Private school ‘Fight Club’ sets tongues wagging


By Mike Welsh

DESPITE the non-negotiable first two rules of “Fight Club”, there has been a bit of chatter about a version of the 1999 cult classic operating at one of our private schools.

Word is a fight club during school hours, complete with betting, but modified with boxing gloves, was flourishing on school grounds until being closed down. Those in authority have so far remained faithful to rules one and two, even if some students haven’t.

THE ACT maternity inquiry has heard harrowing stories from local women that have reportedly left committee members “visibly shaken as they sat through evidence, audibly gasping, clasping hands over faces and shedding tears”.

It’s reprehensible and beyond comprehension that such an inquiry is only happening now, given the well-documented toxic culture of bullying and incompetence that has pervaded ACT Health for many years.

DROPPED in the deep end, new Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith quickly found her stroke. Ms Stephen-Smith said she “welcomed the inquiry and the women’s evidence”, but soon reverted to standard spin: “Every day our hospitals and clinical staff strive to provide the best possible birthing services and to do this in a compassionate and supportive way.” No consolation for the unnecessary heartache endured by many while the official line of “it’s no worse than any other jurisdiction” was adhered to rigidly.

IF you think you’ve heard all the things we Canberrans regularly whinge about, think again, there’s a new one. At least new to me. Petrol prices, the tram, the bubble, the weather, old trees, new trees, pill testing, roo culling, parking and – the lifeless Jolimont Centre.

Even on the coldest, meanest July day in Canberra a dog poking its head out of a car never fails to amuse and lift the spirits of our columnist. He spotted this beautiful character at Cooleman Court helping its human locate a parking space. Photo: Mike Welsh

Senior “SMH” journalist Stephanie Peatling tweeted (possibly while waiting for a midnight bus): “Although I am a big defender of Murrays bus service, the Jolimont Centre does lack a certain joie de vivre”.

Many agreed with Peatling with tweets such as: “It’s a soulless place” and “It’s no Grand Central Station”. But some prefer the centre just as it is, posting: “Pleasantly unvarnished” and “I’d rather keep it cheerful and cheap than pay extra for a barista”.

LEGENDARY radio man John Laws reads “CityNews” or, at least, this column. Laws was “flattered” by a recent piece in which I rated Alan Jones as “a brilliant broadcaster second only to John Laws, with daylight third”. The nice thank-you note I received from the man once described as having a voice that would curl a frangipani, made my day. Still on making one’s day, the last time I spoke with Laws we talked about who would play him in the movie. Clint Eastwood.

ACT Police have issued a blunt warning to ram raiders after a high number of smash-and-grabs in the region. While playing down the recent spate of aggravated burglaries (18 so far this year), as “cyclical”, Sgt Shane Scott’s message is: “We’re looking for ya and we’re going to get ya”.

CHINESE stand-up Ronny Chieng slayed a sell-out Canberra Theatre crowd without, refreshingly, resorting to the stand-up’s lazy and cliched Canberra fall back of porn, fireworks and roundabout jokes. The 33-year-old star of “Crazy Rich Asians” now lives in New York City where he’s part of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” with Trevor Noah.

A PAINFUL anniversary of one of Canberra’s most horrific days was remembered on Saturday. It was July 13, 1997 that 12-year-old Katie Bender was killed after debris from the demolition implosion of the Royal Canberra Hospital rained down on more than 100,000 people gathered around the lake. Bender, who was more than 400 metres from the site on Acton Peninsula, was killed instantly when struck by a piece of flying metal.

Another Year for LAWSIE


By Mike Welsh

The great man sounded grumpy when we spoke just after midday. Understandably so, as Richard John Sinclair Laws CBE OBE had just finished another demanding three-hour on-air talkback radio shift.

The phone call was to discuss his new book LAWSIE: Well…you wanted to know (New Holland) one which, astonishingly, Laws claims to have not yet read. The book chronicles a series of in-depth interviews with the publisher and the man himself, over a twelve month period.

Fans of Laws will quickly spot the lack of anything bowel-shatteringly new in the book, as it’s nigh on impossible for there to be anything novel about the ‘King Of Radio’. Everything about both this shy man’s very public and private existences has been minutely examined, forensically probed and widely published. His unique style has been aped by scores of wannabes over the past six decades, and yet, approaching his 82nd birthday, he still broadcasts on a daily basis. Quite an achievement, I suggest. Laws disagrees: “ I don’t think it’s an achievement, it was nothing I’d planned, it just happened. It’s simply a matter of survival.”

If it comes to it, who would play John Laws in the movie?

“I don’t think I could play a good Clint Eastwood, but I think Clint Eastwood might be able to play a good John Laws”.



The man whom former Prime Minister Paul Keating once described as the “World’s Greatest Broadcaster” applies an odd caveat to his role in the publication, stating that “This is not a book that I actually wrote, but it is my words. Somebody asked me a bunch of questions, and I answered a bunch of questions”. Laws is pleased with the overall presentation of the book, but dislikes the 60s era black and white photo on the back cover “I don’t ever remember looking like that.”

A testament to Laws’ unique relationship with (and vast influence over) mainstream Australia, is the consistent and long procession of grovelling politicians seeking direct access to the broad audience that only he can deliver. Laws describes Paul Keating as “a really good bloke with a terrific sense of humour and although I’ve not seen him for a while, I still regard him as a friend”. As for the current Lodge dweller, Laws points out that the Malcolm Turnbull we are seeing at the moment “Is the Malcolm Turnbull who wants to stay in power, but I believe he will change as he grows into the role of Prime Minister. He’s a very bright man.”



So, has John Laws mellowed down the years? “No, some people say I have but I’m just as angry as I ever was. I don’t have any trouble being angry. I’m not angry all the time, I have soft moments.”

Laws steps away from that when I broach the topic of one of his favourite radio stations, 2UE. Is the current lowly status of 2UE symptomatic of talkback radio now, I wondered? Laws booms in response: “2UE is a tragedy…used to be a great broadcasting station. It’s been allowed to unwind. I think it’s a disgrace what’s happened to 2UE, somebody should stop and have a close look at it”. In the book, Laws is more succinct in his assessment of the radio station that was at or near the top for decades: “2UE is fucked.”

Laws surprisingly speaks fondly of his former 2UE colleague (and sometimes adversary) Alan Jones, describing him as a competent broadcaster, and sympathises with his current poor state of health.


The Malcolm Turnbull we are seeing at the moment “Is the Malcolm Turnbull who wants to stay in power, but I believe he will change as he grows into the role of Prime Minister. He’s a very bright man.


In the book, Laws tells of a lunch organised by radio king-maker John Brennan (who once said that Laws “had a voice that would curl a frangipani”) at which both Laws and Jones “laughed their heads off”. Laws says “Alan is great company.”

Given the ferocity of their long running feud, I ask if there is a chance of a similar breaking of bread with his onetime under study 2GB’s Ray Hadley?

Laws responds curtly: “No, I only have lunch with people I like…Ray has been bitter for a very long time, as I’ve often said, Ray Hadley always wants to be John Laws. But he can’t be, because I am.”

I attempt to dig deeper into the soul of the man, suggesting that there is a more spiritual Laws on display in the book. He feels there is a difference between believing in God and attending church: “All the Popes, Bishops, Cardinals and Deacons with their fancy garb mean little to me. There were no costly clothes or self-glorification for Jesus, and that says a lot about him.” That being said, Laws is unsure if there is an after-life, deferring to Kerry Packer’s famous quip after he ventured too close to the other side: ”There’s nothing there.”

On the topic of death, I queried him about a reporter’s recent insensitive question on the appeal of dying on the air. Laws offers a laugh, and quotes Woody Allen in response: “I’m not afraid of death I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

If it comes to it, who would play John Laws in the movie?

“I don’t think I could play a good Clint Eastwood, but I think Clint Eastwood might be able to play a good John Laws”.



By Mike Welsh

Clint Eastwood was the very first person I ever saw on Television. I remember it vividly… in flickering black and white, way past 7.30 on a school night. My squinting and spellbound siblings and I huddled together, our faces just inches from a small screen encased in a large handsome walnut piece of furniture, captivated by an image magically radiating RAWHIDE into our lounge room.clint eastwood 2

The HMV 24 inch had been delivered, unpacked and “warmed up” by two men from the store that afternoon. My father had had a “good result” at the racecourse the previous Saturday and the result for we kids was “Rowdy” Yates.

The hit Western starred Eric Fleming as Gil Favor, the boss of a cattle drive, and a young Clint Eastwood as his softly spoken but deadly serious sidekick, “Rowdy” Yates.

I had of course seen a TV before but never in the comfort of our own lounge room.  We’d been invited to watch by the rich childless people up the road who had the first TV in our street; and had more than once loitered outside the Retravision store in the city which had banks of TVs flickering away in the display window. But now we were legit. We had what was then called a “set”. A TV set.

Clint’s Wagon train quickly rolled on from TV and made him a fistful of Hollywood dollars.

Heartbreakingly though, my contribution to the “box” failed to extend past juggling on the TAA Junior Flyers Club Talent Quest, and when I grew up, a short stint as a TV Weatherman.

These days I just yell at the TV. I suffer from the nasty and modern anti-social habit of Yelling at the TV or YATTV.

A fairy-tale journey which began as a wide-eyed, courteous 10 year old, sitting silently in awe before a  black and white TV watching a whispering “Rowdy” Yates, has, paradoxically transformed  into a full blown case of the modern and largely misunderstood affliction  YATTV.

Comedian Billy Connelly suffers from YATTV. Though in Billy’s defence, his YATTV only materialises while watching Nature programs. And Connelly’s yelling at the TV actually is positive and saves lives.   Apparently he yells to warn gormless Wildebeest happily grazing on the Serengeti Plain, of lions creeping up to eat them in David Attenborough docos.

My YATTV is just negative and futile.

From a bit of harmless “recreational” yelling on a Friday Night at “BT” the Ex- Football meathead now commentator on Channel 7’s AFL coverage, to downright scathing rants Mid-Week at the helpful and useful ABC consumer program “The Checkout”, and the regular smug stabs at Kochie and Karl and Lisa before breakfast.  I’m full spectrum.

My habit has grown to the extent that I now yell at the TV most of the week.

On a recent Monday I knew I had a serious YATTV problem. Early in the night I was able to resist the strong urge to savage Leigh Sales’ choice of blouse, and remain controlled as dear Caroline Jones introduced yet another Australian Story, but I lost all self-control and succumbed to shamelessly sledging the treasured Television Trifecta of Kerry Obrien, Paul Barry and Tony Jones. I had totally lost it.

Scant research into YATTV has revealed little other than that a major section of society also suffers but is in almost completely oblivious.  The most reliable opinion on why we yell at our television apparently involves the creation of the remote control.  Which IMHO has merit.

Back in the day one had to lift one’s fat arse off the couch and slovenly drag oneself across the tortuous acres of wasteland between it and the “set”, and do battle with a large dial in order to change the channel. By the time you’d returned to your spot on the couch you’d lost the urge to yell.

Endowed with a long slender black/grey device, studded with colourful buttons we become GOD.  Constantly pointing and prodding, instantly selecting and dismissing anything which appeals or fails to take our fancy. Threatening and taunting a television as slim as one panel of the cardboard carton out of which our HMV 24 inch magically emerged and almost as large as the room my TV journey began in. Commanding our TV…GO AHEAD Q AND A MAKE MY DAY.

“Rowdy” Yates would be dumbstruck.