years. There’s a hint of sadness there too for those who didn’t make it back. I loved Rupert Everett as George VI although, as was rightly pointed out to me, he looked little like the real deal. Canadian actress Sarah Gabon was our present Queen back in the day when she was known as Lillibit by her nearest and dearest – and she is charming as the more sensible, the more restrained of the duo. Although Beth Powley has been praised for her depiction of Margaret in some quarters, she just gave me the irrits with her over the top ditziness – as well as the fact that the cove she picked up to be her squire for the evening looked old enough to be her grandfather.

Many have likened this to an old fashioned romp in the manner of the much loved ‘Carry Ons’ of days of yore. I had a ball with this and my lovely Leigh thought it all quiet uproarious. I had constant digs in the ribs to contend with. I can imagine her back on that night – she would be into the spirit of it for all she was worth. That being said, let’s just hope there’s never another.

royal niught out

Ivy B on YouTube =

Official trailer – ‘A Royal Night Out’ =

Our Great Product

One of life’s great pleasures used to be going to the footy with family or mates, barracking and participating in the banter, and discussing the game at the breaks. Not any more. The loud music, the ads and the stupid spruiker combine to ensure that any conversation during the breaks is near impossible. The moving fence ads are a constant and annoying distraction and the moronic, US-style, electronic goal zingers are incredibly irritating. To quote the Coodabeens – “get rid of it”.

So writes John Gerrard of Rosanna. He was doing so in response to Brendan O’Riley’s recent column in the Melbourne newspaper that once was a broadsheet. The latter’s words made me very sad – and they were supported by a Caroline Wilson tirade (Caro’s Arrow) the following Monday night on ‘Footy Classified’. Later other commentators, including Martin Flanagan, joined in the chorus. To my mind our great game can stand on its own as a spectacle without the necessity of the embellishments we have come to associate with the travesty of a sport that is American gridiron. With the exception of Port’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, from what I can discern from the small screen, none of the recent additions to jazz up the game day experience have succeeded in making it a better spectacle in any way. They’ve only served to get people’s backs up and diminish it. What we love about Aussie Rules, in terms of witnessing the game first hand at the highest level, at least at the ‘G, is being taken away from us. The average punter is being pushed aside, with the sport being handed over to the big end of town – where the money is. If it continues, it means a visit to watch a game at the home of footy will no longer be on my agenda for a trip to Yarra City.

On an associated note, thanks to the bean counters at Southern Cross, we here in Tassie are now subjected to inane ads after every goal. I know this has been the usual practice of its mother network for some time but, gee, it ruins the game as a pleasurable way to spend a weekend night. In a recent match a team had a run-on, kicking three goals in less than a couple a minutes – and every time the flow was buggered by someone yelling at me to buy a car. The same ad, break after break – only a moron would be convinced by that to rush out and buy the product! I am now considering Foxtel as a result. I suspect thousands of others across the island are making the same decision. But it seems going to the match itself would have been no better – someone would still be yelling at me to buy a car.


I love our indigenous game. To my mind it stands as one of the greatest sporting spectacles on the planet. And, please don’t listen to those of my generation who harp on about how much better it was back in the old days. I reckon it’s every bit as good, if not better, despite all the changes in the way teams play it these days. Not so long ago I watched a couple of grand finals on DVD back to back. The first was Hawthorn’s ’08 triumph over hot favourites, the Cats. I closely followed that up (I must have been blessed with time that day) with the ’89 classic between the same combatants, praised as one of the great GFs of all time. Honestly, appraising the two, in the latter the players looked as though they were running on the spot, in the former they were Energiser bunnies. There was no comparison. I know some complain about the roving scrums that seem to dominate some matches, but when that is dispensed with for open, free-flowing footy, such as most top teams play when on song, it is exhilarating to watch. And there are still the freaks of the game, if not so much the characters – Stevie J, Ablett, Buddy, Cyril dancing through packs, Jeremy Howe reaching for the heavens. There’s still the hard nuts to marvel at with their courage and then there’s power forwards taking pack grabs and converting. Remember back to those cold winter days on suburban glue-pots – there was little finesse in those games of yore either. Want to go back to that? And this season, to top it off, as well as having our fair share of cracker games, the unexpected is cropping up – the Saints great comeback, GWS defeating the reigning premiers and the Doggies showing they are back in town beating the Swans. There’s the drama over, at this stage, Mickey’s lamentable Blues and the Tigers are still causing their long suffering supporters on-going frustration. Don’t tell me there’s not plenty of spice left in proceedings to enthuse any true lover of Australian Rules.


So please AFL hierarchy take heed. We’re told that wussiest game of all is on the march, scooping our youngsters into its arms with the cry of ‘no contact here’. Soccer – don’t get me started. Through the ineptitude in taking away the atmosphere that has been part and parcel of our magic game we run the risk of driving the masses towards that wretched farce where games are decided by who can swan dive and feign injury the best. Give real footy back to the people please.

Brendan O”Reilly on how the AFL is killing footy for the fans =

Greg Baum on the same subject =

Martin Flanagan on the same subject =


Mistakes Were Made – Liam Pieper

Yes, mistakes were indeed made and semi-novice wordsmith Pieper outlines them in fine humorous fashion in his collection of four essays for the Penguin Specials series. You too can read all about this fellow’s misdemeanours by shelling out a cheap ten bucks at your nearest quality book store.

mistakes were made

Who knew that trying to secrete one’s person behind a compliant steed to escape the predations of a whacked-out ageing hippy priestess would cause a doctor to scream in horror? Who knew that selling dope to your alternate lifestyle parents as a teenager, then writing about it, would be enough to force a person to flee the country? Who knew that attempting to enter the good ol’ US of A with the book telling that tale would almost get a person, courtesy of US Customs, on the next plane home? Who thought that inviting mad dog Geoffrey into a person’s life as an act of kindness would cause such mayhem to ensue? The crazy canine, for me, steals the show completely.

On a more serious side, implicit in Pieper’s musings are the vagaries of the writerly life.

liam pieper

But this small volume is a delight from cover to cover – and as such will be recycled through family and friends. The notion behind the Penguin Specials are that the books in the series can be read in one sitting. I’m never one to thrust what I have enjoyed on others unless I know the territory well. My hope is this works in reverse as well. Some know my predilections well and I am always happy to receive their recommendations, but when I feel obliged to work my way through a thousand page tome out of friendship, I can have a miserable time in doing so. I am always loathe to offend and cannot say no – so I am wary of doing the same. But in this case there are no issues and I’ll recommend it to all and sundry. I cannot imagine anyone failing to be amused by Pieper’s yarns which are, as he puts it, ‘…a kind-of-sort-of sequel’ to his first publication, ‘The Feelgood Hit of the Year’ (Penguin). I am now keen to get hold of this. I only hope we see much more in book form from this talented communicator despite the scrapes that doing so may lead him into.

Liam P’s website =

Hello Beautiful – Scenes from a Life – Hannie Rayson

‘A few years ago a friend of mine travelled to Vermont, in the United States. After taking in the panoramic views, she noticed an ice-creamery. She went in and joined the queue.
There, standing two metres away, was Paul Newman.
She thought to herself, ‘Oh my god, that is Paul Newman,’ (as you would) ‘I am standing two metres away from Paul Newman.’
She bought her ice-cream cone and walked out onto the veranda to take in the view. There he was eating an ice-cream.
‘Beautiful day,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ she said.
They both looked out for a bit more and then she said, ‘Oh, what have I done with my ice-cream?’
He said, ‘It’s in your handbag.’

hello beautiful

I love that anecdote – seven degrees of separation and all that (or far less in this account) – between author Rayson and the great and famous. Newman is by far the top of the pile of celebrities name-checked in ‘Hello Beautiful’. But we also find out that she and hubby (arts media personality Michael Cathcart) stay at Paul Cox’s French idyll when in that part of the world; that she is related to a former teacher who advised Cate Blanchett that fronting a class in the future would be far a better use of her talents as she was clearly never going to make it as a thesp and that on her business card, apart from name, comedienne Wendy Harmer has simply ‘Adventuress’.

To be quite honest Hannie Rayson had never been on my radar until recently. Had I been a frequenter of major city theatre productions I would have been more attuned to her prominence in that field. I know of an earlier work of hers through the resulting movie adaptation, ‘Hotel Sorrento’. But this book was all over that once Melbourne broadsheet and the Oz. Several amusing extracts in those convinced me to shell out for her tome.

Yarra City critic Cameron Woodhead describes it as follows –It’s a book of beautifully crafted, free-flowing vignettes that illuminates with warmth and humour and some urbanity the paradox of an artist who’s relatively well-adjusted and ordinary, and the contours of the intimate relationships that formed her.’ A few of these vignettes fall flat through being a little too forced in the humour department, but overwhelmingly she had me chortling away more often than not. Added to this levity there are reality checks such as miscarrying whilst in the process of interviewing, as a young journalist, icon Arthur Boyd at his home and the intensely intimate tale of a worrisome mole on her vagina. I related to her as a member of the select club that also features my own lovely lady – they both pride themselves in finding parking, without fail, immediately outside every destination – and the author does it in Melbourne! Poor Michael – or MC as he is lovingly referenced in the book – and yours truly have to invariably park several clicks away and commence walking. Her tale of her experience at ‘Wally Groggin’s Golden Mile of Used Cars’ also hit a nerve. This time she has it, in common with your scribe – we’re both complete and utter incompetents with anything to do with automobiles. In our relationship Leigh is the car-savvy one. And back in my old stomping ground up north, Burnie also boasted its ‘Golden Mile’ of used cars, at Cooee. Wanting to update my old banger, in lieu of Leigh who had already decamped to Hobs, I took along friend Keith. I quickly spotted a sporty number – sleek green and streamlined I seem to recall – and figured that I would look very nifty indeed behind it’s wheel. I think it was my one and only attack of the Peter Pans. Thankfully Keith, with the words, ‘You’d kill yourself in that thing Steve’ was able to bring me back to reality and we ended up with a serviceable but very boring Mondeo. With her mate Mark along in similar support, Rayson was protected from any dodgy dealer who’d figure he’d get one over the little woman. There’s also the delightful tale she tells of fellow wordsmith Carrie Tiffany, entering a book store to buy a copy of her own award winning (and excellent) ‘Mateship With Birds’, has the Gen Y person behind the counter advise her not to bother with it as it is a shit read.

hannie rayson

It seems Hannie Rayson wrote this memoir as an antidote to some recent career setbacks with several of her plays she’d invested much sweat in being underwhelming at the box office, or even failing to get up for staging. For one, I trust that this lovely and seamlessly readable trip down her formative years in the less sophisticated Victorian capital of the fifties, sixties and seventies – and then beyond to the multicultural metropolis it is today – will not be a one-off. Her work is as addictive as McInnes at his best and I was thoroughly enchanted by her ‘not so ordinary life’.

The Two of Us – Hannie and Michael =

The Oz on Hannie =

The Undertaker Man and the Star

Joan Crawford paid for it, if you believed the rumours back then. Even some newspapers reported it was so – but I don’t know if that was true. My boss would have known, you’d think – but he never told and I didn’t ask. The newspapers also reckoned that she owed the famous actress a heap of dough. I know for a fact that the press made up some of the stuff they printed about her – so who knows? But looking back, given my feelings for her – well no matter what, it was the saddest job I ever had to do. In it I’ve seen much to make the average Joe shudder. I’ve done plenty of kids, brides, starved people, the homeless, the deformed, numerous murder victims – I’ve seen it all. But she was the one who really got to me. She was the same age as me when she came in. Now here am I – sixty-five in ’63. This year we’ve lost a President, our boys are going off to war in Indo-China but me? I’m happy as Larry and content with my lot. Life couldn’t be better, but thinking about her, though, after all this time – well it’s about the only thing that can bring me to tears. She was something special. She was some kind of dame.

By the time she reached me her life had been in a downward spiral. She’d been the toast of the town only a few years previous – and then I had to look at her spread out like that before me. My life – well, I’d never be on the same pedestal as her. My life has been steady, hum-drum in comparison – but I’m still here and plan to be for some time yet. I’ve a fine house in the Hills, a swimming pool overlooking the city and regular visits from the grandkids. As well I have Nora who’s been with me through thick and thin – still a classy lady in my eyes. And now, to top it all, I’ve retired – it’s time to enjoy it all. So, for all her fame, who’s ended up smelling the roses? She could have had all that if she played her cards right – but she never did.

Its a long way from where I am now to where it all began – to where I first laid eyes on her. Great Falls. Montana. It was a place of big skies and amazing mountain views – but boring as hell. My Pa was the town’s undertaker and I grew up learning the business, being at ease in the presence of the dead. And it was a good business – we never wanted for anything as kids. The money kept coming in as people kept dying. But the town itself – what a hole! I thought that then and I still think it. Absolutely nothing for a young fella to do. Most my buddies found themselves in trouble pretty quickly – those that didn’t escape. But I was a reader and that got me through. It took me to far away places and taught me there was a big wide world just over the Rockies. I knew I’d be ready for it when the time came – until then I’d keep my head down and take notice of what the old man was trying to teach me about getting folk ready for burying. I learnt well.

There was also the Bijou movie picture house of a Saturday night – that’s where I fell in love with her. Back in them days the whole town would get dressed up in their best to go see a silent movie – it was the thing to do. With a girl on your arm, dressed to the nines, it was fun – or as much fun as you could get it that place. And if you were lucky, more fun could be had after the show. These days, you can see a movie any time on any day of the week, looking like a hobo if you wanted to – back then it was an occasion. As far as Great Falls went, it didn’t get any better than that. But I wanted far better – I must admit, though, she took my mind off that for a short time.

Now, as I said, I was a reader and I’d discovered this writer by the name of Fitzgerald. Of course, everybody knows him as the author of ‘The Great Gatsby’, but back in the early years of the twenties he was just starting out. I’d gotten hold of one of his early ones called ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’. I liked what I read in that book, so when I saw a movie of it advertised at the Bijou as that particular Saturday night’s main attraction, well I made sure I didn’t miss it. And that’s where it happened. I have no recollection of who I took that evening to see it with, if anyone, but I couldn’t forget the other damsel I saw for the first time. I guess it was a bit like the infatuation so many guys had for Marilyn Monroe before she checked out last year – and I suppose, thinking about it, Marilyn’s story resembles hers in a few ways. Same fate too I guess. Once I saw her up there on that screen that night – well. Yes, I was hooked too – on Marie I mean, not Marilyn. I just had to find out more about her.

beautiful and the damned

She was the heroine of the piece. I knew the story from the book, but even so that all passed in a blur. I was mesmerised by her – by Marie Prevost. This Montana boy had never seen a woman so beautiful, so sexy in all his life. She was incredible, that vixen up there on that silver screen. I later found out the movie’s story was based around the relationship of Fitzgerald with his own missus, Zelda, but for a period of time, for me, the stoty was all about Marie.


When she came in to be tizzied up for the showing after her autopsy, I had no idea who she was – just one in a long line, for in LA, dying young was a lot more common than back in my home town. Then I looked at the tag attached to her wrist and still, for a while, I didn’t twig. When the penny finally dropped I had to step away from the trolley in shock. That stunner who so charmed me back in ’24 didn’t connect to this lardy, blotched and bloated stiff that was before my eyes. I thought it couldn’t be – they just shared the same name. But turns out it was.

Yessiree, after seeing that movie I just had to know more about her. I bought up every film mag I could find in town for months and scrap-booked every word written about her, every picture taken of her. Pretty soon I had a fair handle on her life story to that point – assuming you could believe what you read in them. I knew even then they tried to stretch the truth – still did when they came to report on her in the days after my final encounter with Marie, a decade or so later.

By that time I was established in Tinsel Town myself. I’d made the move to LA just before the Crash of ’29. Back then Southern California seemed the most exciting place in the world to me. I suppose reading about Marie introduced me to it all, but I had no tickets on myself about being in the movies. I knew growing places would need undertakers and I was right – it sure was growing back in those days and death seemed more plentiful there somehow. By the end of 1930 I was married too – a shot-gun wedding it was. Just as well Nora and I were in love in any case, It all worked out swell. I had responsibilities once I had her. Pauline was born and soon after I had a place to live in Anaheim and another daughter on the way. Nora was the girl who answered the telephone at my first job in LA and what with courting her and what that led to, my ardour for Miss Prevost had long disappeared. I was just too busy getting ahead.

As I said, people die and LA was as good as any place to escape from Great Falls to. It sure had glamour and was growing plump on it, but there’s not much of that in being an undertaker. Saying that, though, it would never be a dying business and it paid well. So lack of glamour didn’t matter one bit. After a stint working in a couple of other funeral parlours, I set up on my own in the forties and was soon making a killing, working for myself and not at someone else’s beckoning. I was good at convincing that death looked normal and my reputation spread. But all that was later on – let’s get to what I found out about Marie Prevost back in Great Falls. I suppose really, although I had more than my share of small town girls before I laid eyes on her, she was my first true love.


I discovered Marie was Canadian, but she moved as a child to Los Angeles – and was literally discovered off the street and became a movie star. It seems she was a secretary at a legal firm and had to deliver some documents to the studios of Mack Sennett. The great man spotted her doing so and immediately cast her in a small role in the movie he just happened to be making then and there. Back then it didn’t matter if you never had acting training nor spoke well – well obviously – but as long as you ‘looked the part’, well then you were in the movies. Marie, it turns out, was a natural in front of the cameras – and later on she sounded okay too. But at seventeen she was now one of the Keystone Studios famous bathing beauties, earning the princely sum of fifteen bucks a week – a small fortune for a girl who inherited just one dollar from her recently deceased father’s estate. In 1919 Sennett cast her as the lead in ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’, it was a hit at the box office and she was now a star. ‘Love, Honour and Obey’, the following year, took her to super-stardom. I suppose she then became a bit full of herself for she thought Sennett was stifling her creativity and she was angling to get to Universal. She squirmed out of her Keystone contract and signed at her new home for fifteen hundred green ones a week. Now she was rolling in it. A couple more movies followed before she again had itchy feet. This time the move was to Warner Brothers and into the arms of Kenneth Harlan, her co-star in her first outing for them – ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’. Then I realised what made her so luminous in it – she was really in love with the man she canoodled with on screen – she wasn’t pretending up there. At this point Jack Warner thought he was on to a good thing with their relationship and decided they should marry on set as a publicity stunt. The couple agreed – only to have the a newspaper find out Marie was already hitched – secretly, to social darling Sonny Gerke. They had parted soon after the nuptials but hadn’t worried about divorce – and Miss Prevost didn’t think to mention it at the time. Scandal. Jack W felt betrayed and started to lose interest in his best dinner ticket in a long while. With all the hoo-ha over that it was around then that I started to lose interest in her too. I began to think more and more about getting away from Montana.

It was only after I helped bury her that I caught up with the rest of her story, once the obituaries started to appear in the press. The nature of her passing was a real talking point in Hollywood for a while, but it didn’t last long as by then her star had lost all its gloss. Still, a fair few of the big names came out to say their farewells on the day – Gable, Wallace Beery, Fairbanks and Barbara Stanwyck all put in an appearance.


Some of the scribes in the press decided she had topped herself, but officially it was a heart attack bought on by acute alcoholism. Her body was not discovered for several days; the neighbours alerted by a dog’s barking. Some reporters wrote that the canine in fact was in the process of devouring her remains. My boss at the time, Bill, soon stopped that in its tracks. I saw the tooth marks for myself on her, but we figured the little dog would only probably be trying to rouse her. But, gee, she was a terrible sight, even so. How, then, did she get to the state I had to use all my skill to fix up?

After the outcry over her secret husband she made a few more movies, some even well received, but when her contract was up for renewal, Jack Warner declined to have more to do with her. By now a divorce had gone through and she was married to Harlan. He was let go too. In ’26 her beloved mother passed away in an accident and she was distraught. The news of that, plus her loss of contract, sent her to the bottle. This led to depression – then the following year hubby moved on to greener pastures as well.

Howard Hughes, being also entranced by her in ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’, took her on and cast her in her final leading role. They also had a brief fling but nothing could last now. She was too far gone with the grog. Her next screen product was in ‘The Godless Girl’ – and for the first time her name wasn’t at the top of the bill. As the thirties dawned she had faded to well down the list. Friends interviewed said she didn’t seem in any way bitter about her change of fortune, but she refused all advice to get off the sauce. Her once sexy curves were by now well hidden by rolls of fat. If she did gain a bit part she dieted furiously, refusing to eat but continuing to drink – that taking further toll on her body and mind. She was last seen on screen as a waitress in ’36. By then she was broken in spirit, sodden in cheap booze and in a black, black place. There was no coming back from there. She didn’t even have enough to cover her funeral expenses. Bill had a few connections and put the word out.

Life couldn’t have turned out better for me but seeing her that day, when she came to us in that sick and sorry manner – well, it gave me cause to ponder. I am a careful chap by nature – goes with the job, but seeing the state she was in sure was a jolt for me. I resolved to doubly work hard, put Nora and my two girls first and make sure I didn’t get dibs on myself.

In the end I reckoned I made her look as attractive as it was possible – but it took some doing. It was nothing like how she shimmered and shone in her best years – but I could give her some semblance of that for all the pleasure she gave me in so many ways back in Great Falls. When they came in to have a gander at her, they still saw a pretty good lookin’ broad.

Now she’s almost forgotten, We’ve had other screen sirens since but for me she’ll always be number one. And the shock over the way she fell on hard times caused Hollywood to make sure it would never happen again to anyone else who reached Marie’s sort of fame. There’s now the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital to take care of any unfortunate enough to need it – all as a result of her. Since that day I have prepared many famous names for their final public appearance, but she was the only one that really meant something to me. I fell in love with her once upon a time but then moved on to fall in love with someone far better – my Nora, my beauty who gave me my two girls. Of course they’re all grown now and have given me a granddaughter each. Pauline called hers Marie. You’ll be sure I’ll especially be looking out for her as long as God gives me breath.