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May 20th 2017 print

Roger Franklin

An Autoerotic Exercise in Aboriginal Art

Surprisingly, two companies are competing to take on the burden of restoring Fairfax Media to good health, with one declaring it will eschew board supervision and leave inmates in charge of the publisher's newsroom asylums. The Age demonstrates why that would be the height of folly

rennie rooIn Melbourne on Friday, a representative of one of the two companies vying to take control of Fairfax Media assured a Senate panel that journalists would suffer no editorial meddling by the board should his outfit’s bid carry the day. The Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence, as accepted by TPG’s head of Australia-New Zealand operations Joel Thickins, is a sacred document that allows the Age, SMH and other publications to fully and faithfully reflect the communities they serve.

Look at today’s Age, most particularly the dribble of adoring inanity with which it anoints Aboriginal artist Reko Rennie, and the immediate suspicion is that TPG’s appraisers have never opened a single recent copy of the papers they are so eager to purchase.

Either that or Mr Thickins is lying, which is to be hoped.

Any new owner eager to indulge and endorse an unsupervised newsroom’s mindless parroting of fashionable memes at the expense of actual news might just as well flush its billions down the toilet – an act that, while expensive, would confer the distinct advantage of not being forced to endure the grandstanding of Senator Nick Xenophon, always ready to pose for his next media closeup.

Indeed, the fact that Mr Thickins was obliged to perform before a Senate committee investigating the future of the media should give him pause in itself. There he was, the representative of a company prepared to take charge of an addled and ailing publisher, only to find himself ordered to appear for a grilling by a committee whose questions reeked of suspicion in regard to his outfit’s ethics and intentions. Foreign investors, take note: if you wish to put money into this country, brace for the attentions of those who have seldom if ever worked a productive, for-profit day in their entire lives.

The pity is that Mr Thickins’ appearance came before today’s publication of the Rennie profile. Had he said his piece on Monday, and if he had spent a few minutes with the Age over the weekend, he could have pointed to the story as, first, a case study in the social-justice sermonising that has driven away sane and normal readers and, second, an example of that blinkered Fairfax perspective which so often sees the real and far more interesting story go ignored and unreported.

Briefly, Mr Renko is feted for acquiring a 1971 Rolls Royce, daubing it with “Indigenous” motifs of his own invention and then, as the article puts it, “thrashing” the vehicle in high-speed circles through the red dust of his ancestors’ tribal  homelands.

By the reckoning of the article’s author,  Age Arts editrix Ms Debbie Cuthbertson, this exercise in automotive onanism evokes the traditional art of the Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay tribe, whose members would amuse themselves before white settlement by sketching circular patterns in the dirt with sticks and other sharp bits of wotnot. As Ms Cutbertson explains it (emphasis added)

“The Rolls and the road trip were part of an artwork by Rennie that tells the story of many Indigenous families during a sad chapter of Australian history. For Rennie, it’s a story that’s heartbreakingly close to home.”

Yes, abusing a lovely old car is “an artwork”.

renk in car IIWhy a Rolls Royce? That is Mr Rennie’s (at left in his vehicle) aesthetic commentary on colonialism, apparently, with dispossession, poisoned waterholes and diseased blankets no doubt also figuring in the inspiration for his mobile “installation”. But let him explain how his gold Roller prompted the sort of deep thoughts only a taxpayer-funded artist can afford to have…

“…about my personal family history. The Rolls always stuck in my head. What if I could use a Rolls-Royce for an art project and also make a statement about the past and present and future, and reclaiming this symbol?”

That, in a nutshell, is the theme of the story the Age has chosen to cover with such gusto, pulling out all production stops to feature on its website gee-whiz graphics, scroll-over audio, even aerial footage of the hooning Mr Rennie emulating his forebears’ recreation, not with sticks and spear points but 265×540 radials.

The few, the very few, Melbournians who still buy the Age will accept that punting a Rolls Royce through endless donuts in the dirt represents the “reclaiming” of Aboriginality. They will accept it because, if they are still subscribing, they have demonstrated an appetite to swallow any and all piffle, no matter how ridiculous. Others might be more curious about this victim of relentless racial and cultural oppression and how he scraped together the funds to purchase such an automobile, given that the particular model sells for anywhere between $20,000 and $50,000?

That’s the real story, the one going unreported, because – Surprise! Surprise! – a very generous slice of Mr Rennie’s income over the past few years has been extracted from the pockets of people who get up every morning, go to work and pay  taxes which the Australia Council is always keen to lavish on its favourites.

Below, lifted from the Australia Council website, is a record of how much the public purse has underwritten Mr Rennie and his tormented Goodyears. The total comes to an immodest $141,000. And no, the $100,000 grant atop the list is not a typo.

renie grants
Now that would have made for an interesting story: how the Australia Council operates, who gives what to whom and what value any of that funding contributes to the promotion of worthwhile artistic expression and, with it, the public good? The topics of Indigenous victimology and, to be blunt, artistic self-pleasuring would also be worth investigating.

A story along those lines, while certain to raise hackles in the Fairfax newsrooms’ politically correct monoculture, would elicit more interest amongst readers and potential readers than a grant-fed trougher’s wankery in his golden transport of delight. Sadly, Fairfax no longer has editors able to see the world through anything but a very green left eye.

If Mr Thickins is serious about allowing inmates to continue running the Fairfax funhouse minus adult supervision, then take it as a given there can be no genuine intention to guide the company’s publications from the vales of vacuity to which previous boards and the Charter of Editorial Independence have consigned it.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. When he thinks art, it is Rembrandt rather than Rollers which comes to mind.

Comments [12]

  1. Warty says:

    I must say, I’m appalled by Mr Franklin’s article.
    The article in the Age he so gleefully insults is designed to give its readers a unique perspective on an equally extraordinary piece of ‘mobile’ art work. I am not personally Aboriginal, but I know this much: one needs to be Aboriginal to criticise such a piece of artwork, and one needs to be an active reader of the Age in order to criticise any article at all in the said illustrious publication.
    Now, I cannot speak for Aboriginals, as I say, because I am not an Aborginal, so I need to emphatically point out that I am not. We need to be quite clear on this issue. But if I were Aboriginal, which as I say I am not, I would sit at the very centre of one of the aforementioned 265×540 radial donuts and contemplate their significance before commenting. This would (I obliquely believe) involve the odd ceremony or two, smoking for instance, and yes a bit of marijuana too, though that’s not what I meant (and you know it) and maybe a bit of a shuffling dance with some spear throwing feints to ward off that which I’m not allowed to mention.
    Having done all of that I’d know the real significance of it all, and would not poke fun at something sacred, even if I’ve simply conjured it up out my bong.I hope we are now clear on this issue.

    • Michael Galak says:

      The Age, like La Peau de chagrin from the renown story by Honore de Balzac, is shrinking. So does its readership.
      Still, this, once great, newspaper persists in following the editorial and ideological course, which led it to this state of affairs in the first place.

  2. Keith Kennelly says:

    Ahhh fair dinkim Aussie art at its best.

    Where are Malcolm’s people to cut this waste?

  3. Keith Kennelly says:

    Oops watch out here comes Triggs and the thought police to tell us we can’t call anything indigenous fair.

  4. GerardB says:

    What Mr Thickens should do if TPG ever takes over Fairfax is to auction off the “Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence” and see how much it is really worth.

  5. Bill Martin says:

    The expressions “Aboriginal culture” and “Aboriginal art” never fails to invoke the questions in the mind of this “white-privileged, colonialist, racist, bigoted” ignoramus: “what Aboriginal culture” and “what Aboriginal art”? Can the state of a people be termed cultured when it lacks even the concept of literacy and numeracy; when it failed to develop any sort of construction or transportation; when instead of any permanent records of its history it passed down fairy tales from generation to generation with even many current descendents imagining that all the stories remained unaltered in the process? There were no known colonial “oppressors” or any other external factors for 40-50 millennia to hinder cultural and artistic development yet it almost completely failed to materialise to any appreciable degree. There is no need to include the many horrible aspects of Aboriginal customs which are forbidden to even mention in order to arrive at the conclusion that their ways were extremely crude and primitive, indicative of a lack of ambition and imagination. Educated Aborigines must be well aware of all this, unless suffering from serious intellectual dissonance.

    • [email protected] says:

      So what is meant these days by ‘Indigenous culture’ ? Dances ? Paintings ? A bit of Dreaming-story-telling ? For god’s sake, any culture, including traditional Aboriginal culture, is vastly more than this, these are just the hand-me-down fripperies. Any ‘culture’ has a pervasive cosmology, how people see the world and their place in it, and the multitudes of traditional cultures here worked with cosmologies that were radically, drastically different from European cosmologies. As well, of course people spoke hundreds of languages, each oriented towards their particular environment, social relations and underlying cosmology, languages containing thousands of words which many of the Indigenous ‘experts’ these days would be blissfully unaware of, which have been put on the back-burner out of disuse 100-150 years ago. Any ‘culture’ is a complete package, one autonomous from and oblivious of the outside world, not some sort of Lucky Dip.

    • innocuous says:

      It is no surprise that Aboriginal Society did not ‘progress’, enduring 40 to 50 thousand years with no discernible progress. They were captives of their environment, a harsh but generally survivable place with no significant drivers for change and none of the necessary tools. They had no native species capable of domestication and no crop-able grass species among other things necessary for the kind of progress we recognize. The Aboriginal cultures should be seen for what they are an extraordinary window into the past. Imagine being catapulted 50,000 years into the future, how would you cope with that I wonder?

  6. Salome says:

    Speaking of autoeroticism, some years ago the late Tuesday evening time slot on the ABC was the arty-farty slot, and there were some real doozies. One I distinctly remember was of a young woman who had received a taxpayer funded grant to pursue a film project exploring how the human face looked during orgasm. The result seemed to be a documentary about the making of the project, which went like this: the ‘artist’ invited people to submit videos of their faces while they were autoeroticizing themselves. Some of them even got to talk about the experience. Yup, your taxes at work! Mine, too. A bunch of wxxxxxs get their 3 minutes or so of fame.

    • Warty says:

      I don’t know if you bought a copy, but Roger Franklin wrote an article for that book Tony Abbot launched (‘Making Australian Right’) in which he vents his spleen in no uncertain terms. What he comments on is even more debased than the documentary you’ve mentioned.

      • padraic says:

        Most artists of all backgrounds have a Taurean inner self which usually expresses itself in their work. It’s nice to see it has become “inclusive”.