A SCHOOL STORY


As one of the most exclusive and respected girls' schools in Australia, Burchett Hill Ladies' College (motto: "Graciousness and Godliness") is a venerable and dignified institution that has been exposed to embarrassing publicity only once in its history. That was in 1933 when the gymnastics instructress, Miss Guinevere Hoylake, a lady of large physique, climbed the college's ivy-mantled tower and threatened to jump off unless the then headmistress, Miss Dorothy Cragshaw, agreed to elope with her. The fire brigade retrieved her from the tower before she could carry out her threat, and an investigation established that the incident had been occasioned by a visit to the cinema to see the "film of the year", King Kong, which had led the impressionable Miss Hoylake to the conclusion that she was a reincarnation of the eponymous gorilla, and Miss Cragshaw the object of its passion. The scandal was quickly hushed up and the enamoured PE mistress consigned to a mental home, where she passed her days demanding peanuts from the other inmates in the belief that she was in a cage at the zoo.

The controversy that now, seventy-nine years later, engulfs Burchett Hill Ladies' College, has nothing to do with movies and everything to do with the conflict of two powerful personalities. One is the current headmistress (now known as principal), Ms Deirdre Mussolini. The other is the chairman of the school council (now known as chairperson of the board), Ms Drusilla Alitosis, who has sent Ms Mussolini a letter of dismissal for "financial irregularity", accusing her of secretly selling the school to a consortium of Japanese businessmen who intend to use it as a recruiting base for "hostesses" in a chain of geisha bars.

Ms Mussolini vehemently denies the allegation and claims that the "sale" is actually a "joint venture" with a Japanese hospitality training institution "of world repute" and that it had been verbally agreed to in private conversations with members of the board, of which however she had unfortunately lost her notes. She counter-accuses Ms Alitosis, who is a member of the Greens party (she is the "partner" of the Mayor of Burchett Hill, Councillor Les Rhiannon), of trying to "white-ant" the college for ideological reasons.

"Everyone knows that she (Ms Alitosis) has repeatedly said private schools should be nationalised without compensation," Ms Mussolini told ABC radio host Jon Trotsky. "The trouble-making cow," she continued, in a lapse from her morning-assembly mode of speech, "only got herself onto the board so she could act as a Trojan horse and get the school shut down and me out of a job."

When Trotsky volunteered that his "own take on the affair" was to wonder whether the principal had "allowed climate-change denialism to be taught in the college, which of course would justify her dismissal," Ms Mussolini brushed him aside and continued her attack on Ms Alitosis. "She should have stayed in the fish shop," she said (presumably in a reference to the professional occupation of Ms Alitosis's Greek-born parents), "but her father sent her to BHLC and as an Old Girl she browbeat her way onto the board. Now she's there she is cynically misrepresenting an innovative and imaginative exchange-student programme, designed to help BHLC girls gain fluency in a second language, as selling them into slavery or something. Talk about loyalty to her old school."

The dispute has divided the BHLC community. Many parents support Ms Mussolini and say the school wouldn't be the same without her. "She's a lovely lady and she got my Kasey through Year 11 with only four fails," says single mother Denise Hotchkiss, "and when my ex walked out on me she let me work off the school fees by washing up in the tuckshop." "I have every confidence in her, " says Arab-born "Australian success story" Waheed Saddam, CEO of the Commonwealth Egg Board. "We've had nineteen daughters at BHLC, and every one of their mothers is pleased with the results. Speaking personally, I've always found Deirdre - she's a first-name kind of person, very unstuffy - pleasant and obliging about accepting any little presents I've offered her to help our girls on their way."

The president of the BHLC Parents' Association, Mr Lou ("Lucky") Giancana, general manager of StallSafe, one of several rival firms of "protection counsellors" operating in the Victorian wholesale fruit and vegetable market, was to have issued a statement urging Ms Mussolini "not to give in to board blackmail" but was unable to do so, having been found yesterday floating in the Maribyrnong River.

For its part, the college board is "solidly behind" Ms Alitosis ("a very determined personality", says a former colleague) but board members declined to comment individually. "Whatever Drusilla says, I agree with," said one.

With the situation in stalemate - Ms Mussolini says she is "staying put" and Ms Alitosis declares "either she goes or I go and it won't be me" - the Uniting Church, which controls the school trust, has called for mediation. "I feel it is only fair and proper that these two good ladies sit down and sort out their little difference over a cup of tea," says the church's moderator, the Rev. Owen Featherhead. "As our dear Master tells us in Matthew 5:24, when we have any unpleasantness with one of our sisters or brothers, we should put down whatever we are doing and leave it in front of the altar, and shake hands in a spirit of peace and reconciliation. It is all too easy, is it not, to let a petty disagreement get out of hand and ..." At this point there was a crash and his study door flew open, revealing the fierce-faced figures of both Ms Mussolini and Ms Alitosis, the former brandishing a long leather strap, the latter rolling up her sleeve. "Petty, is it?" they demanded as with one voice. "You just come out from under that desk and say that in our face!"

1 October 2012

NEVER TOO OLD


It's a busy time in the sexual-abuse industry in Victoria, with a state parliamentary inquiry into the way various organisations have dealt with child-abuse accusations now in full swing. The star turn, as usual, is the Roman Catholic Church, though the impression, much fostered by the ABC and the Melbourne Age, that RC clergy are always and everywhere the only abusers, is somewhat modified by the  inquiry's brief to examine what employees of of other "non-government organisations" have been up to. (And government organisations? State schoolteachers and PE instructors?)

The parliamentary inquiry is the first of its kind in Australia and shows that in child abuse, as in so many important fields, from liveability to football, the Garden State leads the way. And now there's another first to add to Victoria's laurels. Argus has learned that a Victorian centenarian has become the world's oldest person to lodge a sex-abuse claim against a member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Mr Arthur Dribble, 106, now of Shady Glades Nursing Home in the Ballarat outer suburb of Fiddlerstown, claims that as a child he was abused by Melbourne's famous Archbishop Daniel Mannix. He says the offence took place in Studley Park Road, which runs between the suburbs of Kew and Collingwood.

"I sees 'im coming long in 'is top hat and he gives me two bob," Mr Dribble told Argus. "I don't remember anythink much after that but I'm sure he abused me."

"The money was obviously intended to buy sexual favours," explains Mr Dribble's great-granddaughter, Ms Denise McCarthy-Plibersek, a sex-abuse counsellor and memory-recovery expert who has been helping Mr Dribble "remember" the horrific event. "While at this distance we cannot actually prove that the intention to abuse was fully translated into action, there is no doubt that the waylaying of an impressionable young man provoked a lifelong sense of trauma in the victim."

Prompted by Ms McCarthy-Plibersek, Mr Dribble said that the trauma had manifested itself in his current physical and mental decline and in the fact that he was now unable to get a job. He proposes to sue the Roman Catholic Church for what his great-granddaughter describes as "punitive and exempalry damages".

Ms McCarthy-Plibersek dismissed as "lies" a Church statement pointing out that in spite of the political and other enmity occasioned by some of Dr Mannix's statements and actions there had never been "the faintest hint" of an accusation against him of the type Mr Dribble was making, and that, further, it was "strange" that Mr Dribble had waited so long to make his complaint. "Was it the fact that so many other complaints have recently been made against Catholic clergy that gave him the idea?" the statement asked.

"They shouldn't be allowed to get away with saying this sort of thing," said Ms McCarthy-Plibersek. "The last bit is an outrageous slur on great-grandad's integrity and the whole so-called statement is the kind of smokescreen the abusers have been putting up for too long. Too many damaged lives like great-granddad's have been swept under the carpet without redress. I demand justice, I mean you do, don't you, darling?" she declared, shaking her elderly relative awake.

Police have confirmed that Dr Mannix was in the habit of walking along Studley Park Road each day from his home in Kew to St Patrick's Cathedral. "There's plenty of oral history to say he used to carry a pocketful of two-shilling pieces to give away, ostensibly to the needy," a police spokesman said. "After this latest allegation we shall have to look at that behaviour in a new light."

27 September 2012


CRIME AND PUNISHMENT


Burchett Hill City Council is to investigate the possibility of introducing beheading as a penalty for certain "more serious" offences against municipal by-laws.

"We're taking our cue from some of our Islamic ratepayers on this one," says Councillor Les Rhiannon, Mayor of the progressive inner-city municipality ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang"). "As we've clearly seen in recent days, there has been eloquently expressed support for beheading from all age groups in the Moslem community. Your council feels therefore that to incorporate beheading into our local by-laws would be a significant gesture in the direction of building greater understanding and harmony between the diverse groups that make up our shared civic community."

Councillor Rhiannon says that a committee will be set up to look into the ways that legal barriers to capital punishment can be circumvented. He said that council solicitors Finkelstein & Bromberg would bring a test case in the Supreme Court arguing the right of the municipality to determine its own rules in purely local matters where "good communal governance" is the over-riding issue.

"Let's face it," he added. "A lot of our laws are just a load of outmoded Anglocentric baloney, quite irrelevant to the administration of justice in a modern Australian municipality. They need to be made to correspond to contemporary opinion in a pluralist society. The introduction of beheading will make our local by-laws more reflective of the informed attitudes to crime and punishment held by a not insignificant and valued cultural group in Burchett Hill, a group that has its own highly developed concept of libertarianism with a weight of tradition behind it going back far beyond the so-called Magna Carta.

"Further, as a Greens-controlled municipality, Burchett Hill will be in the vanguard of progress by introducing beheading, a legal sanction that is in full and total harmony with other Greens policies that celebrate life as an experience to be subordinated to the good of the community, policies such as infant existence termination (pre- and post-birth) and compulsory elder self-disposal."

Councillor Rhiannon added that it was "still too early to say" what sort of by-law infringements would be punishable by decapitation rather than a fine. But "environmentally deleterious" offences under council's refuse collection by-laws would "almost certainly" attract a capital penalty, as would "hate speech" against Green Party officials and traffic obstruction of bicycle lanes. Refusal of celebrants to  conduct a same-sex marriage would probably also qualify.

As for finding "an executions professional" to implement the penalty, the Mayor refuses to accept that there is likely to be any difficulty, even after so many years without capital punishment in Australia. "I'll be killed in the rush - ha ha - when I advertise this job," he says. "We'd have more executioners than offences if I stuck up a notice asking for volunteers in at least one community cultural centre I can think of. And don't forget we've got the Sons of the Caliphate with their scimitars. Council has been subsidising them for years as part of our "Diversity in the Arts" programme. In return,  I think I can say they would do the job for free."

Of course, none of this will happen if Burchett Hill's legal challenge to existing legislation forbidding judicial execution is unsuccessful. "I wouldn't worry about that if I was you," says the Mayor. "If those judicial lackeys of the establishment on the bench chuck out our application, let's see whether a well organised riot will make them see reason. That hideous old nineteenth-century Law Courts with its silly blindfold statues and overtones of Victorian imperialist pomposity would go up like a torch."

17 September 2012

There are other news stories from Burchett Hill in Argus here ("Municipal News"), here ("A Feast of Reason"), here ("On the Street Where You Eat"), here ("The One Day of the Year"), here ("The Glorious First of May"), here ("Support for the Arts"), here ("How May I Not Help You?"), here ("Our Very Own Olympics") and here ("Marriage Reform in Action").

LETTER TO THE EDITOR


CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE: A MIDDLE WAY?
Sir: As an "old digger" and small "c" conservative who values our enviable tradition of government by constitutional monarchy, I was sorry to see that Mr Malcolm Turnbull, who I believe is the great nephew of my old comrade-in-arms Captain Arthur "Gaga" Turnbull, as he was known to us in the mess, is again peddling the notion of Australia becoming a republic - and this in spite of the "shot in the arm" the recent Diamond Jubilee celebrations gave to the popularity of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen of Australia. I hope and believe that Mr Turnbull is barking up the wrong tree on this one, much as his great-uncle Gaga barked up the wrong tree at Mataranka in 1943 when, young and ardent as he was in those days, he paid court to a strikingly handsome lady officer in the WRAAC who nearly bit his head off when he tried to embrace her in the starlight behind a baobab at the outdoor film night, it transpiring that she was "on the other team", as they say. There was quite a bit of that in the women's ranks I understand, so Gaga shouldn't have been surprised.

Be that as it may, it seems to me from the publicity given to the younger Turnbull's remarks in the "quality media" and on ABV Channel 2 that the "R" word will not go away. And indeed I fear this is all too understandable. It cannot be denied that the "balance of power" in the world has changed since the fall of Singapore and that, what with such things as the "Common Market" we are not as close to the "old country" as once we were. Indeed the finger of destiny seems to suggest that it is to our neighbours on the Asian-Pacific "rim" that we should look for future alliances. Would it not therefore be an appropriate gesture, and one acceptable both to those who prefer our present system and those like Gaga's great-nephew who argue for a constitutional change that would more accurately reflect the realities of our nation's evolving geopolitical situation, if in due course, when Her Majesty finally gains the eternal rest she so richly deserves for the heroic job she has done for us all, we were to transfer our allegiance to a constitutional monarchy in our own region, such as Thailand, or Tonga, which has the advantage of being a fellow member of our happy Commonwealth family. But not, I would counsel, Japan.

Lyle J. Gatling (Brigadier, retd) 
The Old Warhorse Eventide Home
Duntroon, NSW 

12 September 2012

IN MY GARDEN


WITH "EDNA"

As a keen participant in the Open Gardens Scheme I must say that my own garden is a showpiece all the year round. It is good to hear the appreciative oohs and aahs from members of the public as they walk around my bowers and beds, which even at the end of winter are a blaze of colour with such delights as Camellia japonica, red hot pokers and gorgeous "Winter Cheer". And now what even lovelier prospects spring will bring!

When a garden is open to visitors there is obviously a lot of wear and tear but to minimise this I make sure our guests' ramblings are confined to the gravelled walks. Anyone who strays onto a lawn risks stepping into one of the rabbit traps I have placed in little hollows concealed beneath a layer of grass clippings, and then the comments, I am afraid, are less appreciative and sometimes quite "blue".

The Open Gardens Scheme makes money for some worthy charities but I can tell you it was making absolutely nothing for me. In my view this was rather unfair to the person who actually foots the bill for keeping the garden going so that it can be opened. I know that the funds raised for good causes and the pleasure one is giving the public by sharing one's garden are their own reward, but try taking a reward like that to the bank! Of course, it would be quite improper to reimburse oneself by raiding the collection tin left in one's care - visitors being as stingy as they are there's never enough in that to be worthwhile anyway. I decided therefore that the best way of defraying my expenses would be to persuade each visitor to make an additional voluntary payment, more realistic than the few coins they put in the tin.

Perhaps if you open your own garden you might care to try my method.

First, build a pretty little gazebo beside the exit from your garden. It should be as far as possible from the entrance but adjacent to where visitors park their cars. You can get prefabricated gazebos quite cheaply these days from any reputable garden ornaments supplier, or if you have a handy hubby he can run one up with trellis. Grow some wisteria or ivy over it to make sure no one can see inside then line the walls with polystyrene for soundproofing. You will need to make sure the gazebo has two doors (I always recommend those rather nice rustic ones in brushwood) and that the gravel path the visitors follow leads through it.

The next step is to engage the services, as economically as possible to keep overheads down, of some willing but dim individual who likes the company of savage dogs and knows how to handle them. I found mine, Trevor, through the local kennel club and he has been worth his weight in gold.

The rest is simplicity itself. As your visitors are completing their garden tour they will naturally walk towards the exit (at least those who haven't stepped on a trap will; I keep a couple of wheelchairs available at a very reasonable hire for those who have). Lurk beside the gazebo where you can't be seen and, when the visitors walk into it, push the brushwood doors (to which you have attached spring locks) shut behind them - they'll be too busy admiring the wind chimes and baskets of dried lavender you have hanging around inside to notice. This is the part I always enjoy, when my garden-loving guests find themselves locked in the gazebo in the company of Trevor and his four rottweilers, all snarling, slavering and baring their teeth (yes, even Trevor when he gets excited). In big letters on the soundproofed wall is the sign you have written out (marker pen is best) informing those inside that as a condition of exit they must make a "freewill offering" of at least a hundred dollars or jewellery to that value. I have installed an EFTPOS facility for their convenience and Trevor is slowly learning to operate it. I am still amazed at how generously so many visitors, once they have absorbed the reality of their position, are prepared to contribute towards the cost of their enjoyment in having seen around my lovely garden.

But what of those who won't? In spite of the implied threat, you can't really throw them to the rottweilers. It would create a lot of unpleasantness, the last thing I want in a garden which is a haven of tranquillity and spiritual regeneration.

I have therefore prepared another little incentive. I have acquired, very economically as they're not everyone's cup of tea, a pair of First World War cannon that used to stand beside the soldiers' monument in Victory Park, very near my home, until our local council, which unfortunately is very left-wing, renamed it Peace Park and sent the cannon, as "offensive weapons", to a scrap merchant, which is where I saw them when I was looking for some Victorian cast iron for my conservatory. Beautifully restored to working order by another of my little "finds", Kurt from the gun club down the road, these are stationed beside the back gate of my garden, the one visitors use when they are leaving, and trained on the visitors' cars. As we "release" our guests from the gazebo, those who have declined to contribute enjoy the spectacle of a warning shot fired across the bonnet of their cars - and another if needs be (Kurt quite enters into the spirit of it all; he would have been invaluable on the Western Front, though his aim is a bit erratic and he has smashed a number of windscreens and ruined a certain amount of bodywork, sad to say).

I have never known this incentive not to have a wondrous effect on any visitor still hesitating about that hundred dollars, and it certainly makes their time in my garden, helping the less fortunate in our community who have to turn to charity, a day to remember.

Happy gardening!

12 September 2012

Readers will find earlier gardening notes by "Edna" on 24 April and 23 March last.

TIME TO GET REAL


The high-minded people who voted for President Obama because of the colour of his skin without worrying too much over whether he had anything else to offer beyond windy rhetoric about hope and change and making the seas stand still have now had nearly four years to feel good and virtuous about themselves and observe the results of their self-indulgence. Under the high-spending stewardship of their toy President the United States economy has declined dangerously, to the point where even the President and his party, to judge by their recent convention, have become coy about discussing it and have tried to avoid it as much as possible as a topic of pre-election debate.

It is now time to end Obama's playing at politics and the November election gives Americans the opportunity to do this. A bankrupt US in a dangerous world makes the world even more dangerous since it can be no guarantor of international order, political or financial. For the US to be weakened militarily by debt is in the interests of no one but tinpot-dictatorship adventurers. It is certainly not in the interests of anyone who relies on the US for potential protection, as we do here in our corner of the Pacific.

As an alternative to Obama, Mitt Romney might not be everyone's beau ideal - there is something a little too heartily country-club about him, and it's hard to imagine a Mormon with a sense of humour, in spite of the hilarious magic spectacles story - but he and especially his vice-presidential candidate would seem to understand the gravity of America's economic plight, and that is more important than glamour and rhetoric. They also appear to have the economic and fiscal realism to bring the "world's brokest nation" (as Mark Steyn, who thinks the situation might already be irredeemable, calls it) back from the brink of the abyss of total recession.

If they succeed they won't be thanked by the leftist media, who already accuse them of being heartless and "uncaring". But no society can afford to look after its poor and vulnerable if it can't afford to look after itself. There is no social compassion among those who live in a poorhouse.

10 September 2012

MARRIAGE REFORM IN ACTION


As a liberal rationalist Green, the Mayor of Burchett Hill, Councillor Les Rhiannon, does not believe in marriage. For some years he has cohabited with his "partner", Greek-born "multicultural activist" Drusilla Alitosis. But support within his party for "marriage equality" has caused Councillor Rhiannon, never one not to snatch a political initiative, to rethink his position, and he has declared that he is now in favour of marriage, on condition that it is not the "heteronormative" sort between a human male and female.

To demonstrate his commitment, at the Burchett Hill Town Hall on Saturday afternoon Councillor Rhiannon "married" the City Manager (formerly Town Clerk) of Burchett Hill, Mr Bruce Pollard, in a public ceremony in the council chamber. In order not to "privilege gender-specific concepts of marriage costume" Councillor Rhiannon wore a white veil of Guipure lace and his mayoral robes over smart casual male attire and Mr Pollard a top hat and bridal dress of cream silk shantung with bodice of broderie anglaise, satin shoes and a bouquet of stephanotis. Ms Alitosis, whose prodigious facial hair qualifies her as of mixed gender, was not only in attendance but had earlier announced her own intention to marry Mrs Pollard, a union which she said would serve as a "multicultural bridge" in the community. It was thought wiser not to announce this in advance to Mrs Pollard, who is of conventional views and a leading member of the Presbyterian Women's Guild where she has twice in a row won the prize for the best hedgehog at the annual bazaar. Instead, the City Manager was instructed by the Mayor to quadruple Mrs Pollard's valium dose - living with Mr Pollard, an irascible accountant, has driven the unfortunate woman to seek solace in medication - and present her at the ceremony, which she underwent in a state of some euphoria, going so far as to join in a Greek dance with Ms Alitosis, demanded by the latter instead of a bridal waltz.

As an offficial mayoral function, the ceremony would normally have been conducted by the Mayor's chaplain, Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff Poofa of the Burchett Hill Mosque. But "gay marriage" is one of the few topics on which the Mayor and his chaplain do not see eye to eye, so the Mayor, in the manner of Napoleon crowning himself in Notre Dame, officiated as both celebrant and one of the two "brooms", the term devised by the council's marriage equality committee to avoid the gender-offensive "bride" and "groom".

Before the cutting of the cake (yam and wattleseed, a traditional recipe of the Tomandjeri people on whose land the Town Hall stands) the Mayor made a speech in which he said that "speaking for the first time as Councillor Rhiannon-Pollard and on behalf of my new spouse Mr Pollard-Rhiannon, I think we can say that a great blow has been struck today for the next step on the road to marital freedom, the recognition of polyamorist unions. The fact that four are involved in this marriage, in one way or another, should give hope to polyamorists everywhere that marriage reform will not stop at marriage equality for two. Why should those who have enough love in their hearts to spread around be unfairly penalised for the sake of bourgeois bigots who can't cope with the idea of more than two in a marital relationship?" Councillor Rhiannon-Pollard said Burchett Hill "as a community ought to be proud of its forward-looking trail-blazing in wrenching marriage out of its patriarchal rut." He said that he expected the federal Greens leadership to "move quickly to persuade the Prime Minister to make polyamorist marriage a plank of Government policy."

The Mayor also announced that henceforth "heterosexual one-on-one" weddings would be banned in all places licensed for marriage in the municipality of Burchett Hill and that this would be enforced if necessary by "adjustment" of rating valuations of offending premises, "including churches, that don't yet pay anything. They won't know what's hit them," he said.

Just as the happy couples moved to cut the cake, a flashing scimitar descended seemingly from nowhere, slicing it in two, and there was a bloodcurdling shriek of Allahu Akbar! The Sons of the Caliphate, an ethnic cultural group subsidised by the city council as part of its "Diversity in the Arts" programme, had somehow appeared in the council chamber, with behind them the aquiline, fierce-eyed features of Imam al Choppa-hedoff, calling down divine vengeance on the "sodomite pig-Jews and their unnatural ceremonies" and urging the Sons of the Caliphate to "separate the sinners from their sinning hands". With scimitars whipping the air to right and left ("this age-old skill demonstrates perfect harmony between weapon and wielder", as the "Diversity in the Arts" brochure puts it) wedding guests scurried for cover under the council table. Amid the screams, the saurian head of the Mayor poked out from behind a chair and then his arm appeared, holding high a white napkin. The Imam, who for all his high principles knows which side his bread is buttered on, leant down to hear what Councillor Rhiannon-Pollard had to say. Moments later, both Mayor and Iman were wreathed in smiles, as the former announced that some more marriages would be taking place that day. "I have given permission," he said, "for each of our friends the Sons of the Caliphate to marry twenty, er, virgins, who I am told arrived this morning in a container from Afghanistan. They have just retired to the ante-room to sort out who gets which" (the clang and clash of duelling scimitars could be heard), "and I shall have the pleasure of conducting the ceremony."

A screech of Mediterranean jealousy indicated that Ms Alitosis-Pollard was also in the ante-room, where she was grappling tooth and nail with a Son over a young lady to whom she herself was endeavouring to lay claim. Also present was the erstwhile Mrs Pollard, who had slipped her apricot grosgrain bolero jacket over her head like a veil and was making eyes at any of the Sons who would give her a second look.

Challenged later by Green party councillors over his "caving in" to a "blatantly heteronormative marriage demand", the Mayor announced loftily that "politics is the art of compromise" and that, anyhow, the Sons of the Caliphate marriages "ticked the more important boxes" of being multicultural and polyamorous.

5 September 2012