Friday, December 22, 2017

Dada in da house

Christmas card 2017, Kodakotype by Pants

Christmas is very different this year, with Ma Pants gone. Sis Pants and I have decided to spend one more Christmas in her house before we sell it. I have been here a couple of weeks. Sorting through stuff. Finding gems. Including a couple of drawings of Ma Pants's. She did a great deal more buying of art supplies than she did making of art. I am the beneficiary of that quirk. I will now not have to buy brushes or charcoal ever again.

The drawings I am glad to have. I've got art on my walls made by Sis Pants, Niece Pants and Grandpa Pants. I will frame the drawings and the family collection will be complete. Perhaps I'll put them near this portrait I made of Ma Pants.

Ma Pants (acrylic on canvas, 2009)

I've been thinking a lot about the Dadaists and, in particular, Kurt Schwitters and His Merzbau. I would like my house to be a kind of Merzbau, except still function fairly well as a house. I don't like clutter. I do like arrangement.

Merz is a nonsense word. It has no inherent meaning. Unless you count its role as the brand-name of a pharmaceutical company. For me, merz is/are objects that should be valued merely because they exist in the world. Schwitters was a great collector of junk. I don't go out of my way to acquire flotsam but, if it comes into my sphere, I do try to find a purpose for it. And that purpose may be simply to sit. To define itself in the particular place I've chosen for it.

When Marcel Duchamp was asked the question, 'what is art?' he replied, 'what isn't?' I'm well satisfied with that categorisation. Schwitters himself said, 'merz stands for freedom from all fetters, for the sake of artistic creation.' I've a notion to totally immerse in merz for the foreseeable future.

Our family is full of people who make things. From Ma Pants's house, I'm taking items made by my grandmother, grandfather and great-grandmother, and herself, of course. Some jewellery, practical items and everyday objects from childhood that will trigger memories. I tend not to have photographs on display at Pantsbau. They're too literal. Not at all Dada. Faces nestling in collage is about as close as I come.

Dada as a movement arose in response to the madness of war over a hundred years ago. I feel the need for some Dada now. An alternative universe in place of alternative facts. Why not abandon idiocy for eccentricity? Fun, not pain. And what better time to do it than at Christmas? Let me hear you go Dada and have a Happy New Year while you're about it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

M-M-M-My Clavinova...

I am utterly smitten. Not with the family starring in the video, although they are obviously adorable. I have totally fallen for my own Yamaha Clavinova CVP 709.  When I say it is awesome, I mean that literally. I am genuinely awed by its range, capability and knockout gorgeousness. It does all the things musically that I can't do, like play the drums and saxophone and pretend to be a string quartet. And, it is also completely empathetic. It responds to my touch like the best-ever lover. We are now making heavenly music together. The perfect partner, it completes me - or at least the musical part of me. It makes even my playing sound good.

It has been a while. I haven't had a piano for getting on for ten years and have been making do with a couple of vintage keyboards - a Casio CZ5000 and a Yamaha DX7. They're devilish cranky, but they're good old boys and I appreciate the effort they've put in for the last decade. It's not the same as playing a real piano. You communicate with a piano. A synth, you simply instruct. Although the Clavinova is not an organic instrument, it conjures such an authentic piano-playing experience that you quickly forget there are no actual strings and hammers inside that pretty case.

I left my baby grand behind in London, and for years I didn't miss playing. Then, a while back, I suddenly decided to rework a musical I'd written ages ago. It called to me, quite loudly and persistently as it goes. I have learned from experience that it's easier to go with the flow than to ignore the plaintive cries of a project desperate for attention. They don't stop, no matter how deep in the back of a cupboard you put the box file. Having said that, the hankering for a new instrument in my life did go back considerably further. A little over five years ago, I set up a special savings account and I've been putting $200 into it every month. At that stage, I didn't know what I would buy, only that it would be a digital piano.

An expensive outlay when you live a long way from the city can be extremely risky. I was wary of buying something so big and costly online. Typically in Australia, everything is hunky dory until someone presents you with a hand-basket and you have no alternative but to climb in and take the ride. That is by no means an irregular occurrence. I had more-or-less decided on the latest Clavinova. My friend Caroline happens to know the manager of a reputable city piano outlet, who also happens to be a Larrikin's End lad. Cory gave me a good price and it felt like at least there would be someone to connect with should a hand-basket suddenly appear. So I put in the order.

Now that my Clavinova is all settled in and we're cuddly cosy, I must report that the courtship didn't go quite as smoothly here at Seat of Pants as it did for the charming Sharma family. For a start, their box does seem to be indoors when they conduct their opening ceremony. Now, I like to think of myself as a reasonably good contingency planner. Some might even describe me as a catastrophiser. Never in my wildest scenario-outlining dreams would it have occurred to me to ask a reputable big-city piano peddlar,

By 'delivery', you do mean that you will arrange for someone to put my new piano in my actual house, don't you?

See where this is going? I have had a baby grand piano carted up and down four flights of stairs, a couple of times. And I've become conditioned to the idea that a piano merchant knows how to put a piano in a dwelling. In fact, knows that, unless you live in New Orleans, pianos belong indoors.

I can buy a $50 case of wine from an auction house where they sell hundreds of these every single day. And that company will 1) send me an email when it is dispatched; 2) send another email to let me know that it will be delivered the next day; 3) send a further email and a text message on the morning of delivery; and 4) send a final email to let me know that it has been delivered. If I were seriously anal and had nothing better to do, I could even track its progress on my phone.

Last Tuesday, a truck rolled into my driveway, completely without warning. In it was my piano. No dispatch email, phone call or text. A man got out, opened the back of the truck, scratched his head and said,

Package for ya. Some big Yamaha thing. Dunno how we're gonna get it out.

We? You seem to be alone, and unless I've body-morphed during the night, I am the customer and not your colleague. The CVP 709 in its box weighs 130 kilos. Granted, it was in a cardboard carton but this is not what I would call 'a package'. It was sitting on a pallet so had been put onto the truck with a forklift, and yet, a man arrived to take it off the truck with no equipment other than a trolley. The back of the truck didn't even have a hydraulic lift. More head scratching.

I might be able to get it off the truck.

So, my $10,000 piano was to be dropped onto my driveway is if it were a load of bricks? I don't think so. It had rained. It was likely to rain some more. Pianos tend not to like rain terribly much. When they're jammed full of electronics? Even less so. There followed a conversation about what a bastard the boss was and how he wasn't ever going to send two people. This is a delivery company that local people wouldn't  choose to use. As the hand-basket hovered overhead, I called the piano vendor. Cory was on holiday so I spoke to Jason, who said to leave it with him. I sent the driver off, with my Clavinova in the back of his white van.

There followed a protracted negotiation. 

Cory didn't mention the access issues.
Access issues?
Yes, there are half a dozen stairs to my front door. Twelve feet from the truck to the stairs. Six stairs. A couple more feet to get it to its designated spot.
Leave it with me.

And exactly why Cory, who grew up here, had not remembered that Larrikin's End is a seaside town on top of a hill where the higher up you go the better the view and that is likely to mean stairs! is completely beyond me. Heigh-ho. It was finally delivered on Thursday. The same man arrived in the same truck. This time, he had roped in 'a mate' to help him. The 'mate' arrived separately in his own vehicle. Both were wearing hi-vis shirts. A good sign. They managed to get it off the truck but then decided that they still couldn't carry it up the stairs (insert double exclamation mark here). Luckily, they agreed to unpack it there on my driveway and take the pieces in separately, something that the driver had previously refused to do. The keyboard section weighs 80 kilos. My pallet-of-bricks scenario was narrowly averted. And it had stopped raining. Hurrah!

So, now all of it was indoors -  albeit in bits - but they were in the right places. That turned out to be fortuitous. Caroline and her husband Bruce had already agreed to help me put it together, an operation that we were assured was simple and could be undertaken by a couple of gals to use Cory's exact words. Given the experience to date, contingency-planner me went into overdrive. I read the assembly instructions through a couple of times. Some processes seemed ambiguous. Possibly that was just me. So I looked online for a YouTube tutorial. Which is how I found Vikram and family. There's a second part to that video which I'm sure you'll also find amusing. Their Clavinova is already assembled, and they're all taking pictures of it. Hilarious. But, I still wasn't clear on how mine would go together as I couldn't find a video of anyone actually doing it.

Bruce is a big strong farmer and Caroline is a retired GP. Bruce was sure that the three of us could lift the 80-kilo main keyboard section. We successfully tipped it onto its front as instructed so that the other parts could be fitted. Bruce also found the instructions somewhat confusing but worked it out, eventually. Once he had attached the legs and the pedals, we were ready to try righting it. No go. With Bruce on one side and Caroline and me on the other, the three of us could not budge it. Bruce revisited the manual. Was there a method? No. Just a helpful picture of the Clavinova lying down, an arrow and an overlay picture of it standing upright. Hey Presto! Bruce commented that every second line in the manual reads,

Caution: Be careful not to pinch your fingers.

We don't need to worry about fingers, I said, one of us is a doctor! I'm worried about breaking its legs off.

As we speculated about whether or not applying our car jacks would be appropriate, a giant hand-basket filled the room. And then Caroline had a bright idea,
Is there someone we could call?
Oh, please let there be another Bruce in that phone.

As the thing I'd saved for for five years lay prone on the floor with its legs pointing out instead of down, and I prepared to board the hand-basket, Caroline phoned Roy, another local farmer. Got his voicemail. She and Bruce ran down names of other possibles and then Caroline's phone rang. It was Roy. Caroline accidentally hung up on him. It's the sort of thing I do all the time but somehow I just didn't believe someone as competent as Caroline would be capable of such a thing. That's me you see waving from the hand-basket. Caroline phoned again. Roy answered.Yes, he was around and would be pleased to help.

While we were waiting for him, I showed Caroline and Bruce Vikram's video. It broke the tension. Bruce and Roy stood on either side of The Beast, as I now call it. Caroline and I each wedged a foot against one of its front legs. Although it was sitting on a thick rug, Bruce thought it advisable that we do that to avoid any possibility of it slipping as they lifted. With one huge heave, two strong farmers hauled it onto its feet. I plugged it in, switched it on and gave a short recital. Then we all had coffee and cake, as it was my birthday. The hand-basket drifted off to haunt someone else.

Twenty-four hours later and after an extremely rocky start, romance is in full bloom. Love conquers all - even a week of the worst kind of Aussie idiocy. Hooray for love!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The band of gold at the end of the rainbow

'And I'm telling you, the reception's gonna be at the Bowls Club.'
(Kodakotype by Pants, 2015)

There's so much idiotic discourse going on in Australia right now that the only real consideration for a blog post is this: which topic is least likely to turn my brain into Baba Ganoush if I try to write about it?  It's all of the unstated above, in any multiple-choice scenario. However, something important is trying to happen in this country. We are attempting to find a way to be the last developed nation to permit same-sex couples to marry.  Despite the cynical and cruel process inflicted upon us, with its implied inbuilt failure, we somehow have to get this to happen. So, pull up a Pita bread and let's see what we can do.

I'm not going to go through the whole tedious business of which whacko politician said this or senile bishop said that or why an anarchist headbutted a former prime minister in Hobart last week, if indeed a reason were needed. If you require a primer to get you up to speed on where we are in this pantomime, you can't go past this summary by Joe Hildebrand. Suffice to say that all it takes for us to descend into an all-in mud-wrestling spectacle, apparently, is for some foolhardy wag to utter the words, 'respectful debate'. And it's on for young and old. But why have we lined up on opposite sides of the mud bath like unwitting participants in a fairground tug-o-war when there isn't a real question here at all? It's a clear case of extending equal rights to all citizens, isn't it?

Every time the question of universal extension of citizen rights comes up, our immaturity breaks out like a bad case of acne. Our legendary-only-in-our-own-minds tolerance proves time and again to be not even skin deep. In fact nothing is more likely to freak us out than someone turning up wearing a non-Caucasian complexion. So, what is wrong with us, exactly? Marriage-equality advocate Rodney Croome posits that the homophobia garishly on display is rooted in our convict past. Many of our faults lie in those particular stars, I would venture. The way the dominant macho-hetero cohort has seized the mantle of victimhood over this issue would tend to make that point.

Lacking any reasonable argument, a cavalcade of codgers has crawled out of the woodwork to wave about notions like 'tradition' and 'free speech', presumably in the hope that loudly shouting the words will be enough. The tradition of 'marriage being between a man and a woman' goes back to, what, about 2004 and the Marriage Amendment Act? By jingo, is it that long ago? You just can't be messing with traditions that firmly established. 

Some of our staunchest champions of 'free speech' have suddenly gotten all thingy about who is allowed to even use some words. One of our most prominent big-hat-sporting loonies wants LGBTI people to keep their hands off his favourite word, 'gay'. And the managing director of one of our largest purveyors of fruits and vegetables says he doesn't mind same-sex couples having all the same rights just so long as they don't call it 'marriage'. Mmm, equal but separate, where have we heard that before?

And when push comes to shove, as it so tediously often does, those of us who would quite like to live in that tolerant, classless, bastion of mulitculturalism of myth are invariably told that we're dreaming of a fantasy world and democracy doesn't work that way. In fact, the will of the people will only be recognised when it suits the vested interests of the powerful. If not, it may be subverted by any daft mechanism that they can lay their grubby little hands on.

This weekend is one of the biggest in the Australian calendar. The football finals are being played. To their credit, both major leagues have made significant, and rather clever gestures of support. It's left the detractors looking red-faced and foolish. The AFL replaced its own logo with the word YES.  And tomorrow, the NRL final's entertainment will feature Macklemore singing, among other numbers, Same Love.  As proof of what a crazy ride we're on here, the controversy has propelled Same Love back up the charts, scoring those opposed to Macklemore's appearance a massive own goal (sorry). Macklemore has pledged his unexpected windfall to the YES campaign.

While we're on the subject of own goals, one of our most prominent and powerful knuckle-draggers hit a double-jackpot. His eruption over a primary school's support of 'Wear a Dress' Day enabled its initial modest fundraising target of $900 to top out at $275,000 after the story attracted national news coverage. A tip for struggling causes - get on the wrong side of that guy and stand back as the cash tumbles in your direction. Every now and again, people-power steals a victory.

Initially, I did consider boycotting this plebisurvey nonsense, in the hope that it would all backfire and make the government look extremely silly. As it turns out, they don't need my help for that.  After reading what my friend Andrew wrote, I decided I must not only participate but write about it as well. I've returned my postal-survey form and, (spoiler alert), I have answered YES. I would, in fact, like The Marriage Act to be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Why shouldn't they have the same legal right to institutionalised misery as anyone else?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Woman of Substance

Ma Pants (photo by Pa Pants, mid 1950s)
Ma Pants has died. 

Hence my absence from the blogosphere for longer than usual this time.

No need to feel sad. She was a goodly age and content to move on. As deaths go, it was about as good as it gets. She was cogent to the end and mostly pain free. I was there and glad to be so.

I wanted to take a few moments to talk about her life, which I think was quietly extraordinary. It is the duty of a daughter never to appreciate the achievements of her mother. I did my best on that score. Now that she has gone, I feel at liberty to boast. I was, I am, very proud of her. Fortunately, I got to let her know that at the end of her long life.

Ma Pants was born into a working-class family in early the years of The Great Depression. My grandfather had had polio as a child. It left him with a pronounced curvature of the spine and he walked slowly, with a laboured limp. Yet, he went to work every day in a blue overall until he retired at 65. During the war years, he was in charge of a hangar where fighter planes were maintained and repaired. The family also ran a small dairy farm. My grandmother became very ill with rheumatoid arthritis. Ma Pants rounded up the milking cows every evening after school, looked after her younger siblings, ran the household and still managed to matriculate.

Her first ambition was to be a pharmacist and she had secured an apprenticeship. When the war ended, the men came back and she was bumped. She had grown up around planes. By this time, she had her pilot's licence. She'd learned to fly in a Tiger Moth. In his eulogy, her surviving younger brother told the story of how she took him up on one of her early solo flights and they looped the loop over the city. He was four years old. Becoming a pilot was not an option. So she did the next best thing. She joined one of the fledgling commercial airlines and became an 'air hostess'. Considered very glamorous at the time. At nineteen, she left her home and started to make her own way in the world. Self-determination was a lifelong habit, and one that she passed on to her children.

She and my father had a happy marriage until his early death. She worked as a cosmetics consultant, sold Mercedes Benz cars, even became a real estate agent for a time. In all of these pursuits she shone; winning awards and appearing on television as a 'first'. Then she trained as a film and television makeup artist and ended her working life as Head of Makeup at a metropolitan television station. And then, she bought a pensione in Spain. What fun we had with that one. Long story, for another time. Actually, a book.

For the last twenty years, she lived in comfortable seaside retirement. She was a very modern woman, unconventionally unconventional. She didn’t belong to any tribe. She forged her own path. Put together her own menu for living a good life. She was nobody’s fool. She could and did stick up for herself and others and she had an uncanny ability to get what she wanted without offending a single soul. None of the true-blue neighbours in her nosy cul-de-sac would have ever dreamed that she was a raging leftie. That's the way she liked it. 

She was compassionate. She had an enormous capacity for empathy. For refugees. For the oppressed. For the poor, the sick. For anyone in pain. She supported charities, regularly and generously. She loved giving and receiving presents.&Her most valuable and lasting gift to me was a love of music. Although she didn’t play an instrument and didn’t like to sing in company, both of these things have been lifelong passions for me. And that is her influence. She had a very melodic, lyrical speaking voice. 

We had music playing in the house all the time when I was growing up. Every week my father would arrive home with a clutch of second-hand LPs that he’d bought cheaply from the record exchange where the radio DJs sold their Demonstration – Not For Sale copies. This treasure trove provided me with a thorough education in Jazz and American Songbook, which I play, albeit pretty badly, to this day. 

During her last week, I was sitting with her in the hospital. I was holding one hand and another friend, Jackie was on the other side of the bed, holding the other hand. 

‘You taught me so much,’ Jackie told her and went on to eloquently elaborate. 
She seemed very pleased. 

She turned to me, and asked,

'Did I teach you anything?'

‘Never get a car loan? Buy real estate? Pay cash?’

‘Is that all?’ she asked. 

It was all I could think of at the time. Hey, I was under duress! A parent who teaches you everything you need to know about music and money? Well, what more can you ask? 
Ma Pants lived a long, productive and happy life. She was engaged with the world, always.  I will miss that. I will miss her.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Late Blooming on Bloomsday

Me and My Shadow by Pants 

As is the custom here at Seat of Pants on Bloomsday, I opened Ulysses at a random page this morning and began reading. Page 598 of the 1971 Penguin paperback edition I have had since university finds Joyce having a pop at the concept of 'improving literature'. I've written before about the embarrassingly long time it took me to realise what a marvellous pisstake this book is. I'm all the better for the experience. It is one of the many benefits of ageing - along with not having to go to work and not being expected to achieve anything - that the slowest-dropping pennies frequently give the most satisfaction when they eventually land. You'd be astonished at how long it takes me to fully absorb proverbs sometimes.

Oh right. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. That's not about the numbers is it? I'm always saying that Australians operate the English language as if they'd learned it from a holiday phrase book. I am the very proof!

Now, back to Dublin and an entirely different level of dexterity with English. Leopold Bloom remembers his first poem,

'What lines concluded his first piece of original verse written by him, potential poet, at the age of 11 in 1877 on the occasion of the offering of three prizes of 10/-, 5/- and 2/6 respectively by the Shamrock, a weekly newspaper?

An ambition to squint
At my verses in print
Makes me hope that for these you'll find room.
If you so condescend
Then please place at the end
The name of yours truly, L Bloom.'

As a chronic myopic, I appreciate the notion of squinting at print as well as the delightful rhyme. My own ambition has faded along with my eyesight. The strange thing is that I'm working more diligently and joyously than ever. Are the two things related? I think they are. The liberation from any compulsion to find commercial acceptance has meant that I can do as I please. No deadlines. No constraints. I have all the time in the world and I don't need the money. I have often wondered why it took so long for my various projects to come right. The answer is that it takes as long as it takes and I don't know any other way to do it. What can I say? I'm just not a conformist. In any case, the competitiveness and content-slavery thing has killed forever any dim desire I might once have had to conjoin with the so-called creative industries.

I didn't have the sense to write a publishable novel when I knew people who worked for a very big literary agency in the mid-eighties. Just about anything with dry ink was publishable in London then. Neither did compos mentis fully manifest when I knew folks in the theatrical world and shared a flat with a not-too-shabby orchestral arranger. The musical that came out of me then was deplorable, given that I'd been in love with the form since I was a toddler. It seemed I needed thirty more years of living under my (now-expanding) belt before I could do either of these things properly. And it all started happening when I was as far from the thick of it as it's possible to get without bunking down with a team of huskies and far too old to be even visible. I have to think that there's a reason it's worked out like that. Not 'reason' in the philosophical sense. Reason in the sense that individuals get to play with it too, given an idle moment or nine.

I'm glad in so many ways to have done everything in an odd order. I spent my youth reading, listening, looking, travelling, hanging out, collecting experiences and trying, failing and trying again. Hopefully, failing a little better every time. I worked for wages as infrequently as I could get away with. I saved and got lucky with my very modest investments. And now I have a wealth of material to work through and no one to tell me what to do. I'm no worse off financially than most women my age who've drudge-worked their whole lives, had kids and/or got screwed in a divorce - and I didn't have to do any of the suffering. My house is not worth $2million and I don't have any letters after my name or prizes for my scratchings, warblings or doodlings. None of that is important to me. Well, I guess I would say that now wouldn't I? But it is true. Perhaps I have talked myself around to that point of view. Then again, I've always been a bit of a dilettante. I've never liked it when people go all serious. And yet I do like to work. At my own pace. In my own way. 

I pride myself on being solidly hoi polloi and yet, I find myself at odds with my peer group. They're all going on cruises, and/or playing golf and endlessly meeting for coffee. I love cruises but am no longer capable of credibly jogging around the upper deck for an hour in the moonlight or singing karaoke until 3am and then beating the Germans to a decent deck chair at dawn. In fact, I'm not sure that I could even hold out until nine for my supper these days, much less charm the captain at cocktails or win the belly-dancing competition. (Both of these things have happened. I have photographic evidence.) And I don't know that I would enjoy a cruise if I couldn't do these things. 

I've never played golf and don't want to start and meeting for coffee holds no interest for me whatever. I have to do it occasionally, but I much prefer activity-based human interaction. Once a week I go and play music with my friends Caroline and Bruce. We play for a couple of hours. Caroline has been a great sounding board for my newly rewritten musical. I have been playing her the songs as I've been setting them. Astonishingly, I can still remember how to do this. It's been nearly ten years since I last played the piano. Remarkably, I still know how to do that too. I play no better than I ever did, but no worse either. Mediocrity. Hare and Tortoise. However you want to look at it, it's working.

I've lived life arse-about and, you know what? I didn't even realise I was doing that until relatively recently. I just followed my instincts and set out from wherever I last landed. I did (mostly) follow feminist principles. There were a few years there when I thought I could have a bet both ways, but hey. I had the very good fortune of receiving a free education at a good university, which is where I met James Joyce for the first time and Virginia Woolf and so many other mentors who have stayed with me all these years. How sweet the slowest-dropping penny.

A great (Irish) blog pal of many years standing wrote this week that she doesn't believe in the concept of gender. I'm with her on that. It's a luxury that few of us can afford I know but I, like my friend, have worked hard and gone without to make it so. Opting out of the patriarchy is not without societal sanction. I, for one, believe that those of us who can afford to should set an example. I think I've been doing that all my life. I could have conformed. I knew how to do it but, like Yossarian, I just didn't wanna.

I wonder what I'd be doing now if I didn't have a life's work ahead of me. It feels right. It's my time. I'm not difficult to satisfy and everything I do pleases me at last. The long, slow-burning projects that have been with me forever, most of all. And now, it all seems to make a crazy kind of sense. Like a patchwork quilt. It's all coming together and keeping me warm on cold winter nights. Arthur Miller once said, it's okay to have regrets, as long as they're the right regrets. I'm not sure that I know what the right regrets would be for me. I'd probably have a few, if I thought it through, but then again, they'd most likely fall into the too-few-to-mention basket. I am working on not having any at all. And that means plodding away, every day, blissfully in my own little bubble of irrelevance. Can't say fairer than that.

Try as I might to avoid it, I can't help but feel 'improved' by reading Joyce. Not to mention inspired, encouraged, motivated and exhilarated. I hope he's not turning in his grave at the very thought. And I'm grateful that Ulysses finally found a publisher in the remarkable Sylvia Beach.

A very happy Bloomsday to you all.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rhymes with failure

Finders Keepers (2017) by Pants

It's often said that the only word that rhymes with Australia is failure. As if to prove the point, it was the only one the erstwhile regent of rhyme, Noël Coward, could come up with for his 1952 song There Are Bad Times Just Around the Corner. To wit,

In far away Australia
Each wallaby's well aware
The world's a total failure
Without any time to spare.

To be fair, (see how I did that?), it is a long song, this sequence comes well into it and even Noël Coward is entitled to an off day.

There are other words that rhyme with Australia. There's regalia for example. How could a status-loving people not find a place for that? And what's wrong with azalea? Not so popular now but definitely a must-have in the suburban gardens of my youth. We're very into robust border protection. Surely we could weave azalea into the national narrative.

Bacchanalia? Now there's a word that ought to be of use. Beer and backyard barbecues might fit that storyboard, at a stretch. Paraphernalia? Perfect for a place that's all clobber and no body; never mind soul. Westphalia? Well, we try to be European and don't quite pull it off. And then, if you want to go all olde-worlde and invoke some Latin, there's inter alia. And that pretty well describes us. We could easily be dismissed as amongst every other thing going. The impression that we're really not trying very hard is unavoidable. We have usually failed before we've even broken into a sweat. Perhaps failure is the apposite rhyme after all.

This post was originally going to be about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and it still might be, if I can find my way into it. If the gut response by the pale, stale, male, usual-suspect oxygen hoggers to this reasonable, modest and long-overdue ask is any indication, those dots should join themselves without too much trouble. Just in case they don't, my position is this,

I agree with everything in the statement - and then some. I'm strongly for treaty and reparation. Whatever the first peoples of this nation are asking for, it will be nowhere near what they're owed. We should think ourselves lucky and pay up. Whatever it takes. And let's move on, finally. I've written about this many times before and I don't think I have anything new to say - yet. Besides, there's an excellent roundup of writings on the statements and responses to it here.

The thing that interests me most, and always has done, is why my fellow white Australians are so pig-headedly resistant to truth and reconciliation. Other colonising hordes have managed it. Even South Africa. Everyone but us in fact. Pretty pathetic. And the litany of past failure itself is always cited as the very reason we shouldn't even try to get this done. Since we persistently meet Einstein's definition of stupidity, i.e. doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, there are only two possible conclusions that one can draw. Either we really are collectively stupid - and I don't necessarily rule that out. Or, the result suits us - perverse as that may seem.

There are some other possible reasons for our chronic inertia, and they're not nearly as complex as people make out. The narrative we've been running since we first rampaged across this vast continent, felling trees and replacing them with sheep, that we're a fair and generous people is hokum. The boundless plains to share fiction is now looking shabbier than last year's Ugg boots. With our record on the treatment of refugees, the whole world knows what we're really like and we should stop pretending otherwise. There's a huge dollop of shame and guilt in the mix and the coward's way of dealing with that is to protest innocence. We know how that ends. Sooner or later we'll have to fess up and face up. It's okay to be wrong. It's okay to be afraid. It is not okay to use those things as excuses for not acting honourably - for, like, ever!

You know that scene in Finding Nemo where the seagulls are all squealing mine, mine, mine? That is how we really are. Australians who own property are obsessed with its monetary value. We don't think of a house as a place to live anymore. A house is an auction item, a series of flattering photographs on, a reality-show set hosting a moveable feast of flat-pack kitchens and bathrooms. 

Because we think of land as nothing more than a valuable commodity, it is something over which we seem doomed to constantly squabble. Whenever our first peoples have the temerity to remind us that all of their lands were stolen and perhaps we could have a think about how that might feel, we freak out and squeal, they want to take what's ours - apparently without a hint of irony. That threat has nearly always worked. It's the way we're programmed. We can't conceive of a different mode of thinking about land and belonging. We don't think of ourselves as belonging to the land, we think of the land belonging to us. No matter how long the deliberations and how carefully framed and modest the requests from Indigenous people are, they will always be considered too much. And it's back to square one we go.

I happened to be listening to an interview on the radio the other day. Whenever a white Australian presenter interviews a black American writer, sooner or later, there comes a question or statement that infers something like this,

You know, we don't get you Yanks and your social unrest because all is bliss on this side of the Pacific

That's honestly how we see ourselves. And, the rest of the world? Well it's a giant theme park. Nothing more than an entertainment.  A curiosity that has nothing to do with our lives - which we think of as the authentic version of being human. And sometimes, during one of these encounters with a being from this theme-park version of the world, the cultural cringe suddenly goes grand mal. ABC presenter Michael Cathcart's ignorant and crass questions to Booker-prize winning author Paul Beatty so infuriated Indigenous man Trent Shepherd that he shouted,

'Look at yourself. I want white Australians to look at themselves.'

That's the best advice I've ever heard on the subject. Because, to white Australia, non-white Australia is theme-park world too. Even the people whose continuous occupation of this place goes back at least 40,000 years are part of that other world. We see ourselves as the true mob. Because we earn a salary and pay a mortgage, and that is the only version of ownership that we recognise. Because we line up every couple of years and vote for people we don't know to make decisions on our behalf, and that is the only version of citizenship that we recognise. Because when we look in the mirror we see ironed clothes and salon hair. And that is the only version of decency that we recognise. As individuals, that level of delusion would see us diagnosed with a mental condition that would require some serious medication and a lot of therapy. But it's a collective delusion and that makes it normal.

There are calls this week for us to start a conversation - again. We are incessantly starting these conversations and never getting anywhere with them. I think it's time we shut the fuck up, took Mr Shepherd's advice and looked truthfully at ourselves, and then sincerely listened to Indigenous people. With a little self-reflection, opening our minds and our ears, not to mention our cold, cold hearts, we might break the seemingly endless cycle of grudging, misguided gestures resulting in failure. 

I returned to Australia after living abroad for nearly three decades a few days before then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered his 'Sorry' speech. I honestly thought I'd come back to a country finally ready to confront past wrongs. I've learned now that sorry, far from being the hardest word, can be as easily deployed as hitting pause on the remote when you want to stop a movie and go to the toilet. Nearly ten years later, the movie is still on pause and we're still in the dunny.

Leonard Cohen famously rhymed Hallelujah with do ya, so I'm trying to work that trope.

If you don't agree with us we'll impale ya
Cos we're Australia...

Perhaps not. I'm thinking failure may be the only possible rhyme for this moment. We need new words. Ones that we can string into a better sentence...