An extended family history, this is the story of buffalo hunters Joe and Reuben Cooper. Reuben was also one of the founders of the Northern Territory Football League and his descendants have remained prominent in the sport.
John Mehaffey’s life centred around sport. A South Australian tennis player and Australian Rules footballer, and Australian representative in table-tennis in his peak years in the 1940s and 1950s, a successful sports store proprietor, and long-time sports commentator, this is a fascinating story from a time when leading athletes were poorly paid but rich in the variety of experiences they were able to enjoy.
A memoir in which I was able to assist my good friend Bruce Weir. In the middle of 2017 Bruce received a dire health report but faced the news with great coverage and threw himself into painting with amazing passion and energy. At the same time I suggested that we do a series of oral history interviews in which to record details of a productive life. These were conducted over several weeks during June and July. Bruce spoke about his main interests in cosmology, geology, native flora and fauna, his love of the Flinders Ranges, his main career in the law and creative talents as a guitarist (rock, classical, flamenco), photographer, wood worker and finally painter. Fortunately the book was published and Bruce was able to enjoy it for several weeks before his death in March, 2018.
WHEN IT COMES TO SPORT
ABOVE ITS WEIGHT.
The Adelaide Grand Prix drew much larger crowds than does that of Melbourne which stole it. Adelaide Test cricket crowds sometimes surpass Sydney’s numbers and trounce those of Brisbane and Perth. Oakbank is the biggest picnic horse race meeting in the nation.
Adelaide Sporting Sites is a story of venues past and present. Of Adelaide Oval, Football Park, Memorial Drive, the City Baths, Morphetville and Victoria Park racecourses, Norwood Oval and Norwood Velodrome, Wayville and Globe Derby trots, Rowley Park and Mallala speedways. Of events and associations: Crows/Power derbys, Magpies/Redlegs rivalry, Australian Tennis and Golf Opens, the Bay Sheffield, of Phar Lap racing at Morphetville, Tulloch at Cheltenham, and Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nicki Lauda on the East Parklands circuit.
Sports fans often love the places where the action occurs more than their favourite teams or players because they represent continuity in their lives. This richly illustrated book will prompt memories of familiar venues as well as enabling you to discover a glorious history of Adelaide sport.
DON WATSON There It Is Again: Collected writings. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress
There It Is Again is an anthology of Don Watson’s sharp-eyed observations on political and social issues in the 21st century.
While Australia is the prime focus, the first of these 47 essays, ‘Rabbit Syndrome’ is devoted to American politics, and the United States is the subject of a further four: ‘Faith, Freedom and Katrina’; an excerpt from American Journeys; ‘Palin Politics’ – a precursor to Trump, and ‘American Berserk’.
Anthologies are dip-in books and ‘Once a Jolly Lifestyle’ is a good place to start, with author Don Watson getting an early morning hair-cut in the Victorian Wimmera town of Horsham. ‘So how’s your day been so far?’ his female hairdresser enquires.
The answer goes like this:
There was a time – a very long time – when country people rarely asked more of another human being than how he or she was going. In this same time there was often the whiff of damp hay, dogs or sweat around country schoolrooms, churches and picture theatres. Country people – this was before they were called rural and regional Australians – were the living embodiment of their work and environment, somehow even of their faith. They were as seals are to rocks and owls are to night, the elemental Australians.
But now, as Watson says, that question ‘becomes pretty well mandatory’ for ‘customer-focused businesses, worldwide, and the world now includes the Wimmera’. It also induces a ‘state of mindlessness’.
Mindlessness is at the core of the use and abuse of the language, and politics and the English language are key concerns here. It is hardly surprising that the author of Death Sentence, Weasel Words and Bendable Learnings should mourn the loss of verbs and their replacement in speech and writing by such clichéd words as ‘commitment’, ‘accountability’, ‘strategic’, ‘values’ and ‘outcomes’.
I can also relate to the hairdresser’s question as a shortened version of it – ‘How’s your day been?’ used to be put to me by a friend, a public servant, in a city pub at the end of a working day. And I found it intrusive – as if I was being held to account for my work (or lack of it), and had to mark off some KPIs (key performance indicators) in a social setting.
It also reminded me of the mid-1980s when I worked for a year in local government and a colleague used to spend five minutes every hour documenting what he had been doing for the previous 55 minutes. A historian, he was shortly afterwards seconded to an internal management team working on restructuring the organisation. Several years later I returned to the same body and the same man was still working on management reviews. Whether any recommendations from his reviews were ever implemented, or any benefits resulted from them, I do not know.
As Watson comments in ‘National Trust Heritage Lecture’:
The language of management – for which we read the language of virtually all corporations and companies large and small, public-service departments, government agencies, libraries, galleries and universities, the military, intelligence organisations, and increasingly politics – is language that cannot describe or convey any human emotion, including the most basic ones like happiness, sympathy, greed, envy, love or lust.
In sum, it is dead language, vague and vapid.
One thing that can be said of Don Watson is that he is grounded. Grounded by growing up on a Gippsland dairy farm in the 1950s, expanded maybe through reading and work as an academic historian, but grounded again in different ways as a satirist, then working in the Prime Minister’s Office as Paul Keating’s speech writer, and in his writing life beyond.
Whatever he writes, Watson certainly has an acute ear. Take this example from The Bush extract in this collection:
The mental images have not faded. The subject cannot be separated from the settings in which he worked: the hills and the trees and the fences and wooden sheds and yards and the cattle and crops and the back porches with their boots and coats, the smell of mud and manure, and the rush of the westerly in the pines. In a dry spell he would tap the tank beside the kitchen window. He tapped the barometer just about every day of his life. In the evening the wind moaned in the Chinese cedars, the calves bawled, the bulls roared their lust. At night the possums rattled their throats in the trees, fighting for territory, discouraging owls and dogs. The dogs barked, howled sometimes. Magpies welcomed the mornings with a warble, the thrush with its thrill of a song.
Or this from ‘Aussie Icons’:
Two or three days after Steve Irwin died, while standing in airport queue I heard a man say to his companion that Germaine Greer had ‘tried to gut an Aussie icon’. His companion was astounded to hear that anyone should be so insensitive. ‘I mean,’ said the man, ‘I wasn’t a big wrap for the bloke, but he was an icon and you have to respect that. You don’t go round gutting an icon.’
Or this from ‘War on Terror’:
It’s the word ‘war’. From the moment ‘war on terror’ was declared everything went fuzzy. Australians persuaded themselves that refugees from terror might be agents of terror. American soldiers went to fight in Iraq believing they were avenging 9/11. The whole world was conned into believing Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
An icon was originally an image of a saint or hero but it has now come to mean the actual person. Watson is not a pedant opposed to the evolution of language, merely the confusion that sometimes attends it. War is generally regarded as armed conflict between nations but terror is a state of mind which may be prompted by terrorist acts. Imprecision regarding a definition of war allows atrocities to be committed in its name
Don Watson disdains being described as a public intellectual and tells us that even after he’d been earning a living as a writer for 20 years he found it difficult to describe himself as such. Real writers were the Tolstoys, Prousts, Hemingways of the world, not scribblers like himself. He has no need for such modesty.
Tom Keneally has employed a pithy phrase – ‘dazzlingly elegant and perceptive’ – to describe Watson’s writing and that is a deserved testimonial. I have read virtually all of Watson’s books and many of these articles when they originally appeared in The Monthly. Even so, it is an enormous pleasure to have these pieces gathered together between two covers. Don Watson is a wonderful recorder and prophet of our times. Long may he be so.
Don Watson There It Is Again: Collected writings Vintage Books 2017 PB 352pp $34.99.
Bernard Whimpress is a historian who usually writes on sport. His most recent book is The Official MCC Ashes Story.
MATT WATSON Fabulous Phil: The Phil Carman Story. Reviewed by BernardWhimpress
A rivetingly flawed biography of one of the most talented Australian Rules footballers to ever pull on a boot.
Let’s begin with the flaws.
This is a book with 55 chapters and books with so many chapters usually see me casting them aside – they’re just too bitty. It draws on interviews with many people and normally I don’t like excessive quoting. It has me questioning the whereabouts of the author’s voice.
Yet the bits mostly work, for the book is a compulsive page-turner. So too does the chorus of voices. They convey contrary messages, but then ‘Fabulous Phil’ Carman was a contrary man: introvert and extrovert, social but not sociable, liked but essentially a loner, an independent free spirit tied to a team game.
‘If’ is a little big word.
- if Collingwood hadn’t engaged in such bastardry in keeping him out of football between 1970 and 1972;
- if Collingwood hadn’t been such a basket-case of a club when he arrived in 1975;
- if he hadn’t broken a bone in his foot and missed seven matches, he would have won the Brownlow Medal in his first season instead of finishing fourth;
- if he’d had a mentor like Norwood coach Robert Oatey during his VFL career;
- if he’d had a coach worth listening to in his Collingwood years – Murray Weideman and Tom Hafey bored him with their approach to the game;
- if boundary umpire Graham Carberry hadn’t invaded his personal space in 1980, leading to the head butt that saw him suspended for 20 matches;
- if he hadn’t been his own worst enemy …
… things might have been different.
The trouble was he was his own worst enemy.
If ever there was a couldabeen champion it was Phil Carman. A champion wins Brownlow and Magarey Medals, a champion dominates major matches and plays in premiership sides, a champion wins multiple club best and fairest trophies, and (barring injuries) plays 300 league games in his career.
Carman played 58 games in five interrupted seasons for Norwood in South Australia and 100 games with four Victorian Football League clubs (Collingwood, Melbourne, Essendon and North Melbourne). He shoulda played in a Collingwood premiership in 1977 but got himself suspended in the preliminary final and coach Hafey forever blamed him for the lost title. He shoulda won a Brownlow, and while he did win the Copeland Trophy (Collingwood’s best and fairest award) in his first season, that was his solitary club award. At an age when he might have been ending a glorious playing career to much applause, he was turning out in bum leagues with Kangaroo Flat and Sandhurst and as captain-coach of Eastlake in Canberra. Finally, when as coach he lifted Sturt from the pits of despair in 1995 to take them to the 1998 SANFL grand final, he had the disappointment of losing narrowly to Port Adelaide.
Phil Carman had talent to burn and he burnt it. Only at Norwood did he express anything like his true ability and then his career was interrupted. At Collingwood under Weideman and Hafey he was cut too much slack because of his talent. At Melbourne he didn’t give Carl Ditterich a chance as coach. At Essendon he was excited to play under Barry Davis but then came the suspension. At North Melbourne he might have worked well with Ron Barassi but injuries were taking their toll.
Without doubt he was the fittest player of his era, a dazzling excitement machine who stands out in the memory two generations since he began. As the first professional footballer he possessed an extraordinary range of skills and especially the seeming ability to hang in the air when flying for a high mark. For half of my life I have argued that Carman was the second-most talented footballer I have seen (behind Barrie Robran). As a South Australian I have placed him ahead of Russell Ebert, Malcolm Blight, Paul Bagshaw and Rick Davies, and in Victoria ahead of Gary Ablett Senior and Wayne Carey.
Talent, of course, doesn’t necessarily translate to achievement and a lot of people have probably considered me a lunatic. One reason I enjoyed Matt Watson’s book is that the testimony of others – Graham Cornes, Peter Moore, Robert Oatey, Ross Dillon, Barry Cable, and Lou Richards – supports my view.
If I have a criticism of the book it is probably that at 420 pages it is too long. Carman’s suspension from the 1977 VFL grand final is laboured and two key questions are not fully explored. We know that Collingwood struck a hard bargain and that if he played VFL he would play with them but was there never a chance of him beginning with another club? Carman’s individualist streak, his love of running and training by himself also points to a wrong choice of sport. Perhaps he was the great Olympian we never had.
Fabulous Phil is a warts-and-all biography (as it needs to be) and a well-rounded portrait of its subject, containing elements of pathos as Carman’s life (and football) begins to unravel in Victorian country leagues before a welcome recovery coaching in Adelaide where his major football began.
Matt Watson Fabulous Phil: The Phil Carman Story Brolga Publishing PB 420pp $34.99
Bernard Whimpress is a historian whose most recent book is Adelaide Oval: A Photo-Document 2009.
BRADON ELLEM The Pilbara: From the deserts profits come. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress
The Pilbara is an important book for anyone thinking about the world of work and how it might be shaped in Australia.
Bradon Ellem tells us at the outset that his approach will be historical and geographical, that the past does not stay the same, and that the vast area of the Pilbara in north-west Western Australia is physically isolated. Without economics, however, there would be no modern story and this he relates in three phases: union dominance, intense conflict between mining companies and unions, and finally employer dominance through fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers, changes to labour laws, and the geography of work.
This is a powerful history of a transformed landscape, which has had wider implications for the conduct of industrial relations in Australia.
It begins in the 1960s with ‘ore bodies which were millions of years in the making’ and will likely end with them ‘being mined out in just one century of capitalist intervention’. Iron-ore mining required massive start-up costs as there were no railway lines, few sealed roads and only one suitable harbour at Port Hedland. State and global finance shaped the area at the beginning but curiously the state then moved aside:
The Australian state opened the way for global giants to profit from the Pilbara’s resources; but, with that done, it walked away from the attempts to use resource exploitation to drive downstream manufacturing development, as even conservative policy makers had wanted to do before World War II.
While unions were powerful in the early years, they faced obstacles. Physical isolation with the mines hundreds of kilometres apart, workers coming from all over the country, and a high labour turnover meant that unity was difficult. There were grievances galore over heat, flies, long working hours, deafening machinery and the lack of air-conditioning as well as work fragmentation (quarrying, crushing, transporting, treating, storing, loading) which led to demarcation disputes and a large number of awards. Collectivism took precedence over unionism, as did men over women, although the arrival of women in the towns and their employment as teachers, health workers and in administrative jobs softened the previous macho ethos of hard living and hard drinking.
Through most of the 1970s the working operation of the Pilbara becomes what Ellem terms ‘contested terrain’, a shift in power from worker to manager, the noteworthy role of convenors – full-time union officials whose wages are paid by the company, and disputes which are not confined to work sites but spill over to the towns. The companies attempt new ways of regulating wages and conditions but face worker opposition based on the argument that the Pilbara is a special place. Hamersley’s managers attempt to bring the unions under control in 1979 produces a 10-week strike and nationwide union support, but the end result is state intervention by Charles Court’s Liberal government in favour of the transnational company, which underlines union weakness.
The 1980s and 1990s see the mining companies build on this gain: first Peko Wallsend at Robe River, then Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia (CRA) at Hamersley, and finally BHP. Peko’s strategy of restoring managerial authority begins in 1986 and the statement attributed to the company’s industrial relations manager Herb Larratt that ‘every worker should go to work each day expecting to be sacked’ was a loathsome expression of a changing industrial world. CRA’s rethinking of its relations with its workforce in the early 1990s followed Peko’s success and its process of de-unionisation led to new ways of working with 12-hour shifts, longer overall working hours, and employees signing individual worker contracts by the end of the decade. BHP’s offer of individual contracts to its workers in 1999 would mark a testing ground for the unions that, although they had success retaining members, found it difficult to attract new members.
The testing ground also had a moral component as voiced both by the union newsletter, Rock Solid and in the words of founding convenor of Action in Support of Partners, Colleen Palmer:
We were all a long way from home and living in a very remote and isolated environment that wasn’t exactly conducive to family living. We all had concerns about our future in the Pilbara and worried about our children’s future and the future of working conditions we were to pass down to them.
Unfortunately, as Ellem observes, multinational companies have other concerns:
The towns had long been trouble for the companies … If towns could be done away with, so much the better. Not one new town has been built after the 1970s despite the massive growth in the industry.
In the 21st century the companies have remade the landscape as ‘a site of production’ in a globalised network, one where, as one Rio Tinto executive explained, mining would be simpler without human beings. The rise of the Pilbara Mineworkers’ Union at Hamersley was a new type of union cooperation, seeking a collective agreement but broken by the Australian Workers Union deal with Rio. In the boom years, while 60 per cent of Australia’s export income came from mining, the sector employed only two per cent of the workforce and raised concerns about the ‘indifference of policy-makers to the question of what would happen post-mining’:
The mining boom generated not only billions of dollars in cash flow but a debate about the distribution of its benefits and the nature of its legacy. The Labor government elected in 2007 picked up on this and planned to tax what it and others referred to as the ‘super profits’ of the corporations and then set up a sovereign wealth fund. Chief among the models they had in mind was Norway, where such a fund, based on revenue from offshore petroleum, had driven massive infrastructure developments beyond the norm for so small a country.
The political influence of the mining companies, backed by an expensive media campaign, took its toll on prime minister Kevin Rudd ‘such that his colleagues replaced him and “his” tax’. At the end of the boom it might well be suggested that Australians have not benefitted much, nor have Western Australians sufficiently, nor the region under discussion:
The boom put the Pilbara, the FIFO worker and the mind-bending figures around the industry at the centre of national media attention and public conversation. On the fringes, both literally and metaphorically, lay the descendants of the first inhabitants of the Pilbara from whose lands the profits flowed. It was impossible to reconcile mining’s investment levels and profits with the conditions of these people. On the outskirts of towns generating the highest profits ever recorded in Australian mining lay the abject poverty. It was ten minutes’ walk, not a ten-hour flight, to the Third World.
In many ways this is a depressing story because the bad guys seem to have won. At the same time it is an important book for anyone thinking about the world of work and how it might be shaped in this country’s future.
The Pilbara makes strong play in its subtitle on the AD Hope line ‘From the deserts prophets come’ but perhaps even more aptly it reinforces Donald Horne’s original ironic meaning of ‘Lucky Country’. Once again Australia has sold itself short.
Bradon Ellem The Pilbara: From the deserts the profits come University of Western Australia Press 2017 PB 256pp $39.99
Bernard Whimpress is a historian whose most recent book is Adelaide Oval: A Photo-Document 2009.