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In memoriam

When Philip Berrigan died of cancer in December 2002 he was 79. His struggle against American war policies had receded into the dimness of recent history in a culture that is now even more disturbed and embarrassed by civil disobedience than it was in the 1960s and ’70s. During that time he had been a Catholic priest, a Josephite in a Baltimore parish that was poor and black. His radical pacifism began in World War II. He saw and deplored the discrimination practised against black US soldiers by their own country, and developed a passion for social justice. In Baltimore he founded Peace Mission, an anti-war group that in 1966 picketed the homes of Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, and Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. Berrigan conducted raids on draft boards, burning or spilling red liquid on draft records. In a protest in Catonsville, Maryland, he was joined by his brother, Daniel, a Jesuit priest and poet. Together they became much-feted and extensively profiled celebrities of the peace movement.

The obituary in the New York Times and Washington Post quoted Noam Chomsky’s verdict on the two priest/activists: ‘heroic individuals, willing to do what many realise should be done, regardless of personal cost’.

Need to know

‘Accountability’ and ‘professional standards’ are among the watchwords of the moment. So if you want to hear them analysed and discussed you might like to take in the annual Public Affairs in the Public Sector conference in Canberra in March.

The conference, with its panel of experts from the public and private sectors, will address some of the trickier issues that PR professionals have to face day by day. Among them: managing media relations and working with crises (sometimes one and the same thing!). The conference will also look at current ethical issues (yes, that’s right—ethics), especially the need to inject corporate social responsibility and accountability into the communications mix.

The speakers form a line of those who know: political speech-writer, Bob Ellis, heads the team of presenters and will discuss the role of ‘spin’ in today’s communications. Marika Harvey, PR Manager for the ACT Government’s Chief Minister’s Department, will discuss the very pertinent question of how to manage the relationship between ministerial offices and government departments.

In addition there are speakers from the Department of Defence, Melbourne City Council, Telstra, Westpac, Department of Main Roads Queensland and more.

For more information about the conference, go to or call (02) 9923 5090.

G & S excess

There we were, all 17 of us, at Opera Australia’s production of Iolanthe. A few husbands and children, some lovers, a friend or three, and Mum. At 81, and in a wheelchair, she was the reason for the outing, a Christmas gathering in fealty to her past triumphs. The sets and costumes were far more lavish, more cod-Victorian than hers would have been in the 1940s when she was Phyllis, yet the parliamentary satire, even on the British system, still seemed fresh, still drew gales of laughter from an audience whose intimate knowledge of the libretto made up for the singers’ appalling diction. The honorable (indeed brilliant) exception to this was Denis Olsen who was, as ever, the cynosure of all eyes with his ruthless upstaging business, and of all ears with his pellucid patter. He is no longer young, but his voice has not aged at all: resonant, clear, deep, flexible and steady. The same couldn’t be said of the other singers: Iolanthe and the Fairy Queen both had old-lady vibratos that often bent their pitch, particularly at high notes. And when Phyllis began to sing, Mum turned to my sister and said in the penetrating stage whisper of the conveniently deaf: ‘Huh! Musical-comedy voice!’ When an unfortunate group nearby clapped prematurely she snapped ‘Shut up!’ All in all she had a wonderful time—it would have been quite disappointing if Opera Australia had been able to match the voices of wartime amateurs a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Writing on the wall

When Arthur Stace wrote ‘Eternity’ on Sydney footpaths it was a tender paradox: unendingness in the most fugitive medium—chalk—inevitably scuffed and sluiced away by shoes and rain. He created an illusion of lastingness until he died and the last copperplate sigil flitted away.

Yet on the whole, graffiti goes the other way: it lasts far beyond the currency of its idea. Who can forget travelling to work and seeing ‘Out Menzies’ well into the ’80s? Trevor Chappell’s underarm bowling rebuked for years on an inner urban wall; the twist of gender politics in the ’70s that declared war to be menstruation envy. The voices were silent long before the paint faded. The scratches in Pompeii were even more personal, more evanescent in their concerns, almost like email. But over the last few years on other inner urban walls, a voice has been crying out on a very particular, very personal issue. ‘More older  on TV’; ‘More hairy  on TV’; ‘More disabled  on TV’; ‘More gay  on TV’. You might wonder why the graffitist doesn’t just send in a CV to the networks. But lately the graffitist has gone to the trouble of climbing onto a five- or-six-foot-high junction box to write ‘More older  on TV’ over a Chivas Regal poster featuring a pretty girl. This feat makes you wonder whether the writer is in fact old or disabled. Maybe not even gay. Maybe not even . Maybe conundrums are eternal.



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