‘The days go on with regularity over and over, one day indistinguishable from the next. A long continuous chain. Then suddenly, there is a change.’ — Travis Bickle
‘I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things, because we are moving into a different time.’ — Scott Morrison
On Nine Years of Nothing, an Objective Observation
Yesterday, Senator Hollie Hughes shared a video of a man defacing Coalition election signage in Bennelong. ‘This is absolutely disgusting,’ she tweeted, ‘Australian democracy is strong and robust, but actions like this undermine it.’ In the video, the man moves gracefully down a fence line of signs, lackadaisically spray painting dicks over the bald head of Simon Kennedy, fully aware that he is being filmed, coolly indifferent. He moves like someone who has unburdened themselves of a nagging annoyance, like a highwayman whose acceptance to the world around him now outweighs any fear he once had of the gibbet, like a monk beatifically gliding over hot coals, a panther pacing the sunspot in its zoo enclosure. He looks free and content, and as he waves to the person filming him and their camera tracks him down the fence, we get the slow reveal of a T an N a U and a C, plastered elegantly on a procession of posters.
It is a beautiful bit of footage, as far from ‘absolutely disgusting’ as one can get: a sprinkle of catharsis in a grim desert of bullshit, and, perhaps, the most objective take on this election that I’ve seen yet.
A rare flash of colour in our big black void.
Dog Day Afternoons…
Back in January it looked like my dog Buckley was going to die. He’d taken sick suddenly last October with a mysterious wasting disease known as PLE, and within a month a dog who had been described as ‘an immortal chaos demon’ by one friend and who put the ‘bound’ into ‘boundless energy’ seemed to age ten years over night, staggering around the house like a living corpse.
It was distressing, to say the least. I live a fairly hermetic life these days, and I’m not exaggerating when I say 90% of my time is spent with Buckley, talking to him about this and that while trying to manage the bottomless capacity for naughtiness that has marked his every waking moment since I bought him off two FIFOs on gumtree for $90 back in 2014. Despite his love of stealing my socks, eating used tissues, and jumping up and punching me in the balls whenever possible, I consider him my nearest and dearest friend/brother/Goblin, and the thought of life without him seemed grim, if not impossible.
When his illness took a sudden turn for the worst in January I felt a deep black pit open up within me. I could hear the ghost of David Berman singing in my ear: all my happiness is gone, gone, gone, gone, gone.
Being a generally odd chap and not knowing how to express myself like a normal person, I began wheeling out this line whenever anyone asked me how he was going:
‘If Buckley dies, I am going to shoot the Prime Minister.’
A joke! A joke! Obviously a joke. The only thing that I dislike more than guns and violence is loud sounds and being in trouble. I was just riffing! A harmless little riff is all! No need to dob me in to ASIO, no need to worry if you see me walking the streets sporting army fatigues, combat boots and a mohawk, a copy of Catcher in the Rye tucked beneath my arm—I’m a professional comedian! It’s just a harmless joke, a trifle over done! Haha! HAHA! We’re just having a laugh, yeah?
Well no, no one ever laughed when I said it. You might say ‘of course they didn’t’ but if I’m known for one thing it’s for being a cheeky little cooker who likes to goof through their toxic brain farts, to the point where people not only expect it, but encourage it, however this…felt different. There was no laughter in my eyes. No wink. No cheek.
As Buckley got sicker, I got sadder, and I felt the line—now my rote response to ‘what’s been happening?’—becoming meaner. I started to notice people…flinching. My God, I thought, they think I’m serious!!!
The morning the vet called to tell us they’d have to put Buckley down I found myself asking:
Save me John Knoxville, you’re my only hope!
Depression and grief are funny buggers. Sit with them long enough, and they’ll colour your whole world. Once they become a lens by which you view everything, look out! The greatest trick depression pulls is convincing you it’s hall of mirrors is as close to true as truth can get. Smash through those mirrors, however, and delve a little deeper into that grand carnival we call ‘mental illness’ and you’ll come to realise that nothing is any one way for more than a minute, and that objective truth, like madness, comes in swings and roundabouts.
As a journalist middling talent and ability and a dearth of seriousness, I’ve always found my more professional colleagues’ obsession with cranking the shaft of ‘objectivity’ a fairly ludicrous one. I honestly don’t know how they keep at it. I have always been too mental to be a ‘proper’ journalist, afterall. I never did a degree, an internship, or held a staff job anywhere. I’m too nuts to to pull off the glad-handing, suck-holing, and fart-sniffing that forms the bedrock of a sensible career in Australian media, and I’m a bit of a Balrog when it comes to burning bridges. I’ve been told by one editor that I’m ‘horny for defamation’, and another that my opinion pieces ‘read like a letter from the Zodiac’, so I’ve had to kinda Artful Dodger my way into the industry, tricking those more sensible than I into believing that that horniness and that Zoadiacishness is a strength, not a weakness/potential lawsuit waiting to happen.
I say all this up front because I have been watching my ‘peers’ (this is like Gollum calling the Fellowship his ‘associates’) performance this election and wondering if the terms of my career weren’t set by me being too crazy, but by not being crazy enough.
Watching the press corps performance this election cycle, especially those assigned to Anthony Albanese, has been like watching a gaggle of pop-up ads come to life—Mr. Albanese, are you aware of the single MILFs in your area? How many MILFs are in your area exactly, Mr. Albanese? Mr. Albanese, what is the median age of these MILFs?—the press corps come off like spam barraging a person with oblique nothings, practically begging you to hit that little x and close their noisy window, if just go get some respite from their manic (I can use this word) ramblings. An average observer would be hard pressed (no pun) not to look at these people and think: my god, what is the point? To which they would reply: objectivity.
If this is objectivity, count me out. I’m going back to writing my columns with letters I cut and paste out of old copies of The AFR then posting said columns to Peter Costello’s country mansion if this is what serious journalism looks like, you lot can get stuffed!
The truth is though, I’d counted myself out about six months ago, around the time my dog took sick, and I felt myself begin to spill over with black bile. I’ve been covering Australian politics in some capacity or another for the better part of a decade, but the thrill—and the will—is gone. The last three years have done me in. I haven’t written a single piece about ‘AusPol’ (an orcish phrase if there ever was one) this entire election cycle. I haven’t offered my thoughts on ScoMo, Albo, or whatever the hell ‘the teals’ are meant to be. I haven’t even stopped to consider the size and shape of a certain cabinet minister’s head (that way lies true madness).
It’s not that I’ve got nothing to say, it’s just that what I have to say isn’t publishable. I joke about being a crank, but at least I used to be able to steer that crank energy into (somewhat) thoughtful analysis and investigations, my ‘I hate all youse c*nts’ vibes translating into something that could pass as quasi-objective ‘journalism,’ at least by Australian media’s mercifully low standards. But I just can’t manage it anymore, and I’ve had to admit that covering Australian politics in any capacity was having a serious effect on my health, making my depression markedly worse, to the point where my therapist told me that the Government might have supplanted my personal traumas as the biggest trigger for my suicidal ideation, and that I should avoid Q&A in the same way that I avoid heroin.
She was right! Thinking about the Government and Australia in any serious capacity felt like putting my balls in a toaster. Being made witness to the Prime Minister’s looping non-apologies and non-policies, and being blasted by a cadre of ghouls’ dry mouthed hate mongering began to feel like an endurance test straight out of Jackass—good lord, when will Johnny Knoxville burst through the door and release me from this hell?
But Johnny Knoxville isn’t coming, no matter how hard you scream. Instead, you’re left subsumed in the acid bath of this hellishly drawn out moment in Australian history, with nothing to consider but the infinite expanse of nothingness—this great null void—that they call the ‘national narrative.’
The Void: An Investigation
I remember the dread that crawled up my spine the night that Tony Abbott won. I was at my friend’s 21st, and the news rippled through the crowd right before the speeches. His dad, a Labor man (as I was, at the time), tugged on my shirt, pulled me towards his ashen face, handed me a cold tinnie, and muttered: ‘let’s not let it ruin our night, yeah?’
Lord knows I tried (Emu Export can only do so much) but I think that that dread has ruined every night of my life for the past nine years. The Coalition ruled this country through the majority of my 20s, spilling over into my early 30s, and I can’t help but feel like a lot of my woes and tribulations are tangled up in their bastardry, that, as sacrilegious as it is to admit it, their Government has directly impacted my life in immediate and tangible ways.
This is something that good journalists should never admit: that they exist, as people, in the world they report on. To do so is to let the mighty lasso of objectivity slip through your soft hands, forever, thus forsaking any pretence of honesty in your work, your life, and your soul.
I guess what envy I have towards the breed of journalist who love to run a train on ‘objectivity’ is the knowledge that they’ve lived lives that have allowed them to exist beyond the power that be’s ability to harm them and the people they love. For me though, nine years of The Coalition has felt like nine years of being hunted for sport by a mob of disinterested billionaires, zealots, and their meat-headed ruddy-faced cronies. Their policies have—quite literally—lead to the deaths of my friends, acquaintances, and communities, and I find that hard to put aside when I’m asked to report on their motivations and machinations as if they’re anything other than ‘fuck you, I’ve got mine’ and ‘just try and stop me, bitch!’
It’s been a decade of nihilism, cruelty, and wilful destruction fuelled by comically barefaced moments of corruption and dodgy dealings that’d make the Borges wince. That, I hope, is an objective fact that we can all agree on, even if we’re made to feel like acknowledging it is somehow an assault on the unspoken pact held between our guild of thieves and their guild of assassins.
It’s been an era of meanness and outright barbarism, and any request to reflect on that with this fetishised and mythic ‘objectivity’ feels like a request to face a firing squad with an unpaid invoice as my last rites and ‘thanks for your time’ as my last words.
I’m seriously asking: how do you objectively reflect on a void? A hole? If I take off my dunce’s cone, slap on my porkpie press hat, and don this magic monocle of objectivity, all I see when I look at the past nine years of Australian politics and history is just that: a hole. Who are these people? What have they built? Where are we heading? When will we get there? Why is it like this?!? You can throw the five W’s of journalism into this hole for an eternity with both ears cocked and never hear them hit the bottom because there isn’t one: just an infinite black nothing, nothingness being this Government’s one consistency in their long reign of nobodies going nowhere, no worries, no how.
My instinct, as a journalist, is to point this hole out before it swallows everyone and everything, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s too late, that perhaps it has always been there, and that it is the foundational feature of Australian politics, and Australia itself.
How do you report on this? To consider the hole objectively is to go nuts. In a world drowning in takes but bereft of meaning, it’s no wonder a video of a man spraying penises on a candidate’s head over and over in a ritual of mutual penance seems like a totally sane response—anything, anything at all to keep the hole from growing, and swallowing us up!
Back in Buck
Buckley did not die. Perhaps my friend was right: he is some sort of demon. As we wept and wailed while coming to terms with the news that we’d have to put him down, the vet called back. He was, miraculously, coming out of his coma. He was, impossibly, alive. The plan was to bring him home and make him as comfortable as possible so that he could die surrounded by those who loved him sometime later that week, but…he kept on living. The hours I’d spent in chat rooms, forums, and facebook pages dedicated to this ‘untreatable’ disease suddenly paid off: a radical change in diet, a different course of medication, and plenty of belly rubs and the bastard (he is an absolute bastard) made a complete turn around. The vet specialist, still flabbergasted by his revival five months later, refers to him as ‘the miracle dog’—though I know he leans more anti-christ than lord and saviour.
As Buck bounced back, I felt the pit in my heart close up, and the black bile behind my eyes recede. My worldview felt less skewed by depression and grief, at least of that particular sort.
Now, when people come up to me and ask how he’s going (he’s popular/infamous) I tell them, my eyes sparkling with cheek again: ‘he’s great! I don’t know what I woulda done if he’d died…something crazy, for sure, like try and shoot the Prime Minister, haha!’ and we laugh and laugh and laugh, safe in the knowledge that all things—except Buckley—someday must end.