Andrew Pike is a film distributor, historian and documentary film-maker. With Ross Cooper, he co-authored Australian Film 1900-1977 (published by OUP). His company, Ronin Films, has distributed many Asian and Australian films including STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992) and SHINE (1996), and today specialises in documentaries. In 2007, he was awarded an OAM for his services to the film industry, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra. His documentaries as director include THE CHIFLEYS OF BUSBY STREET, EMILY IN JAPAN and MESSAGE FROM MUNGO (co-directed with Ann McGrath), and he has produced many others.
I have known Andrew professionally and personally for fifteen years or more and the bio he wrote above doesn't even begin to cover his achievements or his place in cinema history. Ask our mates at Google.
January 2017: My New Year's resolution has already been put into effect - to get all of my books, and my father's books, out of boxes and onto shelves. So after several trips to Ikea and a bruised thumb, have achieved my goal. All available wall space now has book-shelves, and there are very few boxes left. A little bit of judicious culling will get rid of the remainder in due course. Treasures are emerging frequently: books I’d forgotten (and in some cases had bought again), and also books that I was totally unaware of.
The first treasure to emerge from my father’s collection is a well-worn paperback edition of Have Patience Delaney!, an Australian crime novel from the 1950s, by one Bant Singer. I read with great pleasure what my father had obviously enjoyed too, given the crumpled state of the book. It's a very readable and cleverly plotted Aussie version of Chandler, written in the first person in tough guy Aussie slang. Checking on-line, Bant Singer was one of many pseudonyms used by a prolific writer of fiction, non-fiction and verse, Charles Shaw, who apparently contributed much to the Bulletin (a badge of honour!). The name Bant Singer came from his car, a Singer Bantam, of which he was apparently very proud.
Singer’s text is often repetitious which speaks of haste and a lack of editing, but his dialogues are convincingly uncouth, and the setting is a most credible countr town battling poverty, with people being driven to crime to survive, while the big end of town is corrupt and nastily arrogant. The novel deserves to be re-printed and I for one would be pleased to read the other novels in the Delaney series (apparently four in total).
The author’s one big international best-seller was Heaven Knows Mr Allison (written under his real name), which I now must find and read: I have a feeling it will have more muscle than the cuteness that pervades the John Huston movie made in 1957 with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as wartime castaways on a Pacific island. The movie won an Oscar for Best Screenplay adapted from another source, which must have made Charles Shaw proud. I hope he got paid well for the rights. It’s a pity that he didn’t have other winners to consolidate his position as a best-selling author.
But Have Patience Delaney! alone makes my new year's resolution worthwhile! Next treasure to be revealed soon on these pages!
- Andrew Pike
Don Clarke was born in Liverpool, England. He currently resides in NW England with his partner and laptop and various children and animals, and can often be found teaching computer literacy to the youth of Cheshire. Apart from his sci-fi novel Borrowed Time, he has self-published three music CDs with his band Yangtze, has recorded music for compilation CDs and BBC radio live sessions, and has self-published Pebbles, a book of poetry and lyrics. Mabinogion, his game of Welsh mythology, is self-published via the Gamecrafter in the USA.
His recently published book "Borrowed Time" was an engrossing read, all 384 pages of it. It is a scifi adventure thriller with a bit of a game feel but don't let this capsule description put you off. It has a social consciousness and a strong emotional analysis and empathy of its characters but it is also a ripping yarn and a great read.
You can get a copy from amazonuk - happy reading.
Sometimes it takes a friend a long way away to point out something close to our home. Janet Clarke Bell in Calgary pointed me to this article appearing in this week's New Yorker about the Hancock clan and the history of the world's richest woman and the local gal Gina (now Rhinehart) As always with Janet it is a good tip. Read it here. It was also sent by Larry Nordell in Montana.
In 1997 I had cancer and after radiation was weak and had lost over 20 kilos in three months. A good friend introduced me the gym trainer at Olympia Gymnasium, Paul Johnson, where I still train. Then I began regular cycling with the St Kilda bunch three times or even four times a week. Hearing some of the Lance Armstrong story I bought and read his book "It's Not About the Bike" in which he details his illness, the awful treatments and the long recovery process.
A year or so later I joined a tour group, on bikes led by Phil Anderson (an Australian cyclist), following the Tour de France every day. We would ride the course early in the morning and then take up vantage points to watch the race finish.
We were in Paris to see Lance take the podium and the Yellow Jersey.
The idea that he took drugs to help him win seemed ridiculous. As he said in his books after the poison of chemotherapy he was never going to put anything harmful into himself.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. One way of looking at it is to say - if everybody was taking drugs then in that level playing field Lance was the best. Hmmm.
Cadel on the other hand could have won three Tours by now if the field was level.
For a little while I've been meaning to write about James Button's book Speechless which I devoured in two bites.
First some housekeeping. I read it on my Ipad after downloading the epub file from the Melbourne University Press site. (you can do it too).
And the book? I will try and stay away from clichéd superlatives but forgive the lapses.
This is a book in three parts. A memoir about John Button the man, his life and work.
A year writing speeches for Kevin Rudd and part of that year discovering the public service and what it is and what it isn't.
Finally it is a meditation on a son's love of his elusive and impossible to grasp dad.
The biographical material on John Button the man is clear eyed and unsentimental but clearly loving and engaged. The John Button I knew slightly comes to life in these pages in all his complexity and even his smiling eyes and direct approach are clear and alive. As a father myself, as is James now, I would be blessed to have such writing about my life. Not that I am comparing my life to John's.
Occasionally I would run into John at the MCG where he went to see his beloved Geelong. I would be there to support the Magpies and he would twinkle a greeting as he went to his seat. I feel after reading the book I have a better picture of the man, his struggles and his private demons and angels.
As to the James with Kevin, this is not a kiss and tell book but the picture of working for a driven and boundary-less man is compelling.
After this stint James is inducted into a unit under Terry Moran, head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the person responsible for recruiting James in the first place to Canberra. Here comes the insider view of working for the public service and the dispelling of all the cliched views of this fine body of dedicated public servants who work hard to give good advice while staying in the background of public debate the whole time being excoriated for wasting money, being a waste of money and time. Campbell Newman is cutting through them, Ted Is getting rid of them and Abbott promises to. We will be all the poorer. Can you imagine Joe Hockey making economic policy by himself? A truly frighting thought.
By books end James comes back to his dad and to Melbourne where his family are to be a more present dad. John spent years away in Canberra and in the rough and tumble of the political life, while achieving a great deal for his fellow Australians, James spent a year away and came back to write a book that we all should read.
Carl Reiner asked the 2000 year old man, aka Mel Brooks, what the favourite form of transport was 2000 years ago. "Fear" replied Brooks. You heard a lion roar behind you and you ran a mile in under 4 minutes.
Two books that reinforce this in very different styles are:
Howard Jacobson's first novel after winning the Man Booker prize, Zoo Time and Claude Lanzmann's autobiography The Patagonian Hare; two books in very different modes but with much in common in their source materials. Both will be reviewed elsewhere on this site
Here is a reader review of the Landzmann book from the Amazon page.
"When I began to read this book and found that it had been dictated to a friend who typed it directly into a computer, I anticipated that it might be unstructured and difficult to read: but, on the contrary, the book is highly readable, vivid and fluent. The translation by Frank Wynne (checked by the author) is superb; the English language is beautiful, almost poetic at times: "I remember two brothers... in the holy city of Safed in Galilee, two tall, thin men with blank faces, as silent as the shimmering stone of the steps on which they sat for hours in the sun without saying a word... These silent men were truly Israeli 'of old stock', they carried their country, its ancient and recent history, in their bones, their blood. Compared to them, I was an elf, I carried no weight...".
This memoir is a remarkable, masterly and very moving account of the life of a Jewish writer and later a film-maker born in 1925, who lived in Paris through the great cultural and political changes of our time. He was a friend of Sartre and partner for many years of Simone de Beauvoir and these friendships are wonderfully and sympathetically described. He is a man of huge energy and passionate friendships, especially for women, who are an important part of the story of his life. You will lose count of the women he loved, but surely never forget the hilarious episode in North Korea, where he fell for a nurse sent to give him injections of vitamin B12. This encounter is so vividly described and funny and yet at the same time touching. Indeed, the book is shot through with poignant episodes, reaching an incredible climax in the heartrending account of his filming for his 9-hour film 'Shoah' Shoah 4-DVD Set. Many times in the book one is moved deeply by the empathy and tenderness shown by this highly intellectual man. Don't be put off by the back cover which cites three newspapers calling the book 'Masterpiece' for it most certainly is a major masterpiece. Read it, and see for yourself! Surely, it will become a classic of our time."
If you thought you knew what was happening with the scandal in the UK about News International's phone hacking then hang on for a wild and gob-smacking ride. Not only was the lone "bad apple" or rogue reporter story a lie but phone hacking turned out to be the tip of a large and nasty iceberg destined in due coarse to bury Rupert his loyal and slippery son and heir James and the whole network of corrupt and corrupting people on his payroll both officially and illegally including police in the Met in London, public servants, politicians, people working for telcos; the list goes on and on and on.
Tom Watson is a Labor MP who had been a junior Minister in the Blair government who was (wrongly) accused by News that he was plotting against Blair. He went to the backbench and sought to find out more of what was really going on.
In the intervening years he became a Minister under Brown and decided to go to the back bench again rather than bring more heat from the Press on the government. Cameron was elected with the help of the Murdochs and he (Cameron) appointed Andy Coulson as a senior media advisor even though there were allegations that Coulson had been involved in some shady dealings.
Over the next couple of years Watson continued to dig the dirt on Murdoch. His own life was tipped upside down. Publicly News of the World called him "a tub of lard" and privately hacked his phones, put him, under surveillance and broke into his house. His marriage broke up but the dogged Watson wouldn't give up.
Even Ed Milliband, the Labor leader, was tardy in joining his co-MP until things became a lot hotter for Murdoch and his pal Cameron. Watson and Hickman take us through every stage and every revelation in this meticulously laid out book.
From the general public's (voter's) point of view there was little interest until the story broke of the hacking of a family's voicemails where the daughter Milly Dowler had been murdered. Public revulsion suddenly drove advertisers to leave News of the World and Murdoch quickly closed it, all the while expressing his regret and insisting on no wrong doing on his part. Many will remember him fronting the Parliamentary Inquiry in Westminster with the now legendary "this is the most humble day of my life" Whoever wrote that for him might have pointed out that it is not strictly correct English but what followed was another series of arrogant and controlled but nasty assertions buried in a covering of lies. More real humility will be called for as his Empire crumbles or is stripped from him.
The bigger question that must be answered in at least the USA, the UK and Australia is how was he allowed to get so much power, influence and be able to blur the line between his own financial self-interest and the law?
Google Watson and the Murdochs; you will get a treasure trove or filth trove. The Guardian site is worth a look too.
I have not read a Murdoch publication for a very long time except for aggravation. This book should be top of the list for all interested in democracy and the ease with which it can be suborned.
I read Dial M for Murdoch on my Ipad.
Ken has written a book, Europe @ 2.4 km/h, and you can contact him at
With the leisure that a couple of weeks in New Zealand facing no commitments and an open beach provides, I found myself reading much more – and much more pleasurably – than I ever can at home. For this journey I'd saved two weighty tomes that everyday preoccupations would have only prevented me getting my teeth into: Christopher Hitchens' ultimate challenge, Arguably, and Simon Leys' latest blockbuster, The Hall of Uselessness.
Both authors are more alike than each would ever have wanted to admit, I suspect. Each is a master of the polemic – I refuse to say “was” even though Hitchens' avowed atheism militates against doing so: his prose, we can all agree, is immortal even if his body has taken his soul with it – and neither could write a sentence that was boring or less than craftsmanlike.
Take this, plucked fresh at this very moment and at random, from Leys' latest: “The literal meaning of qi is 'breath' or 'energy' (etymologivally, the written character designates the steam produced by rice being cooked).” (p. 298) Then this, also fresh and unpremeditated (on my part) from Hitchens':
“... the blocking of shipbuilding orders for the Confederate fleet, and other such actions, were to some degree orchestrated by the founders of the communist movement – not the sort of thing that is taught in school when Abraham Lincoln is the patriotic subject. Marx and Friedrich Engels hugely admired Lincoln and felt that just as Russia was the great arsenal of backwardness, reaction and superstition, the United States was the land of potential freedom and equality.” (p. 574)
What I admire most about Hitchens is the breadth of his interests, his polymathic approach to all subjects under the Sun. What I admire most about Leys are the precision of his mind and the depth of his knowledge, the classical formalism of his essays and his uncanny ability to deploy the belle phrase, even more than the bon mot.
To example the depth of knowledge which, as a Christian believer, is unsurprisingly at its most profound in matters theological, I give you an illuminating footnote (No. 3 on p. 284) in which the reader learns that the earliest images of the Cross were discovered among anti-Christian graffiti and that it was another thousand years before medieval artists dared to represent the dead Christ hanging from it.
This is not to say that Leys doesn't range far and wide as well. After reading these two gentlemen, and recalling from one of Hitchens's obituarists just last month the observation (which will not strike any of his dedicated readers as a revelation) that he had a prodigious and photographic memory, it is clear that the ability to recall an anecdote or odd fact at will is a gift they share.
Leys brings to light a wonderful publishing story of George Orwell, at the last possible moment, sending in a final correction that altered one of the critical accounts in Animal Farm. In the climactic scene where the farm's windmill is blown up, Orwell had written “all the animals including Napoleon flung themselves on their faces”. The scrupulously fair writer amended this to “all the animals except Napoleon ...” Why? In his own words, “I just thought the alteration would be fair to Stalin as he did stay in Moscow during the German advance.”
Hitchens' compendium is also bestrewn with such gems – sometimes consisting of nothing more than highwire artistry with words, such as his recitation of a Hugo Chavez rant against the credibility of US reports that Osama bin Laden had been behind the attacks of 9/11, which he couples with some other far-fetched claim by the Venezuelan supremo, building up to this statement, which made me laugh out loud in wonder: “Chavez, in other words, is very close to the climactic moment when he will announce that he is a poached egg and that he requires a very large piece of buttered toast so that he can lie down and take a soothing nap.”
Here it's worth interpolating that my facial muscles would have got the same workover if I hadn't been aware that when he wrote that he was in the early stages of the battle against oesophageal cancer that went on to kill him – but that his continuing to write, on such timely topics at the Arab Spring and US politics' ebb and flow, right up till the final months of his life only makes me esteem him all the more.
Then there are the factoids one would be unlikely to have gleaned elsewhere, such as that Stephen Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death.
In literature's Elysian fields, Leys is also a successful fossicker of valuable nuggets. He discovers a wonderful quote by Andre Gide that amounts to an apologia for his own reputation as a yes man, one who appeared atavistically averse to argumentation. Gide confided to a friend: “Beware. I am made of rubber. I agree with everything as much as possible; and I would go to the very edge of insincerity – yet make no mistake: once alone, I revert to my original shape.”
Both writers are such fine stylists that the one time they famously clash – over Mother Teresa, of all people – they produce a high-tensile conversation as reverberative in its way as the opening chords of Beethoven's Fifth.
Leys' account, under the title An Empire of Ugliness, takes up 11 pages of his book; you can search Hitchens' book, and index, in vain for a mention of Leys or the nun he called a thief and a fraud. That is not to be held against him, mind you: Arguably is a book of essays, 107 of them – of which I think fully one-fifth are top-drawer stuff. His denunciation of Mother Teresa, like his much more convincing hatchet job on Henry Kissinger, was published in book form.
The Canberra academic and Belgian-born sinologist, indeed, indulges himself in scholarly glee, pace his indignation, in calling the book a “little piece of solid waste”, which is entirely in order for such a Turd World subject, I might add, and even manages – this is his genius, I think – to make a serious refutation against the gravest of charges with a light and sparkling pen.
To Hitchens' ridicule of a right-wing Christian from Nashville, Tennessee, who is reported as having found a likeness of Mother Teresa appearing in the cinnamon bun he had ordered for breakfast, Leys did not pretend to be shocked which would only have risked having himself labelled humourless. He points out – in a letter written to The Book Circle's rightly recommended New York Review of Books, in which a review of Hitchens' book had appeared – that people who share the nun's faith are not likely to find her face in cinnamon buns and, even if they did, would probably have a good laugh about it.
In making this point, Leys (the nom de plume of Pierre Ryckmans) shows a remarkable ability to distance himself from his own moral outrage and, far from weakening the impression of disgust he clearly felt for Hitchens' attack on the elderly nun, this polymorphous approach strengthened the appeal of the essay as a whole.
Since they both cannot be right on the question of Mother Teresa's goodness or badness, readers of the two accounts – and Leys is Orwellian in doing Hitchens the justice of citing his statements on the subject, as given in his book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (which title Leys predictably finds offensive) – will find themselves siding with one or the other. (Unless they believe the question is one for God to decide, but it's perfectly understandable why Hitchens couldn't take that position!)
For me, the interplay between the two is a more important exercise by far. In the end, whatever subject these two titans take on – be it Mother Teresa or (let's go sampling again) art collecting, anti-Semitism and the survival mechanisms of Zhou Enlai (to pick three of Leys' subjects), or a defence of the Iraq invasion, a paean to Rebecca West or a most unexpected tribute to Iranian mosque architecture (to pick three of Hitchens') – I couldn't imagine a better way to pass those January days than with these two quarrelsome companions at my side.
It beggars belief really unless the all too human trait of hope and belief in a future that can be better still informs your views. A couple of nights ago three of us went to the Trades Hall in Victoria St and in a very small room behind the bookshop saw Naomi Klein's film "Everything Must Change" based on her book with the same title. Roaming the globe she showed us just how bad things have become and how the policy makers are failing to do what is necessary to fix the immense problems facing planet earth. Her call is for people power to address the real issues and to bypass governments and corporations who will eventually follow.
The strange thing that I can't fathom is that most of the people who are in power have families who will not be any better off when the waters rise and the tornadoes and cyclones hit. They may be slightly better off when the food and water wars start for a little while but there is no guarantee of that either. Having access to survival supplies must make you a target in a time of extreme need.
Klein remains optimistic as does another commentator and writer, Mark Shapiro. I hope they are right. I am basically optimistic in general but having tracked this for the last twenty years and seen the massive effort and money going into denial leaves me open mouthed and panting.
After Paris one could have been optimistic but then seeing the buffoon Hunt getting an award from a nation of fossil fuel pushers as the Best Environment Minister in the world it seems like business as usual Down Under. Turnbull (or Turncoat) has disavowed none of the Abbott era policies and it is widely said that he is held hostage by a significant right wing flank in the parliamentary party who believe that climate change is a left wing hoax. Presumably these people have families too. Is there enough money, power and or prestige for now to throw it all away when the inevitable happens? Democracy allow for different views but survival depends on seeing the train before you step into its path.
Kevin Rudd called it the biggest moral issue of our time and when faced with the problem of not getting it through the Senate, with the Greens voting against it, jettisoned the action he had planned as if it didn't matter anymore. Which leads us to Ms Klein's point. The people have to take this on. Make the changes in your own lives. Consume less. Recycle more. Buy green power or generate it yourself. Question your utility suppliers, ask AGL why when they are trumpeting their green credentials they doubled their emissions in one year last year. Shop organic and local. Don't buy imported food or drink. Yes tap water is fine.
Have a good look at your wardrobe and swap or donate those things you don't wear any more but are still hanging on to.
This one is not for everyone but if you can do it become a vegan or at least don't eat processed meat. Ask where your fish comes from and buy organic. Eat meat twice a week. Grow what you can.
For a very long time we behaved like we had limitless resources and all we had to do was kill, pick, dig and burn to keep our lives improving. We don't, we never did. Nothing is infinite or without end. We are at the pointy end now and need to take responsibility for where we are now and for where we are going. It is easy pickings to see that North Korea is a threat to world peace. It is equally blindingly obvious that we are in for a very rough ride if we constantly deny reality or partition it in our minds as a problem for other peoples in other places. Right now in Miami and down the east coast of the USA people are being flooded in their homes and highways. Their pollies are in denial like ours (except Obama) and nothing is being done.
Climate change is not a political problem - it is a problem of survival. We all need to act, not tomorrow but now. We need to network with our communities and take on this immense problem because if we don't it will take us.
The path to becoming a vegan was reasonably straightforward but like much else in life all sorts of issues arose that weren't exactly obvious at the time or were in the background and became more important as I began the practice and went from exploring the new shopping, growing and cooking regime to thinking about the impacts personally, locally and globally.
From a personal point of view it started after my treatment for cancer in 1997 and the effects of the toxic radiation I had every day for eight weeks. During that time it was almost impossible to swallow food and I began to lose weight rapidly to the point that the medicos were saying if I kept up the weight loss rate I would be fed through a nasal tube. Sounds disgusting but with the laceration of my throat from the effects of the radiation I can see why they thought it might be necessary. In the end I didn't have to go through the force feeding. I ended up losing fifty five pounds in three months.
During the recovery phase when I was able to swallow solids again I just couldn't stand the smell or taste of meat. I had not had dairy since being weaned anyway but did have the odd milk chocolate or dairy based ice-cream. I didn't put the weight on again and took up gym and cycling. I started to get quite fit.
Then after having a near death experience on a bike in 2003 and spending five months in hospital I got back to a vigorous routine of swimming and gym on a regular basis. One day my gym instructor mentioned a book, The China Study reviewed below. It was very persuasive and written scientifically with masses of data and analysis of that data. I questioned some medicos I knew including the surgeon who had treated my cancer and they all said they knew and agreed with the analysis BUT could not get people to go along or even do it themselves.
I saw the film Forks Over Knives which took the argument even further with the author of the China Study and a surgeon he didn't know coming to the san conclusion from different points of view. One in the operating theatre and the other in the lab. The other persuasive thing about the film was seeing actual patients being treated for a range of health issues with diet and exercise. It was inspiring and I have shown that film to thirty or more people in the last three years.
My doctor does a blood test annually to keep an eye on my vital statistics. Cholesterol down. Blood sugar down. In fact all the indicators have gone to the lower end of the healthy range. My blood pressure sits at around 110 over 65. So far so good.
At the same time I started to think about the greenhouse effects of the food I ate. Organic food might cost a little more but when you stop shopping to fill the fridge and cupboards and eat before stocking up again it is actually cheaper to eat an organic plant based diet than it is to eat meat and dairy. The amount of food wasted in the rich Western countries is really shocking.
That economy of eating organic is on a household basis but when you start to question the food miles in what you buy and buy locally produced food there is another huge economic effect that is planet wide in its reach, namely the carbon cost of not doing it this way. As Mark Bittman, the food writer for the NY Times graphically explains in a TED talk if you laid out the farm animals slaughtered for food in the US annually head to tail they would form a line stretching to the moon and back. The environmental costs are vast not to mention the food equity issues. Replace the existing farm land with organic plant crops and we could feed the whole planet as well as revegetate vast amounts of land. Our earth is a limited resource but we are spending it like it isn't.
After a while I started to think about the ethical questions in relation to the animals too. Who or what gives us the right to farm, kill and eat other living things? Why not your neighbour or a boat person? Sound ridiculous? Think about it from the slaughtered point of view rather than the killer's for a moment. I don't want to get into emotive arguments although it is easy to see parallels in my own family history. Let's just leave it at think about it and maybe cut your meat and dairy to two to three meals a week and see how you feel.
I keep getting asked when the subject comes up "but don't you miss not having ..." I can honestly say I have never missed or felt regret about not eating animal products and I can now not imagine wanting to.