Personal Reflections

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Niko Ghika, John Craxton, and Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and the allure of Greece - British Museum exhibition

John Craxton, Still life with three sailors 1980-1985 (detail) Tempera on canvass
I am still bogged down with other writing. Hopefully that is easing.

Interesting piece in Artdaily 21 March 2018, Exhibition explores the influence of Greece on the lives and work of three artists on a new exhibition at the British Museum this European spring. ,
Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor explores the influence of modern Greece on the lives and work of three influential artists, the Greek painter Niko Ghika, British painter John Craxton, and British writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. The three met at the end of the Second World War and became enduring friends who all made their homes in Greece. The show brings together their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions in the UK for the first time.

It sounds like an interesting show about interesting subjects. I have given you the links to the Artdaily piece above and then the Wikipedia links to each of the three. If you are interested, I suggest you start with Artdaily and then go to the Wikipedia entries. From there, you can easily sidetrack into multiple directions!

 I have wondered before about the enduring love for Greece and the Greek Islands especially for writers and artists. In popular fiction, for example, Mary Stewart's thrillers The Moon-Spinners and My Brother Michael. The last includes a description of a hostel at Delphi occupied by archaeologists, artists and writers. The Australian writers George Johnson and Charmian Clift lived on the Greek island of Hydra for several years attracted by the low prices and other writers and artists. Johnson's Clean Straw for Nothing tells the story of a journalist (David Meredith) who relocates to a Greek island, but fails to find the answers he seeks after even 13 years.  

From my own trip, cheap wine, cheap cigarettes, cheap food, cheap rent, nice views and weather all provide  a possible answer. It's more than that, of course, for the romantic ideal of Greece is deeply entrenched in Western thinking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Canberra Times, ACT Chief Minister Barr and freedom of the press

Real flutter in the Canberra dovecotes this week as the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the Canberra Times exchanged blows.

The kerfuffle began with the leaking to the Canberra Times of a recording of remarks made by Mr Barr to communication companies attending a "meet the buyer" event held at the ACT parliament. This led to a story from the Canberra Times' Kirsten Lawson 'I hate journalists and I'm over the mainstream media': ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Mr Barr's reported opening remarks set the tone:
Mr Barr began .... with some "frank statements that may or not shock some people in the room". "I hate journalists. I'm over dealing with the mainstream media as a form of communication with the people of Canberra. What passes for a daily newspaper in this city is a joke and it will be only a matter of years before it closes down," he said.
He then went on to outline his objective:.
The government wanted to hear directly from Canberrans and communicate directly back to them, "not through the filter of journalists, and particularly through the filter of print journalists, which is a dying industry",  
Noting that the circulation of the print edition of the Canberra Times had dropped below 15,000, Mr Barr suggested that most Canberrans did not consume traditional media, in part because half of Canberra's population was under 34.
"We need to completely overhaul the way we communicate as a government and that's exactly what we're doing," he told the communications specialists. "My challenge to everyone in this room is to be at the cutting edge of communication, to put up contentious, risky and interesting ideas about how we can communicate ...
Mr Barr told the group he had been "blunt and frank" in delivering the same message to "everyone within the communications area of government".
The Canberra Times was not impressed, editorialising Barr's hatred of media is driving a dangerous message. This view was picked up by other papers. For his part, the Chief Minister subsequently issued a statement reiterating his views. As reported by the Guardian:
Barr later issued a statement, saying the traditional media no longer engages with the diverse community in Canberra, and that his government was exploring new ways to reach the public directly. 
He said he cancelled his subscription to the Canberra Times because it was too conservative. Barr subscribes to two non-Canberran news sources, Crikey and the Saturday Paper. 
“In relation to other print media available in Canberra, I find the Australian to be very right wing and favour the conservative side of politics,” Barr said. “The same can be said for commercial talk back radio. I would not be alone in reaching that conclusion.”
I have not always been a fan of Canberra Times reporting cf  Canberra Times sleazes over Armidale and APVMA. However, I think that the paper generally does a pretty fair job (the editorial linked above contains some examples), resulting in a sometimes tetchy relationship with the Chief Minister. However, the whole matter raises some broader issues worthy of comment.

It seems to me that Mr Barr is confused about the differences in role between Government communications and that of the media.

Government communications is concerned with gaining information from the public and with informing the public about policies and procedures. Traditionally, a distinction has been made between official and political communications, although I accept that this has become increasingly blurred.

The media's role is to investigate and report freely and fairly independent of Government. This role too has has become been blurred to some extent by the greater weight placed on opinion and commentary mixed together in the news columns, breaching the separation that previously existed between reporting and editorial,. but it remains important.Governments understandably find this sometimes uncomfortable. The rise of PR and the proliferation of Government communications people is an attempt to manage the reporting cycle and to find new ways of getting messages out, of influencing as compared to informing.

I don't have a problem with Governments seeking to find new ways to communicate, although I do not like the way that political communication has become so embedded in official communication. However, I do have a problem with the idea that the media should be effectively replaced, supplanted, by Government communications. That strikes me as profoundly undemocratic, a point picked up in reporting on Mr Barr's remarks.

The argument that a diminishing number of people are reached by the main stream media is an important one in considering official communications strategies, although I'm not convinced by the specific argument that younger people do not consume main stream media or, perhaps more precisely, that a diminishing proportion do. Yes, the media environment has become more complex in our internet social media focused world, but if you sit on a train and watch what people are scrolling through you will see younger people checking their news feeds. It's the form of consumption that has changed.

At a purely personal level, my daughters actually actually consume a greater variety of main stream media and in more countries than would have been the case in the past, but spend less time on single outlets than previously. Therein lies the rub for both news companies who want advertising and Governments.who wish to communicate. In all this, the mainstream media in its varying forms remains the best way of reaching a broader audience and will do so for the immediate future. In the longer term, none of us can know what the landscape will look like.

As a final comment, and as Mr Trump has found, attempts to by-pass the main stream media imposes its own costs in terms of greater scrutiny by the excluded outlets. That would certainly be the end result here if Mr Barr proceeded with his apparent desire to exclude the Canberra Times or other main stream media outlets. Love them or hate them, Mr Barr has to live with them.  

Update 17 March 2018

In comments, we have been discussing what the readership figures actually mean. I wonder if there is an expert out there who can tell us.

Meanwhile, the Canberra Times Jack Waterford has responded to the whole kerfuffle (All media critical to effective government, whether Andrew Barr likes it or not) while the Chief Minister has sought to clarify his position ( 'Wasn't a nice thing to say': Andrew Barr apologises for saying he hates journalists).  

Monday, March 12, 2018

Belatedly seeing Black Panther - a real romp

This post is also the Monday Forum post

Eldest has been back in Australia on a short visit so we went to the pictures Wednesday afternoon. She wanted to see The Post. I was happy with that, but made the mistake of saying that I had seen it before. That was a no-no. It had to be a film I hadn't seen before, so I nominated Black Panther.

As an aside, she had seen it but didn't tell me. Maybe just as well, because otherwise it would have been The Post.   That wouldn't have been bad, I really liked the movie, but I did enjoy Black Panther.

I knew it was a Marvell film. I could hardly not given youngest's interests! This meant that I broadly knew what to expect. I knew that it had been very successful at the box office, adding to Disney's now overflowing coffers. I did not know about all the hype surrounding the movie as a somehow significant "black" film.

I'm glad I didn't because I came to the film without preconceptions, treating it just as a spectacle and story. Had I known, I might have watched it differently; the message significance would have stood between me and the story.

As you might expect, the visual effects in the film are spectacular, the pace fast, sufficiently fast to conceal the inevitable plot weaknesses. The film also plays to various tropes

The idea of a hidden African kingdom dates back to the days of  European exploration when Africa was still an unknown continent to European eyes. King Solomon's Mines is an example. The broader idea of hidden kingdom or organisation that people search for is exemplified by the mysterious Second Foundation in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.

The meld between traditional African images and those modified by the Kingdom's history is instantly familiar in visual terms, while the good v evil battles are part of the Marvell trope as well as familiar to anyone who reads fantasy and especially young adult fantasy  Then, too, the film incorporates (pinches?) specific tropes/memes/images that will be instantly recognisable from car chases to Q in the James Bond series. Here I found myself musing on just how much fun the production team must have had in thinking about this.

This is not a serious film, but it is fun. If you haven't seen it, I suggest that you do so!  

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Reflections on the process problems in the Barnaby Joyce sexual harassment complaint

This brief post reflects my own uncertainties on the handling of sexual harassment complaints against former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. I note that the post has nothing to do with Mr Joyce's behaviour nor with the complaint itself. However, I need to provide some basic facts to set a context:

I am reasonably familiar with sexual harassment policies and procedures in a work place context, although they are quite complex. The Australian Human Rights Commission has a useful introduction to the Australian position in general including work place issues.

In this case, a WA woman made a sexual harassment complaint to the WA branch of the National Party about Mr Joyce. The complaint was meant to be dealt with in private, but became very public. The complainant feels that the way she has been treated since making that allegation has denied her natural justice and shows why people in her situation do not come forward.

On his side, Mr Joyce apparently learned of the complaint just before it became public when he was visited by the Party's national president and lawyer.Given the general situation at the time, he then felt that he had no choice but to resign as Party Leader and Deputy PM as the matter became public.

In organisational terms, the National Party is a Federal structure with a relatively weak national organisation. Mr Joyce is not an employee of the National Party, He is a Member of Parliament representing the seat of New England. .He was pre-selected by the New England Electorate Council and is part of the NSW Branch. The parliamentary wings are independent of and cannot be directed by the Party organisation. The only formal sanction available to the Party is to withdraw endorsement of the member. I am not familiar enough with the current constitution to know how this might be done and under what circumstances.

To the best of my my knowledge, this is the first formal complaint lodged with an Australian political party about suggested sexual harassment by one of its parliamentary members. This is new territory in a way so the process questions become important.

The complaint appears to have been lodged with the WA branch of the Party and been the subject of considerable discussion within the Parliamentary party there. Here we have two apparent process breaches.

The first is that the WA branch had no jurisdiction. It should have been referred to the Federal organisation at once. The second is the involvement of the WA Parliamentary party. This was a breach of due process that ultimately destroyed confidentiality, breached natural justice and precluded a fair outcome.

The confidentiality issue is both important and complex. If, as appears to be so in the Geoffrey Rush case, the complainant wanted the matter kept confidential even from the subject of the, then it really becomes complicated. I know of no evidence that this was so in this case. I think that while the complainant  wanted general confidentiality to be maintained, she would have every expectation that the matter would be discussed with Mr Joyce as part of the process. For completeness, I note that confidentiality becomes very complex if the process reveals a possible breach of the law.

The next question is what the complainant hoped to achieve from the process. This is unclear to me but is important because it affects the process. If she wanted the Party to formally sanction Mr Joyce within the powers that it has, then a very formal process would have been required. If her objective was to bring about behavioral change, to make an in principle point, then a more collaborative, consultative process would have been appropriate. This would have been quite difficult in the pressure cooker at the time, but became even more so with the breach of confidentiality.

I think one of the difficulties is that the National Party had no processes in place for handling all this. I suspect it is not alone. If, and it is not clear that this should be the case, the party machines are going to become a vehicle for lodging such complaints against MPs, then all parties need to define specific ways to manage those complaints.

As in so much of the Joyce affair, there are no immediate winners in this particular case, just losers.

Important correction

In writing, I had forgotten one important complication, the relationship between the WA National Party and the national National Party. The WA Party is an independent party but some way with the Federal Party.

I don't think that this fundamentally affects my argument. The WA Party had no power to accept or investigate a formal sexual harassment complaint against Mr Joyce on its own account since it had no jurisdiction over Mr Joyce. The only way to handle this was by referral to the Federal Party.organisation.

This might not stop the Party carrying out its own investigation for its own reasons. We have seen quite a bit of that from many quarters. However, that would not have met the apparent wishes of the complainant for a formal investigation following the rules of due process.          

Monday, March 05, 2018

Monday forum - Australia's housing affordability problem

This is the Monday Forum post. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.

On 4 March 2018, the Grattan Institute released its latest report, Housing affordability: re-imagining the Australian dream. The ABC provides a useful summary. That same day, the Australian and NSW Governments, together with eight local governments of Western Sydney, signed the Western Sydney City Deal.  "The City Deal," states the web site, " is a 20 year agreement between the three levels of government to deliver a once-in-a-generation transformation of Sydney’s outer west – creating the ‘Western Parkland City’"  This is planned to be Sydney's third metropolitan city after the harbourside city (the current metro) and Parramatta.

On 12 February, the NSW Federation of Housing Associations released its NSW Community Housing Industry Development Snapshot. Between 2012 and 2020, 18 of the largest community housing providers will have delivered $1 billion in new projects in 34 local government areas. Between 2012 and 2017 the community housing industry provided 1296 new social and affordable homes in NSW communities, valued at $438 million. The industry is committed to delivering another 1404 more homes by 2020, bringing total
investment to $963 million.

The new homes will largely (98%) concentrated in greater Sydney with a focus on one and two bedroom properties and an increasing shift to high density living. The numbers do not include homes developed via the NSW Government's Community Plus and Social and Affordable Housing fund programs.

Returning to 4 March,  the Sydney Morning Herald's Helen Pitt had an interesting piece, Tale of two Sydneys, comparing two similar families living in quite different parts of the city.

Against this background, the question is what, if anything, can be done to solve the affordable housing problem, recognising how many things are involved? .

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Playing with the Pew Research numbers on global migration

Fascinating interactive from the Pew Research Centre on global migration. It allows you to search by country on the number of overseas born people living in that country, the number born in that country living elsewhere in the years 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2017. In each year, it lists numbers for both source and destination countries.

To illustrate with New Zealand:
  • in 1990, there were 520,00 overseas born people in New Zealand. The three top source countries were the UK, 230,000, Australia 50,000 followed by Samoa on 40,000. In that year, there were 390,000 Kiwis living abroad. The top three destination countries were Australia 300,000, the UK 40,000 and the US 20,000.
  • In 2017, the number of overseas born people in New Zealand had increased to 1,070,000 people. The top three source countries were the UK, 270,000, China 100,000 and India/Australia each on 70,000. In that year, the number of Kiwis living abroad had increased to 830,000. The top three destination countries were Australia, 670,000, the UK 60,000 and the US 30,000.
It's interesting just playing around with the interactive looking at different country patterns. However, it also allows you to compare countries or groups of countries, taking relative population sizes into account. Here the wikipedia list of country populations is useful.

Some of the types of questions that arise include:
  • Are Canada, New Zealand and Australia in fact exceptional when it comes to the relative size of immigration? How do the three compare? 
  • What do the stats tell us about relative migration patterns in Europe and the UK? 
  • Which countries have the lowest immigration patterns measured by the number of foreign born?
At this point, I haven't attempted to answer questions such as this, just pointing to possibilities. .    

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sydney growth problems - Sydney Water's Eastlakes over-kill

From time to time I have written about Sydney's growth problems with a special focus on the area where I have been living. I have another case to report.

The Gardens R Us store that used to exist just down Gardners Road from my place was one of my favourite Sydney spots. I loved the plants and the view over the golf course.

The 1.7ha site was owned by Sydney Water and leased to the Piggins brothers. Given the value of the site in the middle of one of Sydney's rapid growth zones, Sydney Water terminated the lease at the end of 2015 with the aim of re-development. The buildings were cleared away, but the site then just sat.

Sydney water has now sought rezoning approval to allow it to build 744 apartments in five blocks up to 14 storeys high on the Gardens R Us site plus the adjoining block also owned by Sydney Water (in all 2.75ha) and presently used as a maintenance depot. Bayside Council planning officers oppose the proposal on the grounds that it is too big and would result in open space. There are also some potential flood issues. Water passes through lower parts of the site from the higher ground through to the wetlands. You will find the Sydney Water proposal here.

I blinked when I heard the news. It's really just too big for the area. I have commented before at the way higher density development is placing pressure on existing parks, sporting facilities and green spaces. This proposal will add to those pressures.

. .

Monday, February 26, 2018

Brief reflections on children and childhood

"We just love these cool, misty mornings. 
That's my whole world right there."
Lara Flanagan, My Notes from New England
Anybody who has been a parent will sometimes have struggled with what they should or should not say to their kids.

I think that this has become more difficult for us all because there are now so many views (and rules) on what we are meant to say or not say, do or not do.

I mention this now because I have just read Lara Flanagan's post Kindness is so much better than being right on her blog, My Notes from New England. Yes, yes, I said. .

For those who don't know Lara, her web site describes herself in this way:
My name is Lara Flanagan and My Notes from New England is about the journey I travel with my constant companions of my young twins Archie and Larissa, my two mad dogs Kevin & Rosie and the beautiful world of New England that I call home. 
My Notes from New England began with the stories of how a single mum city girl embraced a new life in the country. It documented our travels as we donned backpacks and traipsed around the world for 9 months and now it follows us as we explore and celebrate the beautiful world that is the New England region, Australia and beyond. 
My Notes from New England was inspired by challenges I have faced since embarking on a complete lifestyle change which was sparked by a major health crisis in the form of a diagnosis of MS.
In addition to her blog, Lara has a Facebook Page and a twitter handle.I love her photos and have taken the liberty of reproducing one above.

My girls are older now and seem to have grown up okay. Well, I think that they are pretty bloody special but then I'm their dad. I would think that way!

I know that I'm not alone in that perspective. All parents struggle to some degree, but with love most kids survive the experience and turn out okay.

If I had one piece of advice to offer to new parents, it would be don't worry or agonise too much. Enjoy the ride. They will grow up far too fast anyway!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Musings - Barnaby Joyce and the question of public versus private morality revisited

I hadn't wanted to comment further on Barnaby Joyce beyond those things that I said in Barnaby Joyce and the question of public versus private morality and in the subsequent comment thread. My view was better let the matter rest until we could see all the fall-out. To a degree, that's still true.

On 25 January I wrote Surviving in an age of outrage - the personal space.  I have the second post on the public space almost ready to go, but my thinking there took me in new directions that I'm still working through.

The genesis of the 25 January post was in fact a conversation about Barnaby Joyce in Armidale prior to the by-election. I wasn't thinking, I was relaxed, had forgotten other views. My friend suddenly said I must go. I realised he was going to avoid what might have become a fight. This is a very old friend, someone whom I really value. I know his views, I disagree with him in many cases, but I do not wish to lose his friendship. I really value it. Better to exercise discretion and shut up. I wish I had done so sooner.

A little later, I realised that I was censoring my public views as well. This came as a bit of a shock. I am not a cultural warrior. I always try to be fair. I want to encourage discussion, to untangle issues. There are certain contested areas such as Aboriginal history and policy where I am very cautious indeed. But to realise the extent to which I am now self-censoring made me very uncomfortable indeed.

I will complete the second post. For the moment, I am providing a context for the brief remarks that follow.

In the two weeks that followed my post on Mr Joyce I watched the deluge of publicity as issue after issue was picked up and thrown into the mix without balance or time for analysis.The original issue of morality as it related to sexual conduct and relations was still there all the time even when denied, aided by the PM's response.

This also became clear at a dinner Wednesday night where the only real issue was the response to to the morality of the affair. The PM's ban was also supported on the grounds that this was no more than the private sector was already doing.

Thursday morning my attention was drawn to this piece of sleaze misreporting from the Canberra Times repeated in the Age. As you might expect given my background, it left me somewhat unhappy.

On Friday morning came the allegations of sexual misconduct. Apparently the lady in question is unhappy that her complaint was made public. I would have thought that inevitable in the circumstances. That morning, the front page of our new guardian of public morality, Sydney's Daily Telegraph, carried Barnaby Joyce on one side of the front page, a story on sexting between two NSW state Liberal MPS, a story later repeated in the Australian.I can't give links. They are now behind the paywall. I looked at the story and thought here it comes.

Later that morning, Mr Joyce resigned as party leader. Then the Northern Daily Leader ran an editorial: This hasn’t been about the affair for a while. I really flipped, tweeting  "As an exercise in cant, hypocrisy and back covering this editorial takes the cake. The Joyce matter was everything about sex and what was appropriate to report. Other things were then thrown in. We will all be the poorer for this". Over the top perhaps, but I leave it to you to judge.

Clearly, all the issues that have been ventilated over recent weeks will require some clarification. For that reason, the whole thing is likely to roll on for a while yet. I won't comment on these or the political ramifications at this point because I have no idea how all this will unfold.

I finished my 9 February post on Barnaby Joyce and the question of public versus private morality with these words:
While reporting might not have affected the election result at the time, I do think that the current controversy will have some adverse political effects on Mr Joyce and the National Party. Of more importance, however, is what the case might mean for the dividing line between public and private morality. Are the Daily Telegraph and  the other newscorp outlets in their role as "defenders" of public morality taking us down the path previously followed by the British tabloids with their sometimes salacious coverage of moral, generally sexual lapses, by British public figures? Alternatively, will Australia follow the route that the US seems to be going of outright bans on  sexual relations between elected officials and their staff? Or maybe both, since the second is likely to lead to the first anyway? 
I don't know. I can't answer these questions. The current sometimes febrile debate around relationships suggests a continuing shift in attitudes towards morality, the emergence of new views on what constitutes acceptable behaviour, new views increasingly enforced by various forms of social and legal sanctions. The effect appears to be a progressive widening of the scope of public morality at the cost of private morality.
I think that the two weeks since I wrote have largely answered these questions. I may not like it, but we do seem to have entered the domain that what the public are interested in constitutes the public interest, that this now determines the shifting line between public and private morality in a way that we haven't seen before in this country.


The Australian provides more information on the sexual harassment claims against Mr Joyce.


Discussion in comments referred to the selection process for APVMA HQ in Armidale. While it's peripheral to this post, this is my response: Canberra Times sleazes over Armidale and APVMA

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Train Reading - preliminary musings on Furtado's Histories of Nations

One of my Christmas presents was Peter Furtado (ed) Histories of Nations: how their identities were forged (Thames & Hudson, compact edition 2017). In the book, 28 historians and writers provide their own short perspectives (around 3,000 words) of the history of their own nations with a short introduction by Furtdado. The contributors were asked  “to step outside their usual frames of reference and write about how history is understood in the culture of their homelands at large,”

Jerry Brotton's 2012 review on the BBC's Historyextra provides a good overview of the book, concluding
Overall this is a collection that goes too far (why so many European nations?) and yet not far enough (why so few east Asian or African ones, why not every single nation?). The writing is not consistently good enough to make it more than an intriguing curiosity.
I can see why he reached that conclusion, the standard of writing does vary, but its also a little unfair. Even as an intriguing curiosity it's worth reading, but there is more to the book than that.

To begin with, the book reminds us of just how much the frames within which we think and write are determined by culture and history. As analysts or historians we do try to break out of this, but it's remarkably difficult because we cannot always see are own blinkers. It reminds us, too, about the fragility of national identities, about the way that history is put to the service of creating or preserving identity.

Some of the writers are very frank. On India, writer and journalist Mihir Bose suggests that India's problem is that it has never existed in an historical sense! It is "the civilization with no home-grown history". As I read this piece, I thought that it was a pity the Indian Empire broke up rather than transforming as it might have into a new nation. That, I thought, was one price of the Second World war.

As I read, I found that the multiple stories were causing subtle shifts in my own perceptions. I am reasonably well read, but there was material and perceptions that were new to me.

I could wish the book had more African material. Outside Egypt, Ghana is the only country covered on that continent, and Egypt's history is not African. I think that a similar book focused on the national history and historiography of African countries might provide some real insights - and correctives.

Overall, I thought that while the book is flawed, it is actually a very interesting work and well worth a read.


Monday, February 19, 2018

First reflections on the opening of NERAM's permanent exhibition of the Hinton collection

Opening of the permanent exhibition of the Hinton Collection at the New England Regional Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Paul Barratt.  

Part of the reason why I have been so quiet here is that I have been busy preparing a public lecture I gave Saturday as part of the opening ceremonies of the permanent exhibition of the Hinton collection at the New England Regional Art Museum.  

Starting in 1929 and continuing until his death in 1948, Howard Hinton gave over 1,000 artworks plus 700 art books to the Armidale Teachers' College. The result is one of the greatest art collections in Australia seen through the eyes of a single collector.

The concentration of such a large number of artworks in a small space is quite sumptuous. This is an exhibition you need to savour. Photo courtesy of Paul Barratt. . 

The sheer size of the collection makes it impossible to exhibit all pieces. So the gallery has chosen 230 or so pieces that can be rotated from time to time.  This number of paintings makes for a concentrated hanging in a small space. The impact is overwhelming. If visiting, you need time to enjoy the works,

In mt talk, I focused on the early days of the Armidale Teachers' College, while art historian Micheal Mignard focused on Hinton. This was a fascinating talk, telling me much I did not know.  As summarised by Paul Barratt:
Mike observed that the Hinton Collection is the best collection in the country of the Heidelberg School when they moved from Heidelberg to Sydney. It is also an important insight into what was going on in the Sydney art world in the 1920s and 1930s. Hinton knew the artists, and his standing as a collector was such that he would be granted early access to new exhibitions and would have first chop at buying the ones that caught his eye. The majority of these ended up at Armidale Teachers College, which also received the paintings in his personal collection when he died.

The New England Conservatorium of Music's Dixie Six at the exhibition opening.  Fabulous jazz. 

It will take me a little while to write up my notes from the trip and do the necessary follow-up. Each time I go to Armidale I end up with more action items than when I began! 

Friday, February 09, 2018

Barnaby Joyce and the question of public versus private morality

In my 16 December 2017 round-up, A chaotic three weeks in Australian politics!, I wrote in part:
Saturday 2 December saw the New England by-election. This had been a nasty campaign. 
From the social media feeds, I learned far more of Mr Joyce's personal life than I ever wanted to know. I kept wanting to say stop. Mr Joyce is a public figure, but what you are doing is not fair on anybody else.
I deliberately did not provide details. However, over the course of the campaign the twitter feeds provided accumulating material and detail. Not all this material was correct. An apparent example is the story that one of Mr Joyce's daughters drove down Tamworth's Peel St in a car with “Barnaby Joyce” branding, yelling at people not to vote for him through a megaphone. However, core details were fleshed out at interminable length. As the campaign proceeded, the tone became increasingly angry with anger directed in part at the mainstream media for not reporting. To drive this point home, many of the tweets were copied to journalists. If you just scroll back through the #NewEnglandVotes twitter feed you will get a feel.

Following the by-election, the matter rested until the newscorp media decided to run the story. Mrs Joyce confirmed basic details but asked for privacy. Fat chance. Now the barrier has been breached, the story has run and run. I don't know what the Joyce family is going to do, although their Tamworth home is reportedly for sale. It's hard enough managing a deeply personal thing like a marriage breakdown, harder still in the withering glare of national publicity.

The local media in particular were placed in a difficult position, something covered in part by Jamieson Murphy's piece in the Northern Daily Leader. They had to balance questions of proof, the right to privacy. the question of public interest in a frenetic campaign. I'm not sure how I would have handled it had I been an editor. I would have been conflicted.

Some of those who oppose Mr Joyce are arguing that the failure to report affected the election outcome. That's possible, although I'm doubtful. The matter was widely covered on social media and was the subject of considerable local gossip. Press coverage might have cost him some votes, but might equally have gained him some from those believing that this was part of an already perceived campaign against Mr Joyce.

While reporting might not have affected the election result at the time, I do think that the current controversy will have some adverse political effects on Mr Joyce and the National Party. Of more importance, however, is what the case might mean for the dividing line between public and private morality. Are the Daily Telegraph and  the other newscorp outlets in their role as "defenders" of public morality taking us down the path previously followed by the British tabloids with their sometimes salacious coverage of moral, generally sexual lapses, by British public figures? Alternatively, will Australia follow the route that the US seems to be going of outright bans on  sexual relations between elected officials and their staff? Or maybe both, since the second is likely to lead to the first anyway?

I don't know. I can't answer these questions. The current sometimes febrile debate around relationships suggests a continuing shift in attitudes towards morality, the emergence of new views on what constitutes acceptable behaviour, new views increasingly enforced by various forms of social and legal sanctions. The effect appears to be a progressive widening of the scope of public morality at the cost of private morality.