Category Archives: Uncategorized

A memo to Mark Latham

Back in the ’70s and ’80s, ‘Negro’ was actually a respected, dignified alternative to really racist terms like ‘n****r’…so I must have missed the memo somewhere in the ’90s or more recently as to when ‘Negro’ became unacceptable.

“I’m happy to make my weekly donation to Australia’s outrage industry by saying ‘Negro, Negro, Negro’.”

– Mark Latham, speaking on The Verdict.

 verdict 1

To: Mark Latham, former Labor Leader and member for Werriwa

Re: Non-receipt of memos

From: Behavioural Guidance, Directorate of White People Services

CC: Other white men as required

Dear Mr Latham,

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge your recent complaint on The Verdict that you have not been receiving our memos. Although all correspondence has been available on our website since 1998, clearly our distribution systems and procedures have not been rigorous or comprehensive enough to satisfy the needs of all subscribers, and for this we apologise.

Mark (can I call you Mark?) is it possible you were a subscriber to our fax service, which ceased in 2002?

We can only imagine how difficult it has been to navigate the social complexities of today’s world without the detailed instructions contained in our memos. However, we also wish to disclaim any liability or responsibility for your actions or behaviours. While we make every effort to provide a proactive service, you are responsible for sourcing the information you need to function as a decent human being in 2015.

You suggest that “I could walk through any street in western Sydney and no one would find ‘Negro’ offensive…who are these unelected, self-appointed people who’ve decided that we all need to speak like them? Who are these people?”

Mark, our records show that you ceased being the member for Werriwa in January 2005. (Perhaps you missed that memo too?) So please forgive my forthrightness, but doesn’t that make you one of the unelected arbiters you speak of?

Let’s cut to the chase. I’m a middle aged white man like you, and I acknowledge that the world can be a confusing place. Our Digital Experience Manager often tells me we live in an “information-rich environment.” It pains me to admit it, but I don’t understand what he’s talking about at least 70% of the time. But I think he means that if you cared to know how others would like you to address them, or treat them, or simply be aware of their concerns, that information is readily accessible.

An example: last week, three young African Australians were denied access to the Apple Store at Highpoint, in Maribyrnong. That’s my local shopping centre – my constituency, if you will. The youths were told they couldn’t enter the store because they “might steal something.” This should be a sign to anyone that something is not quite right. That some people are not being fairly treated, and based on all the available evidence, it’s because of their race. It’s a memo – a pretty stark one.

This was widely reported (it went “viral” as they say), and I made the mistake of reading some of the comments, which made it clear that quite a few people had got the memo, but didn’t want the memo. Here’s an example of the most recent comments:

“All you fools commenting take your head out of the sand, Go to Highpoint after schools just let out. You would be on high alert too if your worked there.” – John

“It’s not racist, it’s racial profiling and sometimes it’s correct.” – Don

“Nothing I have read or seen even remotely resembles racism that in my opinion its nothing more than an extortion attempt via social media or criminal defamation.” – Michael

Is it possible, Mark, that you’re one of the many people who often receive our memos, but don’t read them? Who will attribute any cause except racism?

Your significant intellect would tell you that there are three possible conclusions that can be drawn from this situation:

  1. The incident had nothing to do with race – the security guard can look into the souls of other humans and divine intentions unknowable even to the subject. (In which case his talents are wasted at Highpoint.)
  2. The incident had nothing to do with race – the security guard blocks entry whenever there is a statistical possibility, no matter how small, that the individual might steal something. (In which case the store would always be empty. I go there – it isn’t.)
  3. The incident had everything to do with race.

No points for guessing how our people responded to this. In comment after comment, white men studiously avoided conclusion 3.

Now, this requires a certain willful ignorance that (between you and me), us white men are sometimes guilty of. While not endorsing this impulse, as a white person, I can partly understand it.

Mark, forgive me for being so bold, but do you ever lie awake at 3am listening to the beating of your heart and thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, you might not fare too well in a world in which you have to compete with the claims of women and people of colour? That it’s all too hard? That you’re just not up to it? That your Dad never had to worry about this shit and goddamn it all it’s so unfair?

We’ve all had those thoughts. But on behalf of White People Services, let me caution you: here there be monsters. The occasional fleeting feeling of resentment might provide temporary relief to your race-based anxiety, but let it grow and it will swallow you whole. You’ll find yourself up at 3am logged on to Men’s Rights forums, or trolling people under assumed names on Twitter. Mark, I can’t stress this enough: as they say on daytime TV – don’t go there.

So while I sympathise with your difficulties, I regret to inform you that the Board and I have decided that this is the last of our memos you will receive. We simply no longer have the resources to keep you informed of all the changes in the world, particularly given the amount of information freely available to you. Yes, the world is a complicated place, but please don’t let that put that off. It can be liberating to admit to what you don’t know, and if you’re willing to shut up, listen and learn, it can also be pretty exciting.

To help you cope with this withdrawal of regular service, we have provided this handy decision tree, which can be used should you encounter a person of a colour or sexual orientation or gender different to you, or are confronted by a challenging or unfamiliar concept, thought or idea, which our diverse and beautiful planet has a habit of presenting us from time to time:

decision tree

Please initial below and return in acknowledgement that you have received and understood these instructions.

Good bye and good luck,

Director, Behavioural Guidance
Directorate of White People Services
The World

What happened to Armistice Day? Reflections on Remembrance Day 2015

At one time we celebrated the outbreak of peace on this day, Armistice Day. Now we honour the dead, even as we do them the great dishonour of adding to their number. When did Armistice Day become Remembrance Day? And when did we come to accept the logic of perpetual war?

We are not a war-going family, I say that with neither pride nor shame. Even if he hadn’t missed the Vietnam conscription ballot by several years, Dad’s dwarfism would have disqualified him from service. In World War II, my paternal grandfather Peter was excused as a worker essential to the war effort, being an Engineer at Australian Defence Industries in Albury, while my Mum’s father Reg was an asthmatic, and worked on the line at the Austen Motor Company in England, given over to munitions manufacturing during the war years.

To find active service you’d have to go back to my Great-Grandfather’s brother Alfred Paterson,

War record of Alfred Paterson.

War record of Alfred Paterson.

who was “severely wounded, right buttock” on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. He was discharged in London in 1917, having found munitions work at the Ailsa Craig Motor Company. After the war he returned to the family farm near Panawonica WA, where he became, according to his obituary in the Pastoral Review and Graziers’ Record, “one of the leading experts in Australia on dingo destruction.”

My eldest daughter was excited to learn about Alfred. It has been impressed on her that we all deserve our slice of the ANZAC legend. Earlier this year, on the centenary of the invasion of Gallipoli, she attended Camp Gallipoli at the Melbourne Showgrounds to partake in “the ANZAC experience” for herself. There were food trucks and deluxe centenary swags for sale, and they watched a Russell Crowe movie.

At the time, it made me think of the English World War I poet Siegfried “Mad Jack” Sassoon’s poem Blighters, in which he rages against the glorification of war in popular Music Hall songs of the time:

I’d like to see a Tank come down the stalls,
Lurching to rag-time tunes, or ‘Home, sweet Home’,
And there’d be no more jokes in Music-halls
To mock the riddled corpses round Bapaume.

Sassoon was known for his fearlessness in combat, earning the nickname “Mad Jack” for his


Siegfried “Mad Jack” Sassoon in 1915

near-suicidal courage under fire. He was awarded the Military Cross for significant gallantry and was nominated for, but not awarded, the Victoria Cross.

In 1917, after a period of convalescence, Sassoon refused to return to service and published his crazy-brave Soldier’s Declaration in protest against continuation of the war, stating “I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest.” Rather than court marshall Sassoon and risk the publicity of a trial, the War Ministry declared him unfit for service and sent him to Craiglockhart War Hospital to be treated for neurasthenia; “shell shock”.

My partner Sara’s Great Grandfather, Francis Liguri Leonard, also served at Gallipoli in 1915, was honourably discharged, then reinlisted and fought at the Battle of Messines in 1917. Sara’s Grandmother always told her he died of a war wound several years after repatriation. It was true, if not strictly reflective of the documentary record. His death certificate shows the cause of death as strychnine poisoning. As a groundskeeper at the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens, Francis would have had ready access to poisons.

The psychological effects of war on soldiers are well known but only starting to be truly understood. We’ve come a long way from the diagnoses of shell shock (and its association with cowardice) in WWI to treatment of PTSD today, but recent research has challenged the long-held view that PTSD is the result of near-death trauma. There’s an emerging body of evidence that PTSD in the context of war is a kind of moral injury, trauma arising not from risk of death but from the act of killing. Studies analysing clinical data on soldiers across eras and controlled for demographic factors show that “those who kill in war are at greater risk for a number of mental health consequences and functional difficulties, including PTSD”. (In this fantastic series by David Wood, some of these soldiers tell their own experiences of moral injury.)

Wilmot Memorial Hall, Wilmot TAS

Wilmot Memorial Hall, Wilmot TAS

This century-worth of clinical data is a living monument to generations of soldiers profoundly damaged by being forced to kill. The monuments to the dead that stand in every country town and city tell a different story, but no less poignant. A week or so ago, I passed through the small town of Wilmot, in northern Tasmania, population 350. There’s a war memorial on Main Street, erected in 1922, that lists 22 men killed in World Wars I and II. The WWI names are neatly arranged, orderly and symmetrical. When Wilmot’s war memorial was being quarried, 19th Century empires a world away had been replaced by nation states marshalling their considerable pre- Depression resources around a United Nations and binding international conventions to ensure the atrocities of the Great War never occurred again. They did occur again, of course, and again, and more names were added later to Wilmot’s memorial. They sit in crowded rows on the foundation stone, looking very much like an afterthought.

It was in the twilight of the second great war that most countries changed the name of Armistice Day, which celebrated the end of war, to Remembrance Day, which honours the dead. We have a moment of silence to reflect on their sacrifice but little encouragement to reflect on why. And so we find ourselves today with a refugee crisis of World War proportions. Having destabilised the Middle East with successive overt and covert military adventures in the 100 years since Lawrence of Arabia armed the nomadic tribes of Saudi Arabia against the Ottoman Empire, having at least partly caused the largest refugee crisis in Europe since 1944, we have settled on decreased foreign aid and more bombing as the solution.

There are rare politicians who challenge this. Labor Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek was widely pilloried by the political right and the Murdoch press for

Tanya Plibersek depicted as giving gifts to terrorists for daring to suggest that perhaps we should try dropping food, not bombs, on Syria.

Tanya Plibersek depicted as giving gifts to terrorists for daring to suggest that perhaps we should try dropping food, not bombs, on Syria.

suggesting that perhaps food parcels, not bombs, should be dropped on Syria. On the ABC’s Insiders, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop argued that Plibersek’s suggestion was unworkable because food parcels would be very difficult to accurately target. We are so inexorably caught in the logic of war, of target identification and load delivery, that it never seemed to occur to Bishop that civilians in war zones might actually run towards a humanitarian package.

On Remembrance Day, we’ll take a moment of silence to honour those who gave their lives, as we should. Very few will spare a thought for those forced to kill. The dead have made the ultimate sacrifice, but clinical psychiatrics has now confirmed what poetry has long told us: we not only ask soldiers to risk their lives, we ask them to risk their humanity.

I come back to Sassoon. Well before ISIS, well before the West armed Saddam Hussein or the CIA seeded a revolution against the Shah in Iran and ushered in the reign of the Ayatollahs, well before Vietnam or Korea, well before the Rape of Nanking or the horrors of Dachau or Hiroshima, even before Armistice Day became Remembrance Day and muffled the dream of peace, Sassoon asked in Aftermath:

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again?’

I will spend my minute of quiet reflection on Remembrance Day honouring the fallen, yes, and the damaged. But in that brief moment, I will also reflect on how I can contribute in some way to a politics that doesn’t add to their number, lest we forget the promise we made on the first Armistice Day, at the conclusion of the war to end all wars.

*France and Belgium, the nations of the Western Front, still celebrate Armistice Day.

Tony, R U OK?

“Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the “very sad” images of a Syrian boy lying lifeless on a Turkish beach demonstrate the need for countries to adopt tough policies to stop asylum seekers arriving by boat.” – Matthew Knott, Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September

“Tony Abbott talks tough on terror” – AFR, 3 June

“Australian PM talks tough on vaccination” – BBC, 12 June

“Tony Abbott talks tough on terror laws.” – The Age, 16 February

Tony Abbott warns that more people will die unless tougher action on people-smugglers is taken.” – The Australian, 18 May

Tony Abbott talks tough. A lot. He acts tough too. He shows up at a bar and skulls a beer. He tells a group of soldiers, when one of their number is shot by Taliban insurgents, that “shit happens”. He threatens to “shirt front” Vladmir Putin. He eats a raw onion.

638769-tony-abbottOn top of all this, Tony is an Ironman. He can call himself that because he completed an Ironman competition (3.8km of swimming, 180km of cycling and 42.2km of running) in under 17 hours. It’s considered one of the toughest sporting contests around, the pinnacle of endurance sport.

It’s not that tough. I can say that because I’m also an Ironman, having completed the course in 14 hours, the same time as Abbott. Yes, it takes a lot of training and physical conditioning, a high degree of determination and, at least in my case (and I suspect the PM’s), it helps to have an innate stubbornness. But I wouldn’t say it takes toughness.

When I think of toughness, I think of Dave Scott. Scott ushered in the era of the modern Ironman at Kona in 1980 when he stunned everyone by finishing in 9:25 – a full two hours faster than the course record.38478-medium_IronWar_coverphoto_300 Anticipation was high for his appearance in 1981, but Scott was a no show. Instead of training, he had spent the six weeks in the lead-up on his couch. Scott struggled for much of his life with a crippling depression. In his late teens, he discovered that the more he exercised, the better he was able to manage his symptoms. So he ran, cycled and swam huge distances until (almost by accident) he discovered a sport that rewarded him for it. He got better at managing his depression. He went on to win Kona six times and, along with Mark Allen, transformed the sport from an endurance hobby to a professional, international competition. Huge achievements, but not why I think he’s tough. He’s tough because he came back to competition from a debilitating mental illness and had the toughness to talk about it.

Lance “Buddy” Franklin showed toughness this week when he went public with a mental illness that has him sidelined from the AFL finals. Previous generations of sportsmen would have seen this as a sign of weakness, and I’ve written previously about how this conception of masculinity damages men. Buddy has been rightly applauded for his candour and I’d like to think it will make it easier for men to say when they are suffering, without being told to grow a pair. Lance Franklin’s toughness is in his honesty.

Like Dave Scott, I discovered some years ago that a regular dose of endorphins helped me manage the anxiety, and at times depression, I’ve experienced since my 20s. That got me into cycling, then triathlon. I have since learned through experience that meditation and sobriety also helps. Plus cognitive behavioural therapy and the daily SSRIs that I take. Plus good sleep hygiene, and a level of emotional maturity that comes with age and life experience. It’s a complicated regimen, and not 100% effective, but it means I’m better at managing my symptoms than I’ve ever been. Most days it feels great to be alive.*

So when a senior manager at a recent work function handed me a beer instead of the ginger ale I’d asked for and told me to try drinking “a man’s drink,” it was pretty easy to brush it off as just so much macho bullshit, the kind Tough Tony might engage in. It’s not helpful, but whatever. I’m better than that.

Today is R U OK day. It’s a day when we’re asked to stop and ask the people we know and love that important question. Are you ok? It’s important not just because it makes us aware of the signs of untreated mental illness in others, but also because it forces us to stop and recognise the signs of pain in another. It calls on us to show empathy.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but attacking asylum seekers, among the most vulnerable people in the world, is not toughness. Taking benefits away from the unemployed is not toughness. Making it hard for the sick and disabled to access health care is not toughness. In fact, it is the opposite of tough. It is gutless.

In accepting an additional 12,000 Syrian refugees over and above our current humanitarian intake, the Prime Minister said “we need to act with our heads as well as our hearts.” I unreservedly congratulate him for this act of empathy. It’s refreshing to hear the PM talk about the need to show compassion, to listen to our hearts. In staring down the extremists in his own party, he has shown leadership. Just as John Howard showed toughness in the post-Port Arthur gun buy-back, this is Tony Abbott’s moment to rise above narrow political self-interest. We should praise him for this, because it might encourage him to do it more often.

I often think feminism has done as much for men as women. It has freed many of us – a privileged group, certainly, but still significant – from the strictures of stifling notions of masculinity, while giving us the vocabulary and the permission to say when we’re not ok.

Tony Abbott doesn’t have much time for feminism. But the thing is, whenever Tony acts “tough” it appears just that: an act. He seems awkward, uncomfortable, like he’s not being his authentic self. I don’t wish to psychoanalyse him from afar, but to this observer he doesn’t seem tough. That rictus grin, the awkward stance, the stilted small talk; he seems uncomfortable in his own skin. It makes me want to give him a hug. It makes me want to ask him, “Tony, are you OK?”


Dan Empfield’s Iron War, about Dave Scott, Mark Allen and the greatest Ironman ever raced, is one of the best sporting books I’ve read.

*It is very important to point out that while I’m proud of my own efforts, I’m mindful that I’m a straight, non-Indigenous, well-educated, employed male with secure housing. Change one of these parameters, and the risk factors increase – change more than one, and they multiply, while at the same time resources become harder to access. I wouldn’t for a moment suggest my own experience can be universalised, even to people who look like me, demographically speaking.

Why you should care about same-sex marriage, even if you don’t care about same-sex marriage

Of course, you should care about marriage equality. For all the right and obvious reasons – equality before the law for gay and lesbian people first and foremost, the right for all grown-ups to make their own life choices, because it will make people happy and happiness is good…and weddings. Regardless what you think about marriage (and I’ve been a bit up and down on the subject myself), weddings are AWESOME.

In fact most people, over a relatively short period of time, have come to this conclusion. The oft-quoted Crosby-Textor poll (that’s Mark Textor, Liberal Party pollster and strategist) found 72% of Australians of voting age support marriage equality. That, in polling terms, is a slam dunk.

Which leads me to the other reason that you should care. The failure to bring about marriage equality in Australia is a symptom of what is deeply wrong with politics in this country. If there was ever the possibility to elevate an issue above narrow political self-interest, it’s this one. It should be easy. Yet our political process has fundamentally failed.

There are hard debates, to be sure, that need to be acknowledged as such. On the current tax settings, which privilege gains from the accumulation of capital over income from personal effort, and make the distribution of wealth increasingly unfair. On the funding mix between public and private schools, which has caused many middle class parents to abdicate the public system. Or the delicate balance between economic growth and environmental costs. I’m not suggesting these oppositions are zero sum games, but they are distributive. There are winners and losers. That’s what makes these debates difficult.

Marriage equality is not. There is no finite amount of marriage to go around. No one will be compelled to get married who does not want to. There won’t be any unintended marriage contagion. Eric Abetz should be reassured: Dolce and Gabbana won’t feel any compulsion to tie the knot (regardless of the fact their romantic relationship ended in 2005).

Certainly, there are legitimate misgivings on the left. A couple or family doesn’t and shouldn’t need the blessing of the state to legitimise it. Marriage still has historical patriarchal associations that will linger well passed the time that Costco starts selling two-groom, three-tier cakes. And some argue, as Helen Razer has in her virtuosic and exhausting fashion, that marriage equality is death by assimilation.

But basically, we have an issue where no tough choices are required. No one loses an outrageous tax perk or middle class entitlement. No workers in declining industries need retraining. No budget need be allocated. You won’t need a new adapter for your TV. No one loses.

The political response to this? A Prime Minister stacking the bench within his own party room to engineer an outcome. Then, having manipulated this outcome, he suggests a constitutional referendum might be the best way of establishing the people’s will. I may be a political amateur, but I thought it was the Prime Minister’s job to divine the people’s will? No change to the constitution is required – but rather than a simple plebiscite, we somehow need a constitutional referendum in which marriage equality must receive majority of the vote in every state.*

Marriage equality has been part of the ALP’s platform since 2011, but there have been moments, let’s face it, when Labor hasn’t showered itself in glory either. I believe history will show Julia Gillard to have been a great Prime Minister in trying circumstances who navigated an extremely difficult political situation (partly of her own making) to legislate important reforms. But she will also be known for her feeble justification of her opposition to marriage equality on the grounds that she didn’t see marriage as a big deal. I suppose she couldn’t readily just admit, “I only got here with SDA backing and, as the Country song says, you gotta dance with them that brung ya!”

For many years, politicians on both sides who didn’t want to support marriage equality, but also didn’t want to not support it would describe it as “inevitable”. As if they, as our elected representatives, didn’t have “making stuff happen” in their job descriptions. As if they just had to sit back and watch a slowly encroaching rainbow overtake ignorance and bigotry. As if our political process was just that – a process – with no catalysts or rational actors needed to move it along. Try that in your job. If your boss complains you’re not doing the work you were hired to do, try calmly explaining to him or her that that work is “inevitable”.

Say what you like about Tony Abbott, but he can’t be accused of passivity. His Prime Ministership is in trouble, but I take no comfort from that. The longer this ugliness drags on, the more cynical people will get about our political process. With an unpopular Prime Minister whose position increasingly relies on a dwindling right-wing base, things can get a lot nastier. And gay men and women, mothers and fathers, will continue to feel attacked and unwelcomed by a PM who doesn’t care what collateral damage his intransigence causes.

I grew up in a single-parent family. My own family is a blended family. It’s said that you can chose your friends but not your family, but we chose each other, and that’s pretty amazing. Because despite having different parents, our kids don’t merely tolerate each other, they love each other. So we don’t need a certificate signed by a duly authorised representative of the state to make us a real family.

But my partner Sara and I are getting married, if only to celebrate our family, through the civil rite of marriage, in a room full of friends and loved ones. We have that legal right. So does Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and Scott Morrison. And 72% of Australians believe everyone should, but our elected representatives won’t allow that to happen.

In the Labor party, allowing a “free” vote against the party platform – allowing MPs to vote against the Marriage Equality Act – is described as a “conscience vote”. It seems a misuse of the word. I’m not religious, but I’ve read enough to know that all of the major religions have a version of the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The corollary is also true: don’t deny others that which you want for yourself. As my kids would say, it’s not manners.

*It has been pointed out that this is incorrect, a constitutional referendum requires a double majority – a simple majority of all voters and a majority in at least four states or territories. Of course, this is the kind of procedural complexity and confusion Abbott is hoping to cause.

Adam Goodes and why we should soften the f*** up

There have been a great many eloquent, thoughtful and impassioned pieces defending Adam Goodes and calling out the racism of those who boo him and (more disgracefully) those in the media who defend those who boo him. There are also large numbers of peoplgoodese better qualified than me to unpick what this says about Australia and its attitude to race in general and indigenous people in particular. I doubt I could contribute much to that, and in trying I’d almost certainly just be adding to the canon of columns (full to bursting) under the loose heading I Am A Heterosexual Middle Aged White Man and I Have Opinions.

So I wasn’t going to say or do anything about the disgusting treatment of Goodes, apart from possibly go and see Geelong vs Sydney next Saturday in the hopes Goodes would run out and I could cheer him doing so.

Except I’ve noticed a theme to the facebook posts, media comments and inter-cubicle work banter that isn’t just about race, or at least is about the intersection of race and masculinity in Australia, how we treat our young men and how we expect them to respond to this treatment.

Grow some balls. Take a teaspoon of cement. Man up. Stop being a sook. Cry me a fucking river. Suck it up princess. Harden the fuck up.

The grandmother of the 13 year old girl who called Goodes an ape during the 2014 indigenous round had this to say about Goode’s recent treatment:

“If he hadn’t have carried on like a pork chop it wouldn’t have mattered. I don’t think he should retire, he should man up and just take it if he wants to play the game.”

If it’s true that you can learn a lot about a culture from its vernacular, Australians in particular put a premium on men suffering in silence.

Dermott Brereton, former hard man of the VFL, has said Goodes should look at his own behaviour to see why people are booing him. Brereton famously played and won the 1989 Grand Final with a bruised kidney, broken ribs, punctured lung and internal bleeding.

As Hawthorn physio Barry Gavern remembers it, “He’d lost all the color in his face and was vomiting. He’d dragged himself back on his feet by this stage. But he was doubled over, dry-retching and his color was grey… There was no way he could stay out there. I remember looking up at [Hawthorn coach Allan Jeans] in the box and starting to try to get him off. Dermott said, ‘No, no. Just get me down to the pocket’.

When we tell Adam Goodes that he should suck it up, when we valorise Brereton’s boneheaded stubbornness, we send a message to young men to suffer in silence. And it’s worse for men of colour, who are expected to put up with more and complain less. Nick Kyrgios was on to this when he responded to Dawn Fraser’s racist comments about his behaviour with, “Throwing a racket, brat. Debating the rules, disrespectful. Frustrated when competing, spoilt. Showing emotion, arrogant.”

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that men have it tough. There has never been a better time to be a man. You get paid more on average, you have the perks of male privilege and you don’t even have to shave. You are less likely than at any other time in our industrial history to die at work. I don’t buy in to any talk of “masculinity in crisis” and certainly not men’s rights.

But giving young men the licence and the vocabulary to show vulnerability, to say, “you hurt my feelings” would make life better for everyone, women included.

The former Age columnist Mark Dapin has written that if his old school, North London Jewish father had sat him down and told him that he loved him, he would have genuinely thought that Dad had lost his marbles. Yet there are young men and women growing up now who know their fathers love and value them because their Dads have told them so. That’s progress.

But there’s still an expectation that men, especially athletes, shouldn’t show vulnerability and certainly shouldn’t express it. Enforcing the prohibition on expressing such feelings does permanent damage. Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety yet men are less likely to seek help and represent 80% of suicides.

Adam Goodes has given a lot to this country. It should be ok for him to say he feels undervalued, without someone telling him to grow a pair. It should be ok for him to say it hurts his feelings when he’s booed. I mean, why wouldn’t it?

It’s time for us to soften the fuck up.

David Bowie Is: “…you’re not alone.”

The word chameleon is often used about Bowie. Here he is in full glam regalia. Here he is in white soul crooner mode, slicked back hair and skinny tie. Sixties folk enfant. Berlin-era avant.

It’s an entirely understandable confusion. Through a 2015 lens, it’s hard to tell if Bowie ch-ch-changed to suit the times or if the times adapted to him. His influence is as pervasive as it is (seemingly) effortless and the hanging verb in the title David Bowie Is reflects this brilliantly.

David Bowie Is opened last Thursday and I was there Friday night. I loved every minute of it, for the exhibition itself; for the gay, straight and trans crowd out in force; and for the memories, long unbidden, of the role Bowie played in my own journey to adulthood.

David Bowie has said hearing Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti for the first time was like hearing, “the voice of God.” I saw Bowie well before I properly heard him. He had a double-paged spread in my dog-eared copy of the Billboard Encyclopedia of Rock, from which I memorised every image, every phase of Bowiedom.

I was 13, growing up without a Dad in my daily life and just beginning to understand myself as a sexual person. I don’t know if I knew I was heterosexual at that point because, unlike my gay friends, I’ve never been asked when I realised I was straight. But I knew I wasn’t like the other kids and I knew the version of masculinity I was expected to emulate wasn’t me. I hated organised sports, more for the way they enforced the social pecking order than for my lack of mastery. I hadn’t yet learned to moderate my smart mouth so I was always in trouble with my teacher. I liked Orwell, the poetry of Auden and the plays of Eugene O’Neill. And I loved David Bowie.

Bowie wasn’t mainstream cool then but he wasn’t obscure either so his 70s canon could be bought on vinyl for $3.99 at Tower Records. I bought a stereo at a garage sale for $25 and worked my way through his catalogue in my room, the mismatched eyes on my Thin White Duke poster staring down at me.

Hunky Dory led me to the art of Andy Warhol and the Factory era. Diamond Dogs was the soundtrack to whatever Orwell, Huxley or Anthony Burgess I was reading at the time (many of the songs having been written for Bowie’s ill-fated attempt to stage 1984: The Musical). The Man Who Sold the World gave voice to early teenage alienation, not just for me but I suspect for another kid roughly the same age, also being raised by a single Mom in the Pacific Northwest, who went on to cover it on Nirvana Unplugged.)

Of course I think about it now and cringe. All that angst and self-pity, what was the point? But it was an important part of growing up. 

Southern California in the mid-80s was a sprawl of social conservatism and non-stop Top 40 hits. Thankfully, around the age of 15 I discovered SoCal hardcore punk, but even that was through Bowie via Iggy Pop. (And through my Mom, also an adventurous music lover. I still have her copy of London Calling. Sorry Mom.)

I started going to see bands from LA like the Adolescents, Social Distortion and the Circle Jerks, as well as local heroes the Descendants and touring bands like the Cro Mags and Agnostic Front. I met other kids from all over who were called fags at their schools (because they were gay or just different). I met other kids who were politically engaged. I discovered zines and started my own. My male role models became Jello Biafra (it’s ok to be smart, angry and funny), Ian Mackaye (it’s ok not to follow your peers) and Steve Ignorant Of CRASS who sang sarcastically, “If you want to be a man, you better act like one. Show off your muscles. Use your prick like a gun.”) I shaved the sides of my head and bleached my hair and wore my leather jacket to shows but I could still wear my Bowie t-shirt. Bowie got respect everywhere, even the most unlikely places. As John Lydon said in his memoir (Anger is an Energy):

“Bowie was propagating this man-love imagery, but he was doing it in such a brave way that … football thugs liked the audacity of it, and the toughness, and suddenly outrageous gay people became warriors, respected by hooligans. It’s a good lesson to learn about the way things really work – what you’d think would be exact opposites could sometimes meet at the same place. If you stand up for whatever it is you really believe in, if you really stand up, and be accounted for, people will rate you highly.”

David Bowie heard Little Richard and the voice of God. Keith Morris, the singer of the Circle Jerks, sang “my life was saved by Darby Crash.” Everyone needs someone like that to tell them, as per the refrain from Bowie’s Rock and Roll Suicide, “…you’re not alone.” Kids have the internet now, but we had records, fanzines and all ages shows.

Of course part of becoming an adult is learning not to rely on any group for your identity. I’ve gotten a lot better at it, at just being. That’s why the exhibition title is so right. David Bowie is whatever you want him to be. But he also just is.

When my own children bring home their first boyfriend or girlfriend I’m not likely to ask him or her about their intentions. I won’t play the protective father, thereby denying my girls their sexual agency. I’m much more likely to sit them down and ask, in all seriousness, “So…what do you think of Bowie?”

Plato, Kyrgios, Lance Armstrong and role models

It would be hard to find a category less suited to producing “role models” than the professional sportsperson. Plato thought so too. “Who is to lead us?” is Plato’s central preoccupation in The Republic, and the decathletes and wrestlers of Ancient Greece are never seriously considered.

Plato’s ideal leader was the Philosopher-King, who isn’t ready to lead until age 50, having spent the years to age 18 in basic training (physical and intellectual), followed by two years of military training, then 10 years of mathematics. At age 30, a 15 year apprenticeship follows, at which time the Philosopher-King will be ready to lead the Republic. In contrast, spending all your waking hours perfecting the skill of hitting a ball over a net seems a poor preparation. So why do we expect our sportspeople to be role models?

I started thinking about this on reading Anthony Tan’s consistently excellent column Tan Lines about Tony Martin’s stage four win in the Tour de France, which has been widely described as a “fairy tale” and “emotional”. Tan says it can be awkward for the writer and the subject when sports journalists try to invest the sportsperson with attributes that aren’t there, in order to feed the public’s need for a narrative. Martin has had his ups and downs as a cyclist (not uncommon in professional cycling) and is known for his focus and discipline (also common), but “Professional Cyclist Wins TDF Stage After Trying Really Hard for a Long time,” isn’t the story people want to read.

Lance Armstrong built an empire on our need to believe in fairy tales. He famously stood on the winner’s podium on the Champs Elysee and said he felt sorry for anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles. When Floyd Landis went on 60 Minutes to comprehensively dismantle his former team leader’s myth, he said “Look. At some point, people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real. I hate to be the guy to do it, but it’s just not real.”

Nick Kyrgios is an exciting player to watch. He is young and has years to improve and mature. His on-court antics can be annoying, but whatever. No more so than the young John McEnroe, now an elder-statesmen of the game. It’s ridiculous to expect humility, maturity and calm from a 20-year-old whose every move is being scrutinised, often in slow motion close up, by a televised audience of millions, when his every waking hour has been spent training for this moment. And there’s an extra expectation on non-white athletes that they be non-threatening and self-deprecating. Role model squared.

I think all of this was packed into Dawn Fraser’s short rant. The “go back to where your parents came from” is somewhat ingenious if disingenuous. Forty-eight percent of Australians are immigrants or have a foreign born parent, the third highest in the OECD, which opens up whole new vistas of invective for the home-grown racist. And Dawn Fraser is a former athlete. Her own youthful antics got her banned from international swimming for 10 years. But we forget we were all young once – youth is a foreign country.

Generally speaking, professional road cyclists are a monkish lot who don’t easily conform to role model expectations. Armstrong was different – brash, intelligent, articulate and with a social conscieCoppince – a role model. It was all a lie. Fausto Coppi, Il Campionissimo, five-time winner of the Giro d’Italia and double Tour de France winner in the 1940s and early 50s, was also articulate, well dressed and urbane. He revolutionised the sport of cycling with modern ideas of training, recovery and nutrition (and doping, famously saying if a cyclist didn’t take amphetamines to improve performance, he wasn’t serious). Witty and debonair, with a Milanese cool, he was as often in the social pages as the sports pages.

Gino Bartali was Coppi’s greatest rival, also two-time winner of the Tour de France (he still holds the record for the longest gap between TDF wins – 10 years) and three-time winner of the Giro. From a modest, rural background, simply spoken and deeply religious, he was nicknamed “Gino the Pious,” not always without sarcasm. Bartali came to racing by apprenticing in a bike shop at the age of 13.

Gino_BartaliWhile Coppi is still revered today, Bartali is little talked about. He was, however, briefly in the news in 2013, when he was awarded the “Righteous Among Nations” medal by world holocaust research centre Yad Vashem for his efforts to save Jews during WWII. It emerged in 2010 that Bartali had hidden a Jewish family in his cellar during the war. He had worked for the Italian Resistance, transmitting messages and documents rolled up in his bike frame on long “training rides”. In this manner, he also assisted Italian Jews with false documentation, working with a Jewish group responsible for smuggling an estimated 800 Jews to safety. The Italian secret service and their German allies in Italy considered him untouchable because of his status as a sportsman.

All of this emerged a full 10 years after Bartali’s death in 2000. He was an unassuming man, and difficult to interview. Unlike Coppi, he talked little about his accomplishments and anyone expecting a unifying narrative from him would have come away disappointed. When Bartali was eventually brought before the secret service, he said simply, “I do what I feel in my heart.”

After the war, he resumed training without falsified identity documents hidden in his top tube. He went on to win the Tour de France a second time at the age of 35. He wrote no memoir, told no one about his heroism. No one emulated Bartali – he wasn’t a role model.

To read more about Gino Bartali’s wartime activities: Road To Valor by Aili and Andres McConnon.