The gaze of Aphrodite


Karen Kissane

WHEN artist Rosemary Valadon decided to paint noted Australian women as classical archetypes, she chose Germaine Greer as Artemis, Blanche d’Alpuget as Athena and artist Annette Bezor as Aphrodite, goddess of love.Valadon had been taken with a Bezor painting entitled So Glad You Came: “It was orgasmic: a woman’s face with the mouth half open in bliss, and she was surrounded by all this patterning. It was a woman’s experience of desire and sexuality.”

And, having met Bezor, Valadon knew her appearance also lent itself to the theme: “Her skin was soft and full, she had blonde hair, and there was a lightness to her, but she was a strong-looking woman as well … She’s very spirited and self-assured.”

Today, Bezor is vaguely embarrassed about having agreed to pose. “I think my ego got the better of me, and my narcissism. I wanted to see what someone else would do with me.

“We had this South Australian `Living Artist’ breakfast a couple of years ago, and they had all these people voting for things, categories, and I actually won the sexiest artist. And of course I was mortified. Being painted as Aphrodite is a bit like that; it’s double-edged: `By the way, she makes great paintings, doesn’t she?’

“Looking back, I should have gone up to the microphone at that breakfast and said, `Would everyone who voted for me please leave their telephone number at the door?”‘ She laughs, her good humor restored.

The problematic aspects of female beauty and desire and the gaze of others have long been themes in Bezor’s painting and in her life. Her large, lush, sensual canvasses are often filled with female forms erotically draped across different backgrounds: landscapes, flowers, brilliantly patterned fabrics or swirls of cloud.

Enigmatic female faces gaze half-submerged through textured layers of haze; Intercourse I and Intercourse II are merely a smudge of an inward-looking eye and a mouth.

In Wrestling with the Cherubim, a voluptuously naked Bezor wrestles with other versions of herself in a tangle of limbs while attacked by a flock of chubby cherubim, the struggle set against the deep ochre of an Australian desert at dusk.

Bezor has always been unashamedly unfashionable: a figurative artist in a time when abstraction is the go; a purveyor of color and beauty in an era when grittiness, if not ugliness, is thought to have more power.

Melbourne gallery owner Robert Lindsay, who will exhibit Bezor’s next show early next year, says: “She would be one of the first female artists that focused on the feminine rather than on being a feminist. She’s less concerned with the politics and status of women than she is with society’s enduring mystique of female beauty … Hers is not a butch gaze; it’s a beguiling gaze.”

Richard Grayson is a fellow artist, curator and writer, and a former director of Adelaide’s Experimental Art Foundation. He is author of a newly published monograph on Bezor’s work (the lavishly illustrated A Passionate Gaze). “I think she’s one of the pre-eminent figurative painters,” he says. “She’s made a very large contribution to Australian art, and she’s not hit a plateau; she’s still evolving.”

He sees Bezor as a “desert island painter”: “She’d carry on painting even if stuck on a desert island with no audience. She’s impelled by something within herself.”

The girl who left school at 14 to work in a hairdressing salon has come a long way. Even then, however, Bezor was struggling with the dark side of desirability. She left school early because boys gave her a hard time about her pretty face and well-developed body.

The hairdressing job offered no relief from unwanted attentions: “We had a male manager and he’d pat my bum as he’d go past, or pinch my waist, and say, `You’ve got a bit of puppy fat’. They would cut my hair and say, `You’ve got to wear makeup because you look too young’.

“I was constantly being manipulated. So I became anorexic for four years. Then I managed a salon when I was 19. I hated it. I had a nervous breakdown.” She lost her virginity, found herself pregnant, miscarried, then got more hateful work selling sewing machines door-to-door. The first of her two short-lived marriages, at 21, was followed by two confused years of “goofing off”, living on the dole in a shared house and experimenting with drugs.

“I applied for art school because that’s what people around me were doing,” says Bezor. But she floundered so badly for her first couple of years that one lecturer told her she shouldn’t be there. Her mutinousness kicked in and she was determined to prove him wrong.

She says her refusal to be cowed has stood her in good stead in the years since: “… if you’re going to get crushed easily then you can’t be an artist.”

Her creativity might never have been unleashed had it not been for a trauma that left her a wounded Aphrodite. In a quiet, matter-of-fact voice, she says, “I was raped in fourth year – and quite brutally, the man was sent to jail for five years … But I couldn’t work at art school in my final year because I couldn’t relate to people.

“The reason I’m telling you this is because it’s what caused the breakthrough. I stayed in the house where I was raped; I was raped in my bedroom. I took my easels and paints home and I painted (in that room) the whole of my fourth year. There was something about being alone and not having people watch me and say I wasn’t any good; I painted some amazing figures. I won a prize that year.

“Being left alone had other negative aspects in terms of my emotional wellbeing, but in terms of my creativity it was what I needed.”

She can talk about the rape coolly but her voice wavers when she recalls her most vivid memory of that solitary time: an injured bird.

“It’s one of those things that haunts me forever. I tried to save it and I couldn’t, so then I tried to chloroform it. I put it in a box and surrounded it with pillows and put cotton wool in there and thought, `Now it will be peaceful’. Eight hours later I took the pillows from around this box and it was still alive and looking at me, so I took it outside and let it go. It would have died, or a cat would have got it or something.”

She takes a deep, steadying breath.”I didn’t know what to do. I’d become a child again, in some way.”
Bezor must have regained her confidence by 1981 when she painted one of her most loved works, The snake is dead. A buxom, dark-haired woman lolls naked at a modern-day bush picnic, full of cheerful insouciance. Around her are eucalypts; above her a bird carries a dead snake. This is a triumphant Australian Eve, saucily unashamed.

Bezor says, “I was surrounded by the most amazing women at that time, and they were doing all these classes to rid themselves of any guilt about their bodies … They used to go along and take all their clothes off and tell each other how wonderful they were, basically.

“I got to see some things that most people don’t see as long as they live. People made love in front of me; I was invited along to watch various couplings, which I did with great gusto … because I am a voyeur. (They invited me) to prove to themselves that they were these wonderfully free and open people, and … they did have a sexual, sensual freedom that I don’t think a lot of women feel these days.”

Today Bezor is working on two series of paintings. In one she Asianises the features of faces from classic paintings: “It talks about the accident of birth, the superficiality of the surface, and how we regard Asians.” In the other she paints the faces of young women in soft porn magazines.

While she has spent most of her life wrestling with the superficiality of beauty, ageing has increased the preoccupation. “I realise as I get older that you do have to have a different kind of power … If your power has resided in your attractiveness, you’re going to be in a very lost space. My work is a huge thing for me because a lot of respect is accorded to me. I don’t get asked, `Why haven’t you had children? Why aren’t you in a relationship?’ People just look at what you do and how hard you work at it …”

Next year Bezor is off to Los Angeles; soon she will return to her beloved Paris. She used to spend half her time there but decided recently that superannuation was a priority: “I have to stop throwing money into the Seine.” Aphrodite, it seems, has developed some of Athena’s hard-headedness. “I don’t want to be old and poor. Bugger that.”

Annette Bezor: A Passionate Gaze, by Richard Grayson, Wakefield Press, $35.

Annette Bezor, artist

Born: Adelaide.

Educated: Degree in Fine Art at the South Australian School of Art, 1974-77; residency at the Power Studio, Cite Internationale des Arts, Paris, 1996.

Career: 19 solo exhibitions in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne; numerous group exhibitions; awarded Australia Council Fellowship in 1990 and represented at the ARCO International Art Fair in Madrid in 1996 and 1998; represented in the collections of all major Australian state galleries; painted the official portrait of former Premier Joan Kirner.

Lives: Adelaide and Paris

First published in The Age.

A modern prophet

He’s been called “Prophetic Peter”; certainly his childhood was prophetic of his adult life. When he was 10, Peter Carnley was walking down a dirt road in his country town. “I remember thinking about why there should be anything; a philosophical question, I suppose. Why should anything be?“And I began to think about what would be if things weren’t there, if you subtract things: take away the fences and the houses and the dirt road, what would be left? It would all be blackness; but then I thought, ‘Blackness is something.’ And I could feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck.”

A different child might have been filled with dread, or with helplessness at the absurdity of human life in the face of the cosmos. But Carnley experienced it as a positive revelation; he felt “awe, and the mystery of it all. And I think that’s still with me”.

That moment shaped the rest of his life, and its reverberations are now felt in the life of the nation. The Most Reverend Dr Peter Carnley this year became an outspoken and controversial primate of Australia’s four million Anglicans.

He is the darling of the leftie intelligentsia and the bane of conservatives, exasperating Liberal politicians and religious fundamentalists in equal measure. His stance is a novel and – to those whose sense of humor is wickedly inclined – amusing one for a leader of the Christian denomination that has historically had the closest links with Australia’s establishment.

In the 1998 docks war, Carnley told the federal Liberal government it should be acting as an independent umpire, not a player, in the dispute. The Anglican Premier of Western Australia, Richard Court, has had to fend off claims by Carnley that opposition to Aboriginal land rights is akin to Hitler’s dispossession of the Jews. Anglican MP Wilson Tuckey threatened to leave the church over Carnley’s criticisms.

Carnley’s stance in theological matters triggers similar divisions in his flock. He is the hero of the Movement for the Ordination of Women. Boldly going where no bishop had gone before, he ordained Australia’s first women priests in Perth in 1992, defying outrage, litigation and years of stalemate.

A grand vision underlies his grand gestures. In his sermon that day he said, “Today we ordain 10, but we liberate tens of thousands from the stereotypes with which they have been bound.”

His refusal to wait for national consensus on the issue earned him the soubriquet “the Episcopalian cowboy”. He responded lightly, “I don’t think I’ve ever been on a horse, and I’ve certainly never been on a cow.”

But the large and powerful Sydney diocese has never forgiven him, and there is speculation that the divide between it and Carnley might develop into a formal schism.

Sydney is a diocese unlike any other in Australia. Anglicans there call themselves “evangelicals” but liberals call them “fundamentalists”. They emphasise faith over reason and see a fairly literal reading of the Bible as the source of truth and authority. They oppose female ordination, minimise the use of prayer books and ritual and want lay people to be allowed to give communion (“lay presidency”).

They are appalled by what they believe to be Carnley’s views on Christ and the resurrection and by an article canvassing these views in The Bulletin published at Easter. The week after the article appeared, Carnley’s inauguration took place in Sydney. It was accompanied by the kind of dramas more typical of the Bible belt of America’s deep south than a cosmopolitan Australian capital.

Leading Sydney clergy, including two bishops, boycotted the service. Others who attended said they were “saluting the uniform, not the man”. Demonstrators outside the cathedral carried placards saying “Anglicans are dead” and “Peter Carnley, repent of heresy”.

The church’s dilemma is that one man’s heresy is another man’s vision for leading a declining institution into the modern world.

CARNLEY has long been a leader. In most families it is the parents who decide the child’s religious orientation but it was the other way around for the Carnleys. His father was a postal worker and his mother stayed at home with Peter, born in 1937, and his younger brother and sister.

In the years following his mystical experience on the dirt track, Carnley surveyed the various religious offerings in his home town of Young, NSW (“the cherry capital of Australia,” he says with a wry, sidelong glance).

He had been taken by a neighbor to Methodist Sunday school, which didn’t really engage him, although he has always remembered the message of a banner hanging in the church: “Be still and know that I am God.” Today his little weekend farm is called Stillpoint.

Carnley was part of a scout troop that did Sunday “parades” at the church of each denomination in turn, and he decided he liked the Anglicans: “Robes. Candles. The liturgy.”

“I still do love worship, and the big cathedral occasions,” he says. “Grandeur and drama and tradition is part of it, but also the idea of transcendence, that there’s more to this world than we dream of.”

His non-religious family tolerated his decision as a teenager to get himself confirmed but was shocked when, in his 20s, he decided to abandon law studies to become a priest. “They thought I was daft at the beginning but after a little while they got themselves confirmed and Dad became the sidesman – you know, handing out hymn books.”

Carnley is said to be a shy man who is protective of his privacy. He certainly shields himself in this interview in his book-lined study in the Victorian mansion he inhabits as Archbishop of Perth, the diocese he has run since 1981.

A renowned scholar and theologian, he adopts the desiccated, donnish manner of a Mr Chips or a Casaubon, choosing his words with care. He will discuss his views but evades questions about his feelings. He is impervious to the journalistic trick of allowing a pause to develop in the hope that the subject will feel obliged to fill it. He simply falls into an unperturbed silence, gazing at the carpet. This man knows how to play chicken.

But while he keeps his face and voice impassive his slender, expressive hands give him away. He distractedly touches the symbols of his office as though they are talismans, twisting the episcopal ring or fingering his ornate Huguenot cross. Laughter emerges only in quick, rare flashes, as if he has to be ambushed by his own sense of the ridiculous.

`THAT’S because of what his role is at the moment,” says an old friend from theological college, Reverend Ian Brown of St Stephen’s, Richmond. “He’s got a droll wit, but once you become purple you’ve got to watch what you say. It’s like a life sentence; it just surrounds you.”

Or perhaps it is just Carnley’s natural reserve. The writer Tim Winton, an Anglican in Carnley’s diocese, says, “He’s probably more respected than loved. He’s not a man of the people but he’s interested in people, curious.”

Carnley is also curious about his own make-up. In this interview he comfortably dissects, for the world’s interest, his results on a Jungian psychological test called the Myer-Briggs Personality Inventory. He proffers as titbits his test result (INTJ), his wife Ann’s (INFJ) and even that of their mutual friend actress Jackie Weaver (also INFJ).

“The `I’ is the Introvert but I’m midway between `I’ and Extrovert,” he says. “I quite like being with people and going to parties and that sort of thing but to regenerate or recreate I go away.

“`N’ means Intuitive, rather than a Sensate person. It means that when I go to meetings, I know what the outcome of the discussion’s going to be but I have to sit and wait for everybody else to work through it. You intuit somehow, you can just grasp what is to happen, or where the truth is or something … And I certainly notice it at meetings. I have to bite on my bottom lip and just wait for people because I’ve learnt to understand that other people aren’t intuitive.

“`T’ is a thinker rather than a feeler. I’m a typical man, in that sense … And I was raised on Wittgenstein at Cambridge, I suppose. And then a `J’ is a person who is able to make judgments, whereas a `P’ is a perceiving person who keeps seeing other possibilities and will put off deciding until something else has been looked at.”

When the tester saw Carnley was an INTJ, “He said, `Oh yes, that’s the kind of guy institutions need at the top.’ The other clergy’s jaws dropped.” Carnley grins, amused by his Jungian imprimatur.

Carnley didn’t begin his priestly life as the kind of Anglican who would be open to depth psychology. Today he talks about the nexus between the spiritual and the subconscious, and how he believes some people project on to him the religious doubt they deny in themselves. But in his 20s he was as literal a believer as any Sydney evangelical.

He found his views challenged at theology college. His fellow student Ian Brown says, “We had to talk about the lives of Christ and how everybody doctored them to suit the age they lived in; in the First World War for the troops in the trenches; how with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara (Christ) was seen as the great liberator.”

Carnley was at first threatened, says Brown: “It was quite a tempestuous time for all of us. But Peter came from the law courts where he’d heard a lot of argument and he (began) to apply that sort of argumentation.”

Carnley says, “I remember being absolutely amazed that all this belief in angels and things that I had might not be quite literally true. Theological college shook me out of that into a much more critical historical approach. I think most theological students find that very liberating … It’s not possible to believe it all literally.”
Does he now believe in the devil? “Not with a tail and pitchforks, no. But I certainly believe there is a positive evil. St Augustine, for example, had a theory of evil as the absence of good … But I think it’s much more positive than that, much more sinister.”

And how does he see grace? “As something manifested in gifts. Life is a gift. And certainly love is. If you look at people’s lives, you can very quickly pick up when they’re trying to be loving. As soon as you try to do it, you’re found to be patronising.

“I think real loving is much more spontaneous. It’s a gift, a grace. It happens. You fall in love and love wells up like a spring of deep water.”

He fell in love with one Ann Dunstan, whom he married in 1966. They met at Melbourne University when she was training to be a teacher and he was studying biblical archaeology.

She remembers him as dynamic: “You couldn’t not notice him. It was probably his energy that captured me, but also his silence. He’s actually quite shy and if you move him from one social scene to another he finds it quite hard … I’m immediately more easy with people than he is; I think it’s partly a woman thing. And we both love nothing better than to be on our own together. We both need lots of quiet space.”

They retreat down to their 5hectare tulip farm at Nannup, south of Perth, where Carnley spends a lot of time on his knees planting and harvesting flowers, in part for love and in part for the mortgage.

Ann Carnley says, “We’ve got a tiny little house, and we’re building an extension and he’s taken out an owner-builder licence,” – she chuckles – “and he can’t work the video, you know. But he’s actually very good, he’s come to terms with some very complicated plans.

“We sit in the evenings with a drink, and watch the kangaroos. We go to bed very early. We read. We bore everybody by saying we saw a splendid blue wren …” She looks apologetic, uncertain whether their joy in the simple things will be understood.

Their marriage seems close – they kiss goodbye before parting after a charity breakfast function – and mutually supportive. Soon after they were married he won a scholarship to Cambridge University that did not include a fare for her. Ann Carnley tried to earn extra money by accepting a local newspaper editor’s invitation to write the society column.

“So Peter and I used to sit up the night before the deadline, and I’d be trying to make sense of `Bride wore mother’s tiara’ or `Interstate guests come for wedding’. And Peter would often run down the street to put the copy underneath the door to meet the deadline.” It has left him with a lifelong sympathy for the fourth estate, she laughs.

Carnley completed his PhD – on the interface between theology and the philosophy of history – at Cambridge in 1968. But he chose not to pursue a career in England as an academic theologian because he disliked the gap between his quality of life and his wife’s.

He says, “As a fellow I had a stipend in the college, and part of the stipend was all these dining rights. But that was only for me. My wife and child – we had Ben – were at home having mincemeat and I was there having college feasts and wine circles afterwards. And snuff!”

Ben, now 31, is a doctor training to be a physician. His sister, Sarah, 29, is a lawyer. Ann Carnley says, “She had a couple of years in a law firm but she’s not litigation-minded and now she’s into mediation.” Blood will out.

The Carnleys also seem united in their views about how Christians should engage with the wider world. They downplay proselytising zeal in favor of respect of difference.

Ann Carnley’s most recent job is that of part-time lay chaplain in a state primary school in Subiaco. She doesn’t see herself as a missionary: “God has created people who are unique and have integrity, and I’m not in the business of interfering with that creation. If I thought that people thought I was relating to them as a person who’s a possible subject for conversion, I’d be so unhappy. I think you give what you are, who you are, and that’s really it.”

In his Easter essay in The Bulletin, “The Rising of the Son”, Carnley sharply criticised “hostile and self-righteously condemning Christian attitudes with respect to … other religions”. He wrote of an ecumenical service he runs each year at which members of various religions are invited to come and say prayers for peace, each in their own way.

“If this service happens to be televised, we receive a spate of communications from angry people … who are hell bent on exclusion and condemnation – for, they say, salvation can come from Christ and no other, save Christ alone. Christians should have no dealings with Buddhists and Muslims and Samaritans!”

This and other comments in the article led Sydney church leaders to unleash a torrent of criticism of Carnley, accusing him of undermining the basic Christian tenet that the only way to God is through Jesus.

Carnley’s views on the resurrection have led some to believe he is not even Christian. He has been interpreted as suggesting that the resurrection was more a spiritual event that did not necessarily involve Christ’s body. Such an approach is not uncommon in modern theological circles but is anathema in Sydney’s evangelical ones.

Carnley says conservative Christians “picture that Jesus sat up and rubbed his eyes and pushed his way out of the tomb and started walking around on the ground”.

“That’s what happened in the story of Lazarus; it’s effectively a resuscitation … A person is pronounced dead and sits up and resumes life in this world. Whereas a resurrection – there’s only been one. It’s an entry into the mystery of God. The raised Christ isn’t just restored to this world; he’s transformed, never to die again. It’s a different thing altogether.”

Did Christ’s body get up and walk around again? “Not in that kind of way. When he appears in the stories, he appears from heaven, as it were, in the radical hiddenness of God. The raised Christ, for example, appears and is not recognised until the breaking of bread, and then he disappears … They want to describe the raised Christ in literal terms whereas I want to say the raised Christ is a mystery like God is a mystery.”

The man who led the Sydney boycott of Carnley’s inauguration, Reverend John Woodhouse, says, “My understanding is that he believes that the bones and flesh of Jesus rotted somewhere in Palestine. That’s a different view from both the view of the eyewitnesses who were present and the view of Christians down the ages. It’s a very significant thing to prevaricate on”.

In terms of the Bulletin article, Woodhouse says the main concern was the suggestion that Christ is not the only way to God, that there were people in this world who don’t need Jesus Christ as their savior.

Anglicanism has no “central control”. Bishops and dioceses function fairly independently of each other; Carnley has little executive power and must rely on moral suasion to influence others.

It is theoretically possible for Sydney and the rest of Australia’s Anglican “communion” to live with their growing differences. But it is also possible that lay presidency or some other contentious issue will trigger a formal schism.

Carnley has vowed that he will not be “bullied by fundamentalists”. He says he finds it “very hurtful” to be told he’s not a proper Christian: “I think any ad hominem abuse is undesirable.” How does he deal with it? “Oh, I grind my teeth at night a bit,” he chuckles. “And if necessary I write them a letter, pointing out that what they’ve been saying is defamatory and what do they plan to do about it.” His voice is suddenly steely: “I give them a few sleepless nights for the good of their souls.”

He takes a broad view of division. “It’s funny, isn’t it, that in a time when the world becomes more global it also becomes more tribal? Break down the Berlin Wall and then the whole Soviet Union breaks up into little groups.” He believes something similar will happen as Anglicans, Catholics and Lutherans move to unite: “I think as the ecumenical movement becomes more real, there are those who are going to opt out.”
BUT there are others who opt in because of Carnley’s inclusiveness. Jackie Weaver says, “Sydney’s very strange. There’s only about three churches I can go to. Whenever I read or hear what they’re saying about him in the Sydney diocese, that’s not the same person I know. The Carnleys are the epitome of what Christianity is all about: tolerance, and purity of heart, and generosity and forgiveness …”
Says Winton, who sees Carnley as a “useful moderate”: “It’s a fiery time for a normally lukewarm church – you can only wish the bloke luck.”

OUTSIDE the church it is his politics, rather than his theology, that has made Carnley controversial. He favors prescription heroin and injecting rooms, and opposed the GST on food.

His hero is Ernest Henry Bergmann. “He confirmed me; he was the bishop of Canberra-Goulburn. He was a wonderful Australian. He led the striking steelworkers down the streets of Newcastle during the depression demanding double the dole.”

In 1998 Carnley received an Order of Australia for his own contributions to theology, ecumenism and social justice. Most visible has been his support for reconciliation, which flowed from an earlier commitment to the anti-apartheid movement.

Carnley has a special relationship with the Ngarinyin people of the Kimberley following an approach several years ago by one of their elders, David Mowaljarlai.

Mowaljarlai had lost several children to problems including alcoholism, drugs and suicide, and wanted his last two boys to escape a similar fate. He offered a cross-cultural exchange: Carnley would find them places in a church boarding school, and in return Mowaljarlai would teach about Aboriginal art and culture. But Mowaljarlai died, leaving Carnley “Uncle Archbishop” – supplier of Walkmans and Reeboks – to a group that eventually grew to 11.

Carnley has been to “bush university” on their tribal lands. “There are galleries and galleries of ancient art, certainly more than 20,000 years old. It gave me a huge new perspective on this culture,” he says. “They have this figure called Wandjina … and Wandjina has no mouth because Wandjina is a manifestation of Wungud, sort of God. So it’s like an angel in the Old Testament, a manifestation of God himself.

“And the Ngarinyin people, when they see reflections of trees and rocks and cliffs in the water, they don’t see it as a reflection of the real cliff but see the reflection in the water as Wungud’s idea of the cliff. It’s wonderful; it’s like Plato, almost.”
But while his intellect delights in the play of their ideas, even Aborigines have been known to cop Carnley’s sometimes acid tongue. At one human rights awards function that ran late because of a routine by an Aboriginal comedian, Carnley, peeved that he might miss his plane, startled the liberal audience by remarking from the podium, “We seem to be running on Aboriginal time here today.”

“He can be blunt, and I suppose bluntness doesn’t always go with kindness,” says an old friend, the former governor-general Sir Zelman Cowen. “But underneath there’s a genuine warmth and caring.” Cowen, who is Jewish, read the first lesson at the church service for Carnley’s inauguration as primate.

Weaver was enlisted to a more worldly project: reading a play called Love Letters to raise money for charity during Carnley’s Anglican Awareness Week (slogan: “Anglicans make better lovers”.)
These are canny recruitments of a modern prophet who can read the signs of his multicultural and generally more tolerant times. It’s a world Carnley is keen to engage.

He believes that this is the difference between a sect and a church; the sect defines itself ever against a world it condemns – “I see that certainly in pockets in Sydney” – whereas the church connects with the world in order to transform it.

He has been criticised for placing what he believes to be right ahead of church unity. He has no regrets: “If there’s a tension, you’ve got to do what is right and that will be best for the unity of the church in the end. Like the ordination of women: You might say, `Let’s not do anything for a while until everyone agrees’ but that wouldn’t have produced unity … It would have exploded had we not moved.”

The revelation on the dirt road – that there is more to the universe than the material world – continues to underpin Carnley’s political views. In his inauguration address, Carnley quoted Vaclav Havel as saying that Marxism was wrong to assume that if you get the outward physical circumstances of human life right, that right morality, human relationships and culture would follow.

Carnley pointed out that it is now the West that needs disabusing of this idea. “In a curious inversion of dialectical materialism, we hear … that if we can get the economy right, then everything else will fall happily into place. Thus, Aborigines are told that what they need is housing and health services and all will be well .. .

“But something else is missing, something to do with consciousness: right fundamental attitudes, generosity of spirit, an open preparedness to acknowledge and honor the original custodianship of the land, and to own the many injustices of dispossession; in a word, spirituality is the essential nub of the matter.”

It is not a popular view in the corridors of power. But it has ever been the fate of the prophet to foresee what should happen long before people are ready to make it so.

First published in The Age.

Win some, lose some: the aftermath of the Kennett Express

IT HIT Bernie Finn in a few brutal seconds. He was watching television on the night of the state election last September. It showed three columns representing the status of seats: In Doubt, Cliffhangers and Gone.

“All of a sudden, my name appeared on the Cliffhangers,” remembers Finn, then a backbench Liberal MP for Tullamarine. “Within 45 seconds it had moved from Cliffhangers to Gone. I’ve been in a car accident, and it was almost that quick. I was absolutely stunned.”

For the rest of the Victoria, the fall of the Kennett government was merely the biggest political story of the year. For those riding the apparently invincible Kennett express, the derailment was a personal as well as a political cataclysm: most unexpectedly, they were out of a job.

This might have triggered some mirthless glee among those who had preceded them into the unemployment market as a result of the government’s massive public service cuts, or among those working longer hours for less reward as a result of its deregulation of industrial relations. But, schadenfreude aside, how did those ejected from the system manage to put their lives back together? Where do political beasties seek refuge after a mauling, and are their links to a fallen government a help or a hindrance?

Most of the big guns – the former premier and his ministers – are accounted for. Jeff Kennett has his part-time but high-profile commitment to the Institute of Depression and last week was reported to have spent $1.4million on a Richmond office block as the intended headquarters of a new company.

Former health minister Rob Knowles is now with the Macquarie Bank (as is ex-treasurer Alan Stockdale). Former education minister Phil Gude, who announced his retirement 12 months before the election, has been ill for several months after three bouts of surgery. But he is now back at work in “strategic communications” and property development, as well as being chairman of Connex Trains.

But several of the former MPs and staff members contacted for this story spent several months “having a holiday” after the election, perhaps the equivalent of an actor’s “resting between engagements”. Some are only now beginning to move back into paid work and, if their career plans were to have a common thread, it would be that amorphous word “consultant”.

Finn was a feisty rebel MP known for two things: beating Labor’s David White in the 1996 state poll and standing up to Kennett in the Liberals’ party room. The latter got him kicked in the head on a good day, he says dryly now, “and if he was in a bad mood, it was a bit lower down”.

Finn, who worked in radio before entering politics, is one of those who have been resting and catching up with friends and relatives for much of the year since the election. He says he was shocked and grieved – not to mention angry – for some time after the loss. He had been concerned that problems were looming for two years because of Kennett’s increasing autocracy as premier. “I’m still convinced to this day that if Jeff had kept his promise to retire at 50, we would still be in government.”

Finn believes he won his seat initially by campaigning on local issues, but last September, he says, “we weren’t allowed to do that. We tried, but at the end of the day the party’s campaign was so Jeff-centred that it just engulfed everything”.

Losing his seat “basically closed the chapter on seven years of my life”, says Finn. “It was very, very painful and very distressing. On a personal level it took quite a toll.”

Packing up the office was awful. “It’s almost like when you lose a close one; you really don’t want to go and organise the funeral, but you have to.”

Finn, 39, now has more time with his wife and two-year-old daughter and has set up Finn Communications, a political and media consultancy. “I’m enjoying it. It’s very different to what I was used to, but perhaps it was time for a change.”

Finn says it is paradoxical that voters who wanted to oust Kennett in the process ousted most of the MPs who had tried to moderate his policies. Stephen Elder, who held the seat of Ripon (formerly Ballarat North), had been one of these dissenters, staunchly advocating decentralisation policies and infrastructure projects to reverse population decline in the country.

Elder is a great-nephew of former Liberal premier Henry Bolte and, while he never became a minister under Kennett, had been viewed as a long-term potential leader. The state parliamentary secretary for education for seven years, Elder is now an adviser to federal Education Minister David Kemp.

“I was offered many chances to go into private enterprise or government or semi-government, but I chose this job because I would still be involved in education,” Elder says. “Education shapes the type of community you are going to have; it shapes values, it’s the ticket for many working-class kids to a better life.”

Elder says he was lobbied hard to stand for Kennett’s former seat of Burwood but refused because he wanted to stay in Ballarat, a desire that ruled out many other job offers. (In the late 1980s Elder twice defeated the current Premier, Steve Bracks, for the seat of Ballarat North.)

Of his future, Elder says federal politics would be too hard to combine with family life, and a return to state politics is unlikely. “Time will tell, and I don’t have politics completely out of my system, but the further away we get from last year’s election, the less inclined I will be to ever return to it.

“You realise the demands that politics places on you, that the most important things in your life are your wife and your kids, and that you can be financially better off and still have a fulfilling life.”

He is philosophical about the way he was overlooked for the ministry. “If I’d been a sycophant, then outcomes for me would have been better than they were. At the end of the day, my personal ambitions weren’t as great as my ambition to do good for my community. But I stayed true to myself, and I am very proud of that.”

One of Elder’s friends on the middle benches was Michael John, who was the member for Bendigo East and had been community services minister in the government’s first term. He lost despite the fact, he says, that Bendigo “had never had it so good”, with unemployment down and injections of money into the local TAFE and a new, Olympic-standard athletics track. He was shocked that half an hour after returns began coming in, he was out. “I kept scratching my head and thinking, `Of all the elections to lose!”‘

John had no escape route planned, but had kept his lawyer’s practising certificate up to date since entering politics in 1985. He refused an offer to join the bar through a Melbourne friend’s practice – “I’m 57 now, and felt that I was perhaps a bit too old to start on that” – and now works part-time with a legal firm in Bendigo.

He says the first six months of “holidays” before he started work again were testing. “I think it’s fair to say that I got under my wife’s feet, being around all day.”

Mind you, he got under her skin at times when he was the minister slashing $80million from community services. His wife works with the disabled in an adult training centre, which would have made for some full and frank exchanges of pillow talk. Did it cause marital discord? John laughs. “What do you think? As for when we cut the 17.5per cent leave loading – I almost got divorced over that one!”

When he’s not practising law, John is catching up on the years of gardening and reading for pleasure – including biographies of Winston Churchill and Michael Caine – that he missed.

Two country MPs who have not stayed close to home “after the fall” are Florian Andrighetto, the former member for Narracan, and Barry Traynor, who held Ballarat East. Both have returned to police careers in Melbourne. Victorian law allows them to re-enter the force after a term in parliament.

Traynor is a senior sergeant in the strategic planning unit and Andrighetto is a sergeant in the ethical standards department. Neither wished to comment further.

In the weeks after the initially uncertain election result, Kennett’s media director, Steve Murphy, encouraged the ministers’ 45 staff members – “valiant foot soldiers and lieutenants” – to line up other work in case the independents gave government to Labor. They all eventually found jobs, Murphy says, “although whether they are all doing things they really want to do, I wouldn’t know”.

He says that four months after the election: “I said to Mr Kennett one week: `There’s only two people unemployed now.’ He said, `Who?’ I said: `You and me.”‘

Murphy looks bemused: “Go figure.”

It’s not all that hard to figure. Murphy had a close relationship with Kennett, and the prospects of both were presumably tainted by the massive political defeat. The change of government also meant that Murphy and other staff members no longer had any connections with an incumbent administration to enhance their marketability as lobbyists and publicists in the private sector.

Says one staff member, who did not wish to be named: “Our career structure is probably different to Labor, where they tend to get re-absorbed back into the political structure. They return to local government or the trade unions; there’s also a career path where they go from advisers to MPs. For the ex-Kennett people, there was no one clear path of disengagement.”

Many of the “Kennett refugees”, as Kennett’s former chief of staff, Anna Cronin, calls them, are now in Canberra, where Cronin is a lobbyist with consultants Parker and Partners. Her fellow “exiles” include Serena Williams, who worked with Rob Knowles and is now with federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge; Tony Cudmore, now assistant director of the Australian Institute of Petroleum; Juliana Stackpole, senior adviser to
Environment Minister Robert Hill; Genevieve Atkinson, press secretary to Aged Care Minister Bronwyn Bishop; and former economic adviser Michael Brennan, now with Senator Kemp.

Cronin professes herself disappointed but unfazed by the election upset. She had already resigned, knowing she had to move to Canberra because of illness in her family. In any case, says Cronin, she is used to political setbacks; she was an adviser to Andrew Peacock and John Hewson, who also lost an “unloseable” election. “You get steeled to it.”

But most of her staff “were totally shell-shocked; they thought Jeff was infallible”.

Asked if election night was a shock, Murphy says laconically: “Yeah. It was a bit like the Toyota ad, really – `Oh, bugger!”‘

But he insists he had already decided to leave his job, and the election robbed him only of the ability to decide his own timing.

Was the former government’s famed good relationship with business of any use to Murphy or his staff? “To a degree,” he says cautiously. “But you can’t just pick up the phone and say: `I’ve got half a dozen blokes here; employ them!’ If you had someone with the right set of skills for a particular job, it does help.”

Another former Liberal press secretary, Ian Smith, left that job in 1995 to run the Melbourne operation of the public affairs and finance consultancy, Gavin Anderson and Co. He employs four former Kennett staff members – James Tonkin, Mark Triffitt, Tanya Price and the only one to have been with the government at the bitter end, Stockdale’s former chief of staff, Nick Maher.

Murphy himself had three months off after the election before taking on some consultancy work with an interstate company.

He is still “exploring other options”, a phrase also employed by the Liberals’ state director, Peter Poggioli. It was recently announced that Poggioli would not renew his contract, a decision he says was made months before the election.

Formerly a professional historian specialising in mediaeval and renaissance politics, Poggioli, 50, says a return to academe is unlikely and he hopes to find a niche in the private sector.

One of Murphy’s options has been a new venture with a company called Shoutitout, of which he is a director and Kennett is chairman. Murphy refuses to confirm or deny reports that the company will focus on publicity, public relations and e-commerce.

“There’s really no detail that I want to divulge about it at this stage. The only thing I am prepared to tell you is that it’s an idea we had been chewing on and developing for some months.”

Murphy denies rumors that he is writing an insider’s book about the Kennett era but admits he is compiling into some sort of order, for his own use, the detailed daily diary entries he made in that time.

Is it therapy? He looks appalled. “I wouldn’t use the word therapy! But am I doing it with the motivation of having it printed or published? I’m not. I don’t believe in kissing and telling.”

Now there’s a pity.

First published in The Age.

The midlife crisis? It’s a bloke thing

THE male midlife crisis is indeed male, according to research that has found women turning 40 are more confident and fulfilled than men the same age. The only area of life in which men and women feel equally dissatisfied is sex, with widespread unhappiness in the bedroom due to men’s increasing anxiety about their ability to perform sexually as they age.

The author of the report, social researcher and Age columnist Hugh Mackay, says many men interviewed for the study, Turning 40, complained their wives were not interested in sex.

“Then you’d hear about it from the other side of the fence; women were saying that around 40 their men seemed suddenly quite anxious about performance and were demanding sex more frequently … to affirm their sexual potency. It was quite a poignant aspect of the study. The women said everything would be fine if he would just relax and stop trying to be an adolescent.”

Mackay says women discussed the issue “with a lot of hilarity, but I think there was also an underlying sadness and difficulty about it”.

Women were suffering from the loss of the intimacy they craved; they were turned off by encounters based on an effort to shore up their men’s faltering sense of masculinity rather than a desire to connect.

“That’s the opposite of romance or intimacy,” Mackay says. “So the classic male behavior is then to wander, even if it’s just for a fling to find a younger woman with whom you can prove you are still a stud.”

Mackay and three other researchers interviewed eight groups of men and eight groups of women from lower-middle to upper-middle Australia. The interviews were conducted in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Wagga Wagga, the Blue Mountains and Bathurst.

The “spontaneous discussions” that resulted suggest that turning 40 means different things to different people; those content with their lives see it as an interesting milestone, while the unhappy experience it as a wake-up call to change. Typically, however, turning 40 signals a round of fresh doubts for men and a surge of relief for women.

While both sexes worry about physical decline, women are able to minimise their concerns as mere vanity, while for men it has darker implications about their potency generally, Mackay says.

“Women are superficially more concerned about the cosmetics, in that `drooping body parts’ sense. But leaving aside the beauty question, they have a really obvious sense of being ready to take off. It’s like a second wave of liberation.

“It’s a much more assertive point for women; they square their shoulders and say, `I know who I am. If people don’t like it, tough. I won’t be intimidated by anyone who thinks differently.”‘

Men also reflect and reassess at 40 but they are much more likely to go on as they are, “perhaps with an air of resignation”, Mackay says. He attributes this partly to the continuing strong cultural expectations of men to be the breadwinners.

“They doggedly press on because they have got families that are depending on them, so they can’t do anything dramatic. Some of the women in this study were disarmingly frank, saying, `This is great for us because it means we have the flexibility to make dramatic changes in our lives.’ They’ve got the freedom to do all this because he hasn’t.”

Mackay says 40-something women admit they talk about equality but are frightened by the idea of being the main breadwinner.

“They’re quite happy if they have a male partner who’s prepared to shoulder most of the responsibility for income.”

Men were also extremely conscious of the workplace scrapheap and the fact that making a change might leave them unemployable.

Said one: “Last year, I lost my job after 11 years with the one firm. I found it very, very difficult to get another one. That’s when you realise that 40 is no longer good for employment. I used to think it was 50.”

Mackay says experiences of the recession and unemployment have left these younger boomers questioning materialism and determined to teach their children there is more to life than possessions. Their twin terrors are that their children might be lured into drugs or develop depression and suicide.

“Even the mildest recreational drug use, which they themselves have engaged in, is somehow to be feared far above alcohol, although they are also concerned about alcohol.”

This commitment to family and concern about social problems has translated into a new understanding of what constitutes heroism, says Mackay.

“It’s more internal; it’s to do with psychological states and the quality of our relationships.

“It’s seen as people who are able to hold together a family under the very difficult conditions that would tend to fragment a family today, or people who are prepared to devote themselves to community needs at a time when we are ashamed of the extent of poverty and drug abuse and homelessness.”



‘I might have more wrinkles on my face, and parts of my body are heading south, but I don’t give a rat’s arse what anyone else thinks of me. For the first time in my life, I really fell sure of myself.’

‘Now I’m a bit more determined to make things happen. things have just been happening to me, and I think I’ll go out and do it now.’

‘Gravity is pulling down on everything. And don’t you find the mirrors at shopping centres cruel?’

‘He’s said a few times that he mightn’t be able to do it much more. And I say, “Some men go through to 70 or 80 having babies. What are you worried about?’

‘My grandmother was right. She used to say men are just big babies.’


‘Your body sends you message you can’t ignore, even though you’re still 18 in your head.’

‘Sex after marriage? There isn’t any.’

‘You don’t know what’s expected of you these days by your wife and your children. You have to be everything, the hard-working man, the hard-working housewife, the hard-working father.’

‘I suppose the days of coming home and sitting down and opening up the newspaper are gone.’

‘I know if I see a job application coming across my desk and the age is 43 or 44 I start to question if they’re too old.’

‘Feminism has made blokes softer. When I was 18, a bloke was a bloke, but now you have to hold back a bit.’

First published in The Age.