Sunday, July 20, 2008

How not to run a small business

The problem with running a small business – especially if you’ve never done it before – is that you can be tempted, in my grandmother’s phrase, to ‘eat out of the shop.’

In her day she’d seen many young couples dream of opening a little corner store, only to go bankrupt because they helped themselves to the stock when they needed a loaf of bread, or a packet of bacon, or took a few pounds from the till when they needed to buy something for themselves. They went out of business, sooner or later.

The basics of running a small business are quite simple. You start with adequate capital to carry you through the tough times. And you keep a tight control of your debtors and expenses.

Too many treat their business as a personal bank – a sure-fire recipe for disaster. You pay yourself a salary that the business can realistically afford – and no more. If business income is less than expected, cut your salary. Never charge your personal expenses to the company – pay them out of your salary.

Secondly, you are dependent on your staff. Every staff member must be essential –you can’t afford frills. Always pay them before you pay yourself. Without staff, you don’t have a business, so there will be times when they take home a wage at the end of the week, and you don’t. That’s the risk you, as the owner take. You can’t outsource it to your staff.

Pay your essential suppliers. Take advantage of whatever credit terms you can get, but make sure you don’t abuse them. Without them, you’ve got nothing to sell.

Set aside enough to pay the GST, super contributions, tax. If you don’t, the money won’t be there when you have to pay them.

Never be the owner who pays himself, but is sometimes a bit late paying his staff. “Sorry, it’s been a difficult month. I’ll catch up in a week or two.” You never will, and you risk the loyalty of your staff.

Do not pays the mortgage, business loans, alimony, kids school fees, the installments on your car, the insurance, out of the business income.

Take advantage of generous credit terms, 30, or 60, or 90 days to pay your suppliers. If you get into problems, offer them installments on account. “Business is very tight, you now.” But make sure you met those installments without fail – and catch up as fast as you can.

Do not renege on the installments while opening up an account with an alternate supplier. If you can’t pay one supplier, you certainly won’t be able to pay two, even if it does buy you another 90 days credit your first supplier wil no longer extend you.

How are you going to get back in the black? Get rid of non-essential staff and do more yourself. You can’t be an absentee owner. Cut your own wage, or take none at all if you have other sources of income. Sell the car. Take the kids out of private school. Tell the wife she’ll have to wait for her maintenance money.

You can refinance, but be careful. Can you really afford to? Take out business loans and secure them against the family home. Remortgage the home. Sell our unpaid bills to a collection agency. Sell your invoices to a factor. Of course, you lose 20-30% of their value that way, but it’s still income. It keeps the cash flowing.

Do not lie to the people from whom you seek loans, or you may end up owing more than your assets are worth. Make sure all of the debts you sold to the collector haven’t in fact been paid and you just forgot to record it. And don’t be tempted to hold some payments back from the factor. Eventually, they will both come to know these things and hen hey won’t trust you any more.

Don’t be tempted to scrimp on wages. Once you’re down to essential staff, make sure you pay them in full and on time. Don’t be tempted to skip paying their super, either – that’s illegal.

It is fatal not to pay contractors on time, too. They can’t wait six, seven, eight weeks. You may be tempted, because if they don’t like it they will go elsewhere – no notice, no severance, no entitlements. Plenty more where they came from. Cheaper, too, if you hire younger, hungrier types. But sooner or later you will run out of people to cheat. And they will spread the word.

If you don’t keep up to date with your payments, sooner or later you’ll run out of suppliers to turn to as well. No-one will extend you any more credit. There’s no more equity in the house to support a loan. Maybe you’ve taken out some loans without telling the lender about the other loans secured on the same property.

That’s fraud, and that’s a crime. So is trading while insolvent. So if not paying super. Now you’re in over your head.

Suppliers lose patience and start legal action. You stop paying the rent. You stop paying the installments on the office equipment and furniture. Finally, you stop answering your phone, your emails, and stay at home, wondering where it all went wrong. It’s all too much. It isn’t fair. You can’t sleep. You’re going crazy. That’s it! You’re going crazy! Quick, into a mental hospital. You’re sick, you can’t be expected to deal with all this business now.

While you’re there, your loyal staff gamely try to keep the business going, but it’s hopeless. Eventually it all caves in.

And all because you didn’t obey the rules for running a small business.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rainbow Report Tonight

We’ll talk to Paul Harris, convenor of the gay catholic youth group Acceptance – they’ve been banned from holding an event as part of World Youth Day.

And we’ll also hear from Amelie, of Community Action Against Homophobia, who’s organized a protest called NoToPope, which will hand out condoms to the young pilgrims as they make their way to mass with the pope.

Dr Graham Willet who lectures at the University of Melbourne, is organizing the 8th annual national gay history conference, which starts in nine days time. We’ll talk to him about the importance of gay history and the archives.

And Rodney Croome of the Tasmanian Gay & Lesbian Rights Group says there are now members of both main parties who are getting angry at their leaderships refusal to address the issue, and some of them may be getting close to rebellion.

That's tonight on the Rainbow Report 7-8pm Joy 94.9. Hosted by Doug Pollard, with this weeks guests Richard Watts of MCV and Pete Dillon. Streaming live at - join in live by emailing during the show

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Home

This blog will close shortly - I am now blogging at

Lies, damned lies and statistics

MCV today carries my latest article on statistics and how they are being used to deny us our rights. And it's no surprise that the worst abuser is - you guessed it - the Australian Christian Lobby.
One angle I didn't go into is the way the Australian census counts - or doesn't count - sexually non-mainstream individuals and relationships. That's a whole other issue.
But the basic point remains - unless we're adequately counted we won't be adequately provided for. And we won't be adequately counted until people are honest about heir sexuality when he census man comes calling.
And in answer to some critics, that's why backing people like Ken Campagnolo is important. As a community we have to be prepared to put our money where our mouth is and support people who pay the price for being open about their sexuality.
I headlined this piece with one cliche - let me end with another.
It's all connected.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Woman's Brain

When I was a student I fell madly in love, for the first time in my life, with a close straight friend. Though sympathetic, he wasn't much inclined to respond. The fact that he was a serial womaniser who tried to construct a harem for himself - only he called it a commune - may have had something to do with it.

When I made my declaration he confessed himself bewildered. I don't understand you at all, he said, confessing to a slight sexual frisson when confronted with an especially handsome bodybuilder, and a one-night stand with a truckie who once gave him a lift, but otherwise no gay inclinations at all.

That's because when it comes to sex, I said, I'm a man from the waist down and a woman from the neck up.

The New Scientist now tells me I had it right.

"in gay people, key structures of the brain governing emotion, mood,
anxiety and aggressiveness resemble those in straight people of the
opposite sex," they say.
Not that I've ever wanted to BE a woman, you understand - I've always enjoyed being male and can't imagine myself any other way.

Of course, there will now be another argument about nature versus nurture. One side will say our brains were born this way, the other side will point to the evidence that brains change according to what you teach them.

The bit of the brain concerned with mapping and directions is bigger than normal in London cabbies, for example. Nuns with Alzheimers seem to stay sane and don't lose their marbles - they just their mental functions into those parts of their brains that still work. It's called brain plasticity.

My first love would have agreed. He enthusiastically road-tested women who he then passed on to me, suitably primed as to their task, hoping they could reprogram my sexuality.

Didn't work.

Monday, June 16, 2008

It only takes persistence

Lots of people have told me down the years that Gary Burns is 'a pain in the butt.

Well thank goodness for that - thanks to him, Laws and Price have finally been brought to book for their comments about Gav & Waz from The Block - five years later

Let's hope they learned their lesson. . . . . . . .

Some hopes!!

Brandis Interview Transcript

Apologies for the delay in getting this transcribed, but as Glen Milne quoted from it in The Australian today, I thought I'd better post it now!!

An interview with Shadow Attorney General George Brandis

The Rainbow Report, Thursday June 5, 2008 – 7-8pm, Joy 94.9 Melbourne


DP: Doug Pollard: Executive Producer/Presenter, The Rainbow Report

PD: Pete Dillon, Producer, John Faine, ABC Radio

RW: Richard Watts, Editor, Melbourne Community Voice

GB: Senator George Brandis, Shadow Attorney General

DP: Why has the coalition decided, after originally saying they’d give bipartisan support to this, why has the coalition suddenly decided to throw on the brakes for a while?

GB: We haven’t decided to do that at all, and I really find it very offensive that the suggestion is being made that that is what we’re doing. Let’s remember what the coalition’s position is. First of all, the coalition supports the bill in principle. Secondly, last night the coalition voted for the bill in the House of Representatives. Thirdly, when the bill comes to the senate, it will be referred to a senate enquiry.

That is absolutely routine, particularly with a complex piece of legislation as this is. You know, people are, in a way that frankly I think is dishonest, are misrepresenting the coalitions position by saying even though the coalition is supporting the bill, even though the coalition voted in favour of the bill in the house of representatives last night, because the bill is going to a senate committee, an utterly commonplace procedure, the coalition is somehow seeking to delay the bill.

DP: Well, is this likely to take the process of approving the bill beyond the end of the financial year, or is it likely to be cleared in time to meet the governments timetable?

GB: I think it likely, because the bill we’re speaking of now is going to be considered in conjunction with the larger omnibus bill which hasn’t been introduced yet, that it will go beyond the first of July, yes.

DP: Can we look at some at some of the specific things raised by some members of your party during the debate. There’s some confusion I think in people’s minds about exactly what interdependency means . . .

GB: Well, could I ask, before we go to those specifics, and I’m very happy to answer those specifics, can I make a more general point.

DP: Sure

GB: There are many many people in the coalition, in both the Liberal party and the National party, who have been urging this course for years. For years and years and years. And I think if I may say so with respect, it’s a little unfair of you to play speeches like that from Mr Perrett which we heard with the very eloquent sentiments he expressed, but not play speeches by people like Petro Georgiou, extracts from speeches by people like Christopher Pyne, or indeed the speech of Dr Nelson himself, which were just as glowing and moving in their affirmation of the rights of gay people to equal treatment . . . .

PD: Senator, with all due respect, I want to take you up on that point. We’re very well aware, as second class citizens, from a government of eleven years, how we sit with people like Petro Georgiou, who have constantly displayed an understanding of social justice. When you’ve got somebody like Donna Vale, who is a member of your team, questioning the very idea that what this is going to do is create equality, I have to ask, clearly there’s not full support from your team for the fact that this is going to bring us a little closer to equality.

GB: Well so it should, I mean, for God’s sake, I’ve spent years of my political life advancing this very cause, and many many many people in the coalition have done the same and it’s a matter of regret to me that it wasn’t done years ago, in fact well before the time of the Howard government, why it wasn’t done at an earlier time, decades ago, at the time the anti-discrimination laws were put on the statute book. But that’s not the point, the point is that you well know that both in the coalition and for that matter in the Labor Party here are very conservative people who have a different view from you and me.

PD: But why, as elected members of our parliament, why should those views be expressed and not those of their constituents?

GB: Well I think that the views they express, views that I don’t share, are views that are held by many of their constituents. And that’s my point. Any group seeking to be treated. . .to be the beneficiary of a law reform which is overdue, as this is, has nevertheless got to confront the fact that in a democracy there is going to be a body of conservative opinion, and those people are entitled to the expression of their views as well.

DP: Senator, with the greatest of respect I entirely agree with you there, and it’s certainly true that many members of your party, including yourself, have fought for these kind of things for a long time, but the point is that your party as a whole is not going down the direction where you and Petro Georgiou are going, your party is going down a different route. Your party is going down the route of trying to equate our relationships with interdependent relationships rather than accepting them as the equivalent of de facto relationships.

GB: Can I tell you that when I was formulating the Opposition’s position in relation to this issue, I consulted widely, I consulted with conservative groups, I consulted with church groups, I consulted with family organizations and I also consulted with the gay community. I consulted with the gay and lesbian rights lobby, I consulted with the gay and lesbian business association in Sydney for example. And I specifically asked them, do you have a problem if the reach of this legislation is broadened to include other interdependency relationships, and they said to me no, we don’t!

DP: Senator, nobody minds if you extend the reach of the legislation to include interdependent relationships, I think what people worry about is, there seems to be a move afoot, in listening to the speeches that were made yesterday, to bundle up same-sex relationships in with interdependent relationships, rather than in with de facto relationships.

GB: Ah, I think, er, that might be what, that might be a fair interpretation of a couple of those speeches, I’m not saying it’s not, but you know, I’ve got the running of this in the senate, not anyone who spoke in that debate last night.

DP: Right. You mentioned that this is likely now to run on until September or beyond. . .

GB: Well I didn’t say September or beyond but I should say in all fairness and candour, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did, because most of the law reform is going to be found in the omnibus bill because that apparently deals with, as I’m advised by the Attorney Generals office, about 60 or 70 different acts, the bill before the parliament now deals with nine.

DP: Well, OK, if I could just quote from John Challis of ComSuper, he said he was looking forward to these measures passing because then he could finally die knowing his partner was provided for. That could happen between now and September. Will you give a commitment on behalf of the coalition that if these changes take so long to go through you will backdate them to, say, June 30th?

GB: I’m not in a position to give that commitment because no such decision has been made by the coalition, but to give you some comfort though, can I point out that that suggestion was made in the house of representatives last night by Malcolm Turnbull, and it is an issue which we have in contemplation, but we haven’t actually made a decision along those lines. And I know that Malcolm had a talk to the Attorney General Robert McClelland about that after he spoke.

RW: Given that you’ve said you’ll have the running of this in the senate . . . .

GB:….from the Opposition point of view….

RW: ….can we have a commitment from you that you do recognize and equate same-sex couples with de facto couples rather than lumping us in with interdependency?

GB: Well, I approach this in the basis that same-sex couples and de facto heterosexual couples ought to be treated equivalently. Now, having said that, I’m not going to give a commitment to a particular linguistic usage, because one of the purpose we’re going to have the senate enquiry is to see what the appropriate way is of dealing with the entitlements of these different groups, so that we can also extend the entitlements to interdependent relationships of a different character. But my own approach to this has always been not to regard there as being a moral or ethical distinction between a same-sex couple and a heterosexual de facto couple.

DP: Senator, we’ve had quite a few SMS messages in from listeners, I wonder if I could put a couple of those questions to you. This one’s from Matthew, “I’ve been working in the federal public service for three years now, I joined coming from the South Australian public service where they recognize same-sex couples for public sector superannuation, and so I’ve lost out and so has my partner I making the move to the federal public service, that’s among the reasons why I’m going back to South Australia. Why is the coalition refusing to fix this anomaly, or is it because really deep down you think the federal pubic service shouldn’t include gay employees?”

GB: Well, that’s a silly observation, and I don’t doubt that the person who sent you that text message feels very hurt about unequal treatment and they should feel hurt because it’s unfair that people should be treated unequally, but can I tell you, this is merely a question of timing. If the government had produced this legislation three months ago then it would probably be through by now.

PD: Senator, again with all due respect, your government had eleven years to produce a similar piece of legislation.

GB: …and can I tell you I think we should have, just as I think the Labor government before the Howard government should have, or the Liberal government before that government should have done, se we are in the closing weeks and months of this very very long campaign, that has been run by people on both sides of politics, and I think it is, with all due respect, a little mean spirited to suggest ill-intention on the part of the coalition in wanting to get this right.

DP: Well this is certainly the perception of quite a lot of our listeners.

GB: I think it is probably the perception of quite a lot of your listeners, because they’ve only heard one side of the story, the side of the story that suggests this is a delaying tactic.

PD: So you’re now accusing our community of being ignorant as well?

GB: Did I say that?

PD: You’re saying that we don’t read the Age, that we don’t listen to Parliament, that none of us can pick up Hansard and read it…

GB: Did I say that your community is ignorant?

PD: Well you’ve said that we’re only hearing one side of the argument – that’s an unfair comment senator.

GB: I think only one side of the argument has dominated this. It’s a very simple point! A really simple point. Is referring a complex piece of legislation to a senate committee, an utterly commonplace thing to do, a delaying tactic?

DP: But isn’t it true, senator, that’s there’s already a house standing committee on family, community, housing and youth that’s looking into some of these issues, particularly support for carers?

GB: Well with all due respect to house of representatives committees, these sorts of bills are always bills that are looked at by senate committees, that’s what senate committees do, that’s the great thing about the senate, its committee system, and I think most of your listeners would be aware of that.


DP: One question from a listener here : “Perhaps one way forward to financial equality would be to remove partner benefits altogether for all relationships and in that fashion everybody would be in the same boat that same sex couples have been rowing all these years.”

GB: Well I don’t think anybody’s suggesting that. I think the way to go forward and what I would like to see is people in same sex relationships face no form of discrimination in relation to their financial, taxation, superannuation affairs whatever, and that’s our objective, and I accept in good faith that it’s the government’s objective too.

PD: Senator, I’d just like to draw your attention to the amendment put by Brendan Nelson, the leader of the opposition, which amongst other things said, “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House affirms its commitment to the central importance of the institution of marriage to Australian society.” Could you answer me and our listeners really really simply how a change in a piece of legislation regarding superannuation will in any way question or challenge of chip away at the institution of marriage?

GB: I don’t think it will, But you’ve got to understand why an amendment like that was moved.

PD: No, I don’t understand, that’s why I’m asking you.

GB: Well I’ve already given you a direct answer. But can I explain why an amendment like that was moved? Because there are many people in the community who do have that concern, who d have a concern that legislation like this will erode the status of marriage. Now I am not one of those people. I don’t think it will. But I think people who do have that concern are entitled to be reassured about what the oppositions position is.

DP: What it seems to say to us is, we want to continue to enshrine, as a pinnacle of Australian society, a discriminatory institution, marriage.

GB: Well this gets into a different argument, and that is the argument about whether or not same-sex relationships should be treated as the equivalent of marriages, and I don’t believe they should, that’s not the oppositions position, you’ve got to . . . well you don’t have to . . . but I would think that the traditional and cultural centrality of marriage in all human civilization has been recognized to be a relationship between a man and a woman, that’s not a discriminatory thing to say, it’s not a particularly radical thing to say, far from it, it’s been the situation with marriage in one form or another throughout the entire recorded human history. And can I say this, to you as well. If you want to lose this argument, if you want to get the more conservative elements of the community right offside, then elaborate this into an argument about gay marriage.

DP: Oh yes. And it was very clear from what everyone said yesterday – no gay marriage, no gay IVF, no gay surrogacy – was very firmly placed off limits, at least for now.

GB: Yes.

Milne Off Song

It's nice to see my recent interview with Senator George Brandis finally quoted in The Australian, but galling that they didn't mention my name and said it hadn't been broadcast yet!! It suggested it had been 'leaked' ahead of broadcast for some political purpose, when in fact it's already gone to air.

The article, by Glen Milne, articulates the fix Brendan Nelson has got himself into with regards to same-sex equality, and in particular superannuation.

On the one hand, he personally doesn't have a problem with it, but on the other hand he owes his leadership to the arse-end of Howardite right-wingers, who think that to even mention 'gay' in the same breath as 'equality' means an instant epidemic of men in drag galloping down the aisles of every parish church.

So instead of telling them to shut up, sit down, and stop being so dense, Nelson displays his lack of fitness to lead by appeasing them, which is never a good idea.

The interview with Senator Brandis does display the split in the Liberal ranks very clearly, with Brandis at some pains to point out that he didn't agree with what some of the more rabid members of the party were spouting during the debate.

He spent a lot of time trying to establish how wonderfully pro-gay the Liberals had been in the past (but not during the last 11 years) and in the states (but not in Canberra), and how he personally (but not his colleagues) had supported the gay community.

In fact he rather dismissed the troglodyte faux-Christian faction, saying HE was in charge of steering this matter in the Senate, not them, implying that it was just a matter of allowing them to have a say but that in the end they didn't count. I wonder if any of them have heard it?

They can check out the post I made at the time and download the interview for the full story, any time!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

World Youth Day Struggles

Sydney's major Pope-fest, the World Youth Day, seems to be in trouble.
Reports say that initial estimates of 70% hotel occupancy rates during the event have been scaled back to no more than 30%, and now the church has backed away from a commitment to pay for any damage to Hyde Park.
The church is refusing to pay a $150,000 upfront bond for use of the park, saying the state government should be responsible.
Mayor Clover Moore said if they don't pay the bond they won't be allowed to use the park.
She told the Sydney Morning Herald, "The City supports the event, but not at the expense of our most famous park. WYD organisers have applied to install structures in many parts of Hyde Park, some of which will be in place from June 20 to August 1. There is no question that many of the grassed areas of Hyde Park will need to be re-turfed after this event but now, just weeks before it's due to start, organisers are backing down on a commitment to fully fund the cost of restoring Hyde Park to its pre-WYD condition."
Moore said that overall the event would cost the city $2.2m.

Friday, June 13, 2008


My what a period piece we are, stylus on the gramophone and a kitsch eighties band theme!

Never mind - it's radiothon time again, and with Joy 94.9 looking healthier than ever before in it's history, with amazing new studios in the heart of the city, a new members mag and bags of enthusiasm - why not bring on the City Village People!!

We want you, we want you, we want you as a new recruit
- er, sorry, got a bit carried away there.

Do you realise that Joy is UNIQUE? There isn't another 24/7/365 gay and lesbian radio station IN THE WORLD!!!

That's amazing! And all of it supported by sponsors, members and volunteers.

Did you know that the government severely restricts the amount of airtime we can sell to sponsors? That means most of the day-to-day costs of running the station depend on the money we get from members and donors.

What do you get for your money? Well, most importantly (as far as I'm concerned, but then I'm biased) you get me and The Rainbow Report - an hour of GLBTI news and current affairs once a week (the station also throws in a whole load of other stuff - music programs, programs for yoof and programs for old, for trannies, women - but that's just the icing on the cake.)

And you know what? You get me - and all the other stuff - for just18 cents a day - less if you join as a family. What else can you get for 18 cents a day that's half so much fun, so informative, so very, very you?

Oh, and you also get HEAPS of prizes every day during the radiothon and the chance of MORE prizes every day of the year. But you don't care about that, do you?

Tax time is almost here so remember, you can get a tax deduction for every $2+ you donate to Joy.

Call the station NOW on +61 (0)3 9699 2949 and sign up - or renew. Not due for renewal yet? Fear not - we'll tack a year onto the end of your existing membership.

+61 (0)3 9699 2949

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Gore Vidal

How to grow old - wonderfully!! Outspoken, arrogant, trenchant, angry, probably the greatest gay man alive today, Vidal rips into George W and his would-be replacement Senator John 'Mr Magoo' McCain. Scary, wonderful stuff. There'll never be another like him.

On the show tonight . . . .

The Rainbow Report, tonight at 7pm on Joy 94.9FM, streaming live at - newsw and current affairs with a queer slant.

Join me live tonight as we look at fundraising fatigue in Sydney, where the luncheon club has had to be rescued because of lack of support, with SSO editor Scott Abrahams.

There’s also a lack of support for World Youth Day, with organizers fearing the Pope won’t have a big a crowd as he likes, so to help things along, plans are afoot for an Alternative World Youth Day. And even more sad news for ex-Sydneysiders – Golds Gym is closing.

Bnews editor Daren Pope counters with all the latest in Melbourne.

The British Foreign Office has issued a gay toolkit to all its embassies around the world, outlining how they can help promote gay and lesbian rights. I’ll be asking the British Vice Consul what his plans are to encourage gay rights in Australia.

And as the Liberals dither over whether to support same-sex super equality or not, we’ve a report from Canberra on attempts to change Brendan Nelsons mind.

All that and more on the Rainbow Report, tonight at 7pm on Joy 94.9FM, streaming live at

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Brandis Confirms Super Delay

Speaking last Thursday on the Rainbow Report on Joy Melbourne 94.9, Shadow Attorney General George Brandis confirmed that the Senate enquiry into equalising superannuation for same sex couples would not be over in a couple of days and the bill would not pass in time to come into effect at the start of the new financial year.

The MP3 file is here Rainbow Report Brandis Interview (15Mb).

You can download the whole show, which also includes an interview on the same subject with Sen. Kerry Nettle here (55Mb).

Sen. Brandis also refused to give any guarantees that the Liberal party would support the backdating of any changes to the start of the financial year.

He said the Coalition would wait for the Omnibus Bill, which will amend other pieces of legislation identified by HREOC and the Attorney-General's office as discriminating against gays and lesbians, and consider the two bills together.

This means reform will likely be delayed at least until September.

He denied this was a delaying tactic, saying the profound changes proposed meant the bills could not be allowed to proceed without thorough scrutiny.

He distanced himself from the more extreme comments made during the House debate on the same sex bill, such as those of Stuart Robert and Donna Vale, reminding listeners of his record on supporting gay rights. He said that while he respected their views, he will be the one piloting these measures through the Senate on the Coalition's behalf.

The Rainbow Report - News & Current Affairs with a queer slant. Joy Melbourne 94.9, every Thursday 7-8pm, streaming live at, hosted by yours truly, Doug Pollard.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Out of the Pan

From: Sally Goldner

3 CR’s Radiothon is underway again and I’m looking for your help.

Your contribution can keep a voice for pansexuality (including issues of transgender, bisexual and generally knowing no boundaries of sex or gender) on the air – and keep people alive.

No way, you say? One transgender listener was feeling very low and tuned in one day. She realized she was not alone – and is still here to talk about it. 3 CR and Out of the Pan can make that much difference.*

Out of the Pan has to raise $500 as part of 3 CR’s target of $210,000. So your contribution can make a difference. Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.

On a personal note, I love presenting the program. I have fun preparing and presenting it. It informs people about issues with a viewpoint not likely to be heard anywhere else. And let’s remember that great range of pansexual music…knowing no boundaries of sex, gender or genre (alright, play whatever I feel like on the day!)

So donate now. Remember to put "Out of the Pan" in the box "I would like my gift to support the following 3CR program/s" if using online or write it on the downloadable donation form.

Thanks for your support.



*This is no exaggeration. Happy to send the email to anyone who wants it (including the person’s permission to be quoted).

Out of the Pan, 3 CR 855 AM Sunday, noon to 1 PM AEST

Monday, June 09, 2008

'Brokeback Mountain' To Become Opera

Brokeback Mountain will be staged at the New York City Opera, premiering in the spring of 2013.

"Ever since encountering Annie Proulx's extraordinary story I have
wanted to make an opera on it, and it gives me great joy that Gerard
Mortier and New York City Opera have given me the opportunity to do
so," said Charles Wuorinen was commissioned to
write the work.

Melbourne gay cop honoured

Senior Sergeant Joy Lynette Murphy - Australian Police Medal

Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Unit - Diamond Creek

Senior Sergeant Joy Lynette Murphy has been a member of Victoria Police for over thirty years. During this time she has significantly contributed to Victoria Police and the Victorian community through her commitment and willingness to help others. From early on in her career, she has demonstrated an aptitude for criminal investigation, specifically in relation to sexual assault matters, as well a growing expertise in child protection and welfare issues. She has been responsible for a variety of proactive projects that have made a positive difference to the lives of many in the community she serves.

She has been an active supporter of those in policing who do not conform to stereotypes. In addition to informal mentoring, she played a leading role in establishing formal support mechanisms to combat discrimination within Victoria Police through her roles with the Past and Present Women in Policing Association and the Victoria Gay and Lesbian Police Employee’s Network (GALPEN).

Victoria Police Media Unit

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Coo-coo-ca-choo Mrs Robinson

What's that you say, Mrs Robinson - the wife of Northern Ireland's new First Minister, Peter Robinson - that homosexuality is "disgusting, nauseous, loathsome, shamefully wicked and vile"?

You won't meet us because, "I do not need to put my hand into the fire to know I will get burned."

But she would like us all to meet this 'lovely' Christian psychiatrist she knows who can turn us straight.

Wow! Simon & Garfunkel were right! Heaven holds a place for those who pray! Hey, hey, hey!

But you know what? I'd rather have Mrs. Robinson's upfront honesty than all the mealy-mouthed claptrap slithering out of the mouths of some Australian Liberals right now.

So here's to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know for exposing the true feelings behind all those terribly nice-sounding lies about 'loving the sinner but hating the sin'.

Or as the Liberals say, we're not homophobic and we support equality, BUT........... don't expect us to actually vote for anything remotely resembling fair and equal treatment any time soon.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Dutch Queens Birthday Attack

Dutch Tolerance Finished?

In Amsterdam the Queen's Birthday April 30 is a very big deal, when the whole city becomes one big street party.

Koninginnedag, as it's called, is also very, very gay, as the city shuts up shop for the day, the streets and canalsides fill with market stalls, the bars stay open all night, people dress up (mainly in orange) and everyone has fun.

Not so much fun this year for a couple of gay models taking part in a fashion parade, allegedly beaten up by a bunch of Muslim youths.

It's the latest in a series of assaults in the once-tolerant city that was my home for a number of years. Mind you, Dutch 'tolerance' is not quite what you may imagine it to be.

When I lived there, no-one would try in any way to prevent you from being and acting as gay as a goose, but having granted you that licence, anti-gay Amsterdammers always felt free to loudly carp, criticise and insult you for being gay, and you were expected to take it on the chin.

The same principle allowed you to carp, criticise, insult and argue back.

It wasn't the polite English version of tolerance, where 'we don't discuss politics or religion at the dinner table, thank you' - but once you got used to it, it was quite fun. Though you did need to grow a considerably thicker skin.

That wouldn't be enough nowadays, it seems.

Now you need body armour.

Friday, June 06, 2008

The Vice President Makes a Call

“Hey Mr President, how are you?”

“Oh, not so bad, you know. Keeping busy with the redecorations.”

“Well, it makes sense for me to do that, I’m glad you asked me. After all, I do have the experience.”

“Listen, Barry, I was thinking. We’re still not doing too well in the Southern states. You know, I hate to say this, but they still haven’t 'cottoned on' to the idea of a black man as President. But I think I see a way to get them onside.”

“Let’s swing through the south, play up the Kennedy thing, give ‘em a real guilt trip – you know, do a motorcade through Dallas, stuff like that. Claim the legacy, show courage, the vision thing, blah, blah....... kinda fits with your 'change' schtick, you know?”

“No, no need to thank me Barry, we’re a team, right? I mean, that’s what Veeps are for, watching the President's back, making sure he's on target, you know.”

“How’s your diary – you free for lunch?”

“Bill? No, he’s out of town right now. Some property deal he’s working on. Checking out a book depository someplace. But I’m sure he’s thinking of you.”

“OK see you at lunch. And Barry, can we leave Michelle out of this one, please? I do not want another fight about the Oval Office curtains. See ya!”

Rights win for lesbian families

The ABC reports that the rights of New South Wales children with lesbian parents have been expanded under laws passed by the State Government, clearing the way for children from lesbian couples to inherit
money from their non-birth parent and receive workers' compensation on
behalf of their non-birth parent.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

No sex please, we're Aussies

p11_sex_250.jpgIt’s time to bring sex back into the conversation, says Doug Pollard, writing in MCV.

I’m bored with talking about marriage. I’d rather talk about sex. Sex, after all, is what it’s all about.

But the success of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission enquiry into discrimination against same-sex couples came because the Commission focused on equality, sidestepping sex altogether. Likewise, the Tasmanian relationships recognition system increased its acceptability by creating near-parity between the sexual partnerships of same-sex couples, and cohabiting elderly siblings, long-term carers and their charges, and other non-sexual pairings.

Warren Entsch, in the days when he was trying to get the Liberal Party to be sensible over same-sex rights, also downplayed the sex.

“Irrespective of ... the gender balance in any relationship, I can assure you that after five or 10 years in that relationship, sex tends to take a back seat,” he said.

Even the Catholic Church has no problem with intense, even passionate friendships between two people of the same sex, so long as it doesn’t involve any ‘homogenital’ behaviour.

It seems as if the only way gays and lesbians can get any rights in this supposedly modern, progressive 21st century country is if we don’t mention sex at all, or brush it aside as something we’ll get over in a few years time.

It’s amazing that we’ve managed to do this, given the tabloid image of gay men as wildly promiscuous shagabouts who love to screw in public and parade down city streets in spangly frocks or with our arses hanging out of leather chaps.

But the moment we put sex back on the agenda – by demanding the right to marry – all hell broke loose. Because marriage is all about sex. It’s about two people deciding to make a public commitment to have sex with each other – and no one else - for the rest of their lives.

Sex is the essence of the institution. You cannot enter into a marriage with the intention of having an open relationship, or a relationship with a time limit. Never mind that straights do it all the time – it’s what makes marriage unlike any other partnership arrangement.

Those conditions are there to try to ensure that the couple’s children will be biologically theirs, and that they will take responsibility for any offspring that result until they are capable of looking after themselves.

None of this is necessarily relevant to same-sex couples, which is why many, on both sides of the debate, think that marriage is inappropriate for us. And nowadays, heterosexuals frequently don’t keep the rules themselves, which makes their opposition to our getting hitched rather hypocritical.

Hell broke loose because letting same-sex couples marry means everyone has to think about two men having sex (they seem to mind two women having sex rather less).

Politicians who support same-sex recognition are deluged with crackpot letters full of disgusting fantasies of gay male sex that say far more about the writers than they say about us – ask Warren Entsch.

Emma Tom, a journalist with The Australian, wrote: “As someone who has written frequently on gay rights, I have been astounded at the x-rated content of the hate mail that invariably arrives in response. I’ve run some of these anal-rific missives past gay friends who’ve blushingly admitted that the florid boy-on-boy scenarios dreamed up by homophobes are a far cry from the relatively mundane reality of their day-to-day sex lives.”

Emails I’ve received in the past combined grudging support for ‘you disgusting perverts’ to have your relationship recognized if it ‘stops you spreading AIDS’; with trenchant opposition to parenting rights, because ‘you rich poofs’ only want to ‘buy or breed up babies to abuse’.

Only the crackpots say it in public, but it’s the unspoken nightmare that poisons the minds of our opponents. Because everyone ‘knows’ gay man = sex obsessed = paedophile, don’t they?

Well, frankly, a few are. So are some straights. But when one woman abuses and kills children – see Myra Hindley or Rosemary West – no-one jumps to the conclusion that all women are potential child abusers and killers. They ask: what went wrong with that individual? Whereas when one man does likewise, the tabloids scream ‘keep these gay monsters away from our kids’.

My father always used to say, ‘Listen carefully to what people accuse you of. If it bears no relation to the facts, they’re probably accusing you of what they would do, if they dared.’

So when these foam-at-the-mouth types start up, they’re railing against their own secret desires, not mine.

I said earlier that people have less of a problem with the idea of two women having sex (indeed it’s practically compulsory these days for pop stars and actresses); perhaps because, in the absence of a penis, they think it isn’t ‘real sex’. (I know this annoys all my lesbian friends, but in this instance, dicklessness is an advantage.)

People also have less of a problem with two women wanting to have children, because women are assumed to be maternal. No danger of child abuse (Rosemary and Myra were exceptions, remember?) and again, no pesky penis involved. As a result, the NSW and Victorian governments are moving on adoption and fertility rights for gay women, but not for gay men.

I reckon that a major factor is the omnipresence of girl-on-girl action in straight porn, and in mainstream TV shows, too. Familiarity has made lesbian sex unthreatening; even slightly passé.

We need to desensitize people to gay male sex too. Dr Who and Torchwood’s Captain Jack have blazed the trail, but to make a real impact, we need lots of boy-boy smooching in Neighbours and Home and Away; two-man tangos on Dancing With The Stars; Shane Crawford and Tim Campbell crooning together on It Takes Two – well, it’s only acting, isn’t it?

Forget Mardi Gras; it’s expected there. We need to revive the public kiss-in at big mainstream events, starting with World Youth Day in Sydney. After all, good Christians are supposed to love their neighbours, love sinners, and turn the other cheek - aren’t they?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

British Embassy Salutes Riga Gay Pride

Probably for the first time ever, a foreign embassy saluted a national gay pride march by flying the rainbow flag.
Gay rights are far from accepted in Latvia, which makes the action of British Ambassador Richard Moon all the more significant.
Ambassadors from the UK, Holland, Sweden and Denmark attended Pride events.
The UK Foreign Secretary is considering a request from Green MEP Carolyn Lucas, that all British embasies and consulates should fly the rainbow flag whenever a city has a Pride day.

Ken Campagnolo

Ken needs a job urgently: see for details.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Get Real on Petrol

Oh pur-lease!! Hands up all those who stopped fussing about those silly petrol vouchers, because when you do the sums, you actually come out worse for shopping at supermarkets. Everybody? Good.

Repeat after me – the 4c a litre discount was not and is not worth the bother, makes you pay more for your groceries, and only adds up to a couple of dollars a tank for any reasonable vehicle.

Diddling with GST, excise, FuelWanks, which might save around the same amount, at the costs of a few schools, hospitals tanks or whatever, is also a waste of time and effort.

Forget it.

Lesson one

If you want a lower fuel bill, buy a smaller, more fuel efficient car. If you live on or near a public transport route, use that when you can and/or get a bike. Lobby for more public transport.

Lesson two

Petrol will continue to get dearer, no matter what anyone does.

It may go up and down in the short term, but there’s only so much of it on the planet, there’s less of it than there used to be, and what there is, is more and more difficult to find and extract.

Repeat: the price of oil will always rise. Get used to it. To make it last longer, we have to use it more frugally. We’ve learnt how to be waterwise – ish. Now we have to start being oilwise.

Here’s how we do it

The most efficient use of coal, oil and gas is to generate electricity, which can be topped up with wind, wave, solar and other renewables.

This makes the best use of dwindling reserves while developing renewable sources to take over.

The most efficient forms of transport are public transport, so we build lots of it, especially electric-powered railways and tramways, for freight and passengers.

Buses and trucks are short-term fixes and relatively inefficient – so make sure they’re either electric or hybrid.

Throw money at developing hybrid and electric vehicles.

Build lots of nuclear power stations.

How to pay for the change

We need to pay the true cost of our resource consumption, and we need to structure the tax system to encourage efficient and renewable fuel use.

To do that, we need to make it cheaper, easier and more convenient to use public transport than to drive.

Everyone within the catchment area of a city should pay a surcharge on their local taxes for the development and maintenance of public transport.

Public transport would then be free at the point of use.

To those who say, “but that’s unfair, I don’t use public transport, I use my car”, the answer is, “you have a choice – use our car and pay twice, or use public transport and pay once”.

Pay to drive into cities – they already do it in London and Singapore.

Give public transport reserved lanes and absolute priority on all roads at all times.

Tax all road vehicles according to their economy – the bigger/thirstier the engine, the bigger the purchase tax, and the bigger the annual road tax.

This already happens in a crude way in the UK and much of Europe – the bigger your engine, the bigger your annual road tax bill. So for a 1 litre car you might pay $200 a year, for a 2 litre, $400 and so on, pro-rata. Why do you think most European cars have small, relatively fuel-efficient engines?

Change the planning system

Older cities, like Amsterdam, mix retail, industrial and residential together. Newer cities segregate workplaces and homes in different parts of town, necessitating long commutes.

We need to start building factories, shops and offices within walking distance of homes, not on farmland on the outskirts. We need mixed use suburbs, not dormitories on vacant land.

It’s not just a question of building a few medium density blocks in Malvern and Toorak, it’s about building medium density industry in Malvern and Toorak, too.

That means planning laws have to change.

Home efficiency

Our homes need to become more efficient. We need to embrace insulation, clever design, solar electricity and other schemes of home power generation, solar hot water, water tanks, in-home water recycling by means of grey-water treatment gardens, home methane generation from waste, and a host of similar initiatives.

These initiatives need to be fully subsidized –for example, you should be reimbursed in whole or part if you install water tanks and a water recycling system. If you generate power to put into the grid, you get paid for that at a premium rate.

Your roof is a wasted resources for harvesting valuable electricity and water that you can then onsell to power and water companies.

Big water, big power, big gas should only be used as top-ups and for emergencies.

These initiatives will be major spurs to development of renewable and recycling industries.

In the face of accelerating environmental degredation, dwindling resources, swelling population, global warming . . . . . . what do you mean, warming’s not proven?


  1. If it’s real and we do nothing – situation worsens, irreparable disaster
  2. If it’s not real and we do nothing – live with existing degraded environment, shrinking diversity, eventual resource exhaustion etc.
  3. If it’s real and we act to fix it – high cost but disaster averted or contained, cleaner and more sustainable planet
  4. If it’s not real but we still act to fix it – high cost but cleaner, more sustainable planet

Queensland Heavied Into Line

Queensland Attorney General Kerry Shine has bowed to pressure from Kevin Rudd and announced he is developing a proposal for a same-sex (and other significant personal relationships) register to present to cabinet.
The state government had previously set it's face against any law change as unnecessary, but unless all the states introduce registers, Ruddy's plan for a network of state-based registers is untenable.
Sothe Sunshine State had to be heavied into line.
The big stumbling block is now New South Wales: it remains to be seen if Kevvies Heavies can screw a result out of the hapless Iemma 'would you buy a used power station from this man' government.

2(am)b/not 2(am)b

This lockout business has been tried before, with mixed success. Interestingly, the 'success' seems to be most marked in the first few months after introduction, so a three-month trial may not prove all that much. And the best outcomes seem to be where they also put more foot patrols on the street and make late night travel safer and more affordable. In Dunedin they added late night buses with security guards on board.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Are you a gay son having problems with your father?

Synopsis- The Lost Boys

Want to take part in a serious documentary/reality TV series?

There are good reasons why modern fathers are estranged from their sons: divorce, interstate or overseas work, separation, corporate demands, desertion or disinterest. However, it’s becoming obvious that there are no good excuses. Boys without fathers lack the most important male role-model in their lifetime – the person whose job it is to show them what it means to be a mate, a husband, a worker, a hero, a lover and above all, a man.

Clearly something must be done to address what has been dubbed ‘the most harmful demographic trend of this generation’. The Lost Boys responds to this call.

The Lost Boys is a groundbreaking factual reality series that deals with the topic of masculinity through father and son relationships. Five urban, estranged father and son pairs will re-build their damaged relationships by undertaking one of the toughest challenges Australia has to offer - to move 500 head of cattle over 200 miles across the outback, in 28 days, living the life of the quintessential Drover.

The Drover is an Australian icon that holds relevance for all Australians, even though most of us are city dwellers. The Lost Boys uses the masculine role- models and the vast landscape of the outback to heal the social wounds that are impacting on our cities.

This is a unique opportunity for fathers and sons to spend time together, learn together, teach one another, face their fears and earn each other’s respect on a level playing field. Endless, hot days of hard work followed by cold nights around the campfire combine to create an emotionally charged experience that will be riveting to watch and relevant to many in the viewing audience. As challenges common to fathers and sons play out for the participants, those watching from home will be given insights and practical tools to apply to their own lives.

Under the guidance of professional cattle men and adventure therapists, the participants won’t be able to escape the fact that the only way to successfully complete the task, and claim their pay packet worth thousands, is to get over the past and work together. This is the best chance they’ll ever get to build a paternal bond to ensure that the Lost Boys become found.

**If you would like to participate in this program, please call Kirsty de Vallance on: 02 9413 8640/ 0403 182293 or email:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Three years and you're in

The Pope has banned any candidate showing "a homosexual tendency" from training to be a priest - "unless they can demonstrate that they have been able to remain chaste for at least three years."

Can anyone explain to me how to "demonstrate" that I've remained chaste for three years? Live in the Big (Christian) Brother House, perhaps?

It's fair enough to say that "The Church . . . cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture'", but to then offer a three-year get-out clause is bizarre, isn't it?

I can see it now - save it up for three years, move in with all the other guys (who've also been holding it in for three years), and then .. . . wheeee, welcome to the candy store.

And I have profound suspicions of the assertion that the Church does this "while profoundly respecting the persons in question."

Sounds more like lip service to me.

The above-the-waist kind, that is.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

California - Why civil unions will never be enough

OK, this is about the US and not Australia - but it's directly applicable to our situation here in Oz. Two quotes illustrate why.

'A law that denies a group of citizens equal access to a public
institution serves no other purpose than to declare that group to be
lesser. And this is why it is nonsense to say gays and lesbians can
enjoy equality before the law while they are barred from taking their
place in one of the most fundamental institutions .......marriage.'

Well, we know that's what the government and their Christian supporters think - they talk about ceremonies celebrating our unions as 'mimicking' marriage. In case you're in any doubt:


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ritual Combat

It seems absurd, at the beginning of the 21st century, to be fighting over access to a ritual.

A lot of this fuss over same-sex marriage stems from the incomplete separation of church and state, and the constant pressure of some churches to resume the control they once had over people’s lives.

At the risk of offending some of them, the fact of the matter is that the state permits religious weddings as a matter of courtesy, out of respect to people’s beliefs, but they have no legal significance.

A church (and presumably a synagogue, mosque, temple) wedding ceremony contains two events. First there is a religious rite, and then the legal one when the couple signs the register in front of witnesses.

In fact it would make no difference if those two events happened in reverse order, or even on different dates (as they do in France), because it’s the legal bit that makes them a married couple, not the preceding ritual.

Religious folks take the opposite view. For them, the couple is married at the completion of the ritual: what happens afterwards is merely the state recognising their pre-existing relationship.

Most gays and lesbians are not especially fussed about the church (synagogue / temple / mosque) ritual. It’s a ‘nice-to-have’, but that’s an argument that gay Jews must have with Jews, gay Muslims with Muslims, and gay Christians with Christians.

Meanwhile most religious folk are not especially bothered about relationship recognition, and have accepted the idea of parallel relationship registers (the marriage register is a relationship register).

So why are we fighting?

They will accept the legal stuff, but they don’t want us to have the religious ritual. We’re not especially fussed about the religious ritual.

Where this gets nasty is, they don’t want us to have a secular ritual either, which is frankly none of their business. They don’t interfere in the relationship recognition rituals of temples, mosques and synagogues, and shouldn’t interfere in the ones at registry offices either.

They say that we can’t be allowed to have a ceremony because this ‘mimics’ marriage – it offends them, because they think it parodies their sacred ritual. What this reveals – and what they carefully don’t say - is that as far as they’re concerned, all secular weddings only ‘mimic’ marriage, because only their ritual can truly recognize a relationship.

My grandmother – who never attended church except for baptisms, weddings and funerals - thought you weren’t really married unless you had a church ceremony. As far as she was concerned, people who tied the knot at a registry office were living ‘over the brush’, as she called it.

“When are you going to have a proper wedding,” she would ask the embarrassed couple?

I suspect this is still the attitude of all those who tick the ‘Christian’ box on the census form, but like my grandmother only ever enter a church or meet a priest for baptisms, weddings and funerals, and the occasional carol service. They don’t feel married without some sort of ceremony. It’s the social equivalent of comfort food.

And it is for the comfort of such folks that the ceremonial component of civil marriages was created. It has no religious significance. It’s just the state making a gesture to reassure people that this is still a real marriage, even if the bloke up front is in a suit rather than a frock.

The bible says “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. Civil marriage belongs to Caesar. The churches should heed their own doctrine and butt out.

Friday, May 16, 2008

California Here We Come!

Or to take a slightly more up to date song, 'The Long and Winding Road.....' that leads to equality just got a couple of millimetres shorter. Notwithstanding the intrinsically disordered logic of certain same-sex attracted pontifical pontificators, the inexorable logic of same-sex marriage has won another victory over the forces of unreason.

The law proceeds by logic - unlike the majority of politicians, who are driven by the short-term needs of the electoral cycle - which is why at every turn the non-sexual homophiliac brigade seek to close off legal avenues to equality with constitutional bans and the like.

Stable, well-organised states have two lawmaking components - the assemblies of elected and appointed representatives and the judiciary, with the judiciary (who are not subject to political pressure and can therefore take a more considered and long term view) acting as a steadying influence to curb the tides of emotion to which the elected branch is prone.

Thus the politicians enacted draconian legislation on t-rr-r, and detained Mohammed Haneef purely to make a political point, only in the end to have their manipulations exposed by the courts.

The non-homogenital homophiliacs would have you belive the judges are 'usurping' the power of parliament. They're not, they are merely exercising their traditional constitutional responsibility as one of he checks and balances that stop us tipping over into tyranny. Not for nothing are judges Musharrafs number one opponent in Pakistan.

The real reason our opponents attack 'judicial activism' is that they are unable to sway judges with their emotion-driven, illogical claptrap. Politicians are easier meat.

These people would prefer to see clerics, not judges, as the unelected rulers of us all, as they are in Iran and Vatican City.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Surface illusions - monkey brains and the power of myths

Some people take exception to bible stories being characterised as myths, legends and fairy stories (if you're interested in exploring the mythical nature of the bible stories, click here for a very accessible exposition). That attitude actually trivializes the tales and perverts their real intent, because fairy stories are some of the most powerful, and true tales we posess.

Take a look at this famous painting by Magritte. For those of you who don’t read French, the caption says, “This is not a pipe.”

Now I’m not one of those art whizzos you see on TV who tell you that the orange in the bottom left hand corner of the portrait of Margathe Van Whiffenpoofen is a sly reference to the fact that she was having an affair with a member of the Dutch royal family at the time, which is also the reason she isn’t dressed in white, etc. etc.

So when I was first shown this painting, my literal mind said, “But it is a pipe – anyone can see it’s a pipe. What’s the guy talking about?”

Most of my fellow students thought the same, until the teacher said, “What are the characteristics of a pipe? Can you pick this pipe up, put it in your mouth, fill it with tobacco and smoke it?”

The penny clanged into the pan (I love sarcasm but it’s not a good teaching tool) as it dawned on us – it’s not a pipe, it’s a PICTURE of a pipe. The point being – to cut a long story short – that the representation of a thing is not the thing itself. The picture of the pipe SHOWS us what a pipe looks like, but the MEANING of the picture has nothing to do with pipes. The meaning is about pictures.

All pictures, books, plays, all have this double characteristic. On the surface they’re about one thing, but their meaning lies below the surface. The very best art has such a beguiling surface that the meaning slips into the mind unheeded. We learn something without knowing we have learned it.

All books are fiction

All books, plays etc., are works of art - fiction, if you will - even when they’re dealing with a factual subject. A biography, for example, is a story about a real person, using as much of the facts as are available to the author. So we get authorised biographies, where the subject collaborates with the writer, and the unauthorized version, where the subject is either neutral, indifferent or actively hostile. Neither is ‘the truth’ about the person.

In the authorized version, the subject has been able to exert their personality on the author, consciously or unconsciously revealing and concealing. In the unauthorized version, some factual material may have been hidden from him. However, the facts are not everything. They are only the skeleton. The important part is the interpretation and emphasis of the writer. A good biography will tell you a fair bit about the writer, and the culture into which it is published, as well as the ostensible subject.

This is why ‘new’ biographies come out all the time – each writer is the product of his or her own society, each generation has different concerns and attitudes. A Victorian biography won’t say much about sex, for example, whereas a later one may spend a great deal of time on the topic.

History of all kinds is subject to the same process. I remember being taught about the causes of the First World War, with a lot of stuff about inter-country rivalries, unstable empires, interlocking treaties etc. etc. And then along came A J P Taylor.

WW1, said Taylor, was caused by railway timetables. All the other stuff was important, he said, but the crucial thing that tipped this particular argument over into universal war was caused by the fact that the German railway system and timetables made a partial immobilization impossible. Once the mechanism to move troops up to one border was set in motion, they had no choice but to send them to their other borders too, even though they didn’t want or need to.

I have no idea if that theory is still fashionable today. Probably not. But the point is that a new historian with a new viewpoint came along and told a new story, using exactly the same historical facts that had been used to tell the previous one.

In the case of A J P Taylor, one possible truth is that the author craved recognition and notoriety – he was one of the first, if not THE first, television historian – and so quite deliberately looked for controversial interpretations of the facts, so as to keep his name in the public eye and his books and TV programs selling.

In other words, ALL books are fiction, even the ones allegedly based on fact. This does not mean they do not contain truths, merely that the truth is not to be found in the literal interpretation of the words.

Books only have meaning in context

Which brings me to another point. It is difficult, if not impossible, to discover the meaning in a book unless you know the context in which it was published. And the older a book is, the harder this becomes. Taylor is within my living memory. Shakespeare, for example, is not.

This is why scholarly editions of Shakespeares plays sometimes have only a line or two of dialogue on a page, the rest being taken up by footnotes explaining, for example, that this word has changed its meaning since Shakespeares day, that this saying meant, perhaps, the rough Elizabethan equivalent of ‘Half your luck’, and so on and so forth.

Read literally, they do not make sense, and can even give an impression totally at odds with Shakespeares intentions.

Shakespeare also wrote history, or to be more accurate, historical fiction. Take, for example, Julius Caesar. All the main characters actually existed, and many of the events depicted took place. But the Caesar we see on stage isn’t Caesar, he’s old Wills idea of Caesar, as interpreted by the actor and the director.

Directors try to achieve something of the same’ contextualising’ effect by playing around with the settings, moving them to different countries and eras, to try to give the audience some idea of what the play would have felt like to the original audience.

I must have seen at least three Macbeths set in a quasi-Fascist context, with Macbeth presented as a Hitler-like figure, and of course there’s the famous Kurosawa film which turns him into a Japanese warlord. But we can never see the play as its original audience would have seen it, and never have access to the range of meanings it would have conveyed to them.

Yet we cannot create meanings that are not here somewhere in the original text. At least one of the fascist Macbeths I saw simply did not work because the directors vision was at odds with the play itself. In this version, Macbeth was a strong man attempting to cleanse Scotland of an effete and exhausted dynasty, so that when the rightful heir assumed his throne at the end, he was a dissolute queen with a retinue of leather-clad pretty boys.

This ‘camp’ Macbeth failed because the meaning it dug for was not there. There was no gold in the seam where the director was looking for it. But there was a seam of gold – of truth and meaning – as Kurosawa discovered.

So, to recap. The surface story is always fictional to at least some degree. The truth lies below the surface, not in the words themselves.

Monkey brains

The next question is – why? Why are books always written this way? The answer lies in the dual nature of the human brain, as recent research has uncovered. The ‘monkey brain’ – the old, instinctive brain that makes your heart suddenly race or your blood turn to ice in your veins – and the ‘human brain’ – the rational, thinking mechanism that is producing this text. We like to believe that Mr Human is in control, but in fact, Mr Monkey makes all the decisions, quite unconsciously, and Mr Human follows along a short while after with the rationalization.

Experiments were done which showed quite clearly that decisions were made and acted on before the areas of the brain responsible for conscious thought lit up. The notion that Mr Human runs the show is a rationalization produced by Mr Human himself. The decision is already made. Think Before You Leap – The Age

This makes sense. When we were but apes on the plain, we needed fast ‘unthinking’ responses to survive. Only with development of complex societies did we begin to develop a system to review and sometimes rescind those unconscious decisions.

Hence the dual nature of books. The surface words talk to Mr Human, while the deep meaning speaks to Mr Monkey. Truly great books work on both levels – they’re satisfying both intellectually and emotionally. And it explains why some rather average books nevertheless enjoy great success. The surface words may not be put together all that well, but the deep story satisfies Mr Monkey. Did someone say ‘Harry Potter’?

This is also why old stories whose language we can barely understand without a lot of footnotes and explanation, like Shakespeare, can still work. The deep truth, the underlying story, still satisfies Mr Monkey.

This is why even older stories – the fairytales, myths and legends, the stories that form the books of the great religions – still have great power. The underlying story satisfies our primitive self.

For example, if you tell a story of a man who could not die, the rational mind knows it can’t be true. But Mr Monkey, the ever-alert, instantly reactive paranoid ape on the plains, the part that is all about survival at all costs, who lives in constant fear of death, is soothed. He can stop worrying. He can stop pestering Mr Human with incessant demands. He can even snooze. Thus the rational mind can begin to grow and blossom – and it did.

If you want a brilliant exposition on how all this works – and a wonderful evening of theatre – grab the DVD of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woods. It’s a near-perfect example of everything I’ve been talking about. On the surface it’s a witty, clever, charming musical based on traditional fairy-tales. On a deeper level it’s all about the power of those tales, and all other stories.

“Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell,” says the song. All storytelling is a form of magic; all books are books of spells. Our language acknowledges this. We speak of ‘a spellbinding performance’, a ‘magical transformation’, a ‘storytelling wizard’, and countless other metaphors.

Creeping irrelevance

But we must not mistake the painting for the pipe. Our oldest stories about deities began as oral traditions. They were not written down for centuries. As they were passed on from generation to generation, they changed. Each storyteller added something of their own personality to the tale. Emphasised different aspects of the story to adapt it to changed conditions. Some stories fell out of favour because the conditions they were created to address no longer existed. New ones were made.

Once writing was invented, a problem arose. On the one hand the stories were no longer forgotten, but now they did not change, or at least, changed more slowly. This meant that valuable wisdom was not lost when a storyteller died.

But it also meant that stories were no longer dropped when their relevance became questionable. And when stories did change, it was more likely to be through error rather than in response to a social need.

Manuscripts had to be copied by hand. Sometimes the scribes made errors. As copies of copies of copies were made, the chance of error increased. As people began to travel more, stories began to be translated into other languages, to be told in different social contexts. Like Shakespeare, they became susceptible to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Those translations were also hand copied, by people with no connection to the original story. Then the translations were themselves translated into yet another language, and so on.

Then comes a catastrophe. It is decided that some stories are too important to be lost, too important to be changed. A selection process takes place: some stories make the cut, some don’t. And from then on no-one is allowed to change them.

If the story is strong enough, if the deep layers still charm Mr Monkey, then the story survives. We can still enjoy Shakespeare, with a bit of help. But if the world has moved on so far that the conditions the story was meant to address no longer exist, we become baffled, and the story is either forgotten, or is appreciated only for its pretty surface.

If stories form part of a religious faith, then they are not allowed to die, because if they do, the religion will die with them. Instead a whole industry springs up to explain, expound and interpret the stories, and keep them alive.

Shakespeare is God

I have used Shakespeare extensively as an example. One could very easily posit a Church of Shakespeare, with Shakespeare as God and Stratford on Avon as Rome.

A revered dead leader, divinely inspired, who is lavishly praised. Sacred texts –referred to as the canon - which you tinker with at your peril. Tremendous intellectual battles over the meanings of these texts. Centres of worship where performances are given. These performances may be traditional or, in an attempt to maintain their relevance, they’re given a modernizing makeover. The language may be modified to make them more accessible to modern ears. Again, huge battles over which way is the best, the purest, the most authentic.

Performance centres are terrific tourist attractions, but they are also propped up with large government subsidies. They are derided as benefiting only an elite minority. And the peak bodies running this whole enterprise constantly stake the moral high ground for themselves, because its ‘culture’, ‘great art’.

Sounds a lot like organised religion, doesn’t it? All this fuss over a few ‘fairy stories’ just goes to show how powerful, how important the stories we tell ourselves are. And how unreasoning belief, faith, intuition, the hidden Mr Monkey in us all who governs all our actions, can bulldoze Mr Human into doing what he wants, however irrational. And thinking up the reasons afterwards.

If the fairy story still has magic enough.