Private school ‘Fight Club’ sets tongues wagging

CANBERRA CITY NEWS JULY 18

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.

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Another Year for LAWSIE

FROM http://www.thebigsmoke.com.au

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”.

 

“You’re On The Air”

“You should get the bloody hell to buggery off that radio station you

uneducated bastard. You’re the Village Idiot you rotten bastard.

Go home you stinking Village Idiot bastard”   

I copped the above classic “Bruce the Goose” spray, one of many, in 2005 after falling short of the angry man’s standards. My sin? I failed to offer the help he was seeking. His wife was in “severe” pain and “the goose” was ringing me for Panadeine Forte after storming out (again) of the ED of a local hospital.

Fatefully the clown Prince of talk-back radio callers, Bruce “the goose” Bennett, died in a Canberra Hospital just hours after John Laws who “owned” talkback radio, thanks to a crazy caller or ten, announced his first “retirement” on June 25, 2007.

Laws # 2But Laws, like most Sydney talk-back presenters, wasn’t keen to give “the Goose” oxygen. It was Sydney based Talk-back host Stan Zemanek who christened the Canberra based caller with the foghorn voice “the goose”. From the early 1990s Stan created entertaining radio by shrewdly needling the staunchly left-wing Bruce on his high rating networked night-time show.

An “act” which quickly became popular among Zemanek’s legion of fans. stan ZThe “act” provided Bruce with the oxygen he desperately needed to ease the stresses of his daily struggle with the mental illness which tragically surrounded him. He often failed to make any sense during calls and would mostly end the rant (regularly directed at PM John Howard) with a woody woodpecker call. He was after all a showman.

While an on air spray from “Bruce the goose” was always welcome – unsolicited off-air “recommendations” from other listeners  leave you speculating about the state of the mental health of a section of listeners to talk-back radio.

“Dear King Sleaze of Canberra Radio. If you don’t like living in a

Christian, democratic, civilized country you little Atheist  Prick….Piss

Off Scumbag”

yassar

The above “input” from an individual (couldn’t detect a gender) whose penmanship (?) was that of a poorly  educated elderly person, came at the rate of one per month. The several paged letters, scribbled on the old  Coles Embassy brand writing pad and filled with spelling and punctuation mistakes, were always an  interesting distraction from the correspondence of the “appalled” and “outraged” brigade. Even the one with a  crude (by both definitions) cartoon featuring Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser  Arafat and myself in a compromising position. The twisted author of these ravings stuck pretty much to the same theme. Anti ALP,anti Muslim and the Invasion of East Timor.

“You owe everyone in Canberra an apology for what you called that woman.

You don’t call anyone a silly old mole mate. You’re a Mole”

I’d confused this listener, who wasn’t listening, while speaking with a caller called “Robert” whom he took to be “Robin” and then caught the wrong half of our chat about the old Aussie saying “like an old mole at a Christening” and was certain I’d called “Robin” a Silly old Mole.

I’ve also been on the wrong end of a tongue lashing from Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the recently departed founder of the Westbro Baptish Church, Fred Phelps and mega-mouthpiece for the cult in her own right. On the Homosexual debate…..she strongly suggested….”You’re sending them to Hell. You’re enabling them you jackass” …

You need a extremely thick hide if you are to survive the daily personal attacks of talk-back radio. I’ve watched several confident and experienced communicators literally run for the door after one shift.

If talkback radio practitioners were totally honest they would admit to the constant temptation to “milk” crazy callers if only for the promo which their radio station flogs relentlessly, depending on the quality of the “crazy”, for the next 24 hours.

So called “crazy callers” were the foundation on which John Laws built his unique and golden broadcasting empire.  IMHO to date, it’s John Laws then daylight in the talk-back radio stakes. And when it comes to talk-back radio callers, the frequently sullied term “compulsive listening” belongs to the late “Bruce the Goose” – until somebody else with his unique “talent” is allowed to get to  air.