It wasn’t a good look for the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, to compare the State’s economy with that of Spain this week. First because it’s simply not true: Queensland’s economy is extremely healthy compared with that of Spain. But also because it’s an insulting reference to make in this of all weeks, when we Queenslanders are benefitting from Spanish generosity with the opening of the new exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery, Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado.
I was never going to see The Dark Knight Rising in any case. At my age and stage, I’m not really into superheroes, and the sort of films that appeal to teenagers and young adults usually leave me cold. And yet –
Amongst all the tragedies associated with the massacre last weekend in Aurora, Colorado, the future of the Batman franchise seems a trivial matter, but inevitably some discussion has focussed on the relationship between cinematic violence and the real, horrifying thing.
There was yet another fatal shark attack off the West Australian coast last week, the 5th this year, making Western Australia ‘the world’s deadliest place for shark attacks’. Statistically, the chance of dying in a shark attack is very low – just as the chance of dying in a plane crash is low – but statistics don’t really matter. We are creatures of the land. In the ocean or the air we are literally out of our element and vulnerable.
I’m feeling both sad and angry about the state of publishing at the moment. Someone I know is trying to get a biography published: it’s a great story about a fascinating couple, well written and with a wealth of copyright-free images. There’s even an international conference coming up next year that will deal with the 2 people concerned.
Yet one publisher says: ‘it’s just too difficult to sell a biography of people who aren’t household names in today’s publishing climate’.
There are several issues here. We all know that publishing is in trouble at the moment. We’ve all discussed this ad nauseum so I’m not going there now. But there’s also another problem: publishers want books on familiar topics, not on something new.
This problem is not limited to biography, but in a small market like Australia, it seems to be a particular problem in this field. Yet there are so many fascinating stories still to be told.
I spent last week at the British World Conference held at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba from 2 to 5 July. It was quite a coup for USQ to host this conference, which has been running for a decade and has previously been held in much larger cities, including London, Cape Town and Melbourne.
Toowoomba has fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, and USQ is small, so the vibe was very different, more intimate and a bit provincial. This wasn’t helped by Qantas, which forgot to add a leap-second to its computer booking system on 30 June. The following day planes were delayed up to 4 hours, throwing connections into chaos.
It was brave of the PM to say recently that she knits as a relaxation – even if it was a soft interview for the Australian Women’s Weekly. Not just because powerful women tend to be wary of revealing a more girly side, but because it was such a gift to the cartoonists: a red-haired Madame Defarge, knitting in a blood-soaked Place, as the tumbrils roll by, loaded with the finest flower of carbon-emitting mining aristocrats. If there was such a cartoon, I missed it. Maybe nobody reads A Tale of Two Cities anymore.
Public figures tend to go for blokey hobbies, even the women, with a heavy emphasis on sport: jogging or cycling, following cricket or the AFL. It’s not long ago that politicians would have run a mile (or in the case of Anna Bligh, a marathon) from such overt signs of domestic behaviour. And not only women: a former Archbishop of Canterbury was regularly mocked in the British press because his hobby was tapestry.
Knitting is a soothing choice of hobby, and I imagine Julia Gillard could use some soothing these days. Repetitive and largely mindless, it’s something to do with your hands while your brain is otherwise engaged – or disengaged – and you produce something useful. I used to knit on long flights until knitting needles were banned as potential weapons.