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.