If you only read one novel this year which combines the atrocities of the Burma railroad, a love story, the pathlessness of heroes, and the pall rather than glory which war cast over Australia then make it this one (also this might be the only one).

Richard Flanagan – Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013)

This is the first Richard Flanagan book I’ve read and so I’m not sure whether it’s typical of his novels. I first heard of Flanagan when he donated the $40,000 prime ministers literary prize to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. It was reported at the time as part of a political statement though it seems Flanagan is a big supporter of the foundation and probably would have made the donation irrespective. That said it was an excellent statement. The Australian government at the time were bigots pretending to make tough decisions and have since been replaced with cowards pretending to make rational

Flanagan accepting the Prime Ministers Literary prize from Prime Minister, Tony Abbot. Image: ABC

decisions. In a country where many public figures are scared of sticking their necks out this seemed like a bombastic move and I, in turn, assumed Flanagan’s writing would perhaps be similarly provocative.

Taken simply The Narrow Road to the Deep North is not an antagonistic book. It would even be possible to skim through it and interpret it as straight award bait. The novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2014. Based on the incident of the returned prize money I wasn’t sure how Flanagan would approach the horrors suffered by Australian and Malay POWs at the hands of the Japanese as they were used as slave labour in the impossibly (and ultimately futile task) of constructing a railway through dense Jungle between Thailand to Burma

Flanagan’s novel uses more scope and perspective than past explorations of the Burma railroad

The tales of the suffering of Australian POWs has been told many times before in Australia print and, on the screen, and is often situated in such a way that it ties into the idea of the Anzac spirit and formation of national identity.

Flanagan doesn’t simply write tale of survival and the human spirit within the suffering and atrocity. He manages, convincingly, to also portray the faults and flawed humanity of the participants on both sides and adeptly jumps back and forth in time to deftly compile full portraits of his key players.

Flanagan uses extensive research and an amazingly convincing multiple character perspective, exemplified particularly in the shift, late in the book, to the Japanese and Malay soldiers. As if designed to be read on different levels there is a tale of lost love woven through the story and I think this could be the main focus for the casual reader. I initially clung onto it as the central narrative and theme of the book. It was only later, long after reading the book that I began to appreciate how Flanagan resists capitalising on this and other stories in the novel.

There are no conclusive tales of mateship, enduring love or good versus evil. Instead the book, apparently based on the experiences of his father, provides in its margins a frank look at suffering, the faults that can make up a hero and the shadow of lives and subsequent generations lived in the wake of war.


One of the best albums of 2018 is already being forgotten?

Evidence- Weather or Not (2018)

The third album by Evidence, Michael Perretta, once of Dilated Peoples, is almost a victim of its own perfect execution. Engaging from start to finish, its not just a vehicle for big singles padded out by skits and filler, but a real full-bodied album.

But are there tracks? Yes and no.

There’s one bigger single, Powder Cocaine (feat. Slug & Catero), which is great, but also almost feels out of place to the rest of the feel of the album.  Every track is good and some are excellent but they work better within the album as a whole.

This is Evidence building on his previous themes. The weather is fore-fronted more than

Michael Perretta aka Evidence

ever and serves as subject, buffer, metaphor and mood segue. Slow beats and quiet samples work with piano loops to create a steady rise and fall, quiet and crescendo. The feel of a gathering storm, the small squalls of morning rain, patches of weak sun breaking through heavy clouds at lunch, winds blowing the day back to grey and the uncertainty of knowing whether the clouds will darken and let loose or pass over and drop rain somewhere else.

Going forward through the rest of this year I think there are going to be a lot of albums that overshadow this its hard to imagine there’s going to be a hip-hop album that deserves more respect than Weather or Not.

Were the judges of Deep Fried Masters too thirsty?

Deep Fried Masters (2013)

In a different dimension it’s the judges of Deep Fried Masters, not the Kardashians, who fill our screens. There is speculation of their love lives past and present. Exultation in their successes and mourning at their failures.

These three judges, Jim Stacy, Butch Benaides and Abel Gonzales were selected for this hidden gem of a television show based on some mystery mix criteria probably now lost to time. They each have deep-fried awards, some charisma, stern beliefs about what works on the midway. What they do not have is any chemistry or basic respect for each other and fuck is it amazing.

Beyond the main attraction of the judges there is food, and, like the contestants, it is often equal parts gross and engrossing. The usual tropes and invented stakes of reality tv exist but are vastly simplified into the recurring problem of oil losing temperature.

Some of the value of the show is watching as contestants and judges struggle to act as if a falling temperature dial is going to disrupt the onslaught battered and crumbed meats and sweets. Another big part of the shows attraction is the ambitions and failures of the mixed bag of would be champions which include upright citizens, rednecks, and one actual swamp person. At least one contestant cooks drunk, a lot storm off in rage, and the most glorious of all, Gator, simply sits back and fails with a lackadaisical charm only a true carny could muster.

But the highlight, the true beauty of the show, is in the palpable tension between the three judges. They start off nervous and stilted but by the end of the first season are constantly throwing shade. Even in their lighter moments they bicker and argue and not even the tight editing can hide the flashes of resentment or contempt in their eyes as they disagree about batter crunch or flavour profiles.

At the height of their anger they trample their way through double-entendre’s about sausages and sticks and it seems one, perhaps all three, are closeted and the others are trying to out them. No other television show has this degree of nervous energy between three people. As if they might have slept together. As if they realise this is their big show, that they could become a cult hit, if only they could learn suppress decades of small business snark.

In a world where losers petition the ether for the return of awful sitcoms it’s amazing Deep Fried Masters was allowed to fail and fade away. Or perhaps these beautiful talented bearded men were just flames that burnt to bright for this world to handle.


Raising Cain (1992)

Brian De Palma

Is there anything better than the lunacy of a film both written and directed by Brian De Palma? Try John-fucking-Lithgow playing not one but five characters. The other actorsMV5BMzI1NzgxNzczMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjEzNTgwMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,745,1000_AL_ are essentially reduced to featured extras.

The movie is almost a one man show. Lithgow reacting to or against himself. Alternating between the deer in the headlights as seen in his character from 3rd Rock From the Sun or Planet of the Apes and the seething menace as seen in his villain from Cliffhanger.

Like most of De Palma’s early films Raising Cain is bat shit crazy. It’s filmed in soft focus and with the melodrama of a soap opera or daytime TV movie. De Palam shows off with long tracking shots and simultaneously confuses as scenes and story lines clash together. The movie for the first half is confusing and unsettling as the John Lithgow’s various characters kill and kidnap women and children.

Lithgow and the film are at once sinister and laughable, surreal and unnerving. It’s camp and it’s deadly serious and above it all Lithgow shines. Oh boy does he shine.


Moosebumps: An Exploration Into Modern Day Horripilation

Dr Octagon

Popped my head up from under a rock long enough to realise it wasn’t just MF Doom that released new tracks in the last month but the Doc Oc as well. While I’m still unsure on the Czarface/MF Doom collab (need to give it more time), this, Dr. Octagon’s first album in twelve years, is possibly an instant classic. Dark production and fast flows, there’s not a track thamoosebumpst goes over five minutes or outstays it’s welcome. The medical horror themes still run heavy through the lyrics, and they’re still gross, but aren’t as emphasized as in the past where I thought they overshadowed the skill of the rapping, production, or DJ’ing. There’s only a couple of very short skits, no filler tracks, and a return to Pushead artwork. Awesome.

Shifty eyed fruits and vegetables

Wholesale produce has the best advertising.

A sentient capsicum and a sentient eggplant (possibly planning to engage in inter-cultivar fornication) look guilty while driving a model t style ford fashioned out of the carcass of a zucchini and using baby pumpkins for tires. #Truecrime

The Lancefield Black Panther

Australia is riddled with black panthers, jaguars and pumas. They are skittish and seldom seen. Deadly dangerous and fiercely secretive. Some claim they are a myth. But, if that were the case, how could so many people know so much about them? I visited Lancefield because it is a town that has added their own small dollop of bullshit onto a pile as high as nearby Mt Macedon. They have a black panther and I wanted to see it.

Lancefield is a small town. It has a short main street with a handful of shops including bakeries, cafes, book stores and galleries. At the end of the street is a disproportionally large and very grand hotel. A common fixture of towns of or near the goldfields.

As far as small out of the way country towns go it seems better than most. There are also some important ties to history, Wikipedia tells me, but, ultimately it is like a lot of other places.

What makes Lancefield different and why I’ve visited, will visit again, will even take unwitting overseas or city friends for trip to get a neenish tart is because Lancefield has a black panther sculpture. The sun is already beginning to take its toll upon it and the lustre of black is quickly fading to grey. The sculpture isn’t necessarily worth the visit, it’s not very big and it’s not very impressive. There is a similarly not quite impressive story behind it. As the Midland Express writes, the sculpture mysteriously appeared overnight one weekend back in 2015.

No one knows who made it or how it was delivered.

Except the same article does go on to quote the mysterious creator. He or she details how they had three people help and a forklift to install the piece. In a town with a population of less than 2500 it seems likely the mystery is a little bit of a conceit. But, be that as it may, the sculpture exists. It was supposedly installed without the sanction of the council. In this area that is enough of an accomplishment. Plus, that there is any level of mystery even it seems a little forced is truly in the spirit of the Australian black panther.

Every year there is a big cat sighting in different parts of Victoria or different parts of Australia. There has been photos and video footage, but they are not considered definitive proof. Naysayers are quick to discredit witnesses. Claiming they are drunk, that the footage of black beasts only shows overgrown feral domestic cats.

I remember hearing stories of large cats ever since I was a child. Variously described as panthers, jaguars, pumas or leopards the popular theory in my town was they were the mascots of, and had escaped from, American military training bases during WW2.

This ABC article posits the theories of other districts and eras. That the large cats escaped from zoos or could have been brought back as souvenirs with troopships returning from Africa. The article is surprisingly reasonable about the existence of the large cats though also points out that the appeal of the rumour is that it allows us to imbue the landscape with a sense of mystery.

It’s not just the cats that are the mystery though but the origins of the stories. In my story of escaped military mascots, I questioned why the American army would allow their soldiers to have such dangerous mascots. I took for granted that there were mascots, and that there were enough American military bases to sustain a breeding based of escaped Pumas. I’ve since never been able to confirm the existence of such bases or mascots (although perhaps that’s because covered it all up – seriously though).

I think it’s the stories of the large cats are the most enthralling part. Because they have been passed on so effectively for so long, decades, without the help of internet or television. The stories have different local flavours and are imbued with embellishments to suit different districts. In the mountains the cats are shadows which retreat to the peaks at night, leaving little but the occasional paw print behind them. The large cats of farming districts are responsible for the mysterious mutilations of livestock.

The Macedon ranges are an area which trades heavily upon the invented mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock. It is also a place which is increasingly at war with itself on whether to allow or prohibit development as people move into the area from Melbourne.

Whether it came mysteriously or not. Whether it was sanctioned beforehand or retrospectively by a council often paralysed by the paradoxical needs of its constituents, the black panther of Lancefield is great for its homage to drunken sightings and fear of the bush. The chance that we don’t really know what roams the vast countryside and deserts. That there still might be mysteries hidden in folklore.

Vice Principals

Jody Hill & Danny McBride

Anyone who tells you Vice Principals is their favourite show is probably lying. They’re a contrarian, or they’re young, or they’ve been trapped in a cult for the last thirty years and this is the only TV show they’ve ever seen but, most likely, they’re lying. Because while Vice Principals is a great TV show, and it really is a great TV show, it’s not a show designed to be anyone’s favourite. I’d be surprised if it’s the creator’s partners favourite

Danny McBride & Groundlings alumni and the person who should be getting offered every comedy part in the world, Edi Patterson.



Yet it is great! And in only 18 episodes split over two seasons. In this short run it creates a town, and a school, it has a murder mystery, the rise and fall of an empire, the growth and destruction of multiple characters ambitions and hopes and, in the process, it sees characters move from good to evil and sometimes back to good while others become eviller and others sink down into a quiet malevolent grey area. It is a comedy but also a show which at times makes you question whether you should watch on. Taking characters, you think you love, or at least like, into dark repugnant places while also submitting them to the same pain and heartbreak they caused to others and yet, all the while, still being funny and entertaining.

It’s nobody’s favourite show but it should be the benchmark for what television can aspire to, even in comedy, especially in comedy. Bespoke, twisted visions of chaos,

Walter Goggins as Lee Russell

violence, heartbreak, triumph and revenge which can come from organic places, origins as seemingly petty as wanting to move from vice-principal to principal.


Unlike other short run shows which have attracted a cult following (such as Deadwood, Freaks and Geeks or Firefly) Vice Principals wasn’t cancelled but designed from the outset to be a flash in the pan. It was a show based on innately American subject matter but presented with the brevity and finite arc of most English comedy.

The shows main attraction and a good part of its restrained marketing campaign was that Vice Principals seemed to be either a follow-up or tangential to Danny McBride’s previous series Eastbound and Down. Similarly, to the Eastbound character of Kenny Powers McBride plays his character here, the vice-principal Neal Gamby, as loud, crude and wilfully ignorant. Gamby, like Powers, is a character trapped in a state of arrested development, a mix of juvenile reactivity and conservative defensiveness. Unlike in Eastbound McBride isn’t required to do all of the heavy lifting and is more restrained. He is the protagonist, sure, but also the straight man to Walter Goggins’ brilliantly maniacal co-vice president Lee Russell. McBride plays the perfect patsy to Goggins’ fey, manipulative, crazed yet poised, joker-like teaching bureaucrat.

Meanwhile the solid acting of the supporting cast provides a realistic grounding while

Busy Phillips & Shea Whigham

also often helping with the pivots and setups for some of the show’s best comedic moments. It’s, again, testament to how much this show achieves that it uses McBride in such a way that the tone can shift so easily and so often. Busy Phillips and Shea Whigham as McBride’s estranged wife and new partner could, themselves, be the basis for a whole show about family. In the very next scene Groundlings alumni Edi Patterson might be chewing the scenery as the simultaneously crazed lover of McBride’s Gamby and the conniving foil to Goggins’ Russel.


If this show had transposed the occupation of its character from Vice Principals to federal politicians, it would have probably won every single Emmy. It would have blown House of Cards out of the water and made them bury that crippled horse rather than try to keep it racing beyond the fall of it’s main character. It is the fact that Jody Hill and Danny McBride can mine so much from these base characters, these small stakes and local locations that makes what they produce so special.



Old Kyneton Hospital

Because apparently empty buildings are the best way to conserve the ‘vibe’.

The Old Kyneton Hospital was founded in 1857. It has been abandoned since 2005 boarded up and fenced off on the top of the hill overlooking the Campaspe river.

To the left of picture is the small red brick infectious diseases ward. Not picture, behind this building, is the small blue stone mortuary building.

There has been interest in developing the old hospital into housing but it has been met with resistance by residents amidst fears the heritage facade will be compromised. This is hardly surprising considering how garish the original planing proposals were. There is an interest group that is calling for it to continue to be used as a public space. The inside of

The mortuary behind the main building. Credit: realestate.com.au

the property has been gutted so this move would require a large investment to make it a viable working site of any kind.

Development seems to be the best option for the site but allowing such poorly fitting plans to be proposed have understandably worried residents. If the development plan had been more fitting for the area it may not have seemed to prohibitive to residents. That said, the reluctance to renovate the hospital is perhaps representative of a growing conflict in the Macedon ranges area. The population and housing prices are increasing as people look to move outside of Melbourne’s overcrowded suburbs.

It is hard to know if there is any rhyme or reason as to which groups are conservative and who are progressive in terms of development. Anecdotally it seems the more senior long term residents and new residents are interested in conserving the old and quiet feel to the town. In the case of senior residents who may be retired there is no incentive to allow growth of any kind in the area. Similarly newer residents may who have moved from Melbourne are likely to work and socialize in the city. They may not need increased business in their new country homes and, potentially, not wish to see development in the hope that property prices will continue to rise and offer them capital appreciations.

Longer-term residents of the area who are younger or middle-aged, who have lived longer, worked and socialise in the area are potentially more interested in seeing sites such as this be utilised. In addition to the hospital also contains several abandoned pubs and factories.

This difference becomes stark when there are new and senior residents who organise Facebook groups and events to save the old Kyneton hospital building. Meanwhile long-term residents who were actually patients at the hospital shudder at the memory of being treated inside those blue stone walls in its latter years. Again this is anecdotal rather than necessarily representative but seems to reflect the growing tension between residents and traders to towns opening up to cater for growing populations.


This isn’t a new situation. For decades the changes in primary industry and retail have led to downswings in country towns throughout Australia and probably throughout the world. Small towns are usually prone to high youth unemployment and above average general unemployment rates. A new study also shows the prevalence of homelessness among these small regional areas.

The old Kyneton hospital is a an empty shell growing ever closer to collapse through sheer lack of action. Some of the blame lies with developers because, well some of the blame always lies with developers who, as always, were greedy in their proposal. It is understandable that residents have sought to preserve the heritage facade of the building. It is inexcusable that so much land, and potential housing, in this and the many other buildings in the area have been allowed to languish while there is homelessness and rising property prices.

The Kyneton hospital is an example of why interest groups, council members and politicians should hesitate to so quickly bemoan the lack of jobs, rising property prices or the exodus of the youth from regional areas. Large buildings like this and the steel casting factory have stood vacant for decades. Half the businesses in town are empty or for sale and many are reluctant to stay open late lest slow trade cuts into their daily profits. In situations like this where the lack of action seems almost an act of self-sabotage its often hard to know if the councils, red tape, indecision or indecisiveness is representative of sheer incompetence or a weak form of corruption.

The Hospital site approximately twenty years ago. Adjacent buildings have since been demolished. Credit: Victoria Heritage Database