Author Richard Flanagan has questioned why Australian politicians have such hostility towards writing. Photo: Simon SchluterRichard Flanagan has poured scorn on the concept of a national literature but declared the centrality and necessity of writing to Australian life.
And he said the most moving Australian writing he had read for a long time was the trove of “anonymous short stories” leaked to The Guardian – the incident reports of violence, sexual abuse, and self-harm involving asylum seekers on Nauru.
If anyone was expecting a gentle trot through the whys and wherefores of writing, the pros and cons of great writers – from Australia or elsewhere – in Flanagan’s first public lecture as inaugural Boisbouvier Professor of Australian Literature at the University of Melbourne they were in for a surprise.
The Man Booker-winning author of The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a man guaranteed to have a wider take on writing and its place in the world and in his address, titled “Does Writing Matter?”, at the Athenaeum Theatre on Thursday as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, he was characteristically challenging.
“Nations and nationalisms may use literature, but writing of itself has nothing to do with national anythings – national traditions, national organisations, national prizes – all these and more are irrelevant,” he said.
The impact of the Nauru files had been profound. “All around us we see words debased, misused, and become the vehicles for grand lies,” Flanagan said. “Words are mostly used to keep us asleep, not to wake us. Sometimes though writing can panic us … This writing has woken me from a slumber too long. It has panicked me.
“The stories are very short, what might be called in another context flash fiction. Except they are true stories. I suspect they will continue to be read in coming decades and even centuries when the works of myself and my colleagues are long forgotten.”
Flanagan wondered why Australian politicians had such hostility towards writing. Australia spent $1.2 billion each year to “keep innocent people in a state of torment and suffering” but less than $2.4 million a year on direct subsidies to its writers. “What Australia is willing to spend in one year to create a state-sponsored hell on earth for the innocent is what Australia would spend in 500 years supporting its writers.” And he stressed he was not arguing for more support for writing.
What, he asked, was the connection between him standing on the stage and “a child sewing her lips together … her act and the act of writing share the same human aspiration”. Asylum seekers were asserting the fact that in the face of attempts to dehumanise them, their lives still had meaning. “And is this not the very same aspiration as writing?”
The role of the writer was to keep words alive in an attempt to divine truth. And he answered the question he had set himself in his lecture title. “But even when we are silenced we must continue to write. To assert freedom. To find meaning … Because writing matters. More than ever, it matters.”
The Brumbies’ Allan Alaalatoa. Photo: Jay CronanThe Canberra Vikings will turn to Wallabies power to bolster their National Rugby Championship campaign when they inject prop Allan Alaalatoa for their clash against NSW Country.
Alaalatoa will go from the Bledisloe Cup cauldron to Viking Park to play his first game of the NRC season as part of a Vikings reshuffle.
The tighthead prop made his Test debut when the Wallabies were thrashed by New Zealand two weeks ago and also played in the Bledisloe Cup defeat last weekend.
But the Vikings are confident the 22-year-old can put international disappointment behind him to tear the Eagles apart on Sunday.
Hooker Josh Mann-Rea will also play against the Eagles while Sam Carter has been included at lock.
Carter’s selection forces Rory Arnold to move to the bench while Henry Speight will start on the wing after scoring two tries in the season opener last weekend.
The ACT Brumbies and Vikings are still waiting on results of scans on James Dargaville’s shoulder to determine how long the versatile back will be out of action.
It is hoped Dargaville will miss as few as three games and be a part of the Vikings’ bid for an inaugural NRC title.
Meanwhile, the Brumbies are continuing their search for a new chief executive and applications for the position close on September 5.
The Brumbies have formed a four-person selection panel and will work with a recruitment company to finalise a shortlist for interviews in October.
NRC ROUND 2
Sunday: Canberra Vikings v NSW Country Eagles at Viking Park, 3pm.
Vikings team: 15. Robbie Coleman, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Andrew Smith, 12. Jordan Jackson-Hope, 11. Lausii Taliauli, 10. Nick Jooste, 9. Joe Powell, 8. Jordan Smiler, 7. Jarrad Butler, 6. Tom Staniforth, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Blake Enever, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Josh Mann-Rea, 1. Sione Taula. Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Faalelei Sione, 18. Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 19. Rory Arnold, 20. OJ Noa, 21. Dean Oakman-Hunt, 22. Brent Hamlin, 23. Isaac Thompson.
Bigger things ahead: My Country (right) runs second to Tessera at Randwick in January. Photo: bradleyphotos上海m.auMy Country will always have the honour of being the first winner on the new Eagle Farm circuit and that trip away to Brisbane has her ready to take the next step in the spring.
Peter and Paul Snowden have mapped out a spring return in Saturday’s Furious Stakes at Randwick, where she is joined by stablemate Quick Feet, but it isn’t locked in.
“My Country is a quality filly and the plan was to get her ready for this race after the trip away,” Paul Snowden said.
“She is going good and ready to go, but we want to be a bit careful with her because she has a big spring in front of her. We will have a discussion if the rain comes and might have to wait with her.
“She has shown us how good she is by getting to that black-type level last time off just one run. She has grown up a lot and is more relaxed in herself now. I think we are going to see a different filly again this time.”
While the rain might work against My Country, it could benefit Quick Feet, which has had the benefit of two runs since her spell.
She found the line well late when third to Omei Sword in the Silver Shadow Stakes a fortnight ago and is ready to step up in trip.
“She would love it to be the old Furious at 1400 metres after that last run,” Snowden said. “She is looking to step up and she looks very strong. She sort of hit a flat spot there in the straight in the Silver Shadow for a while then really attacked the line well. She is going to be coming hard at the end again because that is her style.”
Kerrin McEvoy takes the ride again on Quick Feet and he believes she will be suited by more testing conditions.
“I rode her trackwork and Peter and Paul have done a good job to keep her on the fresh side,” McEvoy said. “She is a nice filly that is fit and handles Randwick, which is important. I can’t wait for the trips to step up with her because she feels like she will love it.”
McEvoy has also picked up the ride on Le Romain – which was runner-up when resuming in the Show County Quality – in the Tramway Stakes with Christian Reith suspended. “I actually beat him first-up on Tycoon Tara, but I know Christian and Kris [Lees, trainer] were very happy with that run,” McEvoy said.
“He has performed well second-up in the past and was second to Press Statement in the Hobartville [Stakes] over the Randwick 1400m. He would have improved with the run, I think he is a very good ride in a race of many chances.
Dr Zhu with prime minister Julia Gillard in February 2013. Photo: TEI Dr Zhu at a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference meeting in Beijing, March 2014. Photo: TEI
Dr Zhu with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in November 2015. Photo: TEI
He’s risen to national attention as the Chinese businessman who forked out for Senator Sam Dastyari’s travel bill.
But the story of Minshen Zhu is far bigger than just the NSW Labor powerbroker.
Dr Zhu is a man with links to the communist government in China, helping trigger renewed debate about political donations and the rising importance of Chinese money in Australia.
He has emerged as a prolific and well-connected donor to the major parties, with his company contributing more than $230,000 to Labor and the Liberals since 2010, according to Australian Electoral Commission records.
This includes more than $186,000 to the national arm of Labor between 2010 and 2015, and $44,000 to the NSW Liberal Party between 2013 and 2015.
As owner of private education provider Top Education Institute, Dr Zhu has met an impressive array of Australia’s most powerful politicians.
Photos show these high-flying, cross-party acquaintances include Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Scott Morrison, Kim Carr, Bob Carr, Brendan Nelson and Julie Bishop in various roles across government and opposition.
In the Senate on Thursday, Attorney-General George Brandis acknowledged the businessman was well-known in political circles.
“Indeed, many of us have met Mr Minshen Zhu and had dealings with the Top Education Institute but it appears only Senator Sam Dastyari has accepted money from him in settlement of a personal debt,” Senator Brandis said.
Fairfax Media this week revealed Senator Dastyari had asked Top Education Institute to settle a $1670 expenses bill after exceeding his parliamentary entitlements.
While pointing to Dr Zhu’s closeness with the Chinese Communist Party, the Attorney-General insisted political donations were not an issue, just the payment of a private debt as was the case with Senator Dastyari.
Top Education Institute, the company Dr Zhu established in 2001 and PricewaterhouseCoopers invested in earlier this year, specialises in law, business and accounting qualifications costing between $8500 and $80,000.
In November, he met Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for a dinner related to the institute’s newly established law school.
In April, he discussed the merits of law degrees with Senator Brandis.
In September 2014, he attended an event with then immigration minister Scott Morrison hosted by the Federal Forum, a fundraising body established by the Liberal Party to replace the ICAC-investigated Millennium Forum.
From 2012 to 2013, he was appointed by the Gillard Labor government as a member of the Chinese Ministerial Consultative Committee advisory body.
Wielding influence in China, Dr Zhu has been a delegate representing ‘Overseas Chinese’ at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
The CPPCC is often dismissed as a body with no real power in the autocratic state but is nevertheless a prominent government forum bringing together representatives from business, political organisations and civil society from across China.
In Australia, Dr Zhu is a senior adviser at the University of Sydney’s Confucius Institute, one of many such university facilities worldwide established and sponsored by the Chinese government’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as Hanban.
Roughly eight of these universities have shuttered their Confucius Institutes amid concerns they were too closely directed by Beijing or restricted academic freedom.
Both sides of politics have shown reluctance to tighten Australia’s political donations system but the latest revelations have set off renewed scrutiny.
Conservative senator Cory Bernardi has called for an investigation and reform and Labor frontbencher Stephen Conroy has urged the prohibition of foreign donations.
Top Education Institute said they are “currently investigating the matter [of Senator Dastyari’s travel bill] and have sought external legal counsel to provide opinion”.
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Zurich: More than meets the eye. Photo: iStockSPONSORED CONTENT
Zurich has a staid reputation, but if you explore the city like a local you’ll discover plenty of ways to enjoy this surprisingly trendy town.
Zurich might have an efficient airport and sedate, almost straight-laced appearance, but don’t be deceived. Switzerland’s premier city isn’t just a place to transit through but enjoy at your leisure. It has history, personality and far more than just the tourist sights that line the Limmat River and fancy Bahnhofstrasse, with its über-luxury boutiques and private banks. Certainly the locals know how to have fun, and you only have to look beneath the surface of this financial centre to discover great bars, cafés, avant-garde art, hip neighbourhoods and unexpected pleasures. What’s more, its scenic alpine surrounds are also well worth exploring. Here are some top ways to kick back and enjoy Zurich like a local.
Sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the railways tracks, this former industrial district around Langstrasse is the latest trendy neighbourhood, its rundown warehouses and factories now transformed into art galleries, hip hotels, nightclubs and eateries. Go shopping for interesting boutique Swiss fashion and homeware brands such as Freitag, Einzigart and Erfolg. See www.zuerich上海m
Zurich Police Station
Few people want to end up in a police station while overseas, but make an exception for the Bahnhofquai’s police HQ, which has an entrance lobby that makes you think you’re tripping on 1960s acid. The eye-popping, cellar-like hall is covered in orange and yellow flowers in a fresco painted by Augusto Giacometti. See www.stadt-zuerich.ch
It’s easy to miss this gorgeous café in the old town, whose warren of rooms hides behind the cake-crammed front patisserie. Decorative themes include a conservatory of painted birds and a Victorian-era salon in lush red. Just the place for afternoon tea and a spot of romance. See www上海nditorei-cafe-schober.ch www.peclard-zurich.ch
With its city centre hugging the Limmat River, it’s easy to overlook the lake, whose long promenades are lined with gorgeous flowerbeds in summer and have view towards the Alps. Take a lake steamer on a scenic excursion to Rapperswil at the lake’s far end for a pleasant afternoon’s outing. See www.zsg.ch
So much for staid Zurich: the city’s art museum is particularly strong on surrealist paintings, especially those of the Dada movement founded in the city itself in 1916. The anti-establishment movement went on to influence pop art and punk rock. Hello, deconstructed pig’s faces and blobs that represent dancing girls. See www.kunsthaus.ch
George Bar & Grill
One of the newest arrivals on the evening scene, this penthouse restaurant with a lounge and expansive terrace hangs over Zurich’s sober rooftops and provides an elegant space for a great night out, especially in high summer, when the bar is packed and the music burbles. See www.george-grill.ch
They’re mostly overlooked by visitors, but if you have children don’t miss the highly interactive Zoological Museum (giant fossils, dinosaurs, live insects) and Zurich Zoo, which is one of Europe’s best zoos. The greenhouse rainforest is full of chameleons, lemurs and improbably coloured frogs. See zm.uzh.ch and www.zoo.ch
Zurich’s local mountain is by Swiss standards just a hill, but practically in the suburbs. Hike to the summit, or take the railway, for great views and activities such as mountain biking, paragliding and snowshoeing. If winter fog closes in, Uetliberg’s summit is often happily sunny. See www.uetliberg.ch
Jules Verne Bar
Head into Brasserie Lipp, squeeze into a tiny lift and emerge at a bar with a 360-degree view over Zurich, especially gorgeous in the direction of the lake, where it’s framed in church spires. Fantastic as a light-twinkled background to cocktails. See www.jules-verne.ch
Think the Swiss are conformists? Not architect Le Corbusier, pioneer of modernist design, whose work is highlighted here. The museum is housed inside one of Le Corbusier’s most brilliant buildings in glass, steel and coloured enamel plates that sits on the lakefront like something out of Austin Powers. See www.centerlecorbusier上海m
Never mind the great Swiss food: the décor alone is worth dinner in Zurich’s latest hotspot. The dramatic restaurant is housed in a former 1920s cinema with frescoed ceilings, tasselled chandeliers, velvet banquettes and (for some reason) a life-size stuffed giraffe. Fabulous, darling. See razzia-www.zuerich.ch
Get out and explore Zurich’s surrounds. Einsiedeln is an hour’s train ride away and has a marvellously over-the-top baroque church and huge abbey; the December Christmas market is lovely. The surrounds provide plenty of cow-clanking alpine landscapes for hiking, progressively glorious as you head towards Mythen mountain. See www.einsiedeln-tourismus.ch
On the beach
As soon as the sun comes out, Zurichers strip off and flock to the lakeshore for picnics, Frisbee, tattoo-envy and swimming. There are nearly 20 lidos such as Seebad Enge, child-oriented Strandbad Tiefenbrunnen or women-only Frauenbadi. At night, many reinvent themselves as live-music and cocktail venues. See www.zuerich上海m
If you want to mingle with the cool crowd, nestle into a sofa or perch yourself at the huge bar of this minimalist watering hole. The eye-catching bottles hanging from the ceiling will give inspire your cocktail choice, then you can kick back to the sounds of DJ-spun music. See www.raygrodski.ch TRIP NOTES
Swiss flies to Zurich from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. swiss上海m
The ZurichCARD is valid for 24 or 72 hours and is a great way for urban explorers to reduce their costs. It covers unlimited public transport in the city and surrounds, free or reduced admission into most museums, half-price fares on Zurich Tourism city tours and discounts in participating stores. See www.zvv.ch
Marktgasse Hotel provides an impressive minimalist, contemporary redesign to an old-town building and has very comfortable beds. Rooms for two from SFR 249 ($350) including taxes. Phone +41 44 266 1010, see www.marktgassehotel.ch
This article brought to you by Switzerland Tourism.