Public gallery under the microscope

Sickness at the Art Gallery of NSW: an insider’s account … Family First? New Kenyan-born senator is a millionaire … Donald Trump is supporting the election of Mrs May and Ms Le Pen – why? … A night at the Packer Family Logies … Blackpool, city of depression … Great Crashing Bores

Public art gallery under microscope

Brian Adams, one of Australia’s most distinguished arts writers and television communicators, recently received an astonishing welcome at the Art Gallery of NSW located in Sydney’s Domain.

Adams, author of highly acclaimed biographies of artists Sidney Nolan and William Dobell, opera diva Dame Joan Sutherland and botanist Joseph Banks, wrote an account of his experience while paying tribute to Nolan whose centenary is celebrated this year.

Writing for David Rainey’s website which is a goldmine of information on Nolan’s art and career, Adams said: “I paid a visit to the Art Gallery of NSW during February this year. I wanted to see what had changed since I was last there a couple of years before, and walking into the main entrance gallery, I found it looking brighter and more impressive than I remembered from many days filming there in the past with Christo, Gilbert and George, Robert Hughes and Sidney himself. I asked about plans for Nolan’s centenary at the information desk.

“Staffed by three smartly dressed staff wearing the sort of uniforms seen behind the reception desks of upmarket hotels, I asked a young woman what special events were being planned by the gallery for Sidney Nolan. She lost her smile of greeting, looked blank for a moment and then asked, ‘Would you spell that name please?’”

Dr Chris Hartney and Judith White at Better Read Than Dead bookshop, Newtown, this week

This small anecdote speaks volumes about the state of the AGNSW which has become overburdened with a top heavy bureaucracy made up of lightweights. In the past, Adams would have received a gushing response from Art Gallery Society volunteers who manned the ticketing desk and knew all about Nolan, his paintings and his life. But under the gee-whizz management now in charge, the volunteers – disgracefully even referred to by some as “old biddies” – have been replaced by commercially-hired outside receptionists who may be nice people but evidently struggle to know anything about art and artists.

Meanwhile, the much-loved public institution has been consumed by a vainglorious plan to build a new gallery on the current site to be called Sydney Modern. The cost? A mere $450 million which, four years after the project was unveiled, still hasn’t seen the light of day.

Judith White, who spent 10 years as CEO of the Art Gallery Society, the members’ organisation, has lifted the lid on shenanigans at the AGNSW in her new book, Culture Heist – Art versus Money, published this week by Brandl & Schlesinger. The author, who is my partner, will attend the book’s official launch at the NSW State Library next week with John McDonald, art critic of The Sydney Morning Herald, doing the honours. I’ll file a full report next week.

For more information on Judith’s book and to order a copy, go to the website.

To read Brian Adams’s complete article on Sidney Nolan click here.

Family first? No, money

One week ago, Kenyan-born Lucy Gichuhi argued before the High Court of Australia why she should be allowed to replace Family First senator Bob Day in the Senate on $200,000-a-year.

Manchester-born Day, a former property developer and federal chairman of the god-bothering cranks of Family First, was disqualified from office because he was officially bankrupt at the time of the 2015 federal election. The High Court threw out a Labor Party challenge to Ms Gichuhi’s elevation to the Senate and supported her senatorial ambitions.

A few days after declaring her loyalty to Family First and to her new career in the Senate, Family First folded and joined Cory Bernardi’s self-styled group, Australian Conservatives, leaving senator-elect Gichuhi without a party affiliation. She promptly declared she would take up in her place in the Upper House as an independent – despite arguing the very opposite in court only a few days earlier.

But before everyone starts swooning about another female in federal parliament, some details of Ms Gichuhi’s business career have come to light. First of all, she isn’t an African refugee struggling against poverty and discrimination. Before arriving in Australia 18 years ago she worked as an accountant in Nairobi for Ernst & Young.

Today the mother of three is a millionaire who owns six residential properties worth more than $2 million and her husband is a banker who works at St George Bank, now part of Westpac.

Trump a feminist?

US President Donald Trump is supporting two female politicians – British Prime Minister Theresa May and France’s ultra-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen – who are facing elections in the next few weeks.

May, who remains a Tory, has called a snap general election on June 8 and Ms Le Pen, who has shed the proto-fascist National Front label, and suddenly become an “independent”, faces a run-off election against Emmanuel Macron on May 7.

Trump is backing the two women because Mrs May is leading the campaign for Brexit and Ms Le Pen is in favour of Frexit. Trump, the chief representative of US Inc, is opposed to the existence of the 27-nation European Union, its single currency, the Euro, and the existence of a European trading and manufacturing bloc which has become increasingly anti-US.

Of course, this does not mean that Trump, May and Le Pen share the same views. They don’t. They are already clashing over trade with China with Washington wanting to curb the Asian powerhouse and the Europeans wanting to share some of its colossal wealth.

The post-war order based on US political and economic hegemony and backed by the US dollar as the world trading currency has ended. Nobody in the governmental elite has any idea what to put in its place. Globalisation is on the nose and economic nationalism is a peculiar madness.

When is someone going to suggest that we start with the needs of people?

The Logies remembered

The late Sir Frank Packer, the Sydney media hoodlum, banned writer Frank Hardy from Channel 9 for being a communist and writing Power Without Glory, a factually based novel exposing crooked politicians and businessmen in Victoria.

In 1973 Hardy was awarded a Logie for Best Television Script for Boney Meets the Daybreak Killers, an episode of a popular TV series about Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, a part-Aboriginal policeman. Accepting the award, Hardy held the Logie aloft and said down the barrel of the camera: “Hope you’re watching, Sir Frank! Well, I’ve made it on to Channel Nine after a 20-year ban!”

There were no such embarrassing speeches at last weekend’s 59th Logies ceremony staged at the Crown Casino belonging to Sir Frank grandson James Packer. They were all too busy kissing each other and taking selfies.

Anyone for a holiday in Blackpool?

Schoolchildren in Britain on holidays in Blackpool used to rush to the beach, bring out the bucket and spade and tell their parents they were digging their way to Australia.

You never find Australian children doing a similar thing at Bondi: no kids are tunnelling to Blackpool. The reason is obvious. Apart from the Blackpool Tower, the donkey rides and Yates’s Wine Lodge the city is deeply unattractive.

My poor opinion was confirmed this week when it was reported that Blackpool leads Britain in the prescription of anti-depressant drugs.

Blackpool: no seaside paradise

“You’ve got high deprivation, high crime, low life expectancy, loads of alcohol problems,” said Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist. “Because of the destruction of local economies by the cheapening of foreign travel … one tends to be environmentally surrounded with the ghosts of a better time. All of these places (deprived seaside resorts) tend to be, to a certain extent, ghost towns.”

The poor benighted teenagers are naturally depressed. Why wouldn’t they be? Their part of Lancashire has been cruelly depressed, both economically and socially, by the combined forces of Westminster, Whitehall and the City of London. They have inflicted neglect, austerity and poverty on the area (and most of the north of England) for decades. A sure-fire way of ending Blackpool’s “depression” is to get rid of the arrogant power structures in London and develop a new economy based on providing people with jobs, housing, health care, free education and a clean environment.

Meanwhile, take a bow, Blackpool, Britain’s anti-depressant capital with more than two prescriptions per person in 2016. The drug companies are making a fortune out of you.

Sick bag department

Forget about looming nuclear conflict, refugees, the global environment and other pressing topics, and spare a thought for American rapper Kanye West.

No, not for being married to the ghastly icon Kim Kardashian but for this admission: “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.”

Can you feel his excruciating pain?

Great Crashing Bores

After the dawn ceremony at the cenotaph we scarpered to a local rubbidy for some free beer from VB and then a game of two-up organised by William Hill. It was a terrific day out and it virtually cost me nothing. I got an Aussie flag and a Stars and Stripes to wave, courtesy of Vice President Mike Pence who, by the way, is a terrific bloke. There are too many Asians and Moslems at the ANZAC ceremonies at home – don’t they realise it is an Aussie occasion? So I’ve put my name down for a free trip to Lone Pine Ridge next year; I’m looking forward to settling a few scores with Johnny Turk. It’s a pity that our RSL committee can’t join us but most of them are facing corruption charges.

Stories you may have missed*

“The culprit behind almost 600 hoax bomb and shooting threats that terrorised Australian schools over the past year has been identified as an Israeli teenager working from his suburban bedroom. He is an 18-year-old Israeli-American citizen from the city of Ashkelon, south of Tel Aviv.”

* If a Moslem from Western Sydney was responsible we would never hear the end of it!

Quote of the month

On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
H L Mencken, 1880-1956, American journalist


  1. Thank you Alex & Judith…for the piece on the volunteers …& the situation now at the AGNSW. I go often…&! can surely second this! I might add that when my own American friends are in town, I ALWYS take them here…& THEY have ALWAYS commented on the knowledge & helpfulness of the staff of “Old Bidies”— especially compared to the US Galleries, which these days, have as much security around them as The Donald’s front lawn— really sad to read that things have got lots worse! Let us hope that no one ever asks them now how to spell Rembrandt’s full name…

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