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Why I rite, why I riot

Peter Woodforde has had a long and colourful engagement with Webdiary, frustrating and delighting editors with wittilly mangled language and successfully pushing the boundaries of personal abuse by means of sheer originality. A number of times we (Margo and I both) have petitioned Peter to come up with a Webdiary piece of his own, and he has delivered.

As I was reading through and formatting this piece I recognised swathes of it. The 'puzzle' in Peter's words is, "which much of the story of George O did I rip off in this spoofette and what of the rest was just plagiarism?" Thanks Peter, and I hope we hear much more of you. It's been too long. Hamish Alcorn.

by Peter Woodforde

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should write. I still hold this ambition, and one day I shall grow up.

Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I variously tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write stuff. Yair, stuff. You know stuff.

I was the eldest of six, and there was a gap of a little over a year to the next.

I rarely ever saw eye to eye with my father much before I was about 35 or 36 years.

For this and other reasons I was somewhat cross, lonely, and a "bit odd"; I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. Good. F**k them.

I had the lonely child's habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons (and to this day, with such as the Joshing "m'Jay"), and I think from the very start my literary ambitions, if any, were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued.

I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back at myself for my failure in everyday life.

Nevertheless the volume of serious - ie seriously intended - writing which I produced all through my boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages. I wrote my first short story at the age of five, in longhand, in a filched older children's Queensland Education Department Composition Book.

I cannot remember anything about the awful and crudely illustrated thing except that it was about South Pacific pirates and a kind of multicultural utopia they had set up somewhere about the Cook Islands. Sailing boats with guns, tattoos, cutlasses, dusky enchantresses, coconut trees, waves, sunsets, salty seas, briny foam, cannibals and cannonballs, etc.

In many ways, I'm still a five-year old boy, hauling on that sheet thar. Like a scurvy knave. Avast, ye lubbers.

I had little or no real idea of much in the South Pacific region, of which I was pretty much ignorant although my home was equipped with two atlases - an elderly Harmondsworth (1914 vintage - I'm looking at it on the shelf as I write) and a newer, 1960s Readers' Digest job, both books highly ideological and reflecting the English and then the US imperialism of their times.

My pirates were all bearded and had various prostheses, and were uniformly brave with handy cutlasses - a good enough phrase, but I fancy the opus was a plagiarism of RL Stevenson's Treasure Island et al. plus a great deal of RM Ballantyne's Coral Island, which I read incessantly, and the much more difficult Robinson Crusoe, which I dug into when I needed penance for some Mortal or Venial sins (despite Defoe's Dissenters' artlessness). That way I read and reread Crusoe quite a bit, having plenty of sins from a very young age. I probably need a daily touch of Defoe to this day.

I was a devoted reader of John Buchan (The Thirty-nine Steps, et al), a real stiff upper lip, play up and play the game, no girls, sort of joker.

There were no girls of any kind in my confected and cutlass-strewn South Seas Utopia, which must have made it an awkward sort of place for all them pirates to Utope. Except for dusky enchantresses, who seem to have had some kind of role as "Mummys" of some kind for my hearty band of Boucaneers.

My mother had once owned and run a typing business, and had a good old Remington gradually rotting in a sideboard cupboard, and I began to love hammering it in a "compositional" sense after I had learned to read and write, at about five years. At eleven, with the Vietnam war in full swing, I scribbled patriotic sketches on the thing urging taking up the "uniform" in a kind of 1914-18 cock and John Bull manner.

Then my mother, a Catholic Queenslander of pure Irish stock, poisoned my mind forever with a gentle mix of pacifism, Sermon-on-the-Mount type gospel of Christ, Fenianism and democratic socialism.

We must blame our mothers for everything, I suppose. Freud said so, so it must be true.

There was also plenty of George Orwell's writing about the place, and I first read The Road to Wigan Pier followed by Down and Out in Paris and London beginning with tepid enthusiasm which grew as one or other of our various itinerant teachers bade Orwell's writing enormous respect.

No wonder Bjelke went on the record as saying the Queensland Teachers' Union was a "hotbed of communism."

From time to time, I wrote extremely bad and usually unfinished "schoolboy adventures" in Searle's Nigel Molesworth How to be Topp style.

I also attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure, but was published in an English boys' newspaper. They sent me five guineas - an enormous sum in 1964 Queensland - which I spent swiftly and unwisely.

A few years later, I put the case, in schoolboy debating style, that 18 year-olds should be given the vote.

A local newspaper ran it, to my immense gratification, but I didn't get the vote until I actually was 21, and had a crack at Malcolm at the ballot box.

That was the total of the would-be serious work which I set down on paper during all those years, apart from a mammoth pile of submissions to the ABC Argonauts, all entirely ignored probably on the grounds of "How to be Topp" typos and literals. And a growing mad utopianism. The ABC then, as now and in the interim, was a hotbed of conservatism.

However, since that time I did in a sense engage in literary activities. To begin with there was the made-to-order stuff which I produced quickly, easily and without much pleasure to myself.

Apart from school or college work, I wrote semi-comic verse and funny stories, mostly reportage of what we stupid boys got up to, which I could turn out at what now seems to me astonishing speed and helped to edit various oddball magazines, both printed and in manuscript. These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest, nastiest journalism.

But side by side with all this, for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise of a quite different kind: this was the making up of a continuous "story" about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind.

I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Long John Silver, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my "story" ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw.

For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: "He pushed the cabin door open and entered the room, cutlass and flintlock pistol to hand. A brown beam of sunlight filtering through the canvas above slanted on to the map table, where a tinder-box lay beside an inkpot. With his both weapons at ready, he moved across to the porthole. Down in the sea a spotted ray was chasing a pilchard," etc etc.

This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside.

The "story" must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same revoltingly meticulous descriptive quality.

When I was about sixteen I suddenly discovered the joy of mere words, ie the sounds and associations of words.

Old Greed must crook 'is dirty hand
And come ter take it from us.
So we must fly a rebel flag,
As others did before us,
And we must sing a rebel song
And join in rebel chorus.
We'll make the tyrants feel the sting
O' those that they would throttle;
They needn't say the fault is ours
If blood should stain the wattle!"

Freedom on the Wallaby 1891

They still seem very wonderful, but in a totally different context to the times of poverty and oppression known by Lawson in the 90s.

And they send shivers down my backbone; with the added pleasure known in the huge quality that this was the man who effectively moved the writer of My Brilliant Career into a brilliant career in writing for humanity in the US and in Australia for decades.

As for the need to describe things, I thought I knew all about it already. So it is clear what kind of writing I wished, in so far as I could be said to want to write anything at that time.

I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels, probably with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their own sound.

But in fact at 20, I charged into scribbling for student newspapers and radio, and had minor battles with all manner of senior academics, Queensland politicians of any stripe and most memorable of all, a very rough, evil and well-connected lad who was, and remains a member of the Israeli army. He threatened me with a defamation writ for my coverage in Semper Floreat of his bullyboy antics at a Student Council meeting. I wasn't a student at the U of Q at the time, but at the then Institute of Technology, where a notable campus figure was the well-known Bryan Law, who probably still strongly disapproves of my behaviour.

I also got into bed with a bunch of Fortitude Valley Anarchists and CP (Communist Party) Rooms figures. These were the early days of The Cane Toad Times and 4ZZZ radio. The anarchists printed the AJA's strike paper assisted by PKIU blokes at a Murdoch Sunday rag simply by backing up a truck and "taking delivery" of many rolls of news print.

I went away to live on a tropical island, work at sea half the time, meet the girl of my dreams, AND start writing under various nom de plumes (I was in pretty dodgy with my employer, the Commonwealth Government) Sunday Review, later the Nation Review. In much the fashion to be expected.

A living could not be made from it, but enormous satisfaction could be.

Within a few years, I fell, or rather tumbled into, successively, a half-baked degree and mostly tabloid metropolitan or rural/regional journalism, then working, to my joy and amazement, for the first parliamentary front bench in Australian history with multiple indigenous membership. I then became an Australian diplomat, and took my spouse and kids to live in Germany as the Wall came tumbling down. All the time writing, writing, writing. But NOT in German. I'm not k'n Goethe, Kinder.

I give all this background information because I do not think one can assess a writer's motives without knowing something of his early development. His/her subject matter will be determined by the age she/he lives in - at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own - but before he/she ever begins to write he/she will have acquired an emotional attitude from which she/he will never completely escape.

It is her/his job, no doubt, to discipline her/his temperament and avoid getting STUCK AT SOME IMMATURE STAGE, IN SOME PERVERSE MOOD; but if she/he escapes from his/her early influences altogether, she/he will have killed his/her impulse to write. Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

1. Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc, etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen - in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they may almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all - and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

2. Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

3. Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

4. Political purpose - using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature - taking your "nature" to be the state you have attained when you are first adult - I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornately, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties.

As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent more than ten years in unsuitable professions (truckdriver, deckhand, tabloid journalism), after undergoing poverty and an acute sense of failure.

This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the Australian class system, and a job in News Limited had given me some understanding of the nature of brutish capitalism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation.

Then came Howard and the other Bushidos, etc. By the end of 2001 I had more or less reached a firm decision. Orwell's little poem of the 1930s, expressed my dilemma:

A happy vicar I might have been
Two hundred years ago
To preach upon eternal doom
And watch my walnuts grow;

But born, alas, in an evil time,
I missed that pleasant haven,
For the hair has grown on my upper lip
And the clergy are all clean-shaven.

And later still the times were good,
We were so easy to please,
We rocked our troubled thoughts to sleep
On the bosoms of the trees.

All ignorant we dared to own
The joys we now dissemble;
The greenfinch on the apple bough
Could make my enemies tremble.

But girl's bellies and apricots,
Roach in a shaded stream,
Horses, ducks in flight at dawn,
All these are a dream.

It is forbidden to dream again;
We maim our joys or hide them:
Horses are made of chromium steel
And little fat men shall ride them.

I am the worm who never turned,
The eunuch without a harem;
Between the priest and the commissar
I walk like Eugene Aram;

And the commissar is telling my fortune
While the radio plays,
But the priest has promised an Austin Seven,
For Duggie always pays.

I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls,
And woke to find it true;
I wasn't born for an age like this;
Was Smith? Was Jones? Were you?

Ah yes. Good ol' Eric. We all coulda been Parson Woodforde with his pisspot pigges.

Howard's War on Refugees, his Iraq war and other events in the new Millenium turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood.

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1998 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.

And for a fair go, as Henry would have understood it.

It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.

Everyone writes of them in one guise or another.

It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows.

And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.

What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into a new satirical art.

My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write, I do not say to myself, "I am going to produce a work of art."

I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience.

Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that most politicians would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood.

So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.

It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.

It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness. Let me give just one example of the cruder kind of difficulty that arises.

Most of what I churned out post-Howard and the Bushidos' Iraq villainy is of course a frankly political, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for a new form.

I did try very hard in it to tell the whole truth without violating a new literary instinct.

But among other things it is full of newspaper quotations and the like, defending the "left" who were accused of plotting with Saddam, or Osama, etc. I attempted to satirise all that with as much laughter as I could muster in such a sad place.

Clearly such writing, which after a year or two would lose its interest for any ordinary reader, must ruin the entry.

Somebody I respect read me a lecture about it. "Why do you put in all that stuff?" he said.

"You've turned out k'n gonzo."

What he said was half-true, but I could not have done otherwise. I happened to know, what very few people in Australia perhaps want to know, that innocents were being falsely accused and killed.

If I had not been angry about corrupt monsters like Bush and Howard shitting on us, then I should never have written anything.

In one form or another this problem comes up again. The problem of language is subtler and would take too long to discuss. I will only say that of late years I have tried to write less picturesquely and perhaps more exactly but savagely.

In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. Webdiary was the first time I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.

I have not written novels, but I hope to write one one day. It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.

Looking back through the last page or two, I see that I have made it appear as though my motives in writing were wholly public-spirited.

I don't want to leave that as the final impression. All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.

Writing anything, let alone a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.

One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. But is it true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality?

Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be allowed.

And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifelessly and was betrayed into sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.

And a lack of aggression and preparedness to scream: "Get that into ya, ya Packer dingo Kardonnays!"

Being a ratbag is k'n hard work, thankless and often painful - but it must be done.

With considerable apologies, and thanks to George Orwell (Eric Blair) Why I Write, 1947 (which much of the story of George O did I rip off in this spoofette and what of the rest was just plagiarism?) and the great Henry Lawson, Freedom on the Wallaby, 1891.

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from the log from the Sea o’ Cortez, by skipper Mad Black Jack “Thick as Two Short Planks and Don’t Ye Forget it, Ye Bilge Rats” Woodforde o’ Canaipa and the Tangalooma Roads, known to his shipmates as Phoenix 27

I is only drink (ie, quaff) Moenchen, with a slug of overproof Barbados by its side. Or OP Bundaberg with Seri Seer and Kirk’s Lo-Cal Dry Ginger Ale, as served ‘tween decks at the Grand Hotel, Thursday Island, since Somerset Maugham’s daze, wi’ ‘allo Vera on the forrard guns, Mad Tammy on the Quarter Deck ready to repel Bordom and the Mills Sisters, granddaughters of the legendary Cap’n Mills, cranking it out on the maindeck.

Heave to, ye lubbers! Heave to or we’ll cut ye to ribbons.

Only poofters drink Moët. Poofters and crawlers, of the lowest kind.

Shopping channel bubbly, good enough for that foul skipper of Kidd’s crew and reputed to have been a trifling cabin boy on Backbeard’s first voyage, Eddie McGuire. But not good enough champers for us real scourges o’ the Spanish Main. Us pirates, when the needs require, drink Dom Perignon, and spurn el cheapo Dan Murphy’s rubbish Moët, shipmates. Arrrr, etc.

He laughed, and stumped off with a naughtical gate, plying on the leeside of Hispaniola, a’looking out all the time for the Dons lumbering out from that bay they call Guantanamo, where they keep a brigfull o’ exhausted slaves for their wicked mines. The like o’ that palisade is unmatched in cruelty and insanity, even in the Dons’ Western Hemisphere or yet the worst harbours of the cruel Portugees.

The bestial Guantanamo hell-hole is ruled over by the Mad Don hisself, the Rummity Rumsfeld, and his Skull and Bones shipmates. Their Captain is the devilish Pedestrian King George Walker, so called as he is said to have stepped the plank a thousand times, swathed in chains and drunk as ten lords but then bubbled a day later to the surface, kept safe alive by Haitian ju-ju, and beside him always his snarling deadly Zombie Bride Okrah Windchimes, called as a joke by the Dons “Condolleezza,” for her use of sadism as a weapon against heaven.

The two of them have laid waste a thousand shores from Charlestown over and into Tripoli then back over the ocean to the Dry Tortugas, outdoing e’en the Corsairs or Drake in crazed lust for gold, slaves, rape and pillage, and burning a thousand towns to the ground, slaughtering innocents and drenching the ground and caking every beachhead with blood. Okrah oftentimes is known to have whistled through her so-called “Lucky” front tooth: “I jus’ want to kill an’ kill an’ kill until ah’m wadin’ through rivers of blood…arrrrrr, &c.”

She is usually exceptionally drunk, and biting the heads off whippets, it is said. So her shipmate say, twixt many an oath and a curse, when drinking in the worst taverns from Havana to Port Royal. They also swear that when the “Sweet” Okrah reaches this stage, the Royal George often will appear from his cabin, hastily pulling down over his face what looks like a perfectly de rigeur black eye patch, but which in fact conceals a missing septum, said to have been lost in a duel while he searched for unparalleled riches beyond gold and rubies in Peru.

“Arrrrr, White Gold it is, mountains of it, and the ’spics have the lot,” he is known to rave, mutter, or snort, when in his cups. “Arrrrrr, Peruvian Marching powder, finer than the prize of the Lotus-eaters itself or even Afghani Opium. Arrrr.”

But that’s another story, shipmates.

Old Friends

No doubt you knew Morgaine on the Main.

Alice in Lumla Land


‘twould be a fine thing indeed, Bryan, to see the GG , bellowing: “avast there, ye pack o’ lubbers!” while a nervous parrot perches athwart his epaulettes.

The GG, you see, is splashing noisily from Government House’s beaches into Lake Burley Griffin during a recurrent Dragons Abreast™ event. He then boards and attacks furiously, with cries of: “Luff, luff, ye scallywags or I’ll keelhaul ye.”

At once, before the pink Raschi Brigade can right their huge canoes, and before astonished Aide de Camp Jack R loads and cocks his Bren to bear cover, the GG rushes from the malodourous water, his peg leg muddy and draped with water weed.

Finished with the shocked and saddened breast cancer survivors, the sodden GG roars curses and now returns to take the grounds of Yarralumla from further hordes of uniformed invaders.

Observers are reminded uncannily of Jack French at Milne Bay, except for the curses. And these Nips are actually little Belconnen Girl Guides.

Staggering across the impeccably manicured lawns, the GG turns his limp and curling cardboard cutlass, a souvenir of the Arab-Israeli conflict, on the piteous flock of fund-raising Guides, addressing them as “Charlie.” The terrified Guides and plump attendant matrons abandon their annual charity two-up school, Second Hand Book Shop and cake-stall to flee squealing from the apparition, as AdC Jack puts a burst over their heads.

“Now cut those k’n kangaroos to ribbons, bosun,” roars his Excellency, gesticulating wildly at a distant mob of quietly grazing marsupials. The effect is diminished slightly by the GG’s flaccid weapon. His waterlogged cardboard cutlass is now little more than a sodden flail.

“Get me some Viagra™ for this bloody thing, please bosun,” he mutters tersely, his voice ripe with command. “And another thing, that reminds me – where’s that k’n little c**t Howard?” continues the vice-regal one, soaked but by now descending comfortably into the kind of harsh guttural obscenity and baritone scatological banter which mark the hell-raising, opium-pipe puffing and heavy drinking attending each Royal Visit to Government House. (late at night, after HM has retired and HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh ventures into the study with a parched tongue to match that of a thirst-crazed bullock bogged in a dam in mid-drought, it can be like Hogmanay, St Patrick’s Day, Anzac Day and Red Army Day all rolled into one, but with more revolver shots fired into the ceiling).

“Wasn’t he supposed to be turning up this arvo to get some ridiculously wrong-headed bit of paper signed?” “We’ll bloody well see about that, f**k me if I don’t. I’ll hammer the little rodent’s nuts into nachos – and not very nice ones.” The salt-flecked pantaloons are starting to go a little bit half-mast, but a quasi-dignified mien is still maintained. The GG straightens his seams and squares his shoulders.

But there’s a stealthy cough astern. The GG spins to see a familiar pair of terrified goggle-eyes in spectacles, peering from behind a tree. Port and starboard of the interloper stands a pair of large federal rozzers.

Almost at once, the PM’s hyper-adenoidal and Mr Maggoo-like “b’deeee” is drowned out by the twin crack of a pair of Glocks trained on the GG’s dripping but still bemedalled chest. The heavy slugs thump home as the vice-regal parrot squawks and flutters frantically amid a cloud of red, white and blue feathers.

“Sergeant, sergeant,” shrieks the PM. “Call the Palace™ at once.”

“Not so fast, Howard,” says the GG, rising painfully to his feet, and pulling a Uzi from the truss beneath his salt-flecked pantaloon breeches. “You should have known that Yarralumla’s started following your example and never going out on dangerous engagements without full body armour. Now, while your mind is focused, perhaps this is the time to talk on changes to the penis–vagina Marriage Act (cap M, cap A), or marriage act (l/c m, l/c a) as the Christian Brothers™ would call it.”

The frightened cops drop their Glocks, and the PM shits his green and gold tracksuit strides. Strains of Chopin drift over the lawns – someone’s on hold.

Which reminds AdC Jack. He gestures the Bren menacingly at the kangaroos. “Hande hoch and assume the position. And cut out singing the Marseillaise, ya Red bastards,” he cracks out, with Sandhurst precision. Clumsily and seemingly reluctantly, the marsupials comply, putting their little paws up, but humming Avanti Popolo under their breaths. On the shoreline, Girl Guides are helping half-drowned women in pink T-shirts from the lake. The GG is dictating to the PM, who is warily making notations on a sheet of paper.

I can be a Pirate too me Hearties!

I've enjoyed Peter Woodforde's contributions to Webdiary - a lot.  It took me a while to get used to the bile and savagery he reserved for certain piratical types (Captain Yellowcake gets a sound thrashing, the scurvy knave).

I've enjoyed remembering about Queensland under occupation, and remembering the various labels and cultural tags we lived by in those day.  ZZZ, Pig City, and the glorious democratic revolutionaries.  I was flyin' wit da Crows.

Peter jokes about being Gonzo, but I can still remember the night I got my first copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. from the QIT bookshop. 

Anarchist printer Charlie Scandrett told me later "the serious anti-authoritarian can do ANYTHING".  Between Hunter and Charlie I never stood a chance.

On the journey since, I've moved on from being a notable buffoon on campus to a life of nonviolent action. I plays pirate jiu jitsu me Hearties, puncturing the pompous pretence of our government and other bullshitters.

I think we ought to hold a referendum, changing the constitution to require our Governor-General to talk like a pirate at all official functions.

Webdiary Can Always Use a Good Pirate...

How curiously comforting to note that Peter 'Ah, good to see your remaining nuts, mate... I beg your pardon, that should of course read you're remaining nuts' Woodforde hasn't lost his touch or his nerve. Always leaves us wantin' more. Or more wanton.

On a serious note, like Peter I too am a former deckhand, and - like him - I too have always been of the firm belief that the world would be a much better place were our political leaders and captains of industry to spend more time dressing as pirates and shouting phrases like 'Ahar-arrrr, me hearties!' and 'You'll not live to see the sun sink 'neath the brine this day, y'scurvy brute...' Imagine the very different situation today in Iraq had Colin Powell addressed the UN with a fake parrot bobbing on his shoulder, rather than a fake vial of WMD waving in his hand. Think of how quickly things would move forward in the Holy Land if only Israelis and Palestinians got together every Sunday afternoon for a bit of cardboard sword fighting, followed up by red cordial and 100's & 1000's sangers under the biggest shady tree... imagine Mr Howard's Cabinet clothed in a fetching assortment of bandanas, eye-patches, salt-flecked breeches, tattered shirts and fake prostheses...

I mean you only have to paraphrase some of the angrier chappies in these parts to get an idea of how much better our planet's six billion would rub along if we all heeded Peter's gentle teachings and got in touch with the inner pirate in us all:

Ar-harr, me hearties, Arrrr!  Now t'is said they be sayin' that yonder fascist left once did be controllin' yonder student politics and spendin' the students' compulsorily extracted money on such charming causes as The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine because of student apathy. T'is said, ay, t'is said, lubbers, t'is said. Well, now let me see... a-harr, ahoy... let me see... for the truth be, t'was more than that - much more, aye, seven seas more, laddie, seven seas, aye. For to stand up to these thugs - arrr! a-harrrr, arrr, me devil-dog hearties, mark my hook there be thuggery athwart on the brine this watch, arrr!!! So come on, shanghai me happy fightin' lads of real physical courage and no other, boys, t'is all and only what you wanted by your slicin' arm in them days, aye that it was, lad, that it was... and t'was a rare seadog who was mentally and physically capable of sitting through them thar whole meetings - meetin', meetin', arrrr, I'll be meetin' the Watery Devil Himself in Davey Jones' Locker soon enough, y'green young rum bung, aye I will, arrr, aye, and thee too if you'll not stow yon flapper and unfurl the main-hears, yer y'dust-lappin', green-gilled land-cur, arrrr... meetin', meetin'... now where be I lad? ...arrr, ahoy, aye... meetin's of the Student Council asylum collective, aye that be the mark alright, boy... but listen' up now, lad, come closer now, an agin' old walrus be I and me sea-brain is not what t'was back in t'days when there were no Spoutin' Salt Monsters breathin' in the brine on or off the charts that I wouldn't have greeted with me feisty blade as quick as spliced a flying headshackle under the fore jibben with a thwarting pizzen line, arrrrr, arrrrr... well now... where be I again lad? ...where be me best glass eyeball? ...t'is late an' I be hearin' the five bells keen for me salty soul... arrr, aye, that be right... t'was the scurvey dogs of the Student Council, indeed, arrr... well, now, in them days most people of the Line regarded such Scurvies as just another of the narky vexations of campus sea life, oh aye... 'course, best avoided if possible, lad, best avoided if t'all possible... like them thar lubber seats in the Schonell Theatre or the annual mosquito plague around the University Lake, arrr, arrr, that Lake, that cursed sargossa Lake, that jack tar graveyard of wind... why many's the prettiest days of my fleetin' youth did I lose marooned on that breathless puddle, boy, that Devil's Own stretch of watery perfidy, arrr, arrr... why I remember once, forty days slamming 'round the Horn lad and the bitch had took a fearsome hammerin' in a blow as hard as the wood where me pins used to be... and then of a sudden, like a miracle, hard off the port stain... arrrr, but t'is late, boy, t'was all long ago and far away... t'is best left hove to back there in me damp, drying, youthful memories... a-rest in the depths, lad, a-rest in its watery grave... aye... still... such, such were the joys of the sealife, eh Peter me lad? Arrr, to be sure, bet you've never had it so good since... arrr, arrr, aharrrrrr...

I am sure all Webdiarists can agree that if Civilised Society were to apply thus Peter's ground-breaking 'Pirate Principle of Literature' - one he has often demonstrated at this site - to all our contemporary debates, then that alluring democratic socialist 'not-quite-but-quite-close-enough-thanks-paradise' of which he speaks - and of which even the most embittered cynic surely also still secretly dreams (come now, neo-cons all, come now... come home, comrades, we still love youse...) - would be realised at last.

On a less serious note, it was a real pleasure to read this moving piece on writing, Peter. Thanks. Arrrr, aye, thanks it be, cap'n.

Hamish: Jack, I don't know what it's gonna take to get this grin off my face. Bloody good to hear from ya mate. 

What Really Happened

Rare photograph of University Union Council secretly taken while the committee and entourage was abroad taking direct action against an unspecified imperialist fascist capitalist pig regime on behalf of the grateful international student/worker alliance (circa 1972).

Jack ("Bleeding Black Jack") Robertson is pictured second from right sitting in the foreground.

Peter ("Short Plank Pete") Woodforde is out of the picture and is believed to be below deck getting his ass whipped after being caught attempting to liberate the people's supply of Moët by an unknown Israeli soldier who took it personally.

No sense of humour.


Quicker than you can say "Jack Robertson"

"imagine Mr Howard's Cabinet clothed in a fetching assortment of bandanas, eye-patches, salt-flecked breeches, tattered shirts and fake prostheses..."

Haven't you seen those group photos whenever there's a Cabinet reshuffle?   I don't think the dressing up is working.

Where were the Johnstons?

Where were you at Culloden? Geoff, best direct that question to the bloody Johnstons, for by 1746 we had nothing left to fight for, thanks to the aforementioned.

Guilty on all counts M'Lord

Ignorant? most probably, a lowlander? The name speaks for itself, but who gives a stuff when you're having so much fun.

Where Were You At Culloden?

Phil ("Campbell") Moffat?

Mate, you've got a lot of explaining to do. Especially to us poor Aussies who have this simplistic opinion of what "treason" is.

An Age Like This

"Hey Peter, first thing that springs to my mind after reading your item is 'Where can I read some of Peter's other writing?' Any on the web?"

I can answer that one, Ross.

I suggest you start with Why I Write by George Orwell first published in Gangrel in Summer 1946. It was republished in Such, Such Were the Joys; England Your England; The Orwell Reader and Collected Essays.

It appears in my copy of The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (Penguin 1970, Volume 1, page 23).

I haven't had time to read all of this piece yet and I have no doubt Peter will get around to attributing it sooner or later. And I can say with confidence that the bit about the Israeli soldier on UQ Student Council is entirely Peter's own work.

Semper Floreat circa 1972 hey? How the memories flood back. Maoists and Anarchists and other assorted screeching ratbags and fascist cultist lunatics divvying up the union's funds among themselves with the occasional off-campus Trot wandering in to scavenge for scraps like a starving dingo. Anyone brave enough to blow a whistle was denounced for bullyboy antics as a matter of course. He was lucky if that was all that happened.

They say that the fascist left controlled student politics and spent the students' compulsorily extracted money on such charming causes as The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine because of student apathy. In fact it was more than that. To stand up to these thugs took real physical courage. And it was a rare person who was mentally and physically capable of sitting through a whole meeting of the Student Council asylum collective. Most people regarded them as just another of those narky vexations of campus life best avoided if possible, like the seats in the Schonell Theatre or the annual mosquito plague around the University Lake.

Such, such were the joys, hey Peter? I bet you've never had it so good since.

Thanks Geoff and Malcolm

Thanks guys,

I was actually wanting to read more of what Peter has written rather than what he used as a master for this item.

Thanks though, I will try and find a copy of the Penguin.

Why Some Write

The most accessible version of Why I Write is probably the re-release of the essay in single volume format by Penguin in its Great Ideas series. I got my copy at Abbey's last year.

bugger me - fancy meeting you here said the judge

Peter you wrote: “I think there are four great motives for writing”

Peter, would you consider catharsis another major motive why people write?

I remember as a young bloke reading a piece in my local newspaper in Scotland; a judge actually defamed a young offender while sentencing him. I was absolutely amazed, and extremely angry, that a man of the law would do such a reckless and illegal thing, so yours truly subsequently wrote a very lengthy letter to the newspaper which (to my surprise) published the letter unedited.

It was unfortunate that soon after, for a certain (“unrelated”) matter I ended up in court, and yes you guessed it, faced that Judge I ridiculed in the press. At least that Judge had his day in court.

Keep writing Peter, better out than in, as a Psych once told me; and bugger the consequences.

An Ignorant Scot? Surely Not.

First, anything said or tendered in Court is absolutely privileged and cannot constitute defamation either by way of slander or libel. Secondly, if you criticised the judicial officer and you had fears (as you obviously seem to have had) that your case would not be dealt with impartially, you were entitled to ask the judicial officer to disqualify himself on the grounds of apprehended bias. On the facts you relate, that application would have been successful given that the test for apprehended bias is a reasonable apprehension by a reasonable person. Assuming you made no such application and the judicial officer did not disqualify himself of his own motion, one assumes there was no bias apprehended or otherwise by anyone but you who chose not to raise the matter.

Tough tittie. Are you by any chance a lowlander?

Another scone, please

While I've been led around by the nose of the old dog (arthritic, deaf and full of cataract) the last couple of days, 'Edge of Darkness' has popped up. The bit at the end where the character played by Joe Don Baker takes the podium at a nuclear industry conference, and brings the two chunks of plutonium together. I'd like to see our Mr Ming Downer in the front row, copping a blast of rays and running shrieking from the room.

That's what happens when lumps are plucked from their appointed rows and columns, and thrust together in a new synergy. Sparks fly, the gendarmes scream.

Frank Brennan mentioned a contemporary of Lawson's characters, in his recent Manning Clark Lecture. Quoting Clark, immediately before his reflections on the Wheat-for-weapons scandal:

The procession after the service reminded me of the Catholic, Protestant, and the Enlightenment - symbolising what one had thought our history was about, in part. But there was a sequel. Outside the church, as that bell tolled its melancholy dirge for the dead, I was seized with that dread which has never been far from me in the last ten or so years: that the bell was tolling a requiem for the only vision of life with which I had any bond. I feared that all these three ways of looking at the world, and the men who believed in them, were about to be replaced by men who believed in nothing; men with the appetites of the sybarite and the morals of the Pharisee; men who were not touched by the story of the prodigal son, or Schiller's great 'Hymn to Joy', or Mozart's Magic Flute, or Karl Marx's point about moral infamy, or the teachers of the Enlightenment on tenderness, or Steele Rudd's Dad, or Henry Lawson's Christ figure - men without pity, with that great hell in the heart, of not being able to love or be loved.

In Dad Rudd's world, the parson had an awkward role to play.

Kevin Rudd spoke to a full room, for the annual Chifley Lecture at the University of Melbourne. I'd gone prepared to ask a question about the likelihood of someone like Brennan having a national leadership role under a Labor government. I'd found a seat with a bit of space to either side, but as the room filled, an older gent took up the vacancy on my left. He knew the chap on his left, and they were talking about a recent book by 'Stretton'. Come question time, and Kev chose his own interlocutors from the crowd. First up was one of your typical Old Lefties, a woman with more hair than a Melbourne Writers Festival and a heap of preamble. This, to me, was a bad omen, so I decided to sit tight. However, the bloke on my left caught Kev's eye, as though they were acqauinted, and introduced himself as John Langmore, with a good question.

When I opened the 'Australian Fabian News', I saw Langmore on the front, with his review of Hugh Stretton's 'Australia Fair'. I love what Langmore has written about the superannuation industry, and its "league of parasites". Since I am in the grip of financial planners, it's good to know that others recognise the sheer bastardry for what it is. More was to come, as I looked up Langmore's biography, to find he and I both went to Dandenong High School.

Keep rioting, Peter – as you must. On writing, though, my question to Ms Gillard is - "What is the future of podcasting?".

Soul searching

Hey Peter, first thing that springs to my mind after reading your item is "Where can I read some of Peter's other writing?" Any on the web?

Second is the amount of time and self analysis you must have done, and probably do every day, in regard to all you do. That's rare, and difficult to deal with but it is something most people do not do with the exception of mental illness sufferers as, like myself, I wanted to understand and finally did. Most people avoid that introspection as it's a can of worms really. To be able to deal with that is success in itself mate and gives you so much knowledge that writing is the next step.

Politics is certainly a huge motivation for anyone with a conscience, and a keyboard or typewriter nearby. You just have to write about it once it gets into your life and you want to try and stop the bullshit, expose the lies, deceit and so on. You say anything you have written without politics involved is lifeless. Isn't that simply that you are interested/angry etc about what governments have done and are doing? In other words you are emotionally involved with that sphere therefore the "life" in political writing.

I feel much the same in that I can write and write about the injustice, the rorts, the backstabbing, the lies etc with hardly an effort. I just sit down, read something and the words are there. Whereas with other writing that is a rare experience (sometimes it does just flow) although I have tried. Mostly I can't even open a document as it is simply too hard and my focus is not on that writing. If it's a chore then it has no chance to me.

I can write also about depression, endlessly really as it has occupied my mind and my life for so long that the words can't wait to appear.

One thing I have noticed about my own need to write is the amount of ideas that flow through my mind. Just endless but trying to put it on paper makes the thoughts vanish somehow. I need a hard drive in my brain that I can play back to write from.

Several things puzzle me about what you have said.

One is that you say

"In any case I find that by the time you have perfected any style of writing, you have always outgrown it. ".

My question to you is what style should you try to perfect? Surely if it's not Peter's style then it is essentially a fraud, or at the least simply copying someone else. You are unique and have a life that allows you to contemplate much. Why restrict yourself to any style? Why not just write as Peter and forget any comparison or feeling that author X may have written it better. They couldn't, only you can mate.

The other thing is your listing of four great motivations for writing. I would add several being:

To entertain, amuse, distract readers from their daily lives,

Simply to relate a story, frequently one's own without trying to make it have a dramatic "point" or moral, just recording the expreience for others to read and maybe understand, that need all of us have to write "our story", and lastly...

Money. How much of today's writing is simply done for $? Harry Potter for example. The original idea may have been to entertain but certainly the subsequent books have had one focus, the $. Nothing wrong with that either as writers have to live as well but I do wonder if such writers actually feel good at all about the words rather than the $.

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