Elly McDonald

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Jimmy Barnes and me: Working Class Boy, Working Class Man, and the clueless killer fat chick

Working Class Man by Jimmy Barnes (Harper Collins 2017)

Working Class Boy by Jimmy Barnes (Harper Collins 2016)

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A boy and a girl are seated on the top step of a flight of stairs in a grand old house. She is 19, he’s five years older, almost to the day. Their knees are touching.

He leans close towards her and says, “You’re a killer.”

She is dismayed. “A killer?”

His turn to be taken aback. “It’s a compliment,” he reassures her. “A killer. I think you’re fantastic.”

The girl adores him. She still adores him 37 years later, even though she’s barely seen or spoken to him since December 1983. A chance meeting on a Kings Cross street in 1985, a moment backstage in 1991, a note in about 2001, another moment backstage in 2007, then a book signing in St Kilda in 2017.

The boy is Jimmy Barnes, known and loved these days as an Australian rock music icon both as a solo artist and as lead singer in the band Cold Chisel. The girl is me, and the book Jim autographed for me at a book signing yesterday is Working Class Man, his second volume of autobiography, following his memoirs of a brutal childhood, Working Class Boy.

Working Class Boy is a gut-wrenching account of a childhood filled with neglect and violence, of a young boy struggling to survive a dysfunctional Glaswegian Scot family who migrated to Australia in 1961 and moved around Adelaide’s tougher, working class suburbs. It is compelling reading, beautifully written, with a fluency, passion and wit that surprises me not at all from the Jimmy Barnes I knew. The voice is authentic. I could hear him speaking in the written words.

I loved every page, every paragraph, of Working Class Boy. Yes, some parts horrified me. Some made me cry. Some helped me understand things we had (and have) in common I hadn’t understood before.

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I was born in 1961. My family moved to Adelaide in 1963. We lived in what’s known as the “leafy green suburbs”, the pleasant suburbs housing the professional classes. We lived at the base of the foothills overlooking the plain Adelaide fills, in a place called Glen Osmond, just up the road from the Arkaba Hotel, where Jim and his brother John roomed for a time as young adults.

My dad had Scottish heritage – his name was Donald Angus McDonald – and my great-grandparents were Gaelic speakers. They came from south-west Scotland, and/or from the isles. Some of them were very probably Irish migrants to south-west Scotland, like Jim’s folk. Some of them were Irish from County Galway, the heart of the bilingual Gaeltacht. As best I can tell, they were all heavy drinkers.

Although my father grew up in a nouveau riche mini-castle and his father was a big man in his country town, a self-made man with a successful business, my father grew up with family violence. He very seldom alluded to it. It was only when he was dying, earlier this year, that in his last weeks he fleshed out a little of the kind of violence he witnessed between his parents. Within our family we’d all always known there was something dark and frightening, some things unexplained, but we’d never heard details. It was painful.

Hearing my father recount in plain terms what he’d been subjected to as a child helped me understand some of my dad’s own more erratic behaviour, and his drinking. I could also clearly see, reading Jim’s book, more reasons my teenage self felt an affinity with Jimmy Barnes: if I wrote a list of my dad’s best qualities, and his worse, then wrote a list of Jimmy’s best and worst qualities as I saw them, the lists would be identical. They were cut from the same cloth.

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As soon as I finished reading Working Class Boy, I posted on Facebook:

Belatedly, I’ve finally read Jimmy Barnes’ memoir of his childhood, Working Class Boy, a remarkable work. On a personal level, there was so much in the voice, the reflections, the humour, the insights, the choices, the LANGUAGE that brought the Jim I once knew present. Which was a pleasure for me.

On a writerly level, I am blown away. Writing a coherent narrative takes skill. No surprise Jim is a great story teller. No surprise he’s articulate and rock-my-socks-off intelligent. But writing skills come through practice. I hadn’t realised he was so practiced. (Two previous attempts totaling c.60,000 words before a 100,000 dam-burst.)

Writing dialogue takes a great ear. Jim has that. In spades.

On a wisdom level – I always knew Jim as super-astute, with an off the charts EQ, but the maturity he demonstrates here through his writing has me worried. I’m only five years younger. Can I get that wise, so soon?

Jim’s wisdom is hard won. I would not wish to travel the road he has to acquire it. God bless him.

I am so eager now to read the follow-up, Working Class Man. This will be where I start to recognise more people, places, situations. I did meet Jim’s mum, his sister Linda and his brother John [also his siblings Alan and Dorothy, in passing], but I didn’t get to know them; arguably a lot of the people I met in the next stage of Jim’s life are also people I never truly ‘knew’, but we did share experiences and we share witness.

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I knew Working Class Man would cover the period when I knew Cold Chisel – the band’s last four years, the height of their success and their ferocious last year or two – and there was so much I never understood about what went down, what happened between specific individuals, why they behaved the ways they did across that time. I wanted to understand, because I felt I’d been part of the emotional turmoil, that it affected me, and it had blindsided me.

And now I have read Working Class Man.

Early in the tale I meet friends we had in common, when Jim and I both still lived in Adelaide, moving in different circles but, in Adelaide, a large country town with zero degrees of separation, interconnected.

We share some history, this town and I
And I can’t stop that long forgotten feeling…

(Flame Trees – lyrics Don Walker)

Here on the pages is my friend Vince Lovegrove, Cold Chisel’s first manager, and his wife Helen. Helen taught me to go-go dance when I was six or seven. She was a nurse with a close-knit group of bff’s including Mary, one of my earliest babysitters, who became one of our family’s dearest friends. Through Mary I knew Helen and through Helen I met Vince.

Vince when I met him was a minor pop star, sharing vocals in a band called The Valentines with a cheeky singer called Bon Scott. Bon Scott went on to sing with an Adelaide band called Fraternity, later fronted by Jim Barnes (with his brother John on drums), while Bon went on to front AC/DC. That’s Adelaide for you: the city of churches and serial killers, the town that spawned Bon Scott , Vince Lovegrove, Cold Chisel – and, less remarkably, me.

This is a review – or more correctly, a response – to Jimmy Barnes’ books Working Class Boy and Working Class Man. For a few years there his story and mine dovetail, so forgive me indulging in “sentimental bullshit”, settling in to play “Do you remember so and so?”, as Cold Chisel’s principle songwriter Don Walker put it in his lyrics to Flame Trees:

I’m happy just to sit here at a table with old friends
and see which one of us can tell the biggest lies

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I first met Jim Barnes in Melbourne. He was standing at the edge of a stage in a St Kilda venue, alongside his bandmate Don Walker, staring down at me. I was staring up, in my Anne of Green Gables floral-sprigged mauve frock, my hair the straggling remains of a dropped-out perm, my chubby upper arms straining at the cuffs of short puffed sleeves.

“Who’s in this band?” I demanded.

I was enrolled in Law/Arts at Monash University, then considered a second-tier suburban university, an offer I’d taken up over the offer from the more prestigious Melbourne University Law School due to some forlorn desire to be just a regular suburban girl. I wasn’t succeeding. I was a misfit, and I spent my days smoking dope and spinning the turnstile at the student radio station, 3MU.

3MU had lined up an interview with Jim and Don’s band Cold Chisel. Except no one owned having set up the interview and no one wanted to conduct an interview. I volunteered. Now here I was standing beneath a stage during a sound check.

The next time Cold Chisel came to Melbourne I interviewed Don and Cold Chisel drummer Steve Prestwich in their hotel room in St Kilda. I wrote it up as an article for the Adelaide-based rock magazine, Roadrunner.

In the hotel room, Don Walker considered me as if I were brain-gym puzzle. I asked Don what he was thinking.

“I’m wondering what social background you come from,” he said.

I told him my father was a director of a household name corporation and my mother was an academic. His mother was an academic too, but Don didn’t mention that.

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The band put my name on the free list at the door to see them play one of Melbourne’s big beer-barn suburban venues, and at Don Walker’s invitation I joined them in the band room after the show. It was the tail end of Chisel’s 1979 Set Fire To The Town tour, promoting Cold Chisel’s second album, Breakfast at Sweethearts. The band joked it should be called the Let’s Get Fat tour. Sure enough, Jim did not look well. He was puffy,lunshaven, his eyes were glazed, his skin a bad colour, smeared with a greasy sheen, and he was out of it, off his face on god knows what. He nodded bleary-eyed recognition to me.

When Jim was functioning, which seemed to me most of the time, he was funny and bright and kind. Over the next year, after I moved to Sydney and started writing regularly for RAM (Rock Australia Magazine), I saw a lot of him. Briefly, he shared a house with Vince Lovegrove, just around the corner from my place. Then he moved into that grand old house where we sat together at the top of the stairs, also not more than a few minutes walk from my small flat. Bandmates referred to that house as “Jim’s castle”, which puts me in mind of the grand country house my dad grew up in.

Jim and I both lived in Paddington, an inner-city Sydney suburb then in the process of gentrification. Boundary Road formed the boundary between Paddington and Sydney’s red light district Kings Cross. In those days I alternated between dressing in jeans and flannel shirts and dressing in what might kindly be described as outdoor lingerie. It wasn’t uncommon for hoons visiting Kings Cross from the outer suburbs to pick up prostitutes or bash trans people to mistake me for a hooker. Sometimes they were menacing. One time I was pursued: I ran, but they ran faster. I knew the short cuts and ducked down a hidden through-walk. I knew I couldn’t make it to my own home before they spotted where I’d gone, so I ran through the wrought iron gates to Jim’s grand house and hid in the portico by his front door. I watched these boys trying to track where I’d gone. They sniffed around like hellhounds then finally gave up. My heart was pounding.

Jim and his housemates were out at the time. That night I told him the newspaper headlines would not have looked good: ‘Girl raped on rock star’s doorstep.’

Jim grinned and shot back, ‘While rock star at the beach!’

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Elly in 1983, the year Cold Chisel split

When I first met Chisel I was a fat teen with binge eating disorder, post-anorexic. As one venue promoter correctly surmised, you could write my sexual history on the head of a pin. The surfers, apprentice plumbers and neophyte heroin addicts my popular older sister hung out with had zero interest in me. Being seen with a fat chick was an embarrassment.

So when Don Walker referred to me, approvingly, as an “earth mother”, I failed to hear the compliment and was mortified. When I walked through Kings Cross and saw a porn mag titled Deviations featuring a special issue on fat chicks, my immediate thought was: “That’s me. I’m a sexual deviation.” (My eating disorder did my friendship with Don no favours. I had it in my head that Don only liked thin women, and, since I valued Don’s good opinion, that meant that whenever I felt self-conscious I’d get defensive, even semi-hostile, around him.)

When Jimmy Barnes told me I “looked the way a woman should look”, it was the first time I’d heard male affirmation.

More important, and certainly more intimate: Jim taught me how to punch.

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Jim met and fell in love with Jane, the woman he married, not long after we met. But his relationship with Jane was turbulent. He did a lot of drugs. He drank a lot. When I complained I didn’t have money to buy groceries, Jimmy told me I could live on speed and booze. He must have liked that line, because he repeats it in Working Class Man. I didn’t have Jim’s constitution. I couldn’t afford groceries so I lost weight. Men started taking more sexual interest in me. I stayed cautious.

At Vince’s house, the lead singer of a young support band tried, politely, to chat me up. I was so unused to being chatted up and I couldn’t deal. I flung helpless looks towards Jim. He laughed.

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Jimmy Barnes with Vince Lovegrove and Vince and Helen’s daughter Holly, Jane’s sister Jep Mahoney at front

Jim writes of Cold Chisel in Working Class Man that “These four guys would eventually become my family. The family I always needed.” With much less cause, I too regarded Cold Chisel as family. Although my birth family, living in Melbourne, were nowhere near as explosive as Jim’s birth family was, as a family unit we were not, across those years, in good shape. My father accused me years later of choosing to live first interstate then overseas in order to be far away from my family. He was not wrong, though it hurt me to admit it.

For me, Cold Chisel were the big brothers I never had.

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Jim could be protective. There was a night when white powders were being passed around and when I reached for my turn, Jim slapped my hand.

“Not that! That’s smack,” he warned me, sharply.

 Cold_Chisel_1979

The huge breakthrough album for Cold Chisel was East, released May 1980. Before it came out I watched Chisel rehearse for the album tour and I remember I was irritable. I recall Jim being unimpressed when I criticised the harmonies on Twist’n’Shout, so maybe that was it.

In the train on the way back to Kings Cross with Don Walker and Don’s partner, the rock writer Jenny Hunter-Brown, I remember Don looking at me like I was a toddler in need of a pacifier and handing me a Walkman, a small cassette player with mini-headphones.

“Here,” he said. “Listen to this.”

It was East, the first track: Standing On The Outside. I was so shocked by how slick and tuneful those first bars sounded, but I didn’t want to let go of being grumpy and give Don the thumbs up. I listened with a stiff face to the whole track, then took the earphones out.

“What do you think?” Don asked.

I think I said, “It’s good. It’s very good.”

Cld_Chisel_East

In Working Class Man, Jimmy writes that when Don presented Standing On the Outside to the band,

“I felt like I was singing a song that came from somewhere deep inside my soul. I had been standing on the outside all my life, never being allowed to taste or touch the world that was just outside my reach.”

Jim writes that on East, Don “came up with a lot of songs about outsiders. We were outsiders, and we were surrounded by outsiders and misfits. There was something about the outcasts from society that fascinated him. Maybe that’s why he liked me.”

Me too. Maybe that’s why Don liked me when he met me, too.

Jim asked me which of the songs from the East live playlist I liked best. I told him Tomorrow (the set opener) and Star Hotel.

Jimmy met my eyes: “Me too”, he said.

In Working Class Man he writes, “Star Hotel let me sing about not being good enough, not being wanted or worth anything, and wanting to tear down the world because of it.”

Until I read that line I didn’t realise this was the “me too” we shared. I came from a relatively privileged background, Jim came from what is sanitised as “disadvantage”. But we both had a fundamental sense of being worthless, and a desperate fear of being abandoned. We both had deep wells of anger and terror.

When Jim writes in Working Class Man about near hysteria at the prospect of being separated from Jane when she fell ill in America, I cried:

“The idea of being separated from Jane again made me feel sick. I couldn’t lose her. If I let her go now I might never see her again. I always had the feeling that I would end up alone. I didn’t deserve her. I couldn’t let her go. […] I was definitely hysterical now. I was crying.”

That is so precisely how I felt about being part of Chisel’s circle. I was terrified of being expelled. I felt that Jane didn’t like me, and I can’t blame her. At my fattest I once trod on her while wearing stilettoes. But not to make light of this (so to speak): it was not easy for Jane being married to Jim. Even then, there were so many hangers-on pressing for Jimmy’s time and attention, and some had no scruples about how to achieve that end. There were individuals hanging out with Chisel who Jane disliked and mistrusted, mostly with good reason. I didn’t try to see things from her perspective. I resented her for seemingly separating Jim from people who had been his friends – for separating him from me.

I hated watching Jim cease to be my friend, and I was beyond terrified to lose my friendship with Don, for much the same reasons Jim and the band valued him: because Don was the big brother of big brothers, the stable one, the calm, capable, trustworthy one, the one who made sure what needed to get done always did get done. What a burden Don shouldered.

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Cold Chisel, with Don Walker at centre

After I spoke with Jimmy at the book signing this week, I spoke with Jane. I leaned in close and said, “Thank you for keeping him alive.”

Jane instinctively pushed back, saying “It wasn’t me.”

“I know,” I replied. “He did that. But you both did that. You did it together.”

She half-nodded, warily. I know better than to put the burden of someone’s survival, of someone’s thriving, onto their partner. I asked if I could hug her. She wasn’t keen.

“After 30 years…” she began. I hugged her anyway.

I was over-emotional, and it’s not right to force another person’s emotional space. But for years I’ve recognised I was wrong about Jane. Jim ceased to be my friend after he and Jane married and committed to a life together, but Jane was and is, it seems to me, very likely the best thing that’s happened to Jimmy Barnes.

You made his life,” I whispered, as I hugged her.

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Years after Jimmy left Cold Chisel, years after Cold Chisel broke up, I was living in London. It came to my attention Vince Lovegrove was living in London too.  I made contact and we talked on the phone.

Vince told me he’d worked with Jim when Jimmy Barnes toured Europe, and that Jim had not been in a good place.

“He’s a mess,” Vince told me. “He is drugging and fucking around and he’s filled with self-loathing. He can’t bear to look at the man in the mirror.”

This was not long after Michael Hutchence’s death and I was filled with fear that, like the INXS frontman, Jim might kill himself, intentionally or otherwise. I was in denial. I was angry at Vince for being the bearer of bad news, and for a moment – a long moment – I believed he was exaggerating the mess that was Jimmy Barnes because he was jealous of how much Jimmy meant to me, and because by exaggerating the depths of Jimmy’s personal decline it might distract from his own decline.  This long moment – this extended denial – contributed to me not following up the plans Vince and I made to meet up.

I regret that now. Vince was killed in a car crash in early 2012. Friends are valuable. Friends don’t cease to matter because years have passed.

Do you know I reach to you
from later times…

(Letter to Alan, lyrics by Don Walker)

I now know, after reading Jimmy’s account of his solo career and life across the years when we didn’t see each other, that Vince was not exaggerating. I now know that Jim very nearly did kill himself, in circumstances not unlike the circumstances in which Michael Hutchence died.

I am profoundly grateful my friend is alive.

I am profoundly grateful he wrote this harrowing book, painful as it’s been for me to read. I am grateful to his family and the friends who love him, who have been by his side.

I know Jimmy Barnes didn’t write this book so that people he wouldn’t recognise in the street could reminisce 35 years later about their brushes with fame. Seems to me he wrote it for himself, yes, as therapy; and also for the people who he loves, the people he perhaps feels he owes explanations; for people who are children of family violence, children of alcoholics and addicts; and for the people who share experiences similar to his of addiction, self-loathing, the fear of abandonment, the terror of loss.

When Jimmy was a child, he used to run away from his family, all the way down to Glenelg Beach, and watch the world from the jetty. I did something similar. I had a beach where I’d climb over a clifftop guard rail, curl up in a small sandstone depression in the cliff, and watch the sun set into the waters of Gulf St Vincent.

Jim didn’t write this book for me (or just for me). But I open the front leaf of my copy of Working Class Boy, and I see in Jim’s scrawl

Jimmy_Barnes_autograph

And I am grateful.

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Siren: how I fell out of love with football

Rachel Matthews, Siren (Transit Lounge Publishing 2017)

Anna Krien, Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport (Black Inc 2014)

Paul D Carter, Eleven Seasons (Allen & Unwin 2012)

Deb Waterhouse-Watson, Athletes, Sexual Assault and Trial by Media: Narrative Immunity (New York Routledge 2013)

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Three years ago, in August 2014, I posted a blog piece titled A Few Thoughts On Winning – Part 1. Essentially, it was my love letter to Australian Rules Football (AFL).

I never got around to writing Part 2. Consider this the sequel: my Dear John letter, how I fell out of love with football.

I’ll start by considering some recent (and relatively recent) books that engage with sexual violence and football culture, then add in my own recent engagement with this issue.

Like Dr Deb Waterhouse-Watson, author of Athletes, Sexual Assault and Trial by Media, I am a fanatical Geelong Cats supporter. Since researching women and football, Waterhouse-Watson no longer attends games, in protest. I am about to join her sitting it out. Deb Waterhouse-Watson notes that more than 27 cases of sexual assault and rape involving 57 footballers and club officials had, as at time of her book’s publication, resulted in zero convictions. In November 2014 St Kilda footballer Stephen Milne pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of indecent assault in exchange for rape charges being dropped, from events that happened 10 years previously, in March 2004, when he was 24 and his victim was 19.

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Deb Waterhouse-Watson, author of Athletes, Sexual Assault and Trial by Media: Narrative Immunity

Milne was fined $15,000 and no conviction was recorded. His victim’s impact statement was reported by Wayne Flower in the Herald-Sun newspaper 18 November 2014:

Judge Michael Bourke said the victim spoke of very considerable effects and changes to her life.

“During the time immediately after, but also over the period of 10 years, and of the renewed publicity and proceedings, there has been impact on her work, family and social life,’’ he said.

“She deferred her university course for a year and she continues to have feelings of being withdrawn and isolated. She has felt judged by others, she has been abused, she has felt a sense of injustice.’’

The court heard the woman has difficulties sleeping and suffers from nightmares.

“She has witnessed and felt the impact upon her mother. Media attention has added to many of these things,’’ he said.

Judge Bourke said he had difficulty in assessing the victim impact statement because Milne had pleaded guilty to a lesser charge than was originally alleged.

“The line of causation is not straight forward. Having said that, it is still clear that (the victim) has suffered a good deal arising out of the events of this night of which this offence was a part,’’ he said.

“She did nothing wrong and has not deserved the consequences and effects upon her. Precision is not possible however I must take into account the victim impact caused. I do so bearing in mind that you [Stephen Milne] have pleaded to and will be sentenced for the offence before me.’’

Eleven days earlier, on 7 November 2014, the Herald-Sun ran an article by Wayne Flower and Ashley Argoon in which Milne’s football club captain Nick Riewoldt provided a character reference in court:

“Riewoldt told a judge Milne was a great mate, who could have kept playing footy for some time beyond his retirement in 2013.

But being charged with rape had hampered the veteran forward’s career and denied him job opportunities and endorsements.”

Waterhouse-Watson terms the protection against conviction afforded to sports personalities “narrative immunity”. By “narrative”, she means the story that is told, over and over, that frames these cases: the story, as author Rachel Matthews puts it, “of the woman who must be blamed” (mamamia.com 14 August 2017).

As Matthews put it in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper (24 June 2016), titled Football’s Abuse of Women is Institutional,

“It’s about what we value. And where sheilas do and don’t fit. The symbols of our nationhood. Our sporting greats. And in our Australia’s colonial history, what journalist Francis Adams called the ‘true Bushman’ or ‘the man of the nation’. Such worshipping of masculinity leaves little room for women. It keeps them in the background. And as targets for blame.”

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Rachel Matthews wrote her novel Siren initially as part of her PhD in creative writing at Victoria University. To write about sexual violence and the mistreatment of women in Australian Rules Football she researched over a period of four years. The result is a complex, multi-layered exploration of the effects of rape, on the victim, witnesses, family and friends (but not on the perpetrator), and the ethics of rape reporting. Is a witness obliged to bear witness? Is a GP required to report? If the victim confides in a friend, is that friend obliged to tell the victim’s parents, or her own parents, or a teacher, or police?

As one character says, “In the end, it’s up to the girl if she wants to lay charges. These things are messy.”

What I like most about Siren is that it is about the girl. Matthews is determined to challenge the convention that worshipping of masculinity, as she puts it, “leaves little room for women. It keeps them in the background”. She ensures that her narrative foregrounds the woman: Siren starts with Jordi (‘the girl’, ‘the victim’) and ends with Jordi.

Befuddled by our cultural expectations, I was slow to catch on. I kept worrying about when the rape would be reported, when charges would be brought, when the courtroom scenes would commence. But Matthews has a different project. She builds a narrative around Jordi, turning ‘the victim’ into a fully realised character with a history, a family, a family history, a place in the world – and a future, should she survive her experience of rape.

At first I worried Matthews was condescending to Jordi, with her insistence on surrounding Jordi by brand names and cultural references that establish her and her family firmly as that ocker stereotype, ‘bogans’. ‘Battlers’ is the slightly kinder stereotype. But she fleshes out Jordi, and her parents, Petra and Kane, and her siblings, Breanna, Cruise and Ryan, so that each has an emotional reality.

While Siren takes the narrative through to a rape being publicly acknowledged, Anna Krien’s Night Games follows a football-related court case, taking the court proceedings as her starting point for a wide investigation into sexual violence in football – hence the subtitle Sex, Power and Sport.

Anna Krien’s Night Games, unlike Siren, is not a novel. It’s a serious, intelligent inquiry addressing the grey areas of sexual ‘consent’, the ambiguities and anomalies in how rape charges unfold. She doesn’t refer to the young woman involved by her real name, as the young woman declined to participate in any way in Krien’s research for this book. Nor does she use the real name of the young man charged with rape.

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The case Anna Krien follows arose out of events on the evening of Collingwood Football Club’s grand final win in 2010. Two young Collingwood players, Dayne Beams and VFL player John McCarthy, were questioned by the Victorian sexual crimes squad about accusations that they had non-consensual sex with a young woman at a party in a South Melbourne townhouse. Beams and McCarthy were supported by their club, which deployed the club’s lawyer, David Galbally QC, to ensure they were not charged.

McCarthy – pick 31 in the 2007 draft – was delisted by Collingwood at the end of the following season but was picked up by Port Adelaide, where he proved popular. His death in an accident in Las Vegas on a post-season trip with teammates in September 2012 resulted in an outpouring of grief across the AFL. In the trade period 2014, Dayne Beams requested a transfer from Collingwood to the Brisbane Lions, where he is currently captain.

Although the Victorian sexual crimes squad investigation began with accusations against Beams and McCarthy, the focus quickly moved to a friend of Beams who had encountered the alleged victim after Beams and McCarthy had sex with her. They’d spoken briefly, had sex in an adjacent alley, then walked together to the nearest main road to hail a taxi, which they had shared, conversing in the cab and exchanging phone numbers, kissing, and agreeing to meet the following day.

The young man, who Krien calls “Justin”, was charged with six counts of rape, one of attempted rape, and one of indecent assault. He played for Richmond’s VFL affiliate, the Coburg Tigers, but as soon as the rape charges were made public the football club board held a meeting, after which Justin was phoned and informed he’d never play another footy game for Coburg Tigers. Instead, Collingwood Football Club offered Justin the services of David Galbally QC as lawyer.

Anna Krien writes

“… with Beams and McCarthy not yet in the clear, the reason for the QC’s presence seemed pretty obvious to an outsider like me. It made sense to control the narrative. [Justin] was a nobody, but what really happened that night and how it revealed itself could affect ‘real’ footballers, not to mention the richest footy club in town.”

In my opinion Anna Krien’s Night Games should be compulsory reading for anyone involved in the AFL in any capacity, from fans through footballers through club CEOs. The book is not, in my opinion, unfair to the young woman Krien calls “Sarah”. The way I’ve outlined what occurred that night may make it sound as if “Sarah” surely consented to alleyway sex with “Justin”, but the case as it emerged in court was by no means that clear. It’s the lack of clarity, the Rashoman qualities, that are troubling. In exploring the differing perspectives, Krien refers back to other high profile incidents where young women suffered, through sexual abuse, and for speaking out against footballers about that abuse.

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Anna Krien, author of Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport

When I first starting thinking about how to write this blog, I had in mind that I might list all the cases of sexual and misogynist abuse against women by footballers and football personalities that have occurred in the time I’ve been following the game (17 years – I did not grow up a football fan). But I realised the list is too long. To my knowledge, only one AFL player has faced charges of rape: Andrew Lovett, who was stood down by the club he’d just joined after being accused of raping a female friend of a teammate in December 2009. He was acquitted of rape charges in July 2011.

Where Rachel Matthews’ novel Siren examines the effects of rape prior to its public disclosure, and Krien’s journalistic enterprise Night Games examines how rape charges play out in court, Paul D Carter’s novel Eleven Seasons considers the wider, ripple effect of football rape. Paul D Carter spent nine years writing Eleven Seasons, which won The Australian’s Vogel Literary Award in 2012. The novel is quite slim, and subtle, and melancholy, and I’m glad he took his time writing, and kept the narrative pace gentle, because it’s a gem.

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All the sad, lonely, lost characters! Carter’s character Jason Dalton, Jason’s mother, almost all the characters in Rachel Matthews’ Siren. Who knew football was a space of such forlornness?

What’s interesting is how Eleven Seasons explores the damage done to men by football culture, as well as to women. Siren does this too: I talked before about the narrative focus on Jordi, ‘the girl who got raped’ (how reductive); but there’s a dual narrative focus, with much of Siren concerned with the journey undertaken by aging footy star Max Carlisle, who witnesses Jordi’s rape and feels responsible.

Max Carlisle undergoes an emotional progression across the narrative that is Siren, and so does Paul D Carter’s Jason Dalton. Eleven Seasons is a coming of age novel. Recently when asked what book I’d put on a curriculum for teenage boys I unhesitatingly put forward Eleven Seasons. But, like Siren and Night Games, I would hope it reaches a wide readership.

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Paul D Carter, author of Eleven Seasons

Which brings me to my own stake in this discussion. I grew up in the electorate of Sturt in South Australia, nominally a supporter of the SANFL football club Sturt. My family moved to Melbourne when I was 12, and I didn’t follow VFL in Victoria. I lived in NSW from ages 18 to 30 and did not follow football (NRL) there. I lived in London across my 30s and did not follow soccer. It was only when I moved to Geelong 17 years ago, into a house directly across a narrow back street from Geelong Football Club’s home stadium, that I took an interest in AFL.

I was lucky. The year I first joined as a member of Geelong Football Club, the Geelong Cats began the journey that took them to three premierships across a five-year period. The Cats have finished Top 2 in 8 out of the last 11 Home & Away seasons and have played finals every year bar one since 2007. I have been there, seated by deep forward pocket, screaming my lungs out proudly supporting “my boys”.

When one of our lesser players punched his girlfriend after a drunken night out, I was gratified that the players’ leadership group ensured he was dropped to the VFL team and later delisted. I trusted my club to promote the principles of Respect & Responsibility, the AFL policy devised in 2005 to counter football’s traditional sexism. I have no reason to believe Geelong Football Club does not immerse its recruits in Respect & Responsibility and does not walk the talk. Everything in my experience of Geelong Football Club tells me this club has its heart in the right place.

But it gets harder to ignore all that other stuff I see reported about women being abused by football players, about fans abusing women, about football media personalities indulging their misogynistic instincts. It’s got so that now, on grand final eve, my first thought is not for which team won, but which women out there – unknown, unnamed – were beaten or raped by drunken male fans or players ‘celebrating’.

This year the winning team was Richmond. On the night of the grand final a Richmond football player – gossip suggests a Richmond player who previously played for Geelong – took photos of a young woman wearing nothing but his premiership medal.* According to the young woman, he told her he deleted the pictures. Instead he posted them on social media. The photos have now appeared on the internet and in mass circulation newspapers. It makes no difference that her face isn’t shown, that she’s reduced to breasts. She trusted a sex partner, and that player betrayed her.

Also on the night of this year’s grand final a young mother went missing in the Surf Coast town Aireys Inlet. Last I heard human remains had been uncovered on the beach. Police were asking anyone who found further human remains to contact them. There’s no evidence to suggest that if she was murdered, this murder was a consequence of male football fans drinking alcohol all day. But I read the news updates, and I confess I shudder.*

Before Richmond Football Club won its grand final, its first in 37 years, it had to win through a qualifying final and a preliminary final. In the qualifying final Richmond beat Geelong. I was there, at least for the first half, when the Richmond crowd aggression led me to walk out. The game was over for me before it started though. It was over for me as I walked through the park that surrounds the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the famous MCG where AFL grand finals are played. As I walked towards the stadium, accompanied by three male friends, some male Richmond fans crossed our path yelling “STICK IT UP THE PUSSIES! STICK IT UP THEIR ARSES!”

They pantomimed gestures of sticking it up our pussy arses.

“There goes the Richmond brains trust,” grimaced one of my companions.

I understand idiot fans are ‘normal’ in footy. I understand most fans shrug it off, as my companions did. I understand the “Richmond brains trust” was drunk. I understand it’s unfortunate my team’s name, the Geelong Cats, lends itself to obscene sledging.

I understood that if I made a fuss about it most AFL fans would dismiss me as an uptight old lady, as “soft”, as “weak”, as not a true fan. I posted about it on Facebook, to my Facebook Friends. One of my friends told me I should take it further. He told me I should make an official complaint, to the AFL, the MCG, the Cats, and to Richmond Football Club.

I told him it wasn’t worth my time. He pointed out another Cats fan, a woman named Anne, had been on 3AW talkback radio that morning making similar complaints, to shock-jock Neil Mitchell. He said people were dissing Anne, accusing her of making it up. I said I’d think about it.

That night, the Monday after Friday’s qualifying final, I emailed formal complaints to the AFL, the MCG, the Geelong Cats, the Richmond Tigers, and I emailed 3AW, Foxsports and ABC’s sports flagship Grandstand. I received responses within a day from all bar Grandstand and Richmond, and Richmond’s Integrity Services Manager emailed me a few days later.

What I didn’t realise, until the following weekend, was that the story Foxsports ran about my complaint was posted on Foxsports’ Facebook page, and also on the AFL’s. Hundreds of people had commented on my comments.

Sure enough, I was a “soft cock”, a “pussy”, a “snowflake”, an “old lady”, and many other things besides. Most people derided me for not simply reporting it to Stadium security and letting it rest at that. I decided not to be an anonymous “Elly”. I sat up in bed for several hours that Saturday morning and replied to as many of those commenters as I could, vigorously stating the case for why it was not sufficient (or even productive) to report bad language to MCG security, and why I felt it necessary to cancel my football club membership, even though it was not my football club that had offended.

I received three responses: one a woman who wrote “lmfao” (“laughing my fucking arse off”), one a man who wrote “Good onya” (in Australia, that’s not necessarily an expression of good will), and one a female fellow Cats fan who wished me well. That’s ok. I was not seeking to convert anyone. I was standing up and having my say.

In point of fact I did attend Geelong’s preliminary final, the Friday after the Richmond match. I was thrilled to see “my boys” defy the predictions to claim a magnificent win over the Sydney Swans. If that’s the last footy match I ever attend, it ended on a high note.

I just hope – sincerely hope – no-one went home drunk and abusive, and no woman was the worse for my club’s win.

AFL_football

  • UPDATE: ABC News report 16 October 2017
    “Victoria Police said her death was not being treated as suspicious, but the investigation remained ongoing.”
  • UPDATE: ABC News report 30 October 2017 – the Richmond footballer who has publicly apologized for not deleting a nude photo as promised is not the former Geelong player previously rumored to have been at fault.


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    Hillary Clinton and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election – What happened?

    Hillary Clinton, What Happened (Simon & Schuster 2017)

    Susan Bordo, The Destruction of Hillary Clinton (The Text Publishing Company 2017)

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    So much has been said and written about how Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 U.S. Presidential election because she was a “flawed” candidate, and about her supposed inauthenticity.

    In response to the question, ‘ Who is Hillary Clinton, really?’, large numbers of Americans have, in multiple ways, insisted she’s a liar, untrustworthy, a war-monger, an Establishment agent, a privileged white lady, a Lady Macbeth, unlikeable, avaricious, corrupt, criminal, vicious, and worse (enabler for a sexual predator, a murderer).

    I’m not American. I’ve watched Hillary since 1992 (not before). I followed media and social media coverage of the 2016 campaign and election. I’ve read her autobiography Living History, and now I’ve read her memoir and analysis of the 2016 elections, titled What Happened, and I remain puzzled.

    Not puzzled as to who Hillary is. Seems simple to me: she’s a Methodist. An over-achieving, hyper-capable, intellectually brilliant Methodist with a life-long dedication to public service.

    My puzzlement continues over how it is that such large numbers of American citizens refuse to accept it can be so simple, and prefer to believe in Clinton as a bitch-witch Medusa.

    These two recent publications – What Happened by Hillary Clinton, and The Destruction of Hillary Clinton by feminist academic Susan Bordo, a media critic and cultural historian – attempt to address public perceptions of who Hillary is, and other factors that contributed to her election loss, resulting in the triumph of President Donald Trump.

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    If you’re committed to the view that Hillary Clinton lost the election because she personally is “flawed”, or flawed as a candidate, I hope you will nonetheless continue reading. Most of this review focuses not on Hillary’s character and history, but on those other factors that combined to help undo her campaign.

    In both Clinton’s and Bordo’s accounts, but most expansively in Clinton’s, other factors of vital public interest are identified:

    • Cyber warfare, also known as “active measures” – “semicovert or covert intelligence operations to shape an adversary’s political decisions” (Thomas Rid, Professor of Security Studies at King’s College, London).
    • The war on truth – the phenomenon of “false news” and a transition within established media from traditional news values to news as entertainment: news for ratings, news as click bait, news to fuel a 24-hours news cycle.
    • Inappropriate interference by State agencies in the electoral process, in breach of established protocols.
    • The breakdown of Democratic voter solidarity, with voters taking their cues from dissenter Democrat or third party leaders.

    In short:

    • Putin
    • Emails
    • Comey
    • Sanders

    At more length:

    Putin, Wikileaks, cyber warfare and the war on truth

    In the section of her book titled ‘Frustration’, which examines in depth specific issues and missteps within Clinton’s campaign that caused its failure, Clinton has a chapter titled ‘Trolls, Bots, Fake News, and Real Russians’. Whatever your personal views on Clinton, I recommend this chapter as a serious essay by a former Secretary of State on cyber propaganda as proxy warfare.

    Clinton summarizes:

    “The January 2017 Intelligence Community report called the Russian influence campaign a ‘new normal,’ and predicted Moscow would continue attacking the United States and its allies. Given the success Putin has had, we should expect interference in future elections and even more aggressive cyber and propaganda efforts. […]

    “We should also expect the right-wing war on truth to continue. As Trump faces growing political and legal challenges, he and his allies will likely intensify their efforts to delegitimize the mainstream press, the judiciary, and anyone else who threatens his preferred version of reality.”

    Clinton suggests four steps:

    1. A Special Counsel investigation in tandem with an independent commission with subpoena power, to “provide a full public accounting of the attack against our country and make recommendations to improve security going forward”.
    2. State and private sector partnership to plan and invest in improvements to U.S. networks and national infrastructure security, alongside acceleration of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies’ own offensive cyber and information warfare capabilities.
    3. Publicly calling out cyber enemies – Putin and Wikileaks – and taking tough measures against them.
    4. “We need to beat back the assault on truth and reason here at home and rebuild trust in our institutions.” Social media and tech companies need to adjust algorithms, deactivate bot networks, partner with fact-checkers and generally clean up their platforms. Mainstream media need to reaffirm a commitment to rigorously uphold factual rather than speculative or unexamined reporting.

    By implication (Clinton doesn’t spell this out), individuals need to educate themselves to better identify fake news and stop fuelling it: stop Sharing fake news, but also stop Liking and Commenting, as responses on fake news posts trigger the algorithms that spread these posts more widely.

    In What Happened’s final section, titled ‘Resilience’, in a chapter titled ‘Onward Together’, Clinton does strongly urge individuals to participate in public political conversation:

    “If you’ve been keeping your opinions to yourself, try speaking out – whether that’s on social media, in a letter to the editor, or in conversations with friends, family, and neighbors. Your views are every bit as valuable as everyone else’s. You’ll be surprised by how satisfying it can be to express yourself. And chances are, once you take a stand, you’ll find you’re not standing alone for long. If all else fails, make a sign and show up at a protest.”

    Using the mantra “Resist, insist, persist, and enlist”, with the emphasis on “enlist”, Clinton recommends further civic engagement:

    • “Register to vote.” Encourage friends, family and others to register too.
    • “Get involved in a cause that matters to you.” Actively involved.
    • Engage with our elected representatives.
    • Run for office.

    In that section titled ‘Frustration’, Clinton addresses at length avoidable mistakes she made. A chapter titled ‘Country Roads’ examines economic stagnation in rural areas previously dependent on the fossil fuel industries, states such as Kentucky, West Virginia and parts of Ohio. She examines the impact of her statement at a town hall meeting that “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”. This chapter is heartfelt and thoughtful, and I was astonished at her courage in subsequently fronting up to a public meeting in Mingo County in West Virginia, “arguably Ground Zero for the coal crisis”. Here the candidate ran a gauntlet of “several hundred angry protestors chanting ‘We want Trump!’ and ‘Go home Hillary’”. One woman had hands dripping red paint to symbolize blood and yelled accusations about Benghazi.

    In this chapter Clinton does not make excuses. She presents a distressing picture of the plight of Appalachian communities and discusses the issues from multiple angles. She does provide the full context of that inflammatory, widely disseminated quote:

    “Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let’s reunite around policies that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these under-served poor communities. So, for example, I’m the only candidate who has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into Coal Country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right Time? And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.”

    In a later chapter in that section, titled ‘Why’, Clinton provides the context for the inflammatory quote about Trump voters being a “basket of deplorables”. Many Trump supporters, she continued, as quoted by Susan Bordo, are

    “People who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures. They are just desperate for change. Doesn’t even really matter where it comes from. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people who we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

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    Comey and “those damn emails”

    There is a chapter titled ‘Those Damn Emails’. Although the issue of Hillary’s use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State dominated coverage of her presidential campaign, and ultimately, arguably, derailed it, the ‘issue’ was only ever a furphy. Federal Register regulations requiring that only government servers be used were brought in in 2013, after Clinton left office. She, like all previous Secretaries of State (Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, for example), did use a private server, and used it for both government and personal email correspondence; this was not in violation of any protocol or law. That she chose to delete her personal emails prior to providing all work-related emails for examination was found to be a legitimate choice. (Powell and Albright, by the way, did not provide any emails for examination, despite official State Department requests.)

    Nor was Clinton guilty of improperly or carelessly disseminating classified emails. Even then-FBI director James Comey was obliged to retract his damning public verdict that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her email use. Under questioning on 7 July 2016 (prior to the election vote), Comey acknowledged only three of 110 emails he had claimed were classified, out of more than 30,000 work emails provided, “had any kind of markings on them at all which would have alerted the recipient to their classified status. Those three, moreover, were marked (mistakenly, as it later turned out) only ‘internally,’ with tiny letter symbols pertaining to specific sentences within the emails” (Bordo).

    DEMOCRAT MATT CARTWRIGHT: You were asked about marking on a few documents, I have the manual here, marketing national classified security information. And I don’t think you were given a full chance to talk about those three documents with the little ‘c’s on them. Were they properly documented? Were they properly marked according to the manual?

    JAMES COMEY: No.

    CARTWRIGHT: According to the manual, and I ask unanimous consent to enter this into the record, Mr Chairman.

    CHAIRMAN: Without objection so ordered.

    CARTWRIGHT: According to the manual, if you’re going to classify something, there has to be a header to the document, right?

    COMEY: Correct.

    CARTWRIGHT: Was there a header on the three documents that we’ve discussed today that had the little ‘c’ in the text somewhere?

    COMEY: No. There were three emails, the ‘c’ was in the body, in the text, but there was no header on the email or in the text.

    CARTWRIGHT: So if Secretary Clinton really were an expert about what’s classified and what’s not classified and we’re following the manual, the absence of a header would tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified. Am I correct in that?

    COMEY: That would be a reasonable inference.

    Across the presidential campaign, it’s been quantified that there was three times more coverage of Hillary Clinton’s so-called “email scandal” than there was on all her policy statements combined. The real scandal, according to Clinton and Bordo, is the way Hillary Clinton’s email use as Secretary of State was used as a political weapon to scupper her presidential campaign. Eleven days before the election FBI director Comey publicly announced further investigation into Clinton’s emails, even though the emails in question were subject to a wholly unrelated inquiry (into former congressman Anthony Weiner’s misuse of emails) and in the event turned out to be emails already examined months earlier during the closed inquiry into Clinton’s email use.

    It violates protocols for an FBI director to publicly comment on an investigation in process, much less speculate about the possible reopening of a completed investigation where, in Comey’s words, “the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant”.

    But that’s what Comey did. Clinton makes a convincing case for Comey’s announcement on 28 October 2016 being the turning point and deciding factor in an election where, for all her “flaws”, she led as preferred candidate at and up until that moment. She believes that a small cabal of FBI agents in the FBI’s New York office pressured Comey into making public statements that amount to electoral interference. Bordo describes it as a “coup d’état”.

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    Sanders and the Bernie Bros

    In What Happened, Hillary Clinton is relatively restrained in her criticisms of Democrat contender Bernie Sanders’ impact on her campaign’s outcome. At some points her anger shows through. At other points she acknowledges him positively. Her main objection to how Sanders managed his campaign and its aftermath is that he set up ‘stalking horse’ policy positions, positions that were so idealistic, so far towards the left, that there was no chance of being able to deliver them as legislation, but which served to discredit her credentials as a “progressive” and made her own policy positions, which Clinton considers to be on the same continuum but pitched more realistically, appear compromised. She objects to his unwillingness to rein in the online vitriol of his more extreme supporters and to correct mischaracterizations of her activist history and affiliations. She notes he was tardy in publicly supporting her campaign after she was confirmed as the Democrat presidential candidate. She points out that ultimately she lost the presidential vote by a slim margin of voters, and that had some Sanders voters not abstained or voted Green, history may have been different.

    Susan Bordo is not at all restrained. Her chapter ‘Bernie Sanders and the “Millennials”’ is, at 30 pages, the longest chapter in her book The Destruction of Hillary Clinton. She makes many of the same points Hillary does, but much more angrily. Unlike Hillary, she expresses exasperation at younger feminist voters who say they saw Hillary Clinton as an Establishment candidate or that they didn’t see her feminist policies and politics as relevant. Bordo isn’t at her most convincing in this chapter. She comes across as patronizing younger voters, accusing them of ignorance or immaturity.

    The candidate herself is very clear younger voters are the future. She concludes What Happened? with a section titled ‘Resilience’, where in chapters titled ‘Love and Kindness’ and ‘Onward Together’, where she argues the need fervently for common cause. In ‘Onward Together’, she chooses to conclude her book with an account of her May 2017 visit to her college alma mater, Wellesley, where she had been invited to deliver an address to the graduating class, 48 years after she had come to national attention as the first student to deliver an Ivy League college graduation address, an event covered by Life magazine.

    What’s interesting to me, and frankly moving, given how clear it is from previous chapters how personally devastated Hillary Clinton was by her election failure, is that in these concluding pages Clinton chooses not to focus on the speech she delivered to the Wellesley graduating class, but on the speech delivered by the representative of that class, Tala Nashawati:

    “… she compared her classmates to emeralds. ‘Like us, emeralds are valuable, rare, and pretty durable,’ she said. ‘But there’s something else emeralds are known for: their flaws. I know it’s hard to admit, especially as Wellesley students, but we all have a lot of flaws. We are incomplete, scratched up in some places, jagged around the edges.’

    I leaned in, curious. This is not what I had expected to hear.

    ‘Flawed emeralds are sometimes even better than flawless ones’, Tala went on, ‘because the flaws show authenticity and character.’

    There was that word again, authenticity. But she was using it as a balm instead of a bludgeon. Flawed. How often had I heard that word over the past two years. ‘Flawed Hillary.’ But here was Tala defiantly reclaiming the word, insisting on the beauty and strength of imperfection.

    Now her classmates were leaning in, too. They snapped their fingers instead of clapping, as Tala smiled and built to her close.

    ‘In the words of Secretary Clinton, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue your dreams,’ she told the class of 2017. ‘You are rare and unique. Let yourself be flawed. Go proudly and confidently into the world with your blinding hues to show everyone who’s boss and break every glass ceiling that still remains.’

    Now the snaps gave way to cheers. I was among the loudest. I stood and applauded and felt hope and pride rising in my heart. If this was the future, then everything had been worth it.

    Things are going to be hard for a long time. But we are going to be okay. All of us.

    The rain was ending. It was my turn to speak.

    ‘What do we do now?’ I said. There was only one answer: ‘Keep going.’”

    Hillary_Clinton_smile


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    Review: Shots (2009) by Don Walker

    Cold_Chisel_1979

    Don Walker (second from left, seated) with Cold Chisel

    At its best, Shots is prose poetry:

    He’s got himself up in this smock affair over the top of coloured jeans and a scarf collection very few of which are scarves, all of them bestowed, nothing there that ain’t worn as a joke. He has real crow-black hair, dull with a couple of orange patches burnt into the sides. He can be very funny but when his eyes are pinned he’s cold as a crocodile. He’s seen death and he knows it’s any moment and not far off and no fun and he’s back here he knows for a short time and he’s getting as much of everything as he can catch while he can still move and he ain’t moving […]

    At its best, Shots is social history, or social satire, or Bildungsroman:

    ‘Who do you wish to see,’ says the same secretary and I tell her ‘Frank’ like I’ve told her so many times before. ‘Who do I say is calling?’ That’s to tell me no matter how many times I come in here I ain’t worth mentioning. I tell her again. ‘Ya got an appointment?’ she says and I say, ‘I have to pick up a cheque.’ ‘Frank’s too busy today unless you’ve got an appointment,’ she says. I do this every week. I got no dignity now I need that money, so I’m pleading, ‘Could you just check with him, please?’ She wants to see a bit more begging before she tells me to sit down and she’ll see what she can do and then she sits there and does nothing, radiating contempt. When others come in she lights up a big smile for them, shows them through to Frank’s office, comes back – ‘Frank knows you’re here’ – then gets on the phone to a girlfriend, then lunchtime comes and Frank and his visitors pour out of the office and hit the top of the stairs without Frank noticing I’m there and they loudly head off somewhere to eat too much with a view of the river for a few hours then a girlfriend comes and collects the secretary and they head off for lunch, the girlfriend looks at me like I’m a mollusk that’s been dead a few days rotting somewhere inappropriate, they leave giggling, the girlfriend doesn’t ask the secretary who I am.’

    At its best, Shots is lucid and explicit:

    Back home the new record, East, is released, and goes better than anyone imagined. Success brings its comforts, though I don’t write as much. Looking back, that night in Paris was something of a high point. I was immortal till then. Maybe that’s the way it is for everyone. Immortal, and never knowing it, up until a certain point. Then a pin is pulled. Everything’s the same, but somewhere a clock begins winding down, and it can never be arrested. My companions and I, we ate and drank in remembrance and celebration, but over the next three days in London all profound flowerings were for me rendered meaningless, and many things besides. These days I’m a passenger, my whole being bent towards a little girl an ocean away. News of her came in a phone-call, then letters, first from London, then Johannesburg, then photos of a blonde, fragile-looking daughter.

    Shots, I’m given to understand, refers to shots of liquor: short, strong, intoxicating gulps.

    Certainly, the text is not quite sober. The typewriter has been drinking. There are filters casting shadow over every page, tonal filters of sepia and psychedelics. Was that Faulkner I detected in the rural opening sequences? Thomas Wolfe’s Depression New York a little later? Some Kerouac, some Bukowski, some Henry Miller? It’s not really my scene so it’s hard for me to nail. Stylistically, it seems to be a mélange of every blue mood from the Weimar Republic to Y2K; from art movements (Otto Dix and German Expressionism) to mid-century noir to late twentieth-century pop culture homage (Tom Waits?). Sequences set in red-light district hotels. Sequences set in specialist comics bookshops. Sequences set in nightclubs. Blade Runner in Kings Cross.

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    Rudolf Schlichter, Hausvogteiplatz, 1925

    There is a feel of early twentieth-century modernist art, the kind of art Goebbels labelled “degenerate” and that Cold Chisel referenced in the cover art for their album Twentieth Century. There are femmes fatales, hot to trot rich over-educated girls who knock on his hotel room door then, once undressed, perch on his bed with a “hot flushed face” while the boyfriend bangs on the locked door.

    Otto_Dix_Portrait_of_the_Journalist_Sylvia_Von_Harden_1926

    Otto Dix, Portrait of the journalist Sylvia von Harden, 1926

    There are women who knock on his hotel room door and undress to reveal “cheap satin lingerie with suspenders and stockings and little bows etc.”

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    Christian Schad, Self Portrait, 1927

    There’s a recurring Girl who Walker calls “the Fritz Lang girl”. Those who knew Walker across the late ‘70s and ‘80s will know who she is. She’s foregrounded as someone “I love her now like a sister”, and in that hint, and in the throwaway “She’s got a sister”, a major relationship, a love, is ellided.

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    Fritz Lang Girl, Metropolis, 1927

    This is where my ‘I’ steps forward. Because I am not a neutral reader.

    Maybe I’m a little pissed off he foregrounds people I didn’t care for and ellides people I did.

    I think this role of hardboiled unmoved observer refusing to respond directly, relating to his world only obliquely, is a form of Romantic hero, a Bogart character: “You pays your money you takes your choices” – or, as I once put it to Don Walker, “You pays your money, you takes your chances.”

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    Bogart taking his chances

    When he writes, “I know to watch her and not make any move is the only thing that might possibly confuse her”, or “she’s pretty obvious with a lot of fluttering and rubbing up and I’m like a fence post ‘cause I take me fun in my own world not here”, or, “she’s right there she is not gunna leave so I’m getting bored and start thinking I wonder what her tits look like purely out of aesthetic curiosity”, I’m reminded of Don Walker as I knew him in 1980, complaining at a party about a woman who he said kept trying to talk to him and who would not, according to him, “get the message” that he was not interested. I asked him how he sent that message.

    “I gave her a frosty look,” he told me.

    Harrison_Ford_Blade_Runner

    A frosty look from Bladerunner’s Deckard (replicant)

    I told him a frosty look is not sufficient. I told him women might mistake that for his habitual expression. I told him he needed to be more direct.

    I still think he needs to be more direct, not least in Shots.

    I don’t understand his ellipticism. I never did. Don Walker has a particular view of the world that I can’t share. It’s not something I relate to.

    I begged him that if ever he didn’t want me to talk to him, to be direct, to tell it to me straight. He looked puzzled.

    “But you’re not a problem,” he said. “You don’t want anything.”

     

    Three stories, told with thudding directness (but that would be me):

    Story #1: In mid-1980 Don Walker and I had our first falling out. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I demanded he tell me. After some rattling on my part Don told me a person who was a close friend of the band who I did not realise was a close friend of the band had told him I was overheard describing one of the band members’ girlfriends as “a moron”. I was distraught: because I did know that person was a “close friend of the band”; because I would not have said such a thing, even if I thought it, being terrified as I was of the band members’ girlfriends; and because it scared me to believe that Don would cut off our friendship on another person’s hearsay without telling me what I’d allegedly done ‘wrong’, and without giving me an opportunity to defend myself.

    I sat down with Jim Barnes at Jim’s house and told him how upset I was. I asked Jim if Don had mentioned this incident to him.

    “No,” Jim had answered quietly. “One thing about Don is he will never discuss that with any other person. I know Don. He would never mention it.”

    He’d just end a friendship.

    Don_Walker_Cold_Chisel

    Jim Barnes (far left) with Don Walker (next to Jim) and Cold Chisel

    Story #2: About Paul Hewson – the bloke with the coloured jeans and the scarves in the quote at top. Don and Paul were at Benny’s nightclub in Potts Point, well after midnight, in 1984. My ‘friendship’ with Don by then was in tatters. Paul Hewson advised me to try the chili con carne on the menu. “Con carne”, he said, with relish, leaning too close in to my face. “It means with meat.” He smacked his lips. I did not look impressed. He changed tack. “Don obviously doesn’t like you much,” he said. I turned on my heel and left. But I waited outside, sitting on a low wall, so that when Paul and Don exited the nightclub I could block their path and hurl verbal abuse at Paul. He wilted. He cringed. Lots of people remember Paul fondly. I remember him for that night and I despise him. Don walked past fast with a frozen face.

    Paul_Hewson_Dragon

    Paul Hewson (far left) with Dragon

    Story #3: One day in late ’85 or ’86 as I was striding along Ward Avenue in Kings Cross I met Don Walker. This was not unusual. By this time relations were somewhat more cordial. We lived two minutes from each other, equidistant from the spot where we coincided on this occasion. What was unusual was that Don was walking very, very slowly, and clutching his hand was a small girl in a dress.

    “Hello,” I said. “Who’s this? Friend? Relative?”

    Don looked me in the eye and said, solemnly, “Daughter. Danielle.”

    My reflex reactions kicked in.

    “Daughter?” To the small girl: “A daughter is a very important person. Hello, Danielle.”

    To Don I said, “Will Danielle be staying with you?”

    As Don started to reply the small girl looked up at me and said fiercely, “I can’t stay too long.”

    Don and I locked eyes.

    “Then I’d best let you both get on with your day,” I said.

    Don Walker had a daughter. His life had changed.

    Cold_Chisel_Twentieth_Century

    For Jenny Hunter-Brown:

    Other People by Elly McDonald (1981)

    Long and gentle (soft dusky pink),
    A girl in a coffeeshop
    Closes up, jagged like an oyster.
    Her face blurred like a moonstone.

    huddled, hunted, in massive tawny furs
    (a memory, but raw as a freshly-flayed kill)
    can’t feel, can’t breathe, drains away…
    her ankles loll like broken necks

    The girl in the coffeeshop
    Keeps her chin level,
    Talks tired and calmly: I’m not
    Really crying, she says.

     

     


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    Review: You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano 

    You Play the Girl by Carina Chocano

    Subtitle: On Playboy Bunnies, Princesses, Trainwrecks & Other Manmade Women 

    Other editions subtitle: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Trainwrecks & Other Mixed Messages

    Other editions subtitle: and Other Vexing Stories That Tell Women Who They Are

    Maleficent_Angelina_JolieCarina Chocono was losing her mind as a movie critic:

    “I found myself spending hours in the dark, consuming toxic doses of superhero movies, wedding-themed romance comedies, cryptofascist paeans to war, and bromances about unattractive, immature young men and the gorgeous women desperate to marry them. Hardly any movies had female protagonists. Most actresses were cast to play ‘the girl’.”

    Chocono credits film actor Isla Fisher with slapping her awake. Asked whether her break-out success in The Wedding Crashers opened opportunities for her, Fisher had reportedly replied, “All the scripts are for men and you play ‘the girl’ in the hot rod.”

    Wedding_Crashers_Isla_FisherAs Chocono noted, “Women’s experience in its entirety seemed contained in that remark, not to mention several of the stages of feminist grief: the shock of waking up to the fact that the world does not also belong to you; the shame at having been so naïve as to have thought it did; the indignation, depression, and despair that follow this realization; and, finally, the marshaling of the handy coping mechanisms, compartmentalization, pragmatism, and diminished expectations.”

    Before diminishing into being a “movie” critic, Chocono had thought of herself as a “film” critic (her distinction): “I wrote about what interested me and reacted to whatever seemed to be worth reacting to in the moment.” She used film as the springboard to freeform meditations on issues that resonated – as Renata Adler wrote, writing “about an event, about anything”, “putting films idiosyncratically alongside things [writers] cared about in other ways”.

    You Play The Girl is a collection of essays Carina Chocono has written utilising Adler’s approach: responses to film as “a way into larger cultural conversations”.

    It’s also – which cannot surprise anyone who’s read my previous blogs exploring approaches to writing memoir – a memoir, of sorts.

    Elizabeth_Montgomery_BewitchedFinely etched as a filigree narrative spanning these essays is the story of how Carina Chocono figured out how to save her marriage (Chapter 2 Can This Marriage Be Saved?), be a good mother, be a good writer, and find her way back onto the heroine’s path:

    “The heroine’s journey starts with the realization that she is trapped inside the illusion of a perfect world where she has no power. She employs coping strategies at first, or tries to deny reality, but eventually she is betrayed, or loses everything, and can no longer lie to herself. She wakes up. She gathers her courage. She finds her willingness to go it alone. She faces her own symbolic death. […] The heroine’s journey is circular. It moves forward in spirals and burrows inward, to understanding. […] The path is treacherous. The territory is hostile. But the heroine is brave. She knows what she wants. She’s determined to get it. Isn’t that how all good stories start?”

    Yes but. As Herr Freud asked, “What do women want?”

    Virginia_WoolfFor Chocono, it’s autonomy, agency, and authority. Also, equity and self-expression. To love and to be loved.

    This book is dedicated to the author’s primary school aged daughter, from “For Kira” on the dedication page to the penultimate thank you in the Acknowledgements: “And to my amazing daughter, Kira, for being ever curious, always insisting on presenting her evidence, and never holding her tongue.”

    The ultimate acknowledgement goes to one of Chocono’s heroines: “And to Hillary Clinton, for inspiring us both.”

    Hillary_Clinton

    The memoir elements tracing Chocono’s marriage are subtle, and tender, but Chocono repeatedly refers back to cultural texts that provide explicit metaphors: Lewis Carroll’s mad worlds, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass; the folk tales and fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault; and the ways those folkloric tales have been reconfigured by Disney, Pixar and Hollywood more generally.

    For me, Chocono is at her best deconstructing the Princess in popular culture, as she does in the chapter ‘All The Bad Guys Are Girls’. Her princesses range widely: encompassing Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty/Aurora, Elsa and Anna, and Maleficent; but also Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart, Katharine Hepburn as Tracy Lord, and Betty Draper from Mad Men. She re-presents the Jennifer Beals character in Flashdance and the Julia Roberts character in Pretty Woman as “princesses’, based on their exceptionalism. (She savages both films, hilariously.)

    Katharine_Hepburn_The_Philadelphia_Story

    She asks her daughter ‘What is a princess, anyway?’

    Kira replies, “It’s a very fancy woman who gets her own way.”

    What most horrifies Chocono though is what happens after the ‘happy ever after’. As she points out (and as I discuss in previous blogs), a medieval princess knew she was simply a transmitter of bloodlines and a vehicle for political alliances: her role was to get up the aisle with as little fuss as possible, pop out some heirs, and remain ‘invisible’ as an individual, whether alive or dead. Even in more recent times, for girls born into elites within stratified societies (as Chocono’s great-grandmother was, in Peru), ”A woman’s education was designed to coax her to sleep at sixteen and keep her unchanged and unconscious forever. It was an undoing. It wasn’t a start but a ‘finishing’.”

    Princess_Diana

    Elsewhere, in her synopsis of the film Maleficent, Chicano describes the narrative building from when “King Stefan’s men try to kill Maleficent, and Aurora tries to help her and discovers [Maleficent’s hacked off] wings in a glass case, because everybody is putting girls and their parts in glass cases all the time in these stories…”

    These prince “heroes” in Frozen and Maleficent are sociopaths who mutilate and usurp women with extraordinary gifts. They’re Buffalo Bill in The Silence of The Lambs appropriating women’s skin. They’re monsters.

    Snow_White

    Yet in popular culture, just as often, what women see reflected back is the princess as monster. To quote David Bowie, ‘I looked around / and the monster was me’.

    There’s a chapter called ‘Bunnies’ that I thought might be about the Bunny Boilers, but it is in fact about lads’ mags and the Playboy magazine ideal. Bunny Boilers surface instead in the chapter titled ‘The Eternal Allure of the Basket Case’. The Basket Case makes reference to Virginia Woolf (who Chocono cites frequently), and to artists’ muses, including Courtney Love, with a glancing mention of Zelda Fitzgerald but in-depth focus on Isabelle Adjani’s most famous studies in madness, in the films The Story of Adele H and Camille Claudel. Sylvia Plath pops up. Girl, Interrupted and Fatal Attraction are the Hollywood texts, along with an HBO show I haven’t seen, Enlightened, where Laura Dern loses her mind then loses her job. Or, arguably, the other way round.

    Courtney_Love

    Reading Chocono’s analysis of Adele H, I was reminded of when I first read reviews of this film, when it was released, in 1975, when I was 14. Director Francois Truffaut based his film on a real life story. Adele was the daughter of French literary titan Victor Hugo, writer of the novel Les Miserables. A young English army lieutenant had proposed to Adele, but she turned him down. Later, she regretted doing so, and, uninvited, followed his regiment to Canada, where she stalked him for years, then followed his regiment to Barbados, where eventually one day he confronted her, only for it to be apparent she did not recognise him.

    Adele is a princess, daughter of the greatest French literary hero of the nineteenth-century. She is a Romantic: Chocono quotes philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s definition of Romanticism as “the unappeasable yearning for unattainable goals”. She quotes from Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s book The Madwoman In The Attic, a study of “madness as feminist protest, subversion, and resistance. The madwoman, they say, serves as ‘the author’s double, and image of her own anxiety and rage’ towards a culture that oppresses her.”

    Is Adele’s madness also her own misplaced sense of entitlement? Is she being a “princess”, a “very fancy woman” who thinks she can get her own way by ‘virtue’ of her privilege and passion? Is she on the “heroine’s journey”?

    The_Story_of_Adele_H_Isabelle_Adjani

    Virtue, as Mae West almost said but didn’t, has nothing to do with it.

    Reading again about Adele H reminded me of two vintage Hollywood films that made an impact on me when I was 12, both about mad and bad bunny boilers who selfishly insisted on loving men who did not want to be loved (by them). I was so distressed by these two films that I wrote about them at length in my then-diary. I have long since burnt those diaries. But I think I remember what I had to say.

    The first film was Forever Amber (1947), starring Cornel Wilde, the Texan actress Linda Darnell, and George Sanders as King Charles II. Amber is a luscious 16 year old country girl when Wilde, playing randy cavalier (a tautology?) Lord Bruce Carlton, age 29 when our story starts, rapes her as he’s en route to London. Except it isn’t really rape because obviously she was too luscious to remain virgin and was gagging for it anyway, and because she falls Wilde-ly in love with Bruce and hitches a ride with him to the metropolis. Amber remains ardently in love with Bruce Carlton even as she sleeps her way to being the king’s mistress. She nurses Bruce when he collapses with plague. She lances his pustules. She lends him money and advocates on his behalf. In return, he scorns her as a fallen woman, derides her as shallow and selfish, and eventually, once he marries a demure young heiress, he takes the child Amber bore to him away to the colony of Virginia, away from the child’s whore mother, away from the contaminated royal court.

    Linda_Darnell_Forever_Amber

    I felt that was unfair. Amber didn’t get to experience much love. She loved her son. Bruce was, reductively, a prick. She did not deserve his bad treatment of her.

    It did not occur to me at age 12 that Amber might be capable of recognising all this herself and washing her hands of the bastard.

    The second film was Leave Her to Heaven (1945), starring Gene Tierney and, again, Cornel Wilde, this time playing a writer who meets a beautiful woman, Ellen, on a train en route to her father’s funeral: the beautiful woman is especially emotionally vulnerable. Or out and out psycho. After their whirlwind marriage her obsessive jealousy and, yes, selfishness emerge. The writer has a disabled younger brother who comes to live with them. Bunny Boiler Ellen can’t bear to share her husband’s love so she watches, cold-bloodedly, as the boy drowns in a boating incident. Then her husband the writer finds solace in his friendship with her half-sister. He even dedicates his new novel to the sister, as “The gal with the hoe”. (She gardens.) Or was that dedication to “The gal with the hole”? Or “the gal with the ho’”?

    Whatever. The Bunny Boiler had my sympathies.

    Gene_Tierney_Leave_Her_To_Heaven

    Ellen flings her pregnant self down the stairs, cruelly murdering the writer’s innocent unborn son. When he walks out on her, she kills herself, setting up her sister and her husband for a murder charge. Knowing what we know about partner violence, it would be more credible if the writer had killed the Bunny Boiler, as Michael Douglas eventually kills Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (but she was asking for it). The screen-writer does kill Gene Tierney’s character. But only after he first assassinates it.

    Falta_Attraction_Glenn_CloseTo me, this, too, did not seem fair. Granted, Ellen was intense. She failed to sufficiently empathise with her husband’s needs. But all she asked was to be loved.

    Gene Tierney’s problem was that she was a princess. She was a very fancy, over-entitled daddy’s girl who thought the world – or if not the whole world, her husband, at least – should love her unconditionally.

    The Gene Tierney character is the Wicked Witch. She failed to play ‘the Girl’ the way ‘the Girl’ should be played – in the passenger seat.

    To return to Isla Fisher: “All the scripts are for men and you play ‘the girl’ in the hot rod”:

    “Women’s experience in its entirety seemed contained in that remark, not to mention several of the stages of feminist grief: the shock of waking up to the fact that the world does not also belong to you; the shame at having been so naïve as to have thought it did; the indignation, depression, and despair that follow this realization; and, finally, the marshaling of the handy coping mechanisms, compartmentalization, pragmatism, and diminished expectations.”

    Or, the alternative coping mechanisms of madness and murder.

    “’The girl’ doesn’t act, though – she behaves. She has no cause, but a plight. She doesn’t want anything, she is wanted.” For every princess who transforms into a witch, goes murderously crazy, there’s another – many others – being gaslighted: manipulated into believing, as Carina Chocono did, that she is losing her mind.

    From Alice In Wonderland:

    “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

    “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

    “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

    “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

    Alice's_Adventures_In_Wonderland_Cheshire_Cat


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    Woman of Substances: A journey into addiction and treatment – by Jenny Valentish

    Jenny ValentishJenny Valentish’s book Woman of Substances is subtitled “A journey into addiction and treatment” and sets out to explore how addiction is triggered and plays out specifically in women, across a range of behaviours: drug abuse, alcoholism, abusive or obsessive relationships, eating disorders, self-harm and self-mutilation, and other compulsive behaviours, including sex and theft. She investigates social and historical factors as well as neuroscience, endocrinology and psychiatric approaches.

    Organised in three parts, (Part One: Predictors of a problem; Part Two: Gendered adventures in addiction; Part Three: Woman’s Lib), this book is part sociological research, part memoir. Both aspects resonate with me. Valentish writes as someone who came of age in south-east England’s music scene in the early ‘90s, who published a fanzine, was publicly represented in the tabloids as a music groupie, who was immersed in music and drugs and alcohol, was sexually abused, who relocated to the other side of the planet, has intimate experience of addiction and (arguably) mental illness. She now lives in regional Victoria.

    We have common ground. I was a rock music writer from ages 17 to 29, writing for rock music publications, pilloried as a teen by Molly Meldrum on Countdown as a “stupid female”, constantly negotiating the crosslines between sexual experimentation, peer perception and shame, witnessing drug and alcohol abuse, occasionally participating, with intimate experience of other forms of addiction, and mental illness. I crossed the planet, in reverse, to spend my 30s in ’90s London. I now live in regional Victoria.

    Like Jenny, I am fascinated by the challenges posed by writing memoir.

    Jenny Valentish describes her personal experience woven through her research findings as a “case study”. As it happens, one of my freelance employments is editing the psychiatric case studies required of trainee psychiatrists. It’s all too easy for me to condense and mentally reformat Valentish’s accounts of her personal experiences as third person psychiatric reports. It’s easy, too, for me to follow her accounts of different treatment methods and wellness strategies, as set out in the book’s final section. Truthfully, that section is so lucid I would recommend it to anyone who hopes to learn what works.

    She writes wonderfully.

    I nearly did not read this book. I’d seen a review that commented on how direct her language was, presenting as an example,”I had a cock in my mouth by the age of seven.” I took that to be the book’s opening line. I was concerned this would be a sensationalist, exhibitionist narrative – the “crazy woman as attention-seeker” trope. A part of me felt I already knew this story. Why revisit it through someone else’s darkness?

    To learn, to contextualise, to rethink, to reframe, to empathise, to better understand. Because it’s well-researched. It’s useful reporting. It’s entertaining. It’s encouraging.

    I had some predictable responses. I found it impossible not to map her experiences against mine, not to place us in relative positions on a graph mapping “Just how bad was that?”

    There are no prizes for being the most out-there addict. That said, as a reader, and as someone who had thought our experiences might be loosely comparable, I was shocked, actually distressed, by much that Valentish recounts. I felt outraged on behalf of her 14 year old self, being inducted into music scene sex; her 18 year old self, raped in an alley; her 26 year old self, fleeing an abusive ex across oceans; her 7 year old self, sexually abused by a neighborhood teen – outraged by the continuum of her experiences. I felt shocked, confused, by the extent of her substance abuse. Why would she subject herself to that? How did she function, build a career?

    The “Why would she subject herself to that?” is, obviously, the question the project addresses. How did she function, build a career? Seems to me that side by side with – or within, or fronting, or inextricable from – the identity Valentish presents on the page, the person who stumbles and trips and can’t articulate coherently, there was the person who functioned just fine, thank you ma’am, within her chosen environments, aided by considerable intelligence, her talent, her resilience, her humour, other character traits she doesn’t make explicit, and by her social capital (education, beauty, middleclass background).

    In the final section, the section about treatment options and the experience of weaning off addictions, Valentish writes briefly about narrative therapy. This is the process whereby a person articulates their story and then, with an appropriately qualified therapist, they “look at some of the dominant narratives that they are using to give themselves a hard time: ‘I’m to blame’, ‘I’m an alcoholic’, ‘I’m a bad mother’ or ‘I’m a failure’. […] The therapist and client will then look for the subjugated narratives of resilience, courage and strength, and work on lifting those to the fore.”

    My brother-in-law is clinical director of a private psychiatric clinic and is a senior psychiatrist within the public health sector. Narrative therapy is an approach he promotes. I have gleaned a few hints observing him and asking him about his work, and a strategy I do find useful is consciously noting how I am telling my story – to myself, to others – and consciously exploring ways of representing it that are true to those events and yet empowering.

    Jenny Valentish I think employs this strategy too.

    In the Acknowledgements section Jenny Valentish writes: “I realised afterwards, once I’d signed off on the book, that I skimped on the love, support and good times. Certainly they’re more obvious now (who really basks in those good fortunes in their twenties anyway?), but they were always there from family and friends, keeping me afloat. To this end, Women of Substance is a memoir of addiction, not a memoir of a girl.”

    Good point.

    She writes: “My life should have been a Duran Duran video. Exotic climes, open-top Jeeps, gleaming hotel lobbies with marble floors and ceiling fans rotating lazily over potted palms. I should have been thumping hard-oak boardroom tables and powering through airports in my safari suit.”

    This is Jenny Valentish being self-deprecating, aware of middleclass privilege. I know I too have benefited immensely from class privilege. In fact, chunks of my life have been a Duran Duran video, especially, but not exclusively, my life in London advertising agencies. I still get to check-in occasionally to glamorous hotels with thriving indoor plants, and though my cashflow is constrained, to say the least, I live very comfortably, in a beautiful upper middleclass environment, and I do not lack.

    She writes: “I’m lucky. While Woman of Substances isn’t exactly a beach read, my own experiences only skirt the edges of awful possibility. With my drug use I was just a tourist, albeit the type that overstays their visa. I didn’t get into trouble with the police. I didn’t drive under the influence, or even learn to drive. I didn’t overdose or take drugs with anyone who did. I didn’t get rushed to hospital. Nobody beat me up. I didn’t need to have sex with anyone for drugs, nor for drug debts. I didn’t want kids, so I didn’t accidentally drink through my first trimester, or use through a pregnancy. I had a secure childhood and parents who were able to look after me.”

    Me neither. Me too.

    Quite apart from the shock of how sordid many of Jenny Valentish’s experiences were (and I say “sordid” as a descriptor, not as a judgement), the shock for me in reading this narrative was realising just how conservative I’ve been. Yes, there were a few months sucking bongs at age 17. But my dope-fiend career was cut short by my complete inability to draw back, a failure I recall one rock musician friend murmuring must be “a terrible handicap for a girl”.

    There was the one occasion I attempted to snort cocaine off a mirror; my long hair fell forward and wiped the mirror surface. (That same musician friend laughed and remarked how popular I must have been.) There was the time backstage when I reached for a proffered white powder and a rock musician friend, a famously drug-abusing rock musician friend, slapped my hand sharply, saying “Not that! That’s smack.” There was the life-changing, hideous episode with white powder backstage that led to a blackout and a blow-up my brain never stored in memory. There was the sleazy paparazzo with his date-rape drug.

    Thing is, after age 18, I never smoked dope. After 21, I stopped drinking, almost entirely. After the white powder episode, I never touched white powder. After the date rape, I moved back to where my parents lived. As I once told an old friend, I never met a drug that liked me. Every time I tried an illegal substance it blew up in my face (so to speak), and I immediately stopped.

    For a so-called groupie (“bandmoll”, we called it), I wasn’t even promiscuous. Over time, in my twenties, I had sex with more men than the girls I grew up with did – I think. But highly discriminately. And rarely.

    Eating disorders? Overspending? Compulsive behaviours? Impulsivity? Stalking? I put my hand up. I did those other things that fit within the realm of addiction.

    This is not a review; this is a personal response. My personal responses to what Jenny’s written are complex. Foremost, ultimately, they take the form of a chorus of “BRAVA!”, directed with a metaphorical bouquet to Valentish.

    Woman of Substances


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    Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

    Final_Girls_Riley_Sager_Elly_McDonald_Writer

    Quincy, Lisa and Samantha are each sole survivors of mass murders. But they live with threat.

    When Lisa dies in suspicious circumstances, who should Quincy fear? Coop, the protective cop with Daniel Craig eyes? Jeff, the Ryan Reynolds look-alike Public Defender boyfriend? Samantha, her Riot Grrrl alter ego, tattooed SURVIVOR? Jonah, the tabloid scumbag? Her own mother, who taught her to be “Fine”?

    Could He (who cannot be named) rise from the dead?

    Or is that pesky dissociative amnesia concealing something Quincy’s survival depends on?

    It’s 10.30pm. I’m working tomorrow. But I’m hooked.

    daniel_craig_blue_eyes_elly_mcdonald_writer

    So began my relationship with Riley Sager’s Final Girls – undoubtedly soon to be a movie near you, not to be confused with a 2015 teenflick of the same title.

    This was a thriller I read through the night, constantly mapping it against its pop culture references, the movies, the books, the actors who might be cast, constantly guessing and second-guessing the whodunnit.

    I knew guessing whodunnit was a pointless exercise. The author is such a fan of this genre that I knew s/he’d strew red herrings liberally and would make sure the ending twists back on itself like an angry rattler. (For the record: I’ve since discovered Riley Sager is a man.)

    Partway through:

    The movies it’s reminding me of most right now, other than Fight Club, are I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Blair Witch Project, and the Sharon Stone pic Sliver, where the script intended the Perfect Boyfriend (Billy Baldwin) to be the killer and Tom Berenger as the brooding cop with icy blue eyes to be the Male Savior. But preview audiences didn’t like that, so the ending was re-shot, making a nonsense of any nuanced characterisation the actors might have attempted.

    Icy blue eyes ex-marine = sociopath ordinarily. But hey. Anything can happen.

    In fact those icy blue eyes might be more Gary Cooper than Daniel Craig and Tom Berenger. The cop’s name is Franklin Cooper, known as Coop or Frank – Gary Cooper’s real name was Frank Cooper, and he was known to his friends as Coop.

    Gary_Cooper_1936_Elly_McDonald_Writer

    Then I got precious:

    Might be a touch of Donna Tartt (quince) in here too. The Secret History. The girl in the sacrificial virgin’s white dress that turns red with blood. Quincy and Sam are definitely maenads.

    Btw Quincy is an Instagram blogging baker. She makes tartts (sic). And sweet muffins. Just desserts.

    The Hitchcock Vertigo references kicked in.

    vertigo_elly_mcdonald_writerNext day, I couldn’t let it rest:

    I’ve been turning this one over in my head this morning. The author really loves genre. This is surprisingly smart plotting and structure and is ultimately a fan homage to the “final girl” trope. It’s also genuinely terrifying in some sequences.

    Yup. It is.

    Final_Girl_Elly_McDonald_Writer