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Webdiary Turns Twelve

Hello old friends. Richard tells me it’s Webdiary’s 12th birthday today, although I reckon it was June 4. She’s nearly a teenager. Very clunky these days. She was state of the art in late 2005. Since then Facebook has become ubiquitous, Twitter let everyone have an instant public diary, and now, just before her 12th, Fairfax threw in the towel on hard copy papers.

Webdiary is the closest experience to having a baby in my life. I fought hard to get her, keep her and nurture her growth. Then I had to walk away from her to save my own life. Many people over the years watched over her and gave their time and attention and talent and money to keep her alive. Anthony Lowenstein and Tim Dunlop started their media careers here. Many others became columnists for the first time, including the wonderful Polly Bush and Jack Robertson. So many great writers among the long list of columnists. I feel privileged to have been able, for a time, to publish their work. And such rich archives – so thankful to Roger Fedyk for making that happen. These days, Richard and Fiona tend to her. She survived. Thank you.

I’ll never forget her birth. I tossed off an opener and lo and behold, a few people responded. One of the first was the mercurial David Davis. And he still loves her too.

Below are excepts from the first Webdiarys. The archive is a history of how people came to engage with and then become part of the media. So many ideas, so many topics raised in depth outside the mainstream media script.

After my breakdown, I did seven wilderness years. Meaning of life ponderings. I’ve found I actually like being on the outside. For several years I didn’t look in – read no papers, didn’t touch the internet. Now I do look in, and am glad I’m outside. I decided this year that I will work to become a palliative care nurse.

I wonder, is anyone out there who’d take this 12 year old and update her for her 13th birthday?

For anyone who’d like to get a feel for the look and feel of Webdiary while the SMH looked after her, she’s archived by Pandora. Julia Baird said once she thought that someone would do a PhD on Webdiary one day. I hope so. She was ahead of her time.

Opening remarks: 4 June 2000

Welcome to my Canberra diary. I'm allowed to say what I think whenever I like, and lucky you can interact if you like. The downside for this indulgence is that all the words stay forever so I can be judged for my sins.

Excerpts of first published comments: 5 June 2000

I don't know if it's just that Herald readers and listeners to Late Night Live are wonderful people, or whether only wonderful people are reading my diary, but I've got only nice emails so far. If I get a really nasty one, I'll publish a nice one with it, for balance. So here's the response to yesterday's diary:

Andrea: I think your point about political reporting has been waiting to be made for a long, long time ... because when it comes down to it, as a reader, worker, citizen, most people are really only academically interested in the manoeuvring, the Machiavellian moves and the posturing. I know I really want to know what government is doing, how this benefits most people or least, and whether it is living up to its pre-election advertising. (It's a pity that political parties aren't covered by fair trading laws).

In the absence of that sort of reporting, I want to know if the bureaucracy is doing its job I would really love to see more journalists stepping out of the PR and source machine and following up the questions that most people want answers to – or at least more information on. On that note, I'll add that I thought your work on Pauline Hanson was some of the best reporting and perspective I've seen in an Australian newspaper – keep it up. (Margo: Aren't you unusual!)

Chris: An SMH journo with a email address that the public can see. Hope you don't get inundated with too much crap.

Joan M: I agree about the need for the media to restrain from reporting political rhetoric about who is in front. There should be more coverage about what the new system says about our attitudes towards each other. Anyway, it's always nice to peek in someone's diary.

David Davis begins his love/hate affair with Webdiary:

This morning I discovered your area and was delighted to see something truly different. I was particularly left in awe (no exaggeration) by your response to Tim regarding your ability to talk freely.

The part that struck me the most was where you said, 'One of the problems of political journalism is that we get obsessed with the game, the spin, and forget about "the truth" behind it'. You also mentioned an over-reliance on the peak bodies in constructing the news.

Thank you for your honesty, Margo. It is so incredibly refreshing to read the words of someone part of the 'evil political commentary scene' who is brave enough to lift the veil!! It reminds me of that scene in the Wizard of Oz when the curtain is drawn aside to reveal the old man pretending to be the great and powerful Oz. The equivalent in this case is the curtain is drawn aside to reveal a Canberra political commentator having a boozy lunch with a member of a peak body, taking away a lobbying paper and then paraphrasing it into a feature article or column! Oh it must be such hard work!

Congratulations on being different in the most positive way. I don't know your political views and this is what I like.

David Davis sent me his "kindest regards" but then withdrew his comment without reservation.

Ooops! Just read more of your area and discovered that you are just the same as the others. Part of the most irrelevant sector of the community ... the ABC/Fairfax, left leaning, Howard hating, agenda setters who the public at large ignore.

I imagine you all have shrines to Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating secretly hidden away in your closets. The disconnected baby boomer mob. I am part of the next generation and get so bored by you and your 1972 'It's Time' groupies. I was too young to remember it and have NO interest in it. Bring on the new generation!

Much to the horror of the chattering classes, Howard will win the next election and you will all spend the next three or four years whinging, whining, carping and complaining about symbolism and spin rather than substance and reality. You all live in some kind of 'la la land' filled with goblins (Howard et al) and genies (The ALP). It really is quite funny the more I think about it. Gee, life in Howard's Australia must be SO tough. Another glass of Socialist Chardonnay?

I should not be a hypocrite. A dozen Sydney Rock Oysters, a Sav Blanc and an afternoon at The Bathers Pavillion filled with meaningless banter is about as good as it gets. Still, an afternoon at Burgenstock overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland isn't bad either.

Imagine the conversations in Geneva? Between stuffing themselves with caviar, the UN guys down there probably think they are so cool in forming a view on Australian mandatory sentencing. Such noble and important work to do, in such a lovely location. So pointless.

Meanwhile, back in Oz ... whoever thinks about the family with three kids, the father a truck driver and the mother perhaps working in a retail outlet ... struggling to pay off a sky high mortgage. They work incredibly hard and are producing the next generation of Australians. But does anyone care about them? Do they have a 'peak body' representing them or ever enter the chatter over a latte in East Sydney? Of course bloody not. No one gives a damn about the MILLIONS of them. They don't have the luxury of intellectualising, donating a tax cut to the Smith Family and then telling all and sundry about it. They just have small things to do like collectively creating the Australia of the future ... not in symbols but in deeds.

Of course Howard is intrinsically evil and horribly cunning to pander to people such as the above. He really should spend more of his time on the concerns of the ALP Inner East Elite. Have we ever had a such a cunning politician as Howard? A man who so brazenly addresses the majority? He ought to be ashamed!

From a disillusioned Aussie ex pat now switching off.

You know, David, what I'd really like to know is what you believe in, what you stand for? What did you read that suddenly so turned you off? Was it my view that children should not be compulsorily locked up for petty theft? I'm sorry it's so unfashionable to hold such beliefs – what are yours on the topic, and why? It's just so easy to dismiss my views as chattering class rubbish, too easy because you don't address my points but merely do the general smear and talk about the silent majority. It would be so nice if, for once, people like you addressed the issues rather than raving about the so-called "elites". It might even help bridge the generation gap you describe. By the way, it's OK to agree with me on some things and disagree on others. It's really fine. You don't have to think I'm great or evil. Life's not black and white, mate, even when you get to be as old as I am.

Kindest regards.


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Monday, August 8, 2005 at 05:51 PM

My first published work "Infernal paradise: how city design determines lifestyle" actually appeared on the SMH website because of Margo, less (it seems to me) because the SMH decided to publish it than because Margo decided to assist me to 'hack' the site. I was told it would be published on the newly independent Webdiary but before that happened on August 22nd, lo and behold, there it was.

I was twenty-one, just about to turn twenty-two, and very soon to launch headlong into a psychotic episode. Alas, nobody really knows how intimately Webdiary has been connected to my mental health. Sometimes in bad ways: how it played into my paranoia and sense of being watched by sinister forces, my guilt and frustrations played out publically, the never-ending feeling that my mistakes would be open to all to examine, the loss of control of what I could publish and couldn't; sometimes in good ways: I read and reviewed Tolstoy's "Resurrection" for webdiary in a little notebook in a psych ward. I sent the link to film critic Roger Ebert recently who told me it was extremely well-written and readable and that he was impressed.

 I feel a little nostalgia for the banter between myself and the late Malcolm B. Duncan reading over "Infernal paradise". There are things here I'm going to want to remember; there are things here that a lot of people tried to tell me, over a long period, which never got through to me

Hi Margo.

 Happy Birthday Webdiary.


Happy Birthday Webdiary. Lord, who'd have ever thunk it!? (Christ, puberty next - and you all thought her first twelve years were unruly...!?)
How great it is to see her hanging in there.  Max kudos to those still flying the flag. Bravo, and thank you - all that deathless prose will endure in the archives...for better and worse. (That muffled sound you faintly hear is Beelzebub Blair sobbing quietly in his padded media-mansion...you know, I find I'm occasionally missing his never-dull missives, too. In an Oscar Wilde worse thing kind of way. Time and place and all that, MK: do forgive. Have to admit it's been pleasing watching the Murdoch bullies get some of their own back at last, over there in the UK. America is finally falling out of love with the thuggish old prick, too. Ah, Australia, eh: always behind the media times...toll the bells, News is over, dead, gone, at least as a monolithic anti-democratic sledgehammer. Good riddance. And how feeble crumbling bullies always turn out be.)
Mr David bloody Davis Esquire, how very splendid and lovely to see you going on being mercurial. I have missed your singular brand of repartee, mate. Suis generics, old friend - rock on 4eva.


And dear Margo. Hiya mate. Long time no...etc. I often wonder how you're getting on, am very glad to hear you've got your mojo fizzing again. The palliative care career fits beautifully, somehow, eh: I'm working in aged and disability care myself these days. Less of the big picture, save the world Sisyphean angst, I guess, more doing what little goods you can, day to day...feels less complicated, huh. 

Still thinking global, though: you were always mIles ahead of your peers, Margo, and there's satisfaction there. (What a petty dismal irrelevant farce The Main Game has become!), and...well, I do still pick up a pen occasionally...narcissistic ambition dies hard - shit, one of these days I WILL get around to finishing a novel. In between wiping bums and massaging feet. (At least I'm spared having to wade through Andrew Bolt's prose these days...)

It was a very fine time, Webdiarists, remembered here-abouts at least with great love and affectation and respect. So...Bravo again to you who keep it going. It's heartening.

Drop me a line any time you're in Sydney, MK - you too DD - if you fancy stoking the old fires a bit (though with circumspection and restraint!). My numbers etc are all the same.

Much love to all

Jack Robertson

Birthday Dragons

12 years, that would make Weird Dairy a dragon, a metal dragon to be precise.

The future of WD?

Think bandwidth - in all it's (dialectical) creativity, innocence and honesty.


i Happy birthday fellow dragon


Webdiary is Heidi.

As Webdiary moves headlong toward her adolescence I'm reminded how incorigible she was as a two year old. Incorrigible and at the same time adorable as so many two year olds are. There has indeed been a love/hate relationship and it's hard to deny being mercurial when the evidence was there in the delivery room at the hospital when Webdiary was born!  I was there praising and scolding the baby and its mother!

When I look back at my comments, I cringe at the dated Sav Blanc reference.  It is so hackneyed these days, much like Chardonnay was in an earlier time.  It is the old cycle of Australians doing things to death and then getting sick of them.  I don't cringe at the rest of it though. 

Webdiary was remarkable and it is much easier to see that from the distance time has afforded. The concept was bold and fresh.

At the risk of diverting, not for the first time, into grandiosity, I am thinking of Webdiary and the announcement today that the "God particle", the Higgs boson, has been found. Billions of dollars and a cool gadget deep beneath Switzerland have allowed scientists to to announce this extraordinary discovery.  It is exciting but I was struck by what one scientist who has worked on this for decades said. He made the point that this is not the answer to everything.  He said it is like reaching the top of a mountain and looking at the view ahead. If you are in Switzerland you reach the top of one mountain and the vista ahead is one of endless further peaks and valleys.  There is no one mountain, the whole country is mountains.  Switzerland is life.

I actually think Webdiary is on a similar peak right now.  She is in the middle of the alps with many peaks and valleys behind and many ahead.  It is a peak because recent events in the media landscape vindicate the Webdiary vision.  It is a fundamental peak like Higgs boson though.  A truth has been confirmed. The vision has been confirmed but the challenges lie ahead.  What comes next?

It could be that in fact Webdiary is Heidi.  She has been to Frankfurt, was terribly homesick and has now come home to the alps.  A headstrong young alpine girl who has seen how the other half lives but prefers her homeland.

A true sequel to Heidi was never written. I would like to think one for Webdiary would be.  It is time though to pause and breathe that fresh mountain air. Who cares about Frankfurt when you're up here?  Heidi is wondering at the vista and waiting to see who will join in writing her future.  What a truly remarkable young woman she may become.  What a privilege it would be to see her blossom. 

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