Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
One of books I read as a child was a collection of Alan Marshall's Australian short stories, "Tell Us About The Turkey, Joe". It was my mother's book and although written for adults she had warmly recommended it to me. Marshall's stories, some of them no more than sketches, were in the best tradition of Australian realism, filled with a love and respect for the dignity of ordinary people. His travels had taken him all over Australia and his stories reflected his encounters with people and the tales they told. He was the master of anecdote and of the autobiographical novel. He was equally at home with comic as with dramatic and moving material. A strong friend of the USSR, he championed world peace and supported the socialist world in the face of Cold War hostility. At one time Marshall was probably the most popular of all Australian writers. His autobiographical novel "I Can Jump Puddles", about his struggle to overcome the effects of polio, was made into a feature film in Czechoslovakia and a TV series by the ABC. Next year is the centenary of Alan Marshall's birth. Which makes it doubly shameful that right now not a single novel or short story by Marshall is still in print in this country. His works are no longer on the secondary schools curriculum as far as I know (you cannot study a book if you can't buy stocks of it). Like other progressive Australian writers such as Katherine Susannah Prichard and Judah Waten, Marshall is being quietly consigned to oblivion. This year is the centenary of Elanor Dark's birth but our television screens are not exactly inundated with adaptations of "The Timeless Land" or "Storm of Time", or documentaries on her life and work, are they? I believe that there is a move to mark Marshall's centenary next year with a combined publishing and TV documentary venture. Let's hope it gets off the ground. It remains scandalous that there should be any doubt about it. Surely this is exactly what the ABC was set up to do?
* * *Fallen star The US actor Robert Downey Jr has been busted on charges of drug or weapons possession (or both) on numerous occasions over the past five years. Each of these busts took place in a blaze of media coverage, as can only happen to a US movie star in disgrace. Downey's friends quite correctly treated him as someone with a problem. They rallied to help him get back on his feet each time. Most recently, they got him a guest role on the popular series "Ally McBeal". This was sufficiently successful that the producers extended Downey's gig and had more scripts written to accommodate his character. But Downey, as we said, has a problem. So he was busted for using drugs again. This being the US, the authorities treat him as a criminal. The producer of "Ally McBeal", Robert E Kelley, who could not possibly have been unaware of Downey's well-known drug problem when he was hired, promptly fired him — presumably to reassure Middle America that the show would have no truck with drugs. The US President and his new drug tsar, John Walters (who was the deputy head of drug policy in George Bush Senior's administration) are both firm advocates of mandatory prison sentences for drug users. Bush, the "compassionate conservative", said during the announcement of Walters' nomination: "Acceptance of drug use is simply not an option for this administration. "John Walters and I believe the only humane and compassionate response to drug use is a moral refusal to accept it." Humane and compassionate jail sentences are clearly better. But, as US commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson has said, "There's nothing wrong with Downey's entertainment industry friends, and a star-struck public, pleading for empathy for him and urging the courts to spare him a long prison sentence, and give him the help that he desperately needs. "But there are thousands of drug offenders that need the same compassion and help as Downey. The big difference is that these drug abusers aren't high-profile, bankable screen commodities. "They are mostly poor, blacks and Latinos. The estimate is that nearly one- fourth of the more than one million blacks that pack America's prisons are there for non-violent, drug-related crimes." * * *Keeping the peace, not! How do you ensure that a peaceful, non-violent demonstration becomes violent? You unleash an armed police force upon the demonstrators with a free hand to use vast quantities of dangerous, harmful and highly provocative (not to mention totally unwarranted) weapons. That's what was done in Seattle and even more so in Montreal, at the recent protests against the Summit of the Americas. For the Montreal rallies, the authorities attacked the demonstrators with no less than 4709 canisters of tear gas "1700 by Quebec provincial police and a whopping 3009 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian "feds"". In addition, the two forces fired an incredible 822 plastic bullets at demonstrators. These are the same large, solid and extremely hard plastic- or rubber-coated projectiles that are used in Palestine and before that in Northern Ireland to maim or sometimes kill protestors. So extreme was the police warfare in the streets that a Quebec government- appointed panel has labelled the amount of tear gas used by the provincial police "abusive" (in the sense that it was an abuse of their powers). But the Mounties used almost twice as much. That it was abusive would seem axiomatic. Whether it was excessive would, I suppose, depend on just what the Canadian authorities were trying to achieve. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the opportunity to practice state terrorism in the streets in front of a sympathetic media was not unwelcome to the Canadian Government and its corporate backers, on both sides of the border with the US.