Sweetness & Light

My Driving Ambition

vanWho on earth is responsible for this? What agency or individual caused me to become a journalist in the first place? Who is to blame?

Actually, when you think about it, there is quite a lot of fault to spread around. A supportive and encouraging family, for one. Various friends must accept their share of responsibility, too. As must all the writers and journalists whose work I so admired and wished to follow. All of them, in part, deserve to own their portion of guilt.

But mostly I blame Christos Tsiolkas.

If Tsiolkas, later to become the justly-acclaimed author of Loaded and The Slap, had obtained his driver’s licence like any other normal twenty-two-year-old, maybe none of this ever would have happened.

It’s a long and twisted story, people, involving all manner of deception, intrigue, ambition, lust, rural Victorian printing presses and a government-owned eight-seater Toyota van. In that sense, I suppose, it is much like the plotline of every second Quentin Tarantino movie. Put on your shoulder pads and get to work with the hair gel, everybody, and let’s revisit the mid-1980s.

At the time I was desperately trying to find work in a newspaper—any newspaper. Problem was, I had no university degree and had never been published anywhere, so I had no clips to show prospective employers. The Melbourne Age flatly refused an interview due to my lack of academic qualifications. The Herald and Weekly Times, producing the morning Sun and afternoon Herald—then Melbourne’s best newspaper—always had a hiring freeze in place whenever I’d phone or write. Even the lower-market Sunday titles, the Observer and Sunday Press, showed no interest.

So I kicked around in factory jobs, building engines at Toyota’s Altona factory, packing clothes in Collingwood warehouses, shifting freight in North Melbourne, painting houses in Carlton and doing whatever else I could to pay the rent. Then I fell in with a friendly crowd enrolled at Melbourne University.

What a revelation that joint turned out to be. Soon I was hanging around there whenever I was out of work, which was frequently. Parties! Drinking! Girls! One unexpected benefit of all my factory jobs was that, for the first and briefest time of my life, I possessed something that might meet the definition of a physique. This gave me—how to put it?—a market advantage over the weedy rich kids who formed the bulk of Melbourne Uni’s male population. One of them was dumped by his girlfriend because he was, in her memorable phrase, “scrawny and flabby at the same time”.

Then one day a bunch of these friends won a campus election to edit the Melbourne University newspaper Farrago.

That night’s celebration was enjoyably raucous, until a terrible realisation set in. Nobody among the seven or so members of the editorial team held a licence, and therefore not one of them could drive the university minivan to Shepparton, in Victoria’s north-east, where Farrago was printed.

An idea struck.

“I’ll drive the van,” I told editor Christos. “I’ll load it with all of Farrago’s printing plates, drive out to Shepparton, wait until the papers are printed, then haul them all back to the university.” Christos immediately accepted, and was trying to work out how much to pay me when I told him I’d do it for free—in exchange for space in Farrago. I wanted to be published.

Again, he accepted. And he was true to his word, running various pieces by me throughout the year. None of them were any good, of course, but those editors had stunning layout and design abilities, so at least they looked good. And finally I had some clips. They helped get me through the door of the old Truth newspaper in West Melbourne, where the editor flipped through them during my copyboy interview.

“You’re twenty-three. You’d be a pretty old copyboy,” he said at one point.

“Yes,” I admitted, “but would anyone care about that when I’m thirty-five?”

He laughed, and I was hired. As I left the office, the editor said: “It’ll be interesting having a Melbourne University graduate on staff.”

I hadn’t even thought of that, and hadn’t claimed such a plainly fraudulent qualification in my application letter. Based on clips from Farrago, the fellow had convinced himself I’d graduated from a university I’d only driven a bus for. The weird thing was, when I told several friends about my new job, many of them also believed I was or had been a legitimate Melbourne University student.

“You had the exact same books as my second-year literature course,” one said. This was purely coincidental. I read a lot. “You played for the university cricket team,” said another. Yes, I did, but only at the very lowest and least able level. “Your girlfriends all went to the university,” pointed out yet another. Guilty as charged, but they’d grown weary of the scrawny-and-flabby demographic. “Geoffrey Blainey said hello when we walked past him in the street,” said one mystified mate. Possibly the then-dean of the university’s arts faculty simply recognised a future fellow conservative.

With no intent at all, and with absolutely no plan to do so, just by being on campus a lot—I even appeared in a play, for the love of God—I’d somehow given quite a few people the impression I was some kind of fancy university type. And it got me my first real job.

I’d advise today’s young folk to do the same thing, except these days a university degree (or even the suggestion of a degree) isn’t valued particularly highly throughout the profit-making, non-government-funded media sector. This changed circumstance might result in some fascinating job interviews. “Please, don’t judge me,” a candidate might plead. “I only wrote for the campus newspaper. I never enrolled. Please give me a chance.”

But now let’s get back to blaming Christos Tsiolkas. It’s all his fault. I was just a driver.


I DON’T know about you, but I’m getting just a little bit tired of all these jokes about electric cars, Adelaide power outages and other important ecological issues.

These so-called “jokes” are nothing but cynical distractions from the crucial need to replace Australia’s ageing coal-based power system with an earth-friendly electricity supply structure dominated by sustainable renewables.

For example, here is one I made up just the other day:

Q: What is the definition of an optimist?

A: A Tesla owner in South Australia.

See? It’s cruel, it’s unfair and it’s insensitive to the planet. Also, according to a documentary I recently saw, it’s wrong. Electric cars are the future, and history will prove the likes of me completely incorrect.

“The dream of more convenient motoring is the dream of every car owner,” the documentary begins, as a snappy little coupe rolls into view. “The Comuta, Ford’s prototype electrical runabout, could well be one of the answers to that dream.

“In a few years, there’s the strong prospect of seeing millions of them on the road. It’s just as likely you’ll own one like this or one of several others which are being developed.

“Electric cars are easy to drive, only two pedals, and even more important they’re quiet and inexpensive to run. Refuelling means plugging into a handy electric socket to recharge batteries. There’s certainly a future for this sort of transport.”

Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel happens to agree, telling Fairfax Media in early February: “Volume will go up, prices will go down, electric cars will therefore inevitably be better vehicles with longer range, lower prices and more accessible to Australians.”

“There is something magical” about electric cars, Finkel continued, claiming Teslas and the like offer a “more enjoyable driving experience”. But let’s return to the documentary, where Alastair Carter, chief of Carter Engineering and the man responsible for the revolutionary Carter Coaster, is being hailed for his visionary design.

His Coaster, the narrator explains, “incorporates a complete breakthrough in electric motors. It works fine.” Furthermore, “Mr Carter says that within five years, he expects to see about a quarter of a million [of his cars] on Britain’s roads.”

It all sounds very compelling. “Over at the British Motor Corporation’s Longbridge headquarters, they don’t intend to be left behind,” the documentary concludes. “In conjunction with a battery firm, it’s planned to build an electric town car within two years. Britain is way ahead of the world with its plug-in car projects.”

Australia had better get with the program or we will be left behind with our outdated fleet of fossil-powered, earth-wrecking petrol vehicles. When even the British are outpacing us technologically, it’s time to …

… oh, wait a second. I just checked the date on that documentary. It’s a Pathe newsreel from 1967. More than fifty years ago.

So far as I can tell, only one Carter Coaster was ever made. Of the two Ford Comutas built, one now lives at London’s Science Museum. The other might be a boat anchor.

Don’t mind me. Carry on.

7 thoughts on “My Driving Ambition

  • johanna says:

    I very much enjoyed Tim’s story about taking the plates (it was artwork and bromides in my time) to the printer in the wee small hours and hanging around for the first copies to come out. In those days, it was high-tech. Those monstrous printing machines were something to behold.

    As for his other point, nowadays being a graduate has very little cachet. But, in the time he is talking about, only people who could read and write and spell were allowed to go to university. So the misunderstanding at the time makes sense. Since Tim could read and write and spell – natch!

    For all his faults, Jack Waterford as Editor and in other roles at the Canberra Times had the right attitude. When hiring, he didn’t care if your degree was in English or palaeontology, or if you didn’t have a degree at all. The question was, could you write, did you have the curiosity and tenacity to be a good journalist.

    Tim would have made it anyhow. Talent and hard work will out.

  • Tricone says:

    Percentage of electric cars (including hybrid) in all registered cars in UK : 0.03%
    That’s the latest. 10,000 out of 31.7 million.

    The media has been telling us they’re just around the corner for decades.

    I have nothing against these vehicles. I’ve driven some and they’re OK.
    But they’re not necessarily the future, or perhaps, like fifty years ago they’re always the future.

    The technology is not even keeping pace with internal combustion engine improvements.

    I always say to enthusiasts that if they really want alternative energy sources, then let the best ones emerge in a free market.

    Government interference in markets with subsidies on electric cars and taxes on other types, is stifling diversity and innovation.

    It shackles us to the government-picked winners.

    • ianl says:

      > “It shackles us to the government-picked winners”

      It’s meant to. Nanny knows best, the lumpenproles only need do what they’re told.

      This has really picked up pace since Waffle sneaked in.

  • Jody says:

    Just as long as they don’t ban diesel cars in the next decade I don’t care.

    Elon Musk is a ruthless and clever businessman who is able to convince governments to give him HUGE amounts of money, mostly from the Left. With that cash he on-loans it at high interest rates, thereby making lots of money without having to do anything. While there are useful idiots and dupes with cash there will always be a Musk with a grand plan. Richard Branson minus his own cash!!

  • ianl says:

    Sorry Jody but diesels are being banned now in cities and other congested areas in the EU, UK now. This is despite a loud Govt campaign to promote diesels as environmentally responsible which then did a complete 180 when the issue of dealing with NOx and SOx exhaust wastes was highlighted by VW and other manufacturers gaming the system.

    The system was gamed but it was originally designed by non-STEM vacuous, vain dillyheads in various parasitical Govt quandos. These people are scientifically, engineeringly and mathematically illiterate but purport to know best anyway. The then UK “Chief Scientist” was the MSM frontman for this propaganda. When it collapsed, leaving millions of people whacked way out-of-pocket with vehicles they weren’t allowed to use and couldn’t on-sell, he burped “Oops !” and then slunk off with his pension/payout.

    Finkel, Aus engineering oracle because Waffle says so, has promoted a $120k Tesla as just the thing (for that money, I prefer a Porsche Cayman) and EV’s as just the thing. This is in a country so geographically vast that commercial jetliners take 6 hours to traverse it. Then we have a NSW Govt Minister opining in public that STEM is over-rated.

    The future belongs to China. Even the near future.

  • Tricone says:

    Modern stupidity is neatly encapsulated by the dimwits who want more electric everything but are blowing up power stations and destroying grid reliability.

    Trucks and shipping will run on diesel for many decades to come. Diesel cars are a recent phenomenon, pushed by governments because of lower total CO2 emissions.

    And so will all those “media invisible” emergency generators that so many are buying (and wind farms use to keep the blades turning)

    It would also be nice to see renewables operators subject to the same scrutiny as VW when it comes to claims about their output.

  • terenc5 says:


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