The Festival Hall Organ

Today’s Guest Author is the wonderful Gorgeous Dunny. Thank you so much for honouring The Pub again, GD!

[Recently I was asked to relate some of my political experiences, having worked and lived through the times of our more charismatic leaders of the 1960s and 1970s, Don Dunstan, Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke. They transformed Australia’s outlook on things from a colonial outpost in the British Empire, to a broader view of the world and our role in it. In a current age where we’ve allowed parochialism, paranoia and selfishness to dominate the way we are governed, it may help to know that once we were led by vision and hope.]

This is the story of the purchase of Adelaide Festival Hall Organ and how a major philistine bunfight was avoided in doing so. The story involves two States and two major cultural buildings in their capital cities: the Sydney Opera House and the Adelaide Festival Centre. Firstly, it should be acknowledged that they are not strictly comparable. The Sydney Opera House is an architectural wonder of the world, a unique sails-like roof design looking out to the glorious Sydney Harbour and facing Circular Quay in the heart of Sydney. Its site at Bennelong Point had earlier been a tram barn.

The Festival Hall is modest by comparison, overlooking the Torrens Lake or River and the Adelaide Oval. It’s walking distance from Adelaide Railway Station and Parliament House. It was almost an accident of choice. Don Dunstan, who succeeded Frank Walsh as Labor Premier, and was determined on a Renaissance for Adelaide on lifestyle, had wanted a suitable ‘home’ for the Adelaide Festival of Arts (later to be known simply as the Adelaide Festival) rather than the various halls scattered around the city.

His first choice was Government House, the residence of the State’s Governor at North Terrace, on the Eastern side of King William Road, and backing on to the Military Parade Ground before joining the banks of the Torrens opposite Adelaide Oval. It was a superb location only walking distance from the Museum, Art Gallery, Library and University.

However, he lost the election in 1968 on gerrymandered boundaries, despite getting 54% of the vote. The incoming Liberal Government of Mr Steele Hall and able Attorney-General Robin Millhouse, was exceedingly embarrassed at winning government with a minority vote of around 46% and a minority of seats, relying on three independents to form a government. To their credit, they embarked on a series of reforms aiming to match the Dunstan zeal. It included such things as abortion law reform. Importantly, Hall realised that the voting system must be fairer if public confidence was to be maintained. At that time two thirds of the State’s population lived in metropolitan Adelaide. Yet the MP representation was exactly the opposite. Two thirds of the seats were in country SA, and only one third in the rapidly growing Adelaide metropolitan area. It had been going that way for years, but it only looked so blatantly disproportionate with post-WWII immigration.

The biggest obstacle for reforming the voting system were the Liberal & Country League’s (LCL) own conservative colleagues. The Upper House Legislative Council was even more gerrymandered than the House of Assembly. Members were elected via a strange alliance of property owners heavily tilted towards country zones and wealth. Voting was voluntary.

As another disincentive, the Legislative Council Electoral Roll was used for summoning people for jury service.  The office of Chief Secretary was also Government Leader in the Council and virtually Deputy Premier. It was held by Mr Ren De Garis.

He saw no advantage to the state in changing the LCL’s privileged position. He had no interest in changing the Upper House. In his own words, Upper House MPs, propertied people, represented the “permanent will of the people”. Nothing like these fly-by-nighters flitting in and out of jobs, living in rented accommodation or boarding.

The struggle for fairer voting representation was mostly between the progressive section of the LCL, and its more reactionary colleagues mostly in the Upper House. Dunstan stirred it along, referring to the outrage of the unfair election result through large public protests. But Labor was always likely to support a voting system that would almost guarantee their return to power. That was easy enough in the Lower House where they already had the most MPs.

Just a few progressive LCL MPs would get it through. The Upper House, where De Garis was in charge, was the real challenge. Labor had only a handful of MLCs. Hall and Millhouse had to win over nearly half of their LCL MPs to get the laws passed. To their great credit, they did that. It was that sort of time when members of the political parties could work together for the greater public good. Dunstan was thus assured of return to the position of Premier as soon as an election was held.

Knowing that reality, Hall and Millhouse worked hard to pass progressive social reforms in the hope of gaining voter support. It did not work out that way, despite some excellent legislation. They did make one change, however, which appealed to both sections of their Party. Government House would remain as it was. The new site for the Festival Centre would be in Elder Park near the Railway Station and Parliament House. The site had been until then a Migrant Hostel, albeit in shabby condition. A new Hostel was built at suburban Woodville.

The site, although covered by derelict old buildings and storehouses at that time, lost nothing in comparison to Government House. It still had a splendid outlook to the Torrens on one side, and the classical old buildings of Parliament and Adelaide Railway Station, plus easy access to transport or parking. Importantly it became a home for performing groups in theatre and music so that workshops and experimental exercises could be conducted. In the performing arts whether theatre, music or song, marionettes, dance… a critical component is the development of skills through training and experiment. Workshops and studios were available for such work. Craft support via make-up, costumes, set design and construction, technical through sound and lighting and through secretarial and publicity services. It could provide some sort of home or forum for almost anything creative.

Dunstan’s own lifestyle had given him an identity and affinity with the arts. When studying law, he supported himself through employment on radio and the stage as an actor. He retained his membership of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance throughout his political career. The ABC, as now a national broadcaster, was then very much a federation. It set up an elaborate studio at Collinswood which produced national TV programs, plus national radio via Classic-FM. Don was given his own program on lifestyle in suburban Adelaide. He argued the case strongly for a Mediterranean lifestyle.

In politics he set out immediately to transform people’s lives, aiming to end racial discrimination and for a better way of living, dropping SA’s ‘wowser’ types of attitudes to alcohol and recreation. It helped that he was an elegant speaker, a voice sounding ‘posh’ yet ready to talk and listen to anybody. He even learned Italian so that he could communicate better with many of his Italian-origin migrants. He was a founding President of Meals On Wheels, dedicated to providing meals to aged people in their own home. Though his political work often took him working into the small hours for reforms and helping people, he had two other passions. One was for anything to do with the arts. The other was for friends with interests in food, wine and stimulating company.

One of his great achievements (with excellent advice from Melbourne Labor ‘Participants’ Philip Adams, Barry Jones and John Button) on setting up the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC) as a body with some independence of bureaucratic and political interference. Though Australian movie production was almost extinct by the 1960s, apart from a few successes in Melbourne, he was determined to establish it as a viable film industry, providing world-quality standards and the opportunities for employment with it. In that, SAFC had some remarkable successes in the 1970s and 80s. It was soon imitated by other States and private syndicates. Australia was a world player: small, yet exciting here and abroad. Picnic at Hanging Rock and Storm Boy were two standouts of many.

Dunstan had learned along his way to compartmentalise his primary interests so that his political and governing work did not overlap his encouraging the autonomy of the creative arts, nor his own recreational activities among close friends. He ran a very well-disciplined ministry which had clear objectives and kept well within budgetary limits. However, his determination to let the creative arts flourish fully without interference led to one major problem at the Festival Centre. In the main performance hall a decision was made to purchase an elaborate organ for feature performance at opera and musical concerts.

It was no ordinary organ, as you might expect in a new Centre. It was of such size and weight that it could only be transported on and off the stage being powered by a hovercraft underneath it. If this wasn’t enough of a worry, the bill for this revolutionary instrument certainly would have set the alarm bells ringing among the Premier and his close staff. I can’t remember the exact figure, but was about $500K, something like $400K over what had been budgeted for it. In those days, that was a huge overspend, which neither his public service advisers nor his political ones could justify. Vivid memories of how the NSW Labor government was hammered for years about the overspend at the Opera House. It became a major political football, largely because the populist-style Cahill govt had been very shy in admitting the real cost of the Utzon masterpiece. Davis Hughes, the Minister in the incoming Askin Liberal-Country Party, had made much capital complaining about it and the delays when in Opposition. He did not stop when becoming Minister and it led to near-disaster when Utzon was sacked. There was no way Dunstan would let that happen. But it went against his rules to interfere.

I’m glad it is now 45 years on. I no longer feel obliged under Public Service rules to keep confidentiality. His solution to this dilemma was incredible. He contacted a professional fundraiser in Sydney. What they worked out was that Don Dunstan would give two special fundraising talks. Essentially, they’d be about what he had achieved during his time as Premier and how it had changed South Australia and its people.

The fundraiser contacted me. What he wanted was some secretarial assistance as he went about asking people to the first and second luncheons. It would be our phone number which subscribers would call to book seats. As our senior receptionist usually took the first phone call anyway, it was sensible to give her the task. She needed to log names, companies and phone numbers of those attending. Then she would give those details to the fundraiser for any of the follow-up and payments. It took quite a bit of her time, but she was thorough.

Don Dunstan was a celebrity in Sydney. He’d been known before he became SA Premier due to his popular television show. But the dazzling array of achievements during what became known as the Dunstan Decade was enviable to all interested in a fairer, more reasonable society. Adelaide, which functioned almost like Ancient Athens as a City-State, was suddenly a civilised place to be. He even coaxed Robert Helpmann back to direct one Festival. He in turn got his friend Rudolph Nureyev to perform. Don was famed for setting style in appearance (once wearing pink shorts into parliament) and his good looks and eloquent voice. Don Dunstan even performed at one Festival. At the Adelaide Zoo, supported by the SA Symphony Orchestra with live animals, he recited Ogden Nash’s poems to the Orchestra playing Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. At the nearby Botanic Gardens, SA’s Chief Justice Dr Bray recited his own poems. It was that sort of place. 

From memory both lunches were oversubscribed. Payment for that organ was now by subscription not public money. The fundraiser was paid a commission on the amount raised. Our receptionist received a huge bunch of flowers for her trouble. The only public expense was the receptionist’s work and telephones, and air fares for Don to come to Sydney twice. But those would’ve been amply repaid by publicity to Don’s public speeches on both occasions. The people attending would not easily have forgotten. To me, it seemed a win-win situation. The Arts people would have their organ. The SA taxpayers would not be slugged an outrageous sum for a world-rated instrument that cost too much for such a rarely-used asset. Dunstan was able to avoid any accusations of waste. SA and its Premier got some publicity for a minimal cost. The donors got their money’s worth. Only Philistine politics missed out.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY CELEBRATIONS FOR YOUR TRADITION OF THE SEASON.

We send overtures of joy and merriment to all our Pubsters, lurkers, supporters, and everyone in general.

It is the traditional season of celebration and of family, friends, and connection. We hope everyone gets the best they can from focusing on enjoyment and thankfulness and finds some joy

However, we know this is a Christmas in the shadow of the Covid19 pandemic. It will be, as always, not a happy time for everyone. Many people and families will be spending this Christmas-time dealing with feelings of grief, loneliness, and a sense of loss.

Irrespective of one’s beliefs or none, Christmas traditionally is a season to seek some happiness and joy. It is supposed to be the time of year to suspend the worries of the world, to put aside that which causes us and others pain, in favour of finding the best of ourselves. Just for a short while, we have social permission to experience happiness, connectivity, and charity rather than be worn down by ongoing difficulties.

Just by absorbing the social feeling of the season, we have an opportunity to suspend our cares and focus on the moment, rather than outer and future dilemmas. Every society has a celebration, historically they were based on religious and/or agricultural reasons. Everyone needs a good knees-up, singing, food, and exchange of goodwill, after all.

Christmas can also be a time when the absence of connection and sense of loss is more acute. The toll of human life from Covid19, the feelings that governments are not in control, and frustration at blocks to progress in applying scientific rather than superstitious responses to this plague can be overwhelming.

In this time, it is also wise to be patient, gentle and caring of others. Overworked shop assistants, exhausted health workers, worried people … a smile (smiling eyes over your mask), a friendly word and phone call to a friend, finding happiness in little things, all can make someone feel good.

We love to pay that extra attention to family, especially the kids. If ever a lockdown was ever to occur, this time is the best. We live in an age of electronic communication miracles. We can see, hear and join in with our loved ones, see our young ones, especially grandkids!, happy faces and make our connections. We no longer have to wait for a sailing ship to deliver a letter 11 months old.

We are coming from a hard year, 2021. In a lot of ways, we have been left to our own devices in this Pandemic, as our Federal and some state governments fumble their responses and then back away from the hard tasks, or fob them off onto others (Looking at you, PM Scott Morrison!). Mostly the quieter majority have tried to act as a community, wearing our masks, getting tested or staying home, and social distancing. Vaccination rates in the 80%. Regardless of the few loud complainers or rule-breakers, most have pulled their weight. We have much to be proud of here in Australia.

So we can make the best of our Christmas, even if it means enjoying a Bah Humbug or cancelling it altogether for a good lay-in or watching TV with your favourite snacks!

The Pub invites you to raise a glass with us to wish all the best of Season’s Greetings.

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PANTS ON FIRE!

PANTS ON FIRE!

Tony Burke’s 5 and 5.

The 5 Best and 5 Worst of the week in Australian politics, written by Hon Tony Burke MP. Member for Watson NSW, Manager of Opposition Business for the Australian Labor Party in the Federal House of Representatives.

We need to talk about Scott.

Usually when someone makes a terrible mistake you can see the embarrassment on their face. But Scott seemed happy. He felt invincible, like a genius. After one of the worst weeks I’ve ever seen a government have.

So as you read this week’s #5and5 just remember this: Scott thought he did really well.

BEST

  • The Muppet Show Sequel
  • Morrison’s character
  • Cost of living
  • Same job, same pay
  • Tony Smith’s farewell

WORST

  • Hawaii lie
  • Civil disobedience
  • Corruption
  • “Made up issue”
  • Christian Porter

The Best:

1. Chaos. Everywhere. And Anthony Albanese summed it up beautifully in a speech at the end of the week. He recalled when Mr Morrison described his own side as a Muppet show: “Well he is now the Muppet-In-Chief. And the theme song to The Muppet Show goes like this: it’s like a kind of torture to have to watch the show.”

2. Every day this week we zeroed in on Mr Morrison’s character. The challenge when we were organising question time each day was choosing among the long list of Morrison lies.

Why did he and his office repeatedly lie about going to Hawaii while the country burned?

Why did he lie about electric vehicles?

Why did he lie about battery power?

Why did he lie about vaccine mandates?

Why did he lie about inviting his friend Brian Houston to the White House?

In response Mr Morrison just ducked and dissembled – and even bowled up some brand new lies. As Richard Marles asked on Thursday: “If the Prime Minister has no regard for what he said in the past why should Australians have regard for what he’s saying now?”

3. While the government was focused on itself we focused on the economy and the cost of living – things that matter to everyday Australians. Anthony, Amanda Rishworth, Kristy McBain and Susan Templeman asked why under this government petrol prices were surging by $900 a year for an average family – but real wages have fallen by $700. Josh Frydenberg tried to pivot to the government’s economic record, so Jim Chalmers asked: “Can the current Treasurer name any other Treasurer in the last 100 years that has a worse record than him on waste, rorts, debt, deficits, annual growth and real wages?” Frydenberg could not.

4. On Monday Anthony and Labor’s Meryl Swanson introduced a “same job, same pay” Private Members’ Bill to crack down on dodgy labour hire firms that are undercutting wages and conditions in mining and across the economy. Throughout the week we presented real life examples of labour hire workers getting ripped off to the tune of hundreds of dollars a week. We need to stop permanent jobs being replaced with lower paid casual jobs.

5. Monday was Tony Smith’s last day as Speaker. He’s from the other side of politics of course but few would dispute that Smith brought order, fairness, dignity and integrity back to the chair after the Bronwyn Bishop days. He belongs in the “best” column even though we’re sorry to see him go.

The Worst:

1. Mr Morrison’s character was on full display on Monday. Labor’s Fiona Phillips asked: “When my electorate was burning the Prime Minister’s office told journalists he was not on holiday in Hawaii. Why did the Prime Minister’s office say that when it wasn’t true?” Mr Morrison responded by trying to blame Labor – claiming he’d told Anthony Albanese ahead of time where he was going. If that was true it would be irrelevant. But it wasn’t true at all. Mr Morrison was trying to wriggle out of his lies by telling more lies. He had to have two goes at correcting the record because he’s pathologically incapable of admitting fault or taking responsibility.

2. The LNP’s George Christensen stood up in the House on Wednesday and likened state premiers to “Stalin, Mao, Hitler and Pol Pot” – and then openly encouraged “civil disobedience” against their pandemic health orders. A few minutes later we asked Mr Morrison about these inflammatory and dangerous comments and he refused to even condemn Mr Christensen by name. Watch here.

3. On Thursday things went from bad to worse for the government. Supported by Labor, independent MP Helen Haines moved a motion to suspend standing orders to debate her bill for a federal anti-corruption body. In a totally unprecedented move a Liberal MP, Bridget Archer, seconded the motion and crossed the floor to support it. That means we had the numbers on the floor. After the vote the new Speaker Andrew Wallace declared that we’d won – but then saying we needed to vote again. That led to complete chaos on the floor as the government tried to get its act together and figure out what to do next. There was around ten minutes where we all sat in the chamber and nothing happened. No one spoke. Just. Nothing. Eventually the vote happened again and this time the requirement to have an absolute majority of 76 votes was invoked which mean even though we had more votes, we didn’t win. There’s one simple take out from all this, the only way to have an anti-corruption commission is to change the government.

https://www.tonyburke.com.au/view5and5

4. We asked the government about the Same Job Same Pay legislation that Anthony Albanese had introduced on Monday. What was the government’s response? Paul Fletcher – who represents the Invisible Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash in the lower house – just arrogantly dismissed the labour hire rorts as a “made up issue”. I bet it doesn’t feel “made up” to the workers getting paid less every day or the families struggling to pay the bills. It only feels “made up” to a Government that is completely out of touch with the concerns of workers.

5. A few weeks ago the government took the completely unprecedented step of voting against a parliamentary inquiry into Christian Porter’s anonymous donations even though Tony Smith supported a referral. With a new Speaker in the chair I gave it another go. Mr Wallace rejected our request. So we are left with a situation where MPs can take large anonymous cash donations to pay for private bills. It’s beyond belief.

We’re back next week for the final sitting week of the year.

‘til then,

Tony

PS Song of the week goes to one of the early punk albums. It includes the perfect line “broke a confidence just to please your ego”. The song is called Liar. And while I never thought I’d say this: in honour of Scott Morrison, here’s the Sex Pistols

https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Parliamentarian?MPID=D

From Tony Burke’s Weekly Email., thank you Mr Burke.

Courtesy CK Watt who found this. In this political week

CK Watt, Tony Burke’s ‘5 and 5’ is too good to leave buried in the comments!