EXPLOSIVE revelations of government filing cabinets filled with classified documents ending up at a Fyshwick op-shop have sparked a few yarns from long-retired Canberra public servants.


One involves a filing cabinet idly gathering dust since the ’70s due to a lost combination. Finally, in the mid-’90s a manager asked if anyone knew the code and received a negative reply with the reminder of the government’s two full-time locksmiths.

Tradesmen were summoned and the dusty relic was opened in less than five minutes. Nothing inside except an amusing, five-page “report to the minister” dated 1975. The original briefing was identical to one written 20 years later, taking 50 pages to articulate the same message. No secrets there.

IS Transport Canberra re-defining the job description of the humble lollipop lady? Signs have been erected at the busy bike/pedestrian crossing in front of Turner Primary School proclaiming “TRAFFIC MUST STOP when directed by the Traffic Supervisor”. A lollipop lady/person should be a sufficiently, universally recognised and totally non-negotiable signal for traffic to STOP. Why the need for heavy-handed signs posted all around the site? A prudent practice to protect the kiddies or just another example of pandering to the ever increasing demands of the pedal push?

THE capital continues to punch well above its weight in yet another aspect of hospitality – the hipster hop. Eight Canberra-brewed beers have been included on a prestigious list of craft beers. The GABS (Great Australasian Beer Spectacular) Hottest 100 Craft Beers for 2017 lists Bentspoke’s “Crankshaft” at number three. The brewer was also recognised for its “Sprocket” (24th) and “Barley Griffin” (27th). Fyshwick’s Capital Brewery’s products were also recognised (25th, 28th and 68th). While Pact’s “Mount Tennent Pale Ale” is in at number 50.

STILL at the bar and choosing a “watering hole” for a catch-up beer with a former colleague proved problematic. Nailing the locality (Kingston) was the easy part, but the venue? What about Hale & Mary or The Dock or Walt & Burley or the Beef & Barley? Couldn’t help wonder how a “fruity but caramel-centred” craft beer would have gone down in the smoke-filled front bars of bloodhouses such as The Commercial, The Railway or clubs in which I (mis)spent most of my youth.

CANBERRA dominates the national rental shortage conversation. Arriving students are increasingly forced into couch-surfing after failing to find suitable housing. Stats suggest house and apartment rentals in Canberra have shot up to be third highest in the nation behind Darwin and Sydney. Students report queueing with dozens of others at property inspections. A group of four young professionals looking to share are still without a roof after applying for more than 25 rental properties since early January.

THE TGA’s ban on over-the-counter codeine products to curb overdoses has created new problems for those who need to manage pain. The Canberra Endometriosis Network has been swamped with comments from frustrated women who say the ban exacerbates the already widespread problem they face in having endometriosis recognised.

One woman wrote: “Being an apprentice hairdresser, I have to spend $75 to try and get stronger drugs so I can still work. I’m so sick of the judgement looks at the pharmacy as I have tatts and my hair is purple and, apparently, I look like a drug addict.” Another says: “I can’t afford to spend $80 a month to explain to my doctor who is already aware of my pain.”

A HUMOROUS guide to what’s going down in the capital – using acronyms – is flying around the twittershire. For newcomers and old-timers alike @realcanberra posted a list of acronyms under the banner “Is Your Child Texting About Canberra?” Here are some of them: AMA – Ascent Mt Ainslie; BRB – Belconnen Rocks Bruh; LMAO: Lucky Mooseheads is Always Open, and the odd abbreviation, IDC – Ideal Date Carillon. But no WTF? Wasting Time in Fyshwick!



LATE 2013 I left the Capital Radio Network – after more than a decade as a presenter – frustrated at the workplace culture. A “Canberra Times” front-page story suggests little has changed.


Journalists Tom Mcllroy and Tracey Spicer reported management’s alleged failure to properly address claims of sexual harassment brought by a young, female journalist against 2CA announcer Frank Vincent. Vincent – labelled by staff as “untouchable” – was sacked a day after management received a list of questions from the “Times”. Word from long-term Mitchell staffers is that the former breakfast personality is not the only one perceived to be “untouchable”.

“OUR Nick” may have finally won our respect. In losing to Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open “The Australian” sport reporter Will Swanton says that by having a “serious crack”, the Canberra superstar Nick Kyrgios “lost nothing but may have found something”. Swanton reports Kyrgios was “still telling his courtside box to f— off. He was still chastising them, embarrassing them and ordering them to stand the f— up. He slammed a ball into the grandstand and escaped a code violation. But all was okay. Why? Because he was giving 110 per cent”.

A YEAR ago “Seven Days” reported the “rare sight” of two men sitting in deck chairs on a traffic island at peak hour at Canberra’s most dangerous intersection. The pair of locals held grave safety fears after the installation of traffic lights at the Gundaroo Drive/William Slim Drive/Barton Highway roundabout and took ringside seats to witness the “switching on” of the $10 million project. One year on it appears the doubters were wrong. ACT Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris says “between January and December 2017 a total of 47 accidents was reported compared with an average of 100 per year for the 2012-16 period”.

CANBERRA transgender athlete Hannah Mouncey, who made national headlines last year after being barred from playing in the national women’s AFLW competition, is gearing up for another season with the Ainslie club. The former Commonwealth Games handball representative posted on Facebook: “Just re-registered for season 2018, now let’s see what happens”. Mouncey was blocked from playing in the inaugural competition being deemed “to have an unfair advantage” over the rest of the competition. Whether the goalposts will be shifted to include Mouncey this year is not clear, but the issue will certainly dominate coverage of the second season of the highly successful AFL initiative.

PERSONAL injury law firm Blumers has cleverly used social media to promote a decade-old TV commercial campaign that featured principals Mark and Noor Blumer’s five-year-old grandson Max. Max, who began “spruiking” at the age of two, was back on the box – for January only – in the silent-movie themed spots. For the record “little” Max – whose line was “call Blumers” – now stands over 183 centimetres (six foot) and is in year 12.

A SHORT piece in “City News” late last year plugging a reunion for staffers at the Australian Government Publishing Service has brought romance in the New Year for two single Canberrans. Ron and Angela were colleagues at the Kingston site and dated several times, but had not seen each other since 1973. Ron, now 71, claims to have no memory of the back-in-the-days dates, though Angela suggests Ron’s amnesia is “selective” for a good reason. The romance came to a shuddering halt when he over-indulged and left Angela to find her own way home from a party to which he’d taken her. But time heals all.

CONVENTIONAL wisdom says “giving a dog a bad name” is not good but here’s a tip anyway. The good oil is that a young greyhound with the pedestrian moniker of “Nugget” but renamed “Community Values” by those lobbying the Barr government to lift a ban on the sport in the ACT -– came second in its first race and shows signs of a promising career on the track.


The one-liners were impeccable, unimprovable. Dangerfield spent years on them; he once told an interviewer that it took him three months to work up six minutes of material for a talk-show appearance.

CreditAllen Tannenbaum/Images Press/Getty Images.

Imagine having no talent. Imagine being no good at all at something and doing it anyway. Then, after nine years, failing at it and giving it up in disgust and moving to Englewood, N.J., and selling aluminum siding. And then, years later, trying the thing again, though it wrecks your marriage, and failing again. And eventually making a meticulous study of the thing and figuring out that, by eliminating every extraneous element, you could isolate what makes it work and just do that. And then, after becoming better at it than anyone who had ever done it, realizing that maybe you didn’t need the talent. That maybe its absence was a gift.

These were the stations on the via dolorosa of Jacob Cohen, a.k.a. Rodney Dangerfield, whose comedy I hold above all others’. At his peak — look on YouTube for any set he did between 1976 and 1990 — he was the funniest entertainer ever. That peak was long in coming; by the time he perfected his act, he was nearly 60. But everything about Dangerfield was weird. While other comedians of that era made their names in television and film, Dangerfield made his with stand-up. It was a stand-up as dated as he was: He stood on stage stock-still in a rumpled black suit and shiny red tie and told a succession of diamond-hard one-liners.

The one-liners were impeccable, unimprovable. Dangerfield spent years on them; he once told an interviewer that it took him three months to work up six minutes of material for a talk-show appearance. If there’s art about life and art about art, Dangerfield’s comedy was the latter — he was the supreme formalist. Lacking inborn ability, he studied the moving parts of a joke with an engineer’s rigor. And so Dangerfield, who told audiences that as a child he was so ugly that his mother fed him with a slingshot, became the leading semiotician of postwar American comedy. How someone can watch him with anything short of wonder is beyond me.

“To be a comedian,” he said, “you have to get onstage and find out if you’re funny.” He wasn’t. During his first career, performing as Jack Roy, he was a singing waiter, used props, tried impressions. Even after his second coming — using a stage name devised by a club owner as a gag — and becoming a regular on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” he could be miserable. In a YouTube clip of him performing on “Sullivan” in 1969, Dangerfield’s face is the unsettling bluish-pink of raw chicken. The jokes — about getting directions, his wife’s driving, their apartment — keep bombing. The setups are too long; the delivery is too slow; the punch lines are so lame that you can hear the scattered laughter of distinct individuals. Even worse, he panders. “I’ll tell you, it’s nice to hear you laugh,” he says at one point. It’s almost unseemly.

In the decade that followed, Dangerfield eliminated everything from his act but the setups and punch lines. In his determination to unlock how they worked, he devised multiple jokes around the same setup, like a composer writing variations on a theme. “When I was born, I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother” might be followed with “I was an ugly kid. When I was born, after the doctor cut the cord, he hung himself.” His body of work is a codex, a “Well-Tempered Clavier” of comedy.

Most comics use the setup and punch line like a nail and hammer, but Dangerfield used them as a theremin player uses her hands, to bring forth strange, unexpected effects. Some were so masterful and odd that they transcended linear logic. My favorite joke of his — “I told my dentist my teeth were going yellow. He told me to wear a brown necktie” — barely makes sense at first. It’s a bewildering piece of misdirection. But it works as a marvel of dream logic, a joke Kafka might have liked.

With other jokes the angle between setup and punch line was so acute that it momentarily stunned the audience, requiring an extra beat to sink in and creating opportunities of timing. You can watch one at the close of a Dangerfield set on the “Tonight” show. It’s Aug. 1, 1979, and he’s at the summit of his craft. As with the very best comedians, the laughter begins before he speaks. His delivery is angry, rapid-fire, leaving the audience no time to recover. The standup portion kills, but everyone knows the better part will happen at the host’s desk, where Johnny Carson, pulling on a cigarette, will gamely set him up.

Continue reading the main story

The Firestorm which failed to dim the Red Lights of Canberra

By Mike Welsh


One telling aspect of the firestorm was the obvious resilience of Canberra’s famously ordered sex industry. At midnight, with the charred remains of over 500 homes still glowing in the South, four people dead and scores of injuries, the red light district of Mitchell in the North still bore its distinct crimson “open for busines” glow.


This week marks the 15th anniversary of the ferocious firestorm which roared through Canberra’s South. Jan 18 2003 remains an extraordinary and unforgettable  day.  A day when over 500 homes were destroyed and 4 people lost their lives.


Just after midday (with the local ABC still broadcasting sport from Melbourne) my radio station 2CC had already been on maximum alert for six hours. The official warning “siren” sound effect broadcast in the event of a disaster had been wailing since early morning.  Very few including some of we radio “old hands” had  heard this sound effect before.

Canberra, which had been casually alert for most of the past 10 days was now about to become extremely alarmed.

I was tossed a set of car keys and told to get to a press conference at which it was anticipated a state of emergency would be declared.

Having landed in Canberra two weeks earlier and with no idea in which direction I should head, I made a rare executive decision commandeering a junior journo to ride shotgun.

It wasn’t until we had left Northbourne Ave and were crossing Commonwealth Ave Bridge that Junior Journo-who’d arrived in town just 3 weeks ago- sheepishly confessed to being just as clueless.

We continued to drive and miraculously stumbled upon the inner-south suburb of Curtin-the then home of the ACT emergency services HQ.

Our day and that of tens of thousands of Canberrans was about to become surreal.

Hastily arranged, in no particular pecking order, at a long, narrow conference room table alongside Canberra based network “superstars”, we waited. (Laurie Oakes and Paul Bongiorno, in summer weekend attire of shorts, floral shirts and Dr Scholls sandals is a rare sight to behold)

With choppers hovering overhead dousing the embers which had begun to fall on the roof, a trio of slightly agitated and confused men (AFP Chief, ACT Fire Chief and ACT Chief Minister  Jon Stanhope) huddled together.

From just centimetres away it was clear from the animated but whispered conversation that possibly there were just a few too many “chiefs” with no clear format for declaring a State of Emergency.

State of Emergency eventually but inelegantly declared, we headed  into the heart of the fire, only to be stopped by police and funnelled with scores of vehicles fleeing the destruction into the car park of a large shopping mall.

We spent the next 2 hours among a large and ever-growing group of people who had been ordered to evacuate their homes and suburbs or be arrested.

Their shocked and defeated body language was on display for all to see, people alighted vehicles which had been hastily jammed with their worldly possessions: suitcases, picture frames and pets. Many had had less than 10 minutes to evacuate. Some already knew they had no home to return to. Others just hoped and prayed. Being a journalist on a day like this was very difficult.

An eerie darkness fell over the south of Canberra mid-afternoon accompanied by a bright orange ring around the horizon and the frightening tornado-like sound which was a ferocious fire storm ravaging over 500 family homes nearby.

Back in Mitchell on air that night I took a call from the BBC. Londoners were waking to the far-fetched news that the Capital city of Australia had been totally destroyed by fire. The BBC man was surprised we were still able to broadcast and needed some convincing that Canberra had not been completely obliterated.

We took hundreds of calls to air that night, including one from an eccentric elderly lady who had been forced into a makeshift emergency shelter for the night. Like many she only had time to pack one large bag of her belongings before being ordered to leave her home.  At the shelter some “low bastard” she told me had stolen her lippy and several wigs from her stash of possessions.

Another pig-headed open line caller refused to grasp the grim reality that the city was essentially locked down and cut in half. Her boyfriend, a methadone patient, was “climbing the walls” because his local clinic had closed. She demanded I get her man his Methadone.

But the most significant aspect of the long day of disaster was the obvious resilience of Canberra’s famously ordered sex industry. At midnight, with the charred remains of over 500 homes still glowing in the South, four people dead and scores of injuries, the Red Light district of Mitchell in the North still bore its distinct crimson “open for busines” glow.



By Mike Welsh

With the SSM debate getting hotter and nastier and, if possible, more blatantly disproportionate, it’s fair to speculate many are clamming up when talk turns to the postal poll. From those that I’ve asked, some are voting “Yes” over “No” for the sake of peace.

A “Yes” vote of course will almost always guarantee acceptance or a tick of approval, but to suggest you may be thinking in the negative will almost always result in vilification. Such is the nature of this argument. This is no longer a debate.


As the SSM postal survey voting papers arrive in mailboxes across Australia, and pictures of “Yes” boxes ticked swamp social media, Tasmanian-born comedian Hannah Gadsby has injected some rare balance and consideration into the divisive debate.

Speaking with 7.30‘s Leigh Sales to promote her new and final (Gadsby is retiring from stand-up) show, the openly gay performer said the same sex marriage debate had made her “tired”, adding “this shouldn’t be happening. To make us subject to a majority vote means we have to prove ourselves worthy and that’s exhausting.”


The 39-year-old, who has just won the prestigious Edinburgh Comedy Award, says “it’s also unfair for those who oppose gay marriage because the ‘No’ vote comes with a lot of stigma and these people are being dragged out because they know they want to say publicity why they want to vote ‘No’, and their ideas are steeped in ignorance. But what I don’t doubt is what informs their need to say so ‘No’ or speak out and that’s just general concern, and who am I to doubt why people are concerned about what’s happening? Parents are concerned about the way children are taught about gender and sexuality. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s good to be concerned.”

Gadsby said “what’s not right is that it’s placed on me”.

Gadsby likens the vile tone of current debate to her home state of Tasmanian and how she dealt with horrific victimisation at a time when the Apple Isle was radically changing draconian laws on homosexuality. She says we haven’t learnt anything from that time.

Up until now it has appeared that only those with a profile (Wallaby, Israel Folau, being the latest) who dared venture into the “No” zone were viciously targeted.

But following yesterday’s “It’s Ok to say No” rally, organised by Catholic students at Sydney Uni, which turned violent when a much larger “Yes” mob turned up, the issue has escalated into a frightening and wide-spread “game on”. The SMH reports a spokesperson for the Sydney University Catholic Society said “vote ‘No’ campaigners were physically assaulted,verbally abused and repeatedly shouted down.”

The spokesperson said “We were told we cannot be on campus with such beliefs”.

So much for that “respectful debate”, and more importantly, free speech.


Another Year for LAWSIE


By Mike Welsh

The great man sounded grumpy when we spoke just after midday. Understandably so, as Richard John Sinclair Laws CBE OBE had just finished another demanding three-hour on-air talkback radio shift.

The phone call was to discuss his new book LAWSIE: Well…you wanted to know (New Holland) one which, astonishingly, Laws claims to have not yet read. The book chronicles a series of in-depth interviews with the publisher and the man himself, over a twelve month period.

Fans of Laws will quickly spot the lack of anything bowel-shatteringly new in the book, as it’s nigh on impossible for there to be anything novel about the ‘King Of Radio’. Everything about both this shy man’s very public and private existences has been minutely examined, forensically probed and widely published. His unique style has been aped by scores of wannabes over the past six decades, and yet, approaching his 82nd birthday, he still broadcasts on a daily basis. Quite an achievement, I suggest. Laws disagrees: “ I don’t think it’s an achievement, it was nothing I’d planned, it just happened. It’s simply a matter of survival.”

If it comes to it, who would play John Laws in the movie?

“I don’t think I could play a good Clint Eastwood, but I think Clint Eastwood might be able to play a good John Laws”.



The man whom former Prime Minister Paul Keating once described as the “World’s Greatest Broadcaster” applies an odd caveat to his role in the publication, stating that “This is not a book that I actually wrote, but it is my words. Somebody asked me a bunch of questions, and I answered a bunch of questions”. Laws is pleased with the overall presentation of the book, but dislikes the 60s era black and white photo on the back cover “I don’t ever remember looking like that.”

A testament to Laws’ unique relationship with (and vast influence over) mainstream Australia, is the consistent and long procession of grovelling politicians seeking direct access to the broad audience that only he can deliver. Laws describes Paul Keating as “a really good bloke with a terrific sense of humour and although I’ve not seen him for a while, I still regard him as a friend”. As for the current Lodge dweller, Laws points out that the Malcolm Turnbull we are seeing at the moment “Is the Malcolm Turnbull who wants to stay in power, but I believe he will change as he grows into the role of Prime Minister. He’s a very bright man.”



So, has John Laws mellowed down the years? “No, some people say I have but I’m just as angry as I ever was. I don’t have any trouble being angry. I’m not angry all the time, I have soft moments.”

Laws steps away from that when I broach the topic of one of his favourite radio stations, 2UE. Is the current lowly status of 2UE symptomatic of talkback radio now, I wondered? Laws booms in response: “2UE is a tragedy…used to be a great broadcasting station. It’s been allowed to unwind. I think it’s a disgrace what’s happened to 2UE, somebody should stop and have a close look at it”. In the book, Laws is more succinct in his assessment of the radio station that was at or near the top for decades: “2UE is fucked.”

Laws surprisingly speaks fondly of his former 2UE colleague (and sometimes adversary) Alan Jones, describing him as a competent broadcaster, and sympathises with his current poor state of health.


The Malcolm Turnbull we are seeing at the moment “Is the Malcolm Turnbull who wants to stay in power, but I believe he will change as he grows into the role of Prime Minister. He’s a very bright man.


In the book, Laws tells of a lunch organised by radio king-maker John Brennan (who once said that Laws “had a voice that would curl a frangipani”) at which both Laws and Jones “laughed their heads off”. Laws says “Alan is great company.”

Given the ferocity of their long running feud, I ask if there is a chance of a similar breaking of bread with his onetime under study 2GB’s Ray Hadley?

Laws responds curtly: “No, I only have lunch with people I like…Ray has been bitter for a very long time, as I’ve often said, Ray Hadley always wants to be John Laws. But he can’t be, because I am.”

I attempt to dig deeper into the soul of the man, suggesting that there is a more spiritual Laws on display in the book. He feels there is a difference between believing in God and attending church: “All the Popes, Bishops, Cardinals and Deacons with their fancy garb mean little to me. There were no costly clothes or self-glorification for Jesus, and that says a lot about him.” That being said, Laws is unsure if there is an after-life, deferring to Kerry Packer’s famous quip after he ventured too close to the other side: ”There’s nothing there.”

On the topic of death, I queried him about a reporter’s recent insensitive question on the appeal of dying on the air. Laws offers a laugh, and quotes Woody Allen in response: “I’m not afraid of death I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

If it comes to it, who would play John Laws in the movie?

“I don’t think I could play a good Clint Eastwood, but I think Clint Eastwood might be able to play a good John Laws”.