Dubbo Centrelink locked down after alleged threats

Wingewarra Street in Dubbo was closed on Friday morning due to an incident at Centrelink. Photo: LOUISE DONGES Wingewarra Street in Dubbo was closed on Friday morning due to an incident at Centrelink. Photo: LOUISE DONGES
Nanjing Night Net

Dubbo Local Area Command acting superintendent Mark Minehan speaks to the media outside Dubbo Police Station. Photo: LOUISE DONGES.

Source: Daily Liberal

Police blocked off a Dubbo Street and placed Dubbo Public School in lockdown after receiving a call about a man who was allegedly verbally threatening staff and telling them he had a gun at Dubbo Centrelink office on Friday morning.

About 9.15am the man entered the Centrelink building on Wingewarra Street, and allegedly became involved in a verbal argument with staff.

Police were called and the building was evacuated. Following negotiations the 28-year-old, who was unarmed, was arrested and taken to Dubbo Police Station where he assisted police with inquiries.

NSW Police have released a statement and held a press conference following an incident at the Dubbo Centrelink office on Friday morning.

A woman who stood just metres from the man responsible for the siege at Dubbo Centrelink yesterday said she never felt threatened by the man’s behaviour.

The woman was on one of the Centrelink phones near the man when he began to get agitated. She said he threw the phone and approached a staff member.

She said he then went and made a barricade for himself out of chairs and signs.

Despite the man’s behaviour, the witness said she was not aware of his claim that he had a gun and said the man actually attempted to convey that he didn’t have a weapon.

“He went off because he wanted an urgent payment and they wouldn’t give it to him. He wanted money for his blood pressure medication. He was on the phones there and they kept asking and asking what he wanted the money for. He threw the phone, got up and stormed over to one of the blokes who walks around and started swearing at him.

“He then went and created a barricade for himself, he was leaving everybody alone.

“He said ‘I can prove I haven’t got a gun. I will empty my backpack but then I would have to effing pick it up’. He went and put chairs up and signs and kept going on about wanting an emergency payment.”

PHOTOS: The Dubbo Centrelink incident as it happened

The woman said she has seen worse behaviour from people on other visits and never felt she was in danger.

“He left everyone there alone to do their business and didn’t go near them. I was on the phone not far from him. They told me to leave but I told them I wasn’t going until I had finished talking to the person on the phone,” she said.

“The only people he said he was going to punch was the staff.

“The cops turned up and said we had to get out and by then I had finished my business so I left.”

Again, the witness said the man made no attempt to stop them leaving.

“Everyone trotted out, he didn’t try to stop anyone. As I left the police were coming around the corner. They wouldn’t let them in until everyone else was out,” she said.

A Tale of Two Cities: The very Dickens of a play

Laura Dawson as Lucie Manette, Daniel Greiss as Charles Darnay and Calen Robinson as Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities. Photo: Lauren SadowA TALE OF TWO CITIES. Adapted by Terence Rattigan and John Gielgud from the novel by Charles Dickens.Directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher. Produced by Queanbeyan City Council. Recommended for patrons 12 and older. The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, February 5 to 15. Tickets $49/$44. Bookings: theq.net.au
Nanjing Night Net

An adaptation of one of the world’s most popular books by two giants of 20th century British theatre is having its Australian premiere in Queanbeyan. It’s being directed by a former Canberran who is working here for the first time in a decade.

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities has sold more than 200 million copies and is often cited as the world’s bestselling novel.

Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who directed the play’s world premiere in Britain in 2011, says the book is no stranger to adaptation.

‘There have been countless film and television adaptations and musicals and now we have this stage adaptation,” he says.

This stage version was written in 1935 by John Gielgud – he was already a well-established classical actor and it was his only play – and Terence Rattigan. It was the latter’s second play; his big successes like The Browning Version and The Winslow Boy were in the future. The play was ready to go into rehearsal when an impassioned plea from the elderly Sir John Martin-Harvey, who for may years toured in his own version of the story titled The Only Way, led to it being shelved.

”It was seen as taking bread from an old man’s mouth,” he says.

The play lay unpublished and unproduced for nearly 80 years until Spreadbury-Maher heard of it and became intrigued at the prospect of a ”new” work from two 20th-century British theatrical giants. He edited the play from four hours to 2½ and reduced the cast from 30 actors to nine; ”There’s doubling, tripling and quadrupling.”

Spreadbury-Maher says that rather than focusing on spectacle, the play’s focus is on the ”human heart” of the story: a love triangle taking place in Paris and London that involves dissolute British barrister Sydney Carton (played by Calen Robinson), former French aristocrat Charles Darnay (Daniel Greiss), who changed his name to protest against his family’s treatment of the poor, and Lucie Manette (Laura Dawson), who is loved by them both, set against the turbulent, treacherous background of the French Revolution.

There’s revolution around in the world as there was in the 18th century and Spreadbury-Maher wants to combine the 18th-century story and setting with a modern, East London aesthetic: antihero Carton is reimagined as a member of the 27 Club, all of whose notional members- including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse – died at age 27.

Spreadbury-Maher, 32, was born in Canberra and studied singing at the ANU School of Music. He was also a performer in plays and musicals with Canberra Rep, Queanbeyan Players and other companies, but his real interest lay off stage.

At the age of 20, he produced a Free-Rain production of To Kill A Mockingbird, directed by Rhys Holden, and at 21 made his directorial debut with the play Beautiful Thing at the Street Theatre with the encouragement of Stephen Pike, now program director at the Q. He received an Australian Critics’ Circle Award and the Canberra Area Theatre Award Gold Cat in 2004.

Buoyed by this success he went to Britain and trained briefly at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama before making made his London directing debut at The White Bear Theatre as the theatre’s associate director, including two world premieres, The Ides of March by Canberra playwright Duncan Ley and Studies for a Portrait by Daniel Reitz. In 2008 he founded the theatre company Good Night Out Presents, which is the parent company of his venues and theatre/opera companies. In January 2009, he founded The Cock Tavern Theatre, becoming its artistic director. Its artistic policy is to stage only world premieres and revivals from world-class playwrights. He has directed revivals by Stephen Fry and Hannie Rayson and produced a retrospective season of work by prolific British playwright Edward Bond.

Also in 2009 he formed OperaUpClose with the aim of bringing opera to a wider audience. Among its productions have been La Boheme, directed by Robin Norton Hale, and a new version of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly retitled Bangkok Butterfly and directed by Spreadbury-Maher.

In 2010, Spreadbury-Maher was associate director on the British premiere of the multi-award winning Holding the Man, adapted by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy from the novel by Timothy Conigrave. The same year, he was awarded the Fringe Report Award 2010 for Best Artistic Director as recognition of the success at the Cock and was appointed artistic director of The King’s Head Theatre.

”I enjoy being part of a big collaborative process,” he says.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

A love of Eliot is for a lifetime

George Eliot’s looks caused her some heartache.THE ROAD TO MIDDLEMARCH. By Rebecca Mead. Text Publishing. 320pp. $32.99.
Nanjing Night Net

George Eliot is the literary equivalent to the Masonic handshake. ”You like George Eliot?” someone will say. ”Then I know who you are,” is the instant thought. It’s a recognition of being in love with the same person.

At 17, Rebecca Mead was given a novel featuring a 19-year-old heroine called Dorothea Brooke. The opening line is: ”Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” Miss Mead (non-fictional), born almost 150 years after Miss Brooke (fictional), and a century after the words were written, immediately needed to know more about the already remarkable Miss Brooke. She read on. In knowing Miss Brooke (Dorothea), Miss Mead (Rebecca) came to know herself. Middlemarch is accompanying her through life.

It’s a glorious thing for a writer to be able to formally acknowledge the love affair – often the deepest love affair of their lives – they have had with the work of another writer and to celebrate the sweet coincidences. The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot details how Middlemarch reflected, sustained, extended and disciplined Rebecca Mead’s life.

British-born Mead is an author and New Yorker journalist. Learned, candid and self-deprecating, she shares with Dorothea Brooke celestial humility and admirable discipline. She also has a useful practical charm – an ordered mind. Figuring a way to contain the complex magnificence of Middlemarch, reveal crucial biographical detail about George Eliot and sustain a delicate autobiographical harmony is a task fit to rattle a field marshal.

Rebecca Mead is steadfast and unrattled.

”I couldn’t believe how relevant and urgent it felt,” she writes about her provincial 17-year-old self in 1985, preparing for university exams, aiming to get into one of the ancient universities in Britain, and reading Middlemarch in the cumbersome Penguin edition, the cover featuring a perplexing picture of a Victorian woman out walking through sylvan countryside.

Victorian? ”The questions with which George Eliot made her characters wrestle would all be mine eventually. How is wisdom to be attained? What are the satisfactions of personal ambition and how might they be weighed against ties and duties to others? What does a good marriage consist of, and what makes a bad one? What do the young owe the old and vice versa? What is the proper foundation of morality?”

The 17-year-old missed many of the questions, but she knew that the point of reading is that even if we don’t think we understand, at some level we do, especially if the source of genius in an author is her acute psychological perception.

Virginia Woolf saw this, observing that Middlemarch is ”one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. Woolf, snobbish and malicious, had reservations about Eliot (”the granddaughter of a carpenter,” she sniffs) but she recognised a genius superior to her own in her 1919 essay, when Eliot’s fame was at its nadir. ”As one comes back to the books after years of absence they pour out, even against our expectation, the same store of energy and heat …” Woolf also saw how loss of faith as a young woman was the source of her moral consciousness. There was, too, the alluring, mysteriously feminine aspect of Eliot that colours everything.

Eliot, when she was plain Mary Ann Evans from the Midlands, brilliant, religious, female and ugly, had a tormented young life. As she lost her faith, her beloved father rejected her and her abject letters to him make painful reading. Mead writes about these years with an unguarded and imaginative intimacy that comes as a shock. Then Eliot fell in love with Herbert Spencer, the greatest thinker of the day, only to be rejected because Spencer found it impossible to fall in love with a plain woman. Ivan Turgenev, on the other hand, said Eliot made him understand how it was possible to fall in love with a woman who wasn’t pretty. Turgenev is still read.

Eliot’s life was one long struggle against convention. The powerful men, and some women of her day, esteemed her radiant mind and clamoured for her friendship, but their ambivalent attitude to her as a female had as much to do with to do with her late blooming as a writer as did her loss of faith.

She was 37 when she began her first fiction, Scenes of Clerical Life, and wrote because she had met the man who gave her the love and affection to ballast her generous soul. Physically, George Henry Lewes might have been as unappealing as she was, but he was the model for the incandescent Will Ladislaw, Dorothea’s destiny after her false start with Casaubon. Ladislaw is the most enchanting incarnation of spring in fiction.

Mead suggests the way you have lived your life has the greatest effect on how you read books. It’s an arresting thought that, in her quiet way, she charts through the revealing (but not too revealing) comments about her emotional and moral progress in parallel with Dorothea’s. Like Dorothea, Mead had yearnings ”common to womanhood” and it is a revelation to see the fictional woman from the past integrate with the contemporary non-fictional woman. Mead’s capacity for directness, shared with Dorothea, brings freshness to her words and her own story is the perfect wire on which to hang talk about the infinite glories of Middlemarch; the tragic Lydgate and the terrible Rosamund, the luminous love between Mary Garth and Fred Vincy, the compassion Eliot has for the wicked Bulstrode and her admiration of his interestingly uninteresting wife.

Mead’s perception of Eliot’s use of childhood landscape – not as a site of sad nostalgia, but as restoration of the emotion intensity of childhood is bracing. In the landscape of our youth, Eliot says, there is nothing important – except that is where we learned to be human. Sensitivity to one’s childhood landscape is a sign of moral maturity.

There are deep – the deepest? – pleasures to be had here. All the devastating nuances of human behaviour in Middlemarch surface again, reminding us that Middlemarch, featuring ”a heroine of the ordinary”, is a step into a greater human consciousness, where sympathy for the human dilemma causes egotism to shrink.

Eliot and Lewes had famous ”Sunday afternoons” at their London house, where invitations were chased by the powerful and prestigious and much of their talk has echoed down the century. Rebecca Mead extends this talk. Perhaps this calm, thrilling book will do for George Eliot what Colin Firth did for Jane Austen.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Things that Whitehall worries over

THE PRIME MINISTER’S IRONING BOARD AND OTHER STATE SECRETS. By Adam MacQueen. Little Brown. 288pp. $32.95.
Nanjing Night Net

Preserving government archives is a highly important, if not always appreciated, public service function. Archives, particularly in a digital environment, are often vulnerable, especially when governments can quickly remove policy documents of their predecessors, or those which conflict with their present views. Services, such as the National Library of Australia’s Pandora web-archive, are thus crucial in this context.

The documents, highlighted by Adam MacQueen in The Prime Minister’s Ironing Board – and other state secrets, True Stories from the Government Archives, were “kept locked away for decades”. A significant number provide evidence that the Official Secrets Act in Britain could be renamed the Official Stupidity Act.

The book’s title stems from Mrs Thatcher’s arrival in 10 Downing Street in 1979. She was appalled at the household expenses, including that £19 had been spent on a new ironing board. Mrs Thatcher wrote on the file, “I have an excellent ironing board which is not in use at home”. She also complained about replacing the crockery and linen used by the previous Prime Minister James Callaghan, “Bearing in mind we only use one bedroom”.

Other details of suppressed costs, which now seem relatively trivial, compared with the recent British expense scandals, were the price of hearing aids for Winston Churchill and the veterinary bills for the apes on the Rock of Gibraltar. In 1971, the Gibraltar apes were again in the spotlight with a project to list the names and ages of all the apes on the rock.

In 1968, Prime Minister Harold Wilson was horrified that almost £1500 had been granted by the Social Sciences Research Council to a Newcastle University psychologist to study the “communication aspects of clothes”, including the length of the mini skirt, in order to assist the British fashion industry. Wilson wrote on the file, “If this is so valuable to these vast industries why do they not pay for it”.

The next year, Wilson was briefed on plans to slash the budget of the SSRC which Labour had only established three years earlier! He approved and, despite having been one of the highest-marked graduates in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford, wrote on the file, “Should we be subsidising economic history?”. Plus ca change in the relationship between politicians, with academic backgrounds, and Research Council grants.

The Royal family often featured in the restricted archives. In the late 1960s fears were expressed that Prince Charles was too much a supporter of Welsh nationalism when a student at Aberystwyth University. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was asked to have “a low-key word” with the Queen’s private secretary. The Queen herself, in the previous decade, had threatened to boycott the Royal Film performance after being underwhelmed by the 1954 choice, Beau Brummell, starring Elizabeth Taylor, but was placated with the choice of a Hitchcock film in 1955.

While most restricted documents seem relatively trivial when read retrospectively, it is clear that the UK archives remain under constant review. Thus, the 1980s correspondence between Jimmy Savile and Margaret Thatcher was suddenly removed, and embargoed for a further 40 years, after the Savile scandal erupted in October 2012.

In early 2014, it was revealed that papers, already restricted for over 50 years, from Lord Denning’s inquiry into Minister for War John Profumo’s 1961 affair with Christine Keeler may still not be released for decades. Professor Peter Hennessy, who has written widely on the inner workings of Whitehall, was recently quoted, in the UK Daily Telegraph, that the Profumo documents were part of the Cabinet Office’s “too hot to handle archive”.

Now that’s one archive worth waiting for.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Inside Trader book review: A life well-lived on the B-list

INSIDE TRADERTrader Faulkner Scribe, 354pp, $35 
Nanjing Night Net

The title was inevitable of course. After auditioning successfully in 1950 for The Lady’s Not for Burning, the young aspirant was asked his name by director John Gielgud. Told ”Ronald Faulkner”, Gielgud replied, ”Ronald! Oh, God! What a dreary name!” and was elated to learn Faulkner’s ”down-under” nickname was Trader.

His autobiography puns on the idea of what goes on inside the author and the kinds of inside information we get about the great and the – well, not necessarily – good.

It’s hard to be sure how many people, in his native Australia at least, will remember who he is. Not that this need matter too much if the story he has to tell is an entertaining one, as he makes his way from a somewhat messy Sydney childhood to the periphery of the great world of international acting media.

He is probably best described as a jobbing actor. He never really came near the top on stage or screen but blessed, as he modestly puts it, with ”good looks and natural charm”, he managed to stay in work fairly steadily (give or take a stint at house-painting) over a surprisingly long time. Theatre was his chief goal from his time with the Independent Theatre in Sydney, under the directorial hand of legendary Doris Fitton, when the call of nature – the bladder to be exact – interfered with his scene as the messenger in Hamlet.

Luck seemed to be heading his way when he replaced Richard Burton in The Lady’s Not for Burning when it went to Broadway, but this glitter was soon dulled back in England.

He landed a couple of insignificant movie roles, one of them indeed with Merle Oberon, whom he dares to describe as ”aloof” when years later she doesn’t remember him at a dinner party given by Larry and Viv (that’s the Oliviers).

Fortunately he’d learnt how to do a posh English accent and radio work kept him solvent. The 1955 season at Stratford, which first brought him in touch with the Oliviers, taught him ”the theatre’s greatest lesson: if you want to succeed, keep your mouth shut and do as you’re told”, but it didn’t bring very rewarding roles.

Yet it is interesting enough to read about an actor who, without ever establishing a recognisable presence across the acting forums, still managed to have a career. The book’s tone is essentially anecdotal and gossipy. It has a cast list that seems almost too starry for the lightweight narrative that is the story of Faulkner’s life: not just those named already but also Paul Scofield, Judith Anderson, Diane Cilento and Marlene Dietrich.

Nearly everyone becomes, and is described as, a ”close friend”.

So there is almost the relief of contrast when he falls out with producer Glen Byam Shaw at Stratford. Or with Michael Denison and Dulcie Gray when he invites them to dinner on his London houseboat, forgets and goes out, and they are quite displeased, as you would be, to have driven from Stratford for the occasion.

He may well now be best remembered for his biography of Peter Finch, whom he had known in Sydney in the 1940s. He had joined acting classes with Finch, who ”widened my artistic horizon, and became a mentor and an elder brother figure”.

I’m not sure that the gifted but not wholly reliable Finch was the best role model for a young man just embarking on life’s journey, but Faulkner repaid his early debts by writing a substantial account of his mentor’s rackety life and glamorous career.

He is less likely to be remembered for his dedicated work in bringing the Spanish playwright Lorca to English audiences, and for his acquired Hispanophile proficiency in dancing the flamenco.

So what sort of man emerges from the 300-odd pages here? His personal relationships – with his alcoholic father who died when Trader was a small boy, his possessive mother, his wife Bobo who divorced him to go off with Harry M. Miller – were probably more complex than his prose is equal to.

His approach seems to be a matter of ”It’s being cheerful keeps me going” and, apart from a few careless errors that could easily have been checked (you won’t find the encomium ”a lass unparalleled” in Twelfth Night), it’s lightly readable as it steers a path between self-deprecation and self-congratulation. On the whole, the latter wins.

Brian McFarlane is Adjunct Professor, Swinburne Institute of Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Needle in the Asian haystack

Wilding’s hero must navigate Kolkata’s chaotic streets.ASIAN DAWN. By Michael Wilding. Arcadia. 226pp. $24.95
Nanjing Night Net

Plant, the astutely named private detective in Michael Wilding’s novels, knows little about Asia and cares less about going there. But in this latest yarn, he shakes off his grass-induced torpor, leaves his Queensland hideaway and, drawn to the offer of paid work and a credit card, takes the case.

The elegant owner of a Gold Coast gallery, Alice Ackerman, wants him to find her husband Alec, who is missing, somewhere in the region. ”Asia. It covered a lot of territory,” Plant reflects.

Trawling for Alec through Bangkok, Kolkata, Manila, Baguio, Singapore, and Pattaya, Plant nets some large, small, and queer fish, some of whom literally make him sick.

All the perfumes of Arabia will not redeem his Kolkata hotel room after one such episode. In his bycatch are bottom-feeding species from academia, publishing, and intelligence. All are served up for satire, as is Plant himself: for in his time he has fought the work ethic, and has said yes to free love, contraception, and drugs.

All these, Plant learns, are now global industries owned by the same names.

Academics, Alice tells him, ”are jealous people. Not a very nice breed at all.” She seems to be right: ”A good lad for someone who wasn’t a footballer,” is the best recommendation an Australian professor has for Plant. Getting his own back, the current breed of academics, Plant alleges, favour baggy clothes, body piercing and androgyny. One of them, Dr Bowles, who has wangled a university job in Bangkok, scores cheap sex by hanging around the brothels until closing time. He is sarcastically called ”Bowels” by Prem, an ex-Colombo Plan student who, having overstayed, knows so much about Australia that he can call it ”the lucky country” and giggle.

Bowles is a spook, according to Professor Ghosh, the missing Alec’s former Sydney colleague, who staggers on with a silver-topped stick, and imperiously orders Plant about. Ganja is no longer available in Kolkata, he declares, just before Plant buys a bagful in the street.

Ghosh delivers long, impassioned, self-interested assertions about all and sundry yet fails to impart the key information he has about where Alec is.

As for publications, Ghosh and Alec have achieved precious little. At Asian Dawn Publishing, their Manila affiliate, the same applies to Johnny the bookseller and Alfredo the writer. One accepts subsidies from the CIA and the other writes propaganda for some mayor. No books are visible. There are, Johnny laments, ”so many fronts and feints and subterfuges in this part of the world”.

Secret agencies threaten people for doing what they are themselves engaged in. Today’s bogey is terrorists, yesterday it was guerillas. General MacArthur in the Philippines, Plant is reminded, had the communists declared illegal after they won seats in the 1950 elections, creating the Hukbalahap rebellion.

When Benigno Aquino flew back to Manila to contest the 1983 elections, at the airport a security man shot him and was then shot too, American style. (Plant’s informants call him ”Nino” instead of Ninoy).

James Bond he is not, nor George Clooney either, but Plant is not always the slouch he appears to be. A master of the one-word sentence and quick repartee, he gives little away. The problem is, neither does anyone else. Even after Plant locates Alec he loses him again not once but twice, and in the end Alec’s death remains unexplained, as do the deaths of Bowles and Starr, the CIA agent.

The name Kolkata dates the story after 2001, but from Plant’s reluctant use of the internet you’d hardly know it. Having no laptop, Plant wonders whether to make a list in his head or commit it to paper which might be found.

Ghosh and Ackerman seem not to have computers and don’t use email. None of them has a mobile phone. Plant hunts for monographs in the library and bookshop, not in the university’s web catalogue, and when trying to find out Starr’s background he doesn’t think of Google or Facebook. Why ever not?

On page one, Plant humbly admits another shortcoming: he’s never been good with strong women. Both Alice and the only other woman in the story, Anna-Imelda, are always either in come-on or dominatrix mode, implying that when they are good they are good for one thing, and when they are not they are horrid.

Both have lived with Alec, but Plant’s one-sentence questioning style elicits nothing about those relationships, let alone why either might want him dead. Both proposition Plant, and the last page leaves it open whether or not he will succumb to Alice’s charms.

So in spite of Wilding’s subtle humour, and his perceptive observation of several Asian societies, the novel remains unconsummated. A sequel will be welcome.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Cooking up a catchphrase

Acting a part: MKR participants don’t want a restaurant, just a TV contract.Well, they’ve all been building, dieting and cooking for at least a week, and what do we have? Nothing new, at all. The grab bag of cliches about putting in 110 per cent, with everything riding on this, and the importance of the journey, are wheeled out before the credits.
Nanjing Night Net

These reality contests are no longer about the grout or the sit-ups. They are auditions for guest spots on The Project. Who will be the breakout star? The Dr Rochford, the Chrissie Swan, the Fitzy of Fitzy and Whipper?

Not so long ago, Australians were uncomfortable and self-conscious speaking to camera. Americans always played bit parts when interviewed: the tough guy, the doorman, the cigarette girl. Movies have told them how to deliver a line, unprompted, for nearly a century. We had no such expectations, so rarely had we seen ourselves on screen doing anything other than play sport.

Now, these obnoxious creatures arrive with fully formed TV personae and speak in sound bites they hope will make the promos. On My Kitchen Rules (Seven, Monday, 7.30pm) couples arrive as the bitchy twins, the country couple, the old fogies, and they act, very badly, their parts. They don’t want a restaurant. They want a TV contract.

As these franchises age, the host/judge/presenters become more accomplished at using the same pauses, brow raises and decrees. Their charges have rehearsed signature tunes, catchphrases and the sort of attention-seeking behaviour we hate in preschoolers. They are almost unbearable to watch.

On The Block (Nine, Monday, 7.30pm), the returned heroes swagger around like Hawkeye Pierce. Battle-hardened and aware of their best angles, they are greedy for the spotlight. So knowing, so smug. These aren’t fourth-time Olympians; they are DIY try-hards, so desperate for a red carpet, they could nearly weave one on a loom. The idiotic challenges Blockheads face are just a trap for new players. Oh, what it must be to confidently gyp-rock on telly. What a triumph.

If the new potential reality stars are misguided in their efforts, they look positively authentic compared with the new poets of advertising. Obviously, the industry is attracting different creatives these days, but who knew the epic poets would all sign up to flog junk.

Co-opting a pop song is one thing, but messing with Walt Whitman via Robin Williams to sell kiddies a jumped-up Game Boy is something else. Yes, that new iPad campaign, featuring the dimly familiar soliloquy from Dead Poets Society, is supposed to make us feel better about playing Candy Crush in the doctor’s waiting room. Shame on you Apple. Steve Jobs would be rolling. I don’t want to seize the day, just the throats of the cynical ad execs.

A cheap, nasty bed company is playing fast and loose with Dr Seuss’ The Sleep Book. These people are appealing to the lyrically tired, with a bit of rubbish poetry and what sounds like a slab of Debussy, to comfort the great unrested. They won’t rest until we are all tucked up in our perfect, cheap, appalling beds.

The girls who sleep in these beds presumably wake up and pen some shocking self-absorbed pap because they have eaten a little tub of yoghurt. The much more likely poem: ”My bitch mother is still asleep and won’t get up to make toast, so I’m stuck with this crap in the fridge” doesn’t make charming copy. So let’s celebrate independent adolescence with some lyric nonsense.

Ads are short. Why don’t copywriters try a haiku if they want to cut through the wall of reality-TV jargon?

Back on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, the trainers on The Biggest Loser (Ten, Sunday, 6.30pm) were trying to shake just the right cocktail of compassion and menace as they forced some very heavy sedentary contestants to climb 10,000 steps. No haikus for these hulks. But the pop psychology and pithy platitudes rolled from their lips as effortlessly as a fat woman down a flight of stairs.

All country folk, none of them stopped to comment or gasp about the annoyingly low pitch line or gradient of those particular stairs. They are disturbingly shallow, for one ascension. After 100 attempts of those stairs, the novelty would wear thin. So much nuance is lost in reality TV, in spite of putting in 110 per cent.

Devil Island

ABC1, Saturday, 6pm

This series about an ambitious plan to reintroduce healthy Tasmanian devils into the wild is a must for kids.

Hello Birdy

ABC1, Saturday, 6.30pm

William McInnes is an unlikely but charming host for this series about Australian birds.

The Broken Shore

ABC1, Sunday, 8.30pm

Don Hany roams thoughtfully through a lot of beautiful wild Victorian countryside. Good looking and the story’s not bad, either.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Unsettling true tale of espionage and heartbreak

UNDERCOVER. By Rob Evans and Paul Lewis. Faber. 352pp. $27.99.
Nanjing Night Net

I once spent two weeks learning how to win the trust of strangers by lying to them. There was a good reason for it. If successful I would be a NSW Police undercover officer, my job to befriend and betray criminals. Trust is a fragile thing. Hard won. Easily lost. It glues relationships, families, societies together. Citizens cede power to government institutions and trust the individuals in them to exercise that power ethically. Undercover details a decades-long betrayal of public trust by a secret British undercover police operation tasked with spying on “domestic subversives”.

Unknown and unaccountable to the wider police force, the SDS – Special Demonstration Squad – was set up in 1968 after police were caught unprepared by Vietnam War protests in London.

Undercover police had been used in short-term operations to arrest criminals but Special Branch Chief Inspector Conrad Dixon proposed a radical innovation, to infiltrate political protest groups with officers using fake identities. They would live undercover for years, they would never give evidence, nor would their information be used in a trial.

The officers called themselves “the hairies,” they spied on groups ranging from anarchists to anti-road campaigners and animal rights activists. Their motto was “by any means necessary” and those means resulted in the systematic targeting of women, not because they were particularly active or radical but because they made the officers’ cover story more authentic.

In one case a woman was shattered by the disappearance of her partner of seven years, only to be further traumatised years later when she discovered he’d been a police spy. As the undercover officers’ exit stories usually involved claims of a mental breakdown followed by a disappearance many women were distraught, imagining their partner had killed himself.

Most troubling of all are the cases of children born to fathers who, at the completion of their mission, abandoned women and children with no emotional or financial support or way of tracking his real identity.

It’s therefore fitting that the operation was uncovered when one woman set out to find her partner, Mark Stone, only to discover that he didn’t exist, and his name belonged to a dead child. When Stone was found and confronted he confessed his real name was Mark Kennedy and he was a policeman. The 42-year secret operation was exposed.

The story of Kennedy’s exposure spread online, leading Guardian journalists Rob Evans and Paul Lewis to the story; the result is Undercover. They reveal the undercover officer who withheld information that led to the wrongful conviction of a group of activists and another who helped write the famous McLibel leaflet, which left his lover fighting in court for years.

The operation’s purpose was to gather intelligence but when a small London activist group’s membership consisted primarily of Special Branch, MI5 and corporate undercover spies it feels more like an Ealing comedy than Spooks.

The saddest revelation of all comes towards the end of Undercover, with the discovery that the campaign for justice for the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence was targeted in order to find something – anything – that would damage its credibility. Forty-two years after the SDS began in response to police embarrassment over protests in London, the power of the institution was harnessed, not to try to discover who murdered a teenage boy, but to try to deflect criticism over their botched investigation of the murder.

So far, Evans and Lewis have identified 10 ex-covert officers. Another 12 are known and it is calculated that from 1968 to the present, 100 to 150 officers have been active.

Eight women whose lovers were spying on them on behalf of the state are taking legal action.

Undercover is powerful proof of the crucial role of investigative journalism in exposing secrets and holding governments and their institutions to account. By way of contrast, there are currently 14 government inquiries into the scandal – none of them public.

P.M.Newton’s novel Beams Falling will be published this month.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Thrills, chills aplenty this summer

Katherine Howell, former paramedic turned award-winning creator of Ella Marconi. Photo: Marco Del GrandeSunscreen, fly repellent and a good crime novel are all essential requirements for a holiday at the coast or for just lazing around the backyard. Every summer there is a flood of light, criminal fiction and this year is no different with plenty of action, suspense and mystery on offer. This summer it is particularly pleasing to see a strong contingent of Australian crime novels.
Nanjing Night Net

Leading the way is Peter Corris’ 39th novel about Sydney private eye Cliff Hardy, Silent Kill (Allen & Unwin, $29.99). Hardy is hired to bodyguard a charismatic populist, Rory O’Hara, on a tour of regional Australia, but things quickly fall apart following a kidnapping and murder. Hired to investigate the murder, Hardy finds that there are powerful political and commercial forces that want O’Hara kept quiet for good. This is a professional and entertaining story that quickly gathers interest as Corris takes the reader on an enjoyable journey through the backstreets of Sydney and on a road trip to Wollongong and Darwin and eventually to Canberra, which gets a quick serve from Hardy: ”I wouldn’t say Canberra’s an advertisement for creativity and productivity.” The pacing is brisk and Corris smoothly mixes astute political observations with genuine thrills. The story is engaging and the book builds to a taut, exciting climax. One of the best in this long-running series.

The pacing is more subdued in Stephen Orr’s dark, literary crime novel One Boy Missing (Text, $29.99). Set in a small rural town it is an eloquently written story about a missing child, dark crimes and the chance of redemption. Powerful and thought-provoking.

Lighter reading fare is provided by Kathryn Ledson’s Monkey Business (Penguin, $29.99). This is the second in Ledson’s series about part-time Melbourne vigilante Erica Jewell and once more features a fast moving plot, engaging characters and a large dollop of romantic suspense. Easy reading for the beach or pool.

Later in the summer, readers can also look forward to the latest book by Katherine Howell in her series about Sydney Detective Ella Marconi, Deserving Death (Macmillan, $29.99), and Tony Cavanagh’s third novel, The Train Rider (Hachette, $29.99), about ex-homicide detective Darian Richards, who is once more chasing serial killers in Queensland.

Serial killers also dominate the summer reading from overseas. Patricia Cornwell provides yet another blood-soaked tale featuring Kay Scarpetta, Dust (Little Brown, $39.99), in which the chief medical adviser hunts a brutal killer against the backdrop of designer drugs and high level corruption.

Newcomer James Carol makes a solid entry into the serial killer stakes with his first novel, Broken Dolls (Faber, $19.99). The son of an infamous serial killer, former FBI profiler Jefferson Winter now works as a consultant to police forces around the world. Hired by Scotland Yard, he finds himself in London chasing a psychopath who likes abducting and lobotomising young women. A grisly read.

Brian McGilloway also takes the reader down some dark paths with Hurt (Corsair, $29.99). Set in the darkly realised Irish town of Derry, it follows the police investigation into the murder of a teenage girl and a possible paedophile ring. Packed with convincing characters and grittily described locations, it is a tense and suspenseful chiller that confirms McGilloway’s status as one of the best new British crime writers.

Admirers of good British crime fiction can look forward to the imminent release of Peter May’s Entry Island, (Quercus, $29.99). Following the success of his recent trilogy set on the Scottish Isle of Lewis, May moves the action in his latest book to the small and remote Entry Island in the Gulf of St Lawrence in Canada. A murder seems to have its origins in the dark history of the island and the forced clearances of the Scottish Outer Hebrides 200 years ago. Well written with vivid descriptions and a strong sense of history, this is superior crime fiction.

For those who prefer dark, suburban thrillers with unreliable narrators and old secrets, there are good examples from both sides of the Atlantic. During the past seven years, or so, Lisa Unger has steadily established herself as a rising star of the American thriller scene and In The Blood, (Simon & Schuster, $29.99) is probably her best novel to date. Lana Granger is trying to escape her past in a quiet college town in upstate New York. When a fellow student goes missing, Lana finds her past and her relationship with a troubled young boy under close examination as her careful web of lies unravels. This is a clever and tricky thriller that reveals its many surprises with clockwork precision. The story moves at a good pace and the suspense steadily but quickly mounts. Some matters are predictable, but the final twists will catch you out. Highly recommended.

Also quite good is Lucie Whitehouse’s Before We Met, (Bloomsbury, $27.99), due out this month. This domestic gothic thriller traverses similar territory to recent releases by Sophie Hannah and Sabine Durrant. After a whirlwind romance Hannah Reilly is settled in London with her wealthy new husband Mark. It seems perfect until Mark does not return from a business trip to America. Hannah makes a few simple inquiries and … he’s been lying. The more she digs the greater the deception appears and soon Hannah begins to fear for her life.

Whitehouse is good at gradually building the suspense and adding twist upon twist. The pace meanders at times, but overall this a solid psychological thriller with an engaging, if unstable, narrator.

There is also the customary selection of bulky thrillers about tough secret agents, grand conspiracies and international skulduggery.

Robert Ludlum contributes his usual fast-paced feast of action from beyond the grave, The Bourne Retribution (Orion, $32.99), with Eric Van Lustbader completing another entry in the Jason Bourne series for the long-deceased Ludlum.

Dean Crawford provides wild action with a science fiction tinge in The Eternity Project, (Simon & Schuster, $24.99), but the pick of the thrillers is John Lawton’s Then We Take Berlin, (Grove Press, $29.99). Moving seamlessly back and forth between 1963 and the 1940s, the story focuses on former MI6 agent and black market ring leader in occupied Berlin, John Holderness. Retired from the service and his thieving days, Holderness is enticed back into work by an old colleague who wants him to do one last scam and smuggle someone across the Berlin Wall on the eve of President Kennedy’s visit to the city.

This meticulously researched and richly detailed historical thriller is a gripping story of espionage and war and people caught up in the unfolding of dramatic events. As with his series about Inspector Troy, Lawton marvellously captures the atmosphere of the post-World War II period and the story rattles along at a good pace keeping the reader entertained from beginning to end.

Finally, for those who enjoy quirky crime novels there is Shane Kuhn’s appealingly titled Kill Your Boss, (Sphere, $29.99). John Lago works for Human Resources, Inc, a company which specialises in providing assassins disguised as interns. These rogue interns are infiltrated into companies where they get close to the selected target and kill them. As Lago notes early on: ”Interns are invisible. Ultimately, your target will trust you with his life and that is when you will take it.” At 25, Lago is becoming too old to be an intern and is about to perform his last job for the company, but he suspects that he will not be allowed to retire peacefully and sets out to ensure his survival.

Kill Your Boss is a highly entertaining thriller that mixes graphic violence and action with amusing asides and some very dark humour. The plot frequently veers out of control, and the cartoon nature of the violence could have been usefully toned down, but overall it is a memorable and thrilling tale. In all, enough good reading to last through the summer holidays.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

When baby brings the blues

Bumpy ride: Low moods in pregnancy can come from a lack of sleep or hormone changes. Photo: iStock’It is believed that at the baby’s birth a ‘guilt chip’ is inserted into every mother.” This is a quote from a new book about dealing with the depression that can affect one in 10 women either during pregnancy or after the birth of their child. It’s a line that’s funny enough to raise a smile – unless you’re a woman with postnatal depression (PND) who’s afraid her depressive symptoms have harmed her baby.
Nanjing Night Net

Mothers can feel guilt for lots of reasons but for a woman with PND it often comes from a fear that her depression will break the mother-baby bond, causing psychological damage to her child as a result, says psychiatrist Gordon Parker, Scientia Professor of Psychiatry at the University of NSW. He is one of the authors of Overcoming the Baby Blues, a new book about coping with depression in pregnancy or after giving birth.

This guilt, along with the stigma that still clings to mental illness, can discourage many women from getting the help they need to get well, he says.

“But even if a mother has depression for the first few weeks or months after the birth, once she’s recovered the bond can be restored,” he says. “What stops some women from getting treatment is the fear of having the baby taken away if there are doubts about her ability to cope. Yet it’s only in extreme cases of mental illness that government services are likely to be called in and while this intervention is rare, it’s generally supportive.”

PND often comes as a complete surprise, affecting women who’ve had no problems with depression before.

“It seems to come out of nowhere but when you take a history you often find that someone in the family had a problem with depression so there’s often a genetic predisposition that loads the gun while hormonal changes in pregnancy fire the bullet,” Parker says.

Along with genes, other risk factors include hormonal influences including a thyroid imbalance or being prone to PMS, having a traumatic delivery or a caesarean and extreme fatigue or insomnia after the birth.

Women who tend to be perfectionist or anxious can also become depressed if life with a new baby feels out of control, he says.

As for women who have experienced depressive episodes before they become pregnant, in Parker’s experience they often manage to get through pregnancy without medication – although they’re still at risk of developing PND.

“Women often say, ‘I’m thinking of getting pregnant – should I stop taking medication?’ If they have serious and difficult to treat depressive episodes I’d advise them to stay on it. But with milder depression, my approach is to taper off their medication and only reintroduce an anti-depressant if depression re-emerges,” he says.

That’s not to say that pregnancy guarantees a good mood that lasts for nine months. Many normal aspects of pregnancy can make women feel down such as lack of sleep, feeling fatigued and trying to adjust to a changing body.

“Women often sleep poorly during pregnancy not because they’re depressed but because they’re pregnant and poor sleep can lead to depression-like symptoms or increased levels of body chemicals that can cause these symptoms,” he says. “So when symptoms of low mood appear in pregnancy it’s important to talk to your doctor to find out what’s going on. Is it depression, the pregnancy itself or just disturbed sleep?”

Overcoming Baby Blues by Professor Gordon Parker, Kerrie Eyers and Professor Philip Boyce, Allen & Unwin, $27.99

For help, contact beyondblue on 1300224636.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.