Labor’s Historic Win in Aston – There’s Something about Mary

This morning, Australia’s media and public are continuing to try to work out how it was that the Federal Labor Government were able to repudiate over a hundred years of history and win a seat from their opposition in a by-election. There’s been, as ever, a lot of pontificating from afar, but this win is more about politics in outer suburban areas and the power of a double campaign that is collectivist and collaborated in spirit. And, there is just something about Mary Doyle.

  1. The Reactions – Not the Whole Story

There’s been a range of reactions to the victory, which are all instructive to how unexpected the result has been to media people who don’t know all that much about the area, outside statistics and the frame of national politics.

The reactions will continually throw the result into a national framework, whether it confirms what Mark Kenny suggests. Or, it will raise the issue of Moira Deeming and the state Liberal Party. Yet all of those positions will not tell the whole story of Aston.

2. Election Day – Not the whole story in any way

The coverage of election day, too, did not give much indication that legacy media outlets had much of a clue about what was about to happen. Simon Love of Sky decided to focus on a picture of one fence, inferring that the Liberals were interested just in promoting their candidate, and Labor were just focused on Peter Dutton.

(That was just not true about the campaign, where pictures of Doyle were everywhere. I know, because I helped to put them up.)

Then there was The Age, where Annika Smethurst and Melissa Cunningham decided to go to the seat just before closing time at polling booths. The quietest time for booths in Aston. But somehow, they managed to suggest that the Liberals were a good chance. This is because they visited Rowville, which is traditionally one of the most conservative suburbs in the outer east. And they somehow gleaned that there was “strong support in Boronia” for the Liberals. The very same Boronia where every booth had a two party preferred vote of 60% and above for Doyle. It was just shoddy.

3. The Bigger Story – Community Politics, The Campaign and the WhatsApp Group

Last year, I wrote a blog post detailing the Aston campaign during the May 2022 election. It was a post that was appreciated by the campaigners, including from Doyle, who provided some feedback as to how it should have told the story. It is true to say that this campaign was a fair amount different from the one in May. This one started with a launch by Anthony Albanese. (In the aforementioned Boronia.)

There was much more money spent on advertising, mailouts, coreflutes than in May. There were BIG signs available for front yards. There were Labor Ministers out to help door knock. They had positive Government policies to talk about, such as childcare, which is a big issue in Aston. There were more volunteers available for election day and for doorknocking and street stalls than there had been in May. English progressive musician Billy Bragg appeared in an endorsement. It was just bigger.

The campaign itself, however, was not bigger. It was very narrowly focused. The Liberal Party focused on the “fact” that Labor had not delivered on road funding promises made by Alan Tudge before the May 22 election. Two local roads. A problem with this approach was that locals knew that these roads had not been improved all that much in the entire time Tudge was in office. But the Liberals suggested that this was a failing of the new Labor government. That was all they offered.

Labor, in response, targeted Dutton and his record as a health minister with its posters. Pictures of him looking mean with a comment about him being the worst health minister, comments on him bringing in the GP co-payment when he was health minister. So it wasn’t just Dutton, it was about him and connection to health, which is a traditional Labor strength.

The cuts posters from the Libs and the Dutton posters from Labor were in yellow and black. Take from that what you will. But that was the focus of the campaign itself. Big money, big stakes, narrow focus.

The Campaign WhatsApp

The Labor campaign, however, wasn’t all a monolithic spending of money by HQ on yellow Dutton posters. There was an Aston Labor WhatsApp group set up for the May election. It lay dormant since then, but lit up this year. It was most instructive about the detailed workings of this campaign. What it showed is that, despite the spending of money by HQ, the success of the campaign still required the same locals to help co-ordinate the day to day elements of the campaign. In seats like Aston, visibility is important, whether that means with signs, or with volunteers at polling booths. And that requires boots on the ground during regular working hours, as well as cars with which to put out the signs.

There were two people who did most of the sign placement. Sometimes prepoll rosters didn’t have volunteers arrive, causing a mad scramble on WhatsApp to find people. I was able to do prepoll HTV at Rowville (I like the more Liberal booths – I find Liberals in the wild fascinating) and I was relieving the same small number of people that turned out last time. And every day, two different Labor volunteers with many years of history in Aston would turn up to pick up the gear, to bring back the next day. And on the day, not all of the booths were necessarily covered with the outside helpers. The locals were still integral to the success of the campaign. It was these people from the May campaign – people like Russell and Jacqui in particular – who were the glue that kept everything together.

The Local Liberals…?

In contrast, the Liberal campaign seemed to be directed more from Liberal HQ than it was in May. None of the locals I was with at the Rowville Prepoll booth were at the same booth this time around. There seemed to be a couple of locals, but most were outsiders. One group, memorably, a group of rich Gen Zs who came in a Mercedes Benz and start to shout out slogans at voters as they were entering the booth. That almost never happens in outer suburban elections because that stuff doesn’t work. People don’t want to be disturbed. This particular floppy haired toff shouted “Send Labor a Message”, to which I would end with “that you like professional, competent government”. But I only did that once because it’s all so weird and out of place. (But he was so annoying.) (Postscript – It turns out he was notorious Liberal agitator Barclay McGain).

This is not to say that the local Liberals weren’t turning up to help elsewhere. However, there were a lot of bussed in (and probably Merced in) volunteers on election day. That sort of thing matters because it changes the tone of the election, and if familiar faces are removed, then voters can be a little unsettled about the party they have voted for for a long, long time.

4. The Local Candidate Element and Social Media

Onto local issues, and one thing from the Age piece from election day that was useful was this comment about Campbell being from Brunswick. There was a lot of things said about the election and the fact neither main candidate lived in the electorate. But those comments usually missed the mark. It’s a complete false equivalence. Doyle has lived in the outer eastern suburbs for 35 years. Campbell lived in Fitzroy, then Brunswick and is a councillor for the City of Melbourne. That is a vast difference in terms of being an actual local. Doyle lives 10 minutes outside the electorate. On the day, her daughter’s boyfriend voted for Doyle, because he lives in the electorate. Campbell, from day one, looked entirely out of place.

Throughout May, and during this campaign, Doyle’s personal approach and social media was focusing on meeting locals and being around locals. That was it. Mary being Mary – warm, approachable, friendly. She can’t be anything else. The social media approach also leveraged support from the social media presence of state Bayswater MP Jackson Taylor, whose use of Facebook is one of the best around (almost no-one uses or cares about Twitter in Aston. It’s all FB and, to a lesser degree, Instagram). Taylor’s works because he does it himself, and is therefore authentic. Doyle’s has the same elements. Campbell’s, in contrast, was bland and corporate. Same went for her style with locals. And to be honest, it probably couldn’t have been anything else. This is the main problem with being a parachuted outsider – you can’t feign authenticity. If the Liberal Party had preselected a local, they would have had a much better chance of holding.

The way this issue was treated by the media was pathetic, as usual. But not as pathetic as Peter Dutton’s, who attacked Doyle and her living arrangements on election day (his only appearance at the campaign). He said that Doyle “had 10 months to move and she didn’t” while Campbell took out a lease on a property in the electorate. That enraged me, because it’s not as if Doyle has a property empire like Dutton, or is a barrister married to a newspaper chief like Campbell. As Julia Banks pointed out, the Liberal Party, as an organisation, treat “living in an electorate” as something that simply can be bought.

In Doyle’s case, she took unpaid leave to campaign last time, and since then, has had to live life as an ordinary person, not someone ready to gear up for a by-election called simply because Alan Tudge was too afraid to face the consequences of his actions (or inaction) during the Robodebt disgrace. Doyle is a local, no matter what various media outlets and Peter Dutton tried to say.

5. Momentum from May 2022The Story of Heany Park

There are any numbers of reasons why Doyle won. One of the most important is that this campaign built on momentum from May. People now knew who she was, and this is important in an area like Aston, where community and family and making local social connections are the focus for so many. Campbell could only depend on the Liberal brand. People liked Tudge, which was one of the reasons he kept winning and gaining swings even while other seats were inching towards Labor.

For me, personally, the moment that blew me away was last night’s primary vote victory at Heany Park booth in Rowville South. In 2019, the Liberal v Labor primary vote was 1550 to 910. In 2022, I was there with Doyle all day, meeting voters at the second safest booth in the seat. (As I said, I like going to safe Liberal booths). Her vote then was 830 – 560. Last night, it was won by Doyle by the margin of 1058 to 1046. Another interesting factor of that was that in the state election in 2022, the election in-between, Labor’s candidate, Mannie Kaur Verma, also won Heany Park. That booth in particular has defied the trend for Rowville, in that other Rowville booths haven’t swung as hard for Labor as that one. There is a story to be told in relation to why so many people suddenly trusted the Labor brand that they decided to change the way they voted after May last year.

6. What now for the future?

It’s important to discuss the future ramifications. Peter Dutton’s leadership for one. His leadership probably shouldn’t be under question because he didn’t show up for the campaign, until the end. The Liberal Party seemed to know from day one that he was a liability. Which should be a concern for 2025. If the Liberals ever want to be in government again, they need to win back relatively wealthy seats like Aston.

For the Liberal Party as a whole, they need to be more serious about the way they provide opportunities for professional moderate women to be voted into office. This was a ridiculous way to attempt to give a long standing moderate apprentice a “safe” seat. It was as tone deaf as the Kristina Keneally Fowler disaster last year. Possibly even more so, because Dai Le was better known across Fowler – due to her extensive involvement in local politics – than Doyle was in Aston. As I was talking to Roshena Campbell at prepoll, I found her friendly and whip-smart. Someone out to make a softer, more open Liberal Party into the future. It occurred to me the Liberals need fewer Michael Sukkars and more Roshena Campbells.

And the future for… Mary Doyle

(Photo taken by Michael Currie – @_michael_currie on Instagram)

These two photos were taken by me at Boronia Bowls Club. Note the happiness from Mary’s daughter and great niece)

“I guess I am the new Member for Aston”

Finally, this was a win for the long standing Labor volunteers and voters, who now have a voice for them in the parliament. Tudge never listened to them and their concerns – he was too busy, in so many ways. Doyle will be a local, backbench MP, looking out for Aston and being her genuine, authentic self. If you want to see that authenticity in action, watch her victory speech from the Boronia Bowls Club. I fully expect her to be drawing from the local support, and utilising her social media to help leverage her into being re-elected in 2025. Aston can be a long term Labor seat, if the support networks hold up. Jackson Taylor’s re-election in Bayswater should be a template for how to do that. He had an electorate redistribution that made his seat notionally Liberal, but through his sustained social media presence, and his appearance at every local event possible, he managed to grow his vote and win the seat with a significant margin.

And it’s important for the new Labor Government that seats like Aston are held. If, into the future, they lose support in inner city seats like Melbourne Ports and Wills, then they need to hold seats like Aston. And the way to do that is for communities in that area to feel as though they have a local who is genuinely in their corner. And now they have someone who is.

Cultural Comment Politics

Remembering the “New Sydney Push”

The Hook! And Some Context

I have been asked to write a post in recognition of the 7th anniversary of my most famous – and notorious – blog post, about the “New Sydney Push”. For those who don’t know what that is, I wrote two posts about a group of Sydney based media people and friends who had a connection with each other, and were making their way through the media landscape. The first post was about their connection to the first “Sydney Push” of the 1960s ; the second named the people I believed were part of this new “Push”. It was pretty widely read at the time, and generated a lot of gossip and reaction. The reaction, fallout and ramifications will appear – later. So if you want to skip to the juicy bit, it will be clearly marked. But first, some context for the writing of the posts in the first place.

That post has a context that needs to be revealed. I wrote it in the middle of Marking Month. What was marking month? One month, every year for 15 years, my daily work life was forever connected to exhaustion. Marking Month started as being August, but then switched to November when I chose to mark a different course. My work day was the best part of 15 – 16 hours (including transport), because every night (other than Friday) and all day Saturdays would be dedicated to marking the NSW HSC examinations. This is not to complain about marking month or try to elicit any sympathy. I needed the money in the early days, and then in the later times, I liked the job. I made lots of great connections and friendships through the job. I found it fascinating and useful for my main career. It still helps me, even in a different state.

As a result of Marking Month, though, I would come home. Tired. What a day I’d had, most days. At this same time, my main job had also exposed me to researching the original Sydney Push, to help a student write about the era in her creative writing pieces. My head was filled with all sorts of ideas and tiredness. And that’s when, one November night, I opened twitter and my feed was filled with the “Hennoween” trick on James Hennessy appearing in the New York Mag and my mind made the immediate connection to the original Sydney Push. The group who were all friends in Sydney and many desperate to make it big in one of the Big Cities – London in those days. And so the post came from that space. A tired teacher bemused by what they published in New York these days.

The main context behind the post was the fact was, I was still just some nobody teacher living in the Blue Mountains who only experienced most of these people on twitter. I was like someone on Gogglebox commenting on a show.

The Juicy Bit Part One – The Reaction

I was completely unprepared for the reaction to the first post. I came home from another 16 hour day to see my twitter account festooned with notifications. One of the reactions that amazed me was being hounded to “name names” by the ABC’s Mark Colvin. That was not something I was expecting from a post shot out after another long day at the marking coalface. My wife concurred with Colvin. They both had a point – that I had names in mind, so I might as well list them.

The List post was created largely from my own observations in about an hour, with a bit of help, to make sure I got it right. What I did not expect was the even bigger reaction after the second. Why were so many people so gripped by a list by some middle aged teacher? I was told that many group chats and DMs were being fuelled by The List. I doubt it would happen today. But I seemed to have hit a nerve, or a zeitgeist or something. Here were some of the other reactions that bemused me:

  1. People being dismayed that they didn’t make The List. Some time later, I was at a party a city pub organised by a friend from twitter. At that party, a writer for some media organisation told me in a slightly hurt tone that he was surprised to have missed out. The fact was, I didn’t know who he was. There were others, apparently, who felt slighted.
  2. Courtney Fry (@courtwhip) was amused that I didn’t know her name. There was a good reason for that – I only knew her by her username, and she didn’t use her real name anywhere I had seen.
  3. Some inclusions were questioned via DM.
  4. One fairly prominent person was furious with me for naming them, because they believed it “fed their ego”, as if media twitter at the time was a two sided battleground.
  5. People from outside Sydney, such as cartoonist Jon Kudelka being miffed at missing out on the fun, naming himself the “Hobart Push” for a while.
  6. Some years later, I read a comment of someone scoffing at me for quoting from Elizabeth Farrelly in one of the posts. Clearly this was someone who struggled with comprehension – Farrelly was a member of the Push and wrote their history as a first person recollection. (On a side note, Farrelly and her life journey is somewhat symbolic in itself of what happened to a number of people from the original Push.)

What also emerged from that time was that a lot of people shifted from being disinterested in me and what I had to say from my perspective to suddenly being interested. Not because they suddenly wanted to know what was happening in outer suburban Sydney, but because I generated Gossip. And I gained some twitter famous followers. I was also being congratulated (in DMs) for what I did, in naming / outing the clique.

I could also sense a lot of loathing of me that still exists to this day.

What is probably not known about me is that I thought the original photo was funny. An elaborate, well organised joke. But reading it on another level, as I tend to do, it was also revealing to me of the fine line of what is considered being performative and what is being authentic in Sydney. Hennessy clearly honed his image very carefully, and it was pretty obvious how he was doing it. (Maybe that was because he was from the Shire – they tend to be seen to be awkward by people who live in the East and North of Sydney) But all of them in the photo (at least the ones in the media or on social media) all put on their own personas and brands. Hennessy was as authentic as all of them, but still they sledged him and he loved it – and why not, it showed that he had commanded attention.

I still think the original joke was funny, but what astonished me at the time was its appearance in the NY Mag. But I have since come to realise that the NY Mag, like a lot of media outlets in the Big Cities, will publish pretty much anything. That was in contrast to the times of the original Sydney Push, where people like Greer and James had to work hard to get exposure in London, as well as actually go there.

There was another thing that perhaps was not realised / ignored at the time – the List wasn’t a Shit List. Apart from anything else, there were a lot of people who weren’t in that photo that I named. The List included many people whose work I genuinely admired, and was wondering where they would go next in their careers. To be honest, of course, there were people on that list I did not like so much, for a number of reasons.

In any case, it’s a good time to reflect on how they all went since that time – see if we can glean anything from what has happened in the media landscape in the last seven years.

The Juicy Bit Part Two – Where Are They Now?

The comparison with the original Sydney Push was probably unfair of me. Society, and the media in general, has changed profoundly since the 1960s. If you want to know more about them, Leroy Lynch has pushed some research my way. There’s this book review, and these two posts about them. It is interesting, however, to see the directions in which the members of this new “Push” of my imagination have gone since then. The New Sydney Push group were, like the original Push, ideologically flexible libertarians. Their tweets and career choices showed that they weren’t afraid to change their ideology if commercial and professional opportunities came their way. They have gone in many directions, both expected and unexpected.

These observations are written completely from the top of my head, just like the original posts. Based on my perceptions and observations of the media and twitter. No research was done, so apologies if I get stuff wrong or forget stuff.

Group 1. Guardian Writers (regular and occasional) – Adam Brereton, Osman Faruqi, J. R. Hennessy, Bridie Jabour, Liam Hogan, Dan Nolan, Erin Riley, Eleanor Robertson

Jabour, whose work I continue to admire, is still with the Graun, editing their opinion section (which I scour for school resources), is writing books, and living her best life, as far I can tell. Riley is one of the best people I have met through twitter. She works in professional communications, is about to have a second child, continues to challenge ideas and seems to piss off a lot of fragile male egos on twitter. Hennessy continues to make his way around media organisations and honing his Online Brand, though not with a grey singlet. Hogan, I have no idea about. He seemed to hate me more than most, but I didn’t really know who he was or what he did. (Or even why he hated me – I never interacted with him.) Robertson is still Online and happily with another member of the Push, Rupert. Nolan is still an Online Sledger, despite his advancing years. Brereton left social media under a cloud of accusations about his personal life and went into a Seminary.

Faruqi probably had the biggest rise of any of them – he went to Melbourne and carved himself a new career as an edgy political and cultural commentator, leading to the role as Culture editor for Fairfax. A significant part of that role seems to be him commissioning work from himself about his new status as a fan of the Sydney Swans as well as the need for a Bunnings closer to his home.

Group 2. SBS Writers and Presenters – The Feed Crew – Marc Fennell, Jeanette Francis, Andy Park (once upon a time), Patrick Abboud ; The Backburner writers (I know only the name of one of them – Jam Colley, sorry Backburner people, I do like what you do, but I don’t know your names)

The Feed was a good show – even if it wasn’t really directed at people like me – and it’s a pity that we no longer have it. Fennell continues to be a very good presenter and appears to be a lovely person in general. Jan Fran is one of the most talented people on TV (I really like her stuff on Question Everything) and needs her own show one day. Park and Abboud continue to work somewhere in the media, and I like what they do whenever I happen to see it.

Colley has also risen in the ranks since these times, experiencing a lot of success, such as writing for projects like Get Krackin (one of the best shows of recent times), and viral tweets that occasionally appear on my feed. Something I discovered recently about Colley is that he grew up in Penrith. Not that I have seen many tweets or pieces by him about life in the Riff, other than his support for the Penrith Panthers. But it’s good to have voices from those areas contributing to the media.

Group 3. Buzzfeeders – Mark Di Stefano, Rob Stott, Alex Lee, Mikey Nicholson, Lane Sainty, Jenna Guillaume, Mat Whitehead, Brad Esposito

Lane Sainty has had a journey more interesting than most – currently working in Arizona for the Arizona Republic. Esposito went to Vice Australia, which seems to be a pathway for a number of millennial media people. Whitehead – I’m not so sure about what happened to him. Nicholson works for the Advertiser in Adelaide and produces some of the funniest sledges of the Port Adelaide Football Club on twitter. Stott went to News, and writes in the same style he had adopted for Buzzfeed. Alex Lee also had a rise in the industry – she went onto hosting programs on the ABC and is very professional and funny in whatever she does.

Jenna Guillaume is another person I am delighted to have met in real life and has become a wonderful writer of adolescent fiction. Like seriously, read them, get your teenagers to read them. This is the English teacher talking here, not the twitter persona.

Mark Di Stefano probably also needs a paragraph to himself, largely because, like Clive James and Germaine Greer from the original Sydney Push, he made it to London. Things were going well for him, working for the Financial Times, until he was caught listening in on a video call being conducted by the Independent and Evening Standard – caught using his actual name and work email account, no less. He returned to Australia with a status less elevated than the likes of James and Greer. He now does shovel work for Mike Stutchbury – alongside people like Aaron Patrick and Rowan Dean – at the Australian Financial Review. One of his recent pieces was in praise of the head of Racing NSW, Peter V’landys, which seems to be the fate of most Sydney journalists eventually. I’m sure someone from the original Push would have written positive pieces about the horse racing industry at some stage in their careers. P.P. McGuinness, most likely.

Group 4. Freelance Writers – Elle Hardy, Lauren Ingram, Kate Iselin, Rebecca Shaw, @courtwhip, Kate Doak

I’m not sure what happened to Iselin. Shaw became a writer for TV and other media, and found love in NZ, which was a charming tale. Ingram, like Di Stefano, ended up in London, but has not had such a high profile existence there, writing freelance. Fry continues to work in the media (and I have read quite a bit of her stuff, so I know her name now!). Hardy went to the US and is using her considerable skills in being a probing and incisive writer about the Pentecostal movement. Doak now works for Channel 10 as a researcher, and acts as an example of one of the lower profile members of the Push, but one who continues to clearly enjoy her role in the media.

Group 5. The Hungry Beast Crew (I still mourn the loss of one of my favourite shows of the last few years) – Kirsten Drysdale, Dan Ilic, Monique Schafter, Nicholas Hayden

I still wish that we had some iteration of this show on TV. Its use of media tools was outstanding, and could be very useful for the teaching of the VCE English Language course. I admit I don’t know what happened to Drysdale, Schafter and Hayden, (except that I think Hayden is a producer?) I haven’t seen much social media mention of them.

Ilic, however, is another case. He continues to work with a range of social media tools to get messages out there, and his work to produce content with the goal of helping to unseat Scott Morrison’s government was impressive. As was his show with Ray Martin twisting with his public image.

Group 6. Researchers and others – Trisha Jha. @rpy, @swearyanthony

Trisha is still a good friend, and is these days a teacher in Victoria, having also worked as a Liberal staffer. Trisha has always had a consistency of ideology and the reasons behind that. I also agree with a lot of her views on education, especially in relation to what baby boomers have done with our profession. (Her inclusion on the list should have been a clear message to anyone that knew me well that this was never a Shit List.)

Rupert is still doing apps, I assume, while being with Robertson. Next There is still the best public transport app out there – better than any of the Victorian ones. And Anthony Baxter is still the same as he ever was, I assume. A unique individual.

Group 7. Junkee Central – Steph Harmon, Alex McKinnon

Harmon is the culture editor at the Australian Guardian these days. McKinnon has jumped around a number of Sydney based media outlets. Their work has been very relevant to me. My school used a McKinnon piece about vaping for a Year 12 Analysing Language SAC the year before I arrived, so I was discussing his technique usage at length to future year groups.

Group 8. Fairfax Writers – Michael Koziol, Sheree Joseph

I’m not entirely sure where Joseph works these days, but she produces very entertaining content on her twitter feed. Koziol, on the other hand, has risen in the ranks to be editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, using his position to do things like say why Sydney’s Dubai inspired theme park, Barangaroo, is such a great place to go. He also seems to have a pre-occupation with comparing Sydney and Melbourne. I seemed to have upset him in some way over the years. He was very happy when I moved to Melbourne, telling me on twitter that it was great that I was going.

Group 9. Post 2015 Entries. The Spirit of The Push

There’s a continuing spirit of The Push, with its group mentality and communal online banter exists to this day. There are many people online who embody it, and not necessarily from Sydney. Naaman Zhou from Sydney from the Guardian embodied their spirit, and has since gone onto working for the New Yorker. Jon Kudelka, like the Steve Buscemi meme come to life, still tweets like many of the younger male members. Nick Schadegg is the Dan Nolan of Adelaide, though funnier and nicer. Melbourne’s Jim Malo has been exhibiting a desire to build his brand in a male Push style. Ben Jenkins, from being on the fringes of the Chaser group, has continued to be on twitter and work on the fringes of the media, making videos about how Sydney’s real estate is expensive.

Jordan Shanks (FriendlyJordies) showed an interest in following the same media pathways as other Push people, but has realised that his brand was better built criticising the work of people in the Push. But overall, his style is very close to the twitter style of the men from the Push. There is not much of a difference. In some ways, though, it could be said that he has had more personal success than many of the others. He has also not had to work for a commercial or state media organisation – with all the compromises that entails – which gives him a freedom that few of them have. That’s probably part of the reason why they hate him so much. He leaves me cold, personally, but some of his work around corruption in NSW has been good.

Why Bother Doing This?

Aside from being asked by friends to do this post, the past year has sparked a lot of reflection on how I use social media. I have a lot of work to do in my chosen work path – more than before, which needs more attention. This is also a hard year in terms of two anniversaries. This year was the 10th anniversary of the passing of my mum. She passed away in the middle of my (reluctant) involvement in an election campaign. I still remember that I was still grieving, a couple of twitter people were laughing at me for losing the campaign that I didn’t want to win. It wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know I was grieving – it just showed me how twitter can make a terrible situation worse when there’s people on it just out to get you. “Ha, triggered” is a real thing.

That brings me back to this post. The people on The List are also real people who have lived their lives, and their stories are (for the most part) interesting and illustrative of the tenuous nature of work in the media.

The flexibility of ideology is still there, as is the libertarianism. Many of the Sydney Push members were very critical on twitter of the Victorian Government’s centralised, health authority centred approach to managing the COVID-19 response, while praising the NSW Liberal Government’s more economy-centred, libertarian approach to restrictions. This was especially the case with Faruqi, who build his brand and following in Melbourne on the back of criticising the Victorian Government almost as soon as he arrived in the state.

There’s a lot of good and useful output from a number of people who have pushed through with their careers. For those who have gone in different life directions away from the media, that’s all good as well – it’s interesting how life travels from a moment frozen in time. It’s not fair to say that any of the people have been “failures” (though there could be a fair case made for one or two to be considered as having made bad choices in their lives). They have had lives. And the best people to be judging the people are themselves, their community and time. Not some teacher or other random most of them only know on twitter.

Me and Social Media (No Juicy Bits Here)

I have diversified how I do social media, and it was fascinating to me how many people followed my Mill of Content project who would never follow Preston Towers. That’s probably because they liked twitter drama and hated PR Guy and the MFWs. I might reanimate it if I feel like it. It’s a bit like my use of the Preston Towers account. I used it when I feel as though I won’t get sad or angry using it. I have a love hate relationship with it and my wife says I will never give it up, which is true. One thing I have had to do is have a set of rules I apply to discourse. When I feel the time is right, I just shut down comments and move on. I don’t want to argue with people and be dragged into some kind of personal argument over trivial stuff.

Writing this also reminds me of what my father, who passed away 25 years ago, would have thought of twitter. He would have hated it and most of the people on it. People gasbagging about stuff they don’t know anything about. Mug lairs boasting about their meagre achievements. I have been both of those things, which makes me cringe on reflection. His whole focus in life was helping people in their local communities, being helpful, getting things done on a local scale. He was also someone who preferred to meet people one on one and build relationships. Not this parasocial imitation of connection.

That is what I have started to do in my new life in Victoria. I have work to do in my community, in my job, in my own life. That’s why I enjoy the twitter accounts that bear my real name. Be friends with the wonderful people I have met through twitter. But I will still use the PT account’s time line to look for media Content. English faculties in Victorian schools always need new opinion pieces and various examples of language use. I know where to find those. And many of them still come from members of the Sydney Push.


Swinging on a Shoestring – Labor’s Campaign in Aston

There has been a lot of talk about the loss for the Liberal Party of their seats in Greater Melbourne in the 2022 Federal Election. It looks as though the party will retain only three of their seats in their former heartland of the Eastern Suburbs. One of those seats is Aston, held by Alan Tudge.

Some of the post election talk, especially in Crikey, is focusing on the future of Alan Tudge, one of the three remaining Liberals who still holds his seat. Bernard Keane is suggesting that Josh Frydenberg, the former treasurer and member for Kooyong could be easily placed in Aston if Tudge wanted to go quietly. That might not be as easy as Keane (or the Liberal Party) might believe.

For the weeks of the election campaign, I was inside the Labor campaign for Aston as a volunteer. This is the story of how a under-resourced, shoestring campaign with a first time candidate managed to snip a 7.4% swing against a well known incumbent member in a seat that has been held by the Liberal Party since 1990.

Before going into the account of the campaign, there were three main motivations behind my involvement. My mother in law lives in Aston – in Wantirna South – so this would provide opportunities for popping in after volunteering ; we live in Dandenong, which is in the (relatively) safe Labor seat of Bruce ; I thought it would be good to help a woman unseat a man like Alan Tudge. I was one of the only outsiders to help with this campaign – there were a couple from Wills who knew Mary from her time with the union movement. This was a campaign made up of Aston locals. And, as it turned out, there weren’t all that many of them.

The Characters of the Campaign

Right from the start, I knew this was a shoestring budget campaign. I signed up on the website, and did not get a response. I then mentioned to the candidate, Mary Doyle on twitter that I would be coming to one of her train station street stalls at Boronia Station. She was grateful, then told me when I turned up that there was an issue with the website in terms of signing people up. I knew then that this was not going to be a campaign featuring many from outside the seat, all working to unseat Tudge. This was a campaign featuring locals, who had been fighting against Liberal incumbency since 1990.

At that station stall, I met Russell and Jacqui. Russell was a relatively new campaigner, made so by Alan Tudge’s disinterest in helping people who needed welfare support. He was a driving force of this campaign, volunteering for lots of street stalls and prepoll. It was Russell who would be driving every night from prepoll to prepoll site, collecting the kits. Jacqui was an old style, passionate Labor campaigner from the working class end of Aston who was sick of the wealthy, Rowville end determining who represented her interests at a Federal level. Boronia was in the heart of that working class stronghold. I liked both of them immediately.

The candidate, Mary Doyle herself also had a story. She had dreams of being a rock star, but soon realised that an insurance call centre paid the bills. Working in such a place, however, made her into a shop floor activist, going into the Financial Services Union as an organiser, and ending up at the ACTU. She is currently an organiser for the NTEU, and had to take unpaid leave to undertake this campaign. This was her first campaign as a candidate for any political office. It was clear from the outset that Mary was not a polished politician, especially when standing next to the State MP for Bayswater, Jackson Taylor, who has had four years to hone the craft. Taylor should go well in November, even though he is battling a redistribution that puts him behind the Liberals. He has been very busy connecting with local community groups and schools. His Facebook profile shows how much work he is doing. He reminded me of Mark Greenhill, the hard working Mayor of the Blue Mountains. Having met a fair few Labor politicians from Western Sydney, I knew the difference between polished and newbie. I like people like Greenhill and Taylor, but I also liked Mary for all her freshness and lack of polish.

The Talking Points of the Campaign

In the ensuing weeks, I went to Boronia, a street stall in Mountain Gate shopping centre in Ferntree Gully and a street stall in Rowville, the stronghold for the Liberal Party. For context, Rowville was one of the only eastern suburbs seats not to fall to Labor in the Danslide of 2018. Also for context, the Rowville shops at which we appeared has a bougie IGA that sells various expensive cheeses and sauces that you usually only see in Toorak and Cape Grim steak and dry aged steak that goes for $100 a kilo.

The street stalls revealed the scale of the campaign. For the station stalls, there were usually 4 – 6 hardy volunteers, turning up once a week in the morning, with 2 of them getting on a train, hoping that the station staff at neighbouring Bayswater wouldn’t tell them to stand well away from the entrance. The Mountain Gate one was in friendly territory for Labor. I got the chance to listen to some locals, as well as the campaigners. It was illuminating.

For all the talk of the Tudge / Rachelle Miller payout on Twitter, few were talking about the payout received by Rachelle Miller as a result of her relationship with Tudge. It was mentioned occasionally by people who were appalled by the way he had an affair and left his wife – but by rusted on Labor voters, mostly, with a few exceptions. This does not mean, however, that the issue didn’t exist in the community. Just that it wasn’t mentioned.

The main discussion points were the work that Tudge had done in the community. He was very well known for his appearances at sporting clubs, whether it be netball, footy, cricket. At local aged care facilities. At lots of community organisations. Tudge was a Well Known Local Member who Got Things Done for the community. He was clearly known in Aston as a politician who wasn’t just there for a cabinet position and then perhaps be a Prime Minister. That is what made him different from say a Josh Frydenberg or Tim Wilson. He looked comfortable at such places and events. People like Frydenberg and Wilson never did. That persona and work was also what insulated him from a backlash against his personal indiscretions.

Tudge was also the Minister for Robodebt, and the Liberals were the party that ran down the NDIS, but those were not big issues for vast swathes of Aston. They were discussed with us at street stalls, but by Labor supporters. One NDIS recipient expressed concern about the NDIS and Labor, especially after Anthony Albanese’s widely reported stumble over the issue. But she was reassured that Bill Shorten would be looking after that, and he would do a good job with that. That was reassuring – it was clear that Shorten is still respected in many circles.

Where’s Tudge?

During those first four weeks of the campaign, the man himself was missing. “Where’s Tudge”? was a popular refrain amongst the workers on the campaign, with sightings reported when they occurred. One of the few articles about the Aston campaign in the Age focused on his non appearance. Apparently he only appeared at ANZAC Day; we had a Tudge sighting at Mountain Gate in Ferntree Gully, but he was there only to briefly talk to his volunteers, and then disappeared before having to talk to anyone who might be working class. His longest appearance was at the Rowville Wellington Village shops. The Labor campaign, a week after his appearance there, booked a space inside the foyer of those shops, and the local Rowville Liberals were so shocked that they got on the phone to each other and set up outside, despite not having booked the space. By and large, though, Tudge was virtually invisible, hoping not to have to talk to people at street stalls outside the Rowville stronghold. Part of that, though, can be put down to him getting COVID-19. Mary also got COVID-19 in the fourth week of the campaign.

Volunteering and Organisation

The shoestring budget of the campaign and the stretched numbers of the volunteers was clear when rosters were put out and plans were made. Our campaign manager, Pamela Anderson (the CEO of Emily’s List, and no, I didn’t make a comment about her name, I am sure many have) was savvy, sharp and always scrambling to make things work. There was no money for a seat wide mailout of materials, so the volunteers had to pound the pavement to put material in letterboxes. Mary herself was a relatively last minute candidate, and there weren’t all that many volunteers on call, so door knocking was a challenge. Even staffing prepoll and polling booths on the day was a challenge. There were 34 polling booths across Aston, and during our last Zoom call, there were many slots still empty. I was placed on the largest booth in the seat, with 2900 voters in the last election. It was also the booth with the second largest Liberal 2PP. It was in… Rowville, near the Wellington Village shops. For a while, I was it. I managed to ask a couple of friends to help, who did. But I was going to be at the booth from 6am to 8pm. Eventually, the decision was made to put Mary there, but that symbolised the campaign. We didn’t have volunteers in shifts, multiple people handing out How To Votes. Many booths were just one person. I felt like I was working on a Western Sydney Greens campaign all over again. At least, though, we had corflutes well ahead of time and t-shirts with Mary’s name on them.

Corflute Shenanigans

One of the features of the early part of the campaign were attacks on corflutes – the election signs people plonk next to roads. Many people on Twitter decry and downplay the need for them, but they are necessary. Many were saying to me during and after the campaign that they didn’t know who the Labor candidate was for Aston, and that’s because there wasn’t much of a budget for signs, either. And in those early days, people were cutting out the face of Tudge and stealing their signs. Senator Jane Hume, and others, were blaming Tudge’s “opponents”, but people were also stealing signs of Mary. It did not help her visibility to the community. Eventually, Tudge’s signs were replaced – new ones made, plastering the community. Mary’s, however, were not as plentiful – there wasn’t the money.


So then it was time for prepoll. And suddenly Tudge was very visible. Labor’s campaign managed to just have enough volunteers at the three prepoll sites – Boronia, Wantirna South and Rowville. There originally was only two sites listed by the AEC – there was no Boronia listed at the start – and Tudge was annoyed at that situation changing. Little wonder, because that was the Labor stronghold. He then went onto claim that this election was the first one to have a Boronia prepoll station, which was not true – the Labor volunteers had done Boronia before. In typical Morrison style, Tudge reportedly refused to accept the truth and continue to accept his alternative fact.

A phenomenon that emerged at Rowville prepoll was the use of volunteers who spoke Mandarin – there were two. They usually stood apart from the other Liberal volunteers, who were the usual sort one would expect for the Liberal Party – older men who were Rotarians and liked golf. The Mandarin speaking ones did not have many voters to talk to, but it did show that there was a commitment to have such an approach. Labor, in contrast, had no such volunteers. We were fortunate if we had more than one volunteer on any given shift. One moment that did interest me was when a young woman of Chinese heritage approached the booth, the Mandarin speaking volunteer started speaking in Mandarin, which caused the woman to back away and say “sorry, I don’t speak Mandarin” and scuttle on past.

Tudged for the Very First Time

I was mostly at Rowville, which was also Tudge’s favourite prepoll spot. There I met Jill, who was a Rowville local and had to suffer the travails of being a Rowville resident and a Labor supporter. And it was at the Rowville prepoll, at Stud Park Shopping Centre where I met Tudge. We talked at length about various things when there was a lull in voters. We had conversations, about football – he is a North Melbourne supporter because he and his parents were immigrants and when they arrived in the 70s, North were winning a lot. We talked about his grey winter jacket (which I really liked and now want). He came across to me as an unremarkable, but affable middle manager. In the conversations we had, there was nothing overtly aggressive or arrogant about him. Just comfortable with who he is and what he had become. Tudge did not seem like a hard nosed, ideologically driven warrior, though he did suggest at one point that my Dandenong based electorate of Bruce would be in the sights of the Liberal Party next, as a “mortgage belt” seat. Labor volunteers in Aston had other stories and impressions of him from long experience, but I was assessing him as a local voter might. The same way I do whenever I meet any candidate. Fiona Scott, the one term MP for Lindsay was the same – friendly, affable, comfortable. Scott had a short connection to Sky News, but was never a good fit. I can’t imagine Tudge being a good fit there either. Though at one stage I did overhear Tudge talking about the ABC and the Guardian in a dismissive tone (I am paraphrasing here) “They wouldn’t know anything about where we are right now. They are easy to fob off – give them one line answers and they go away”.

For the most part, voters were friendly towards Tudge at prepoll. It was clear he was popular with men. Tradies, subcontractors, older men, all wishing him luck and shaking his hand. There were a lot of older women who liked him and found him polite and nice. There were yet others who self identified as Christians and therefore were supporters of the nice Christian man. Tudge himself boasted to other Labor volunteers that he had lots of volunteers from the local Pentecostal churches. The irony was not lost on any of us. But occasionally, there were people who looked with open disgust at Tudge and said “as if” as they walked straight past him to grab a Greens or Labor HTV. There was also the man who looked at Tudge and said “me wife would kill me if I voted for you”. All of us – other than Tudge – all laughed at that.

Mary Doyle’s emerging image was a a big contrast to that of Tudge. Always in red, whether a top, a dress or boots, so proudly Labor. But also clearly a mum who wasn’t going to cosplay as your Maaaate. Someone who would speak for the working class, for the vulnerable, for the underpaid. Her presence and image in the campaign was a distinct difference from Tudge that it was noticeable that a statement was being made. No more matey football holding, but standing for values and the vulnerable were the way things should be done. The fact Mary was always friendly, always positive helped give the campaigners more energy and passion. That was the direct opposite to what had happened in 2019, from all accounts.

The Anti-Vaxx UAP

One feature of this election were anti-vaxx volunteers for the UAP. This is why in this election, they had volunteers handing out for them and running actual campaigns. I was used to business grifter candidates after some free publicity for their business and paid volunteers from past federal campaigns in Lindsay. This time, though, they had ideologically driven conspiracy theorists. The candidate, Rebekah Spelman, was particularly hard driven with her hatred for mandates, vaccines and the Labor Party in particular. So much so, she wanted to call for the “hanging of Dan Andrews” at a rally. Spelman continually had a bluetooth earpiece in, which I found… curious. But she got on well with Tudge, with them chipping away at each other in a playful way. All quite chummy and nice, especially in the light of Spelman’s history.

An Internet Troll Come to Life

But a UAP volunteer was there for one of the nastier moments of the time at Rowville. There was one moment when Jacqui arrived, and there was a random woman standing at the side, talking loudly about “Labor and the Greens being in bed with each other”, to which I told her she should go to Cooper or MacNamara and see what happens in those seats. She then laughed at our volunteer – Jacqui – for wearing her mask. Jacqui was offended, mostly because she had just recovered from a bad illness, which had prevented her from campaigning for weeks. So she called this random woman an idiot. That then fired up the woman, who then started to shout at Jacqui, while the UAP volunteer backed her up by telling Jacqui she shouldn’t have called her an idiot. The situation was further inflamed by another visitor – a man who was clearly connected to the first random woman – who then decided to attack Labor with a range of comments about Dan Andrews, then Kevin Rudd getting knifed. I said to Jacqui that we weren’t engaging, and I refused to talk to either of them. That inflamed the man, who came close to me and started shouting at me. At the same time, a voter came from the carpark and was startled by the commotion. The voter looked at us confused and I said “don’t worry about him, he’s just an internet troll come to life”.

Fortunately, the aggressive man took off as soon as Jacqui went in to ask the AEC staff to intervene. However, the original woman came back, this time with a man wanting to take photos of Jacqui – getting in her face to do so – in order to make a complaint. It was messy. However, an AEC staffer told them the way to make a complaint, but also their aggressive actions towards Jacqui were inappropriate. All this time, the young Liberal volunteers were silent. But were willing to report the actions of the outsiders. The Greens volunteer was lovely and supportive, standing up to the aggressive man at one point, pointing out “that is a state issue, sir”. But the UAP volunteer was enjoying the show.

Election Day!

Then came Election Day. The end of a long time. I arrived at my booth at 6am. The Liberal volunteers had been there earlier, but this was nothing like Kooyong or Lindsay. They left space for my bunting on the fences. They were friendly and not openly ideological – honestly, like most of the Liberal volunteers. I learned a fair bit about golf, footy and the desire for a Rowville train line in my time in this campaign. So we chatted a lot about things we had in common. I told stories of Lindsay and of marginal seat campaigns in Sydney, which fascinated them. They were not used to that kind of thing.

The day itself was pretty low key all the way along. My wife did the coffee run – there is a great bougie cafe next to Wellington Village that uses Toby’s Estate beans (there are benefits to being in a wealthy Liberal suburb). Mary Doyle was placed on the booth all day, because it was the largest booth, and that’s what Labor does. Her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend also appeared for a time. Throughout the day, the Liberal volunteers chatted away with me and my friend Anne; we mostly stayed aloof from the UAP and Liberal Democrat volunteers. I also talked with the Greens people, who fit into the usual profile for Greens in the outer suburbs – friendly boomers and passionate teenagers / Gen Zs, but these ones were from Casey. The Greens candidate for Aston – Asher Cookson – was their age.

My friend Anne, though, decided to amuse herself with overhearing the conversations between the UAP and Lib Dem people, and their conspiracy theories. Voting machines, dark deals, vaccine conspiracies and ones from the UAP volunteer talking about the Illuminati controlling the weather.

And then we had a visit from a Liberal celebrity, Tim Smith, the soon to be former Member for Kew. He was distinctly different from the other volunteers. He came across as spiky, partisan, a hard nosed ideologue. He wasn’t overly impressed with my connection to the Greens, suggesting that the far left posed a huge problem in Australia. When my friend Anne suggested the far right were a problem, he demurred and suggested that they weren’t really a factor he had experienced. Smith also complained about where he lived – the seat of Kooyong, suggesting that it wasn’t his kind of place any more. It had degraded over the years, and the campaign there was a “circus”. He wasn’t going to campaign there on Election Day because “they would abuse me there”. So he chose to campaign in one of the safest booths in metropolitan Melbourne, in comfortable Rowville.

Here is Tim Smith talking to Rebekah Spelman, the UAP candidate for Aston. They didn’t discuss the possibility of having Dan Andrews hanged.

Alan Tudge also arrived, and by this stage, Mary’s daughter’s boyfriend tried to hand him a Mary flyer, having no idea who Tudge was. It was a very fine moment. Tudge also decided to have a long chat with Tim.

Our best Tim interaction, however, was when one of the Liberal volunteers, not really knowing who Tim Smith was or the fact that he was leaving politics because he crashed his car while over the limit, was talking enthusiastically about his hobby of restoring cars. He talked a solid 10 minutes about cars. So I added that my brother enjoyed restoring cars. Tim stayed completely silent during the whole conversation, knowing that he could say absolutely nothing.

The Patterns of Voting

Throughout the day, there were patterns emerging. Lots of people take all the material, in order to be polite. Especially in Rowville. But there were other patterns emerging. We had many people taking only Liberal HTVs, which was deflating – and character building – for Mary. We had Gen Zs who were clearly either voting Liberal with their parents, or voting because of their parents’ influence. Then there were the Gen Zs who were taking only the Greens’ HTVs, or Greens and Labor. And then there were occasionally the angry looking people taking the Palmer HTVs and semi growling under their breath at us in red shirts. We also had my favourite kind of voting couples. The man walking in front, taking only the Liberal HTV, then the wife, trailing behind, making sure she took a Liberal, Labor and Green HTV. There were a few like that throughout the campaign. There were also others who were delighted to meet Mary, and one took a selfie with her.

The End

The end of the day came. By the end, the emotional toll of the campaign had hit Mary like a truck and she was crying with relief and nerves – and by a voter who made some very affirming comments to her (detailed in the addendum). It was proof that she wasn’t a hardened, cynical politician, but a regular person who was doing a pretty brave thing. That was not an easy booth, it was not an affirming booth. There was no primary swing at the booth, though the Greens doubled their primary vote there, which meant that the 2PP vote for the ALP shifted 4%. Not the best result by any means. But it was good for Mary to be there and see the scale of the challenge for Labor in Aston. It was massive.

One of the things to emerge, however, was a respect the Liberal volunteers had for Mary. She had remained steadfast, positive and friendly throughout the day – as she had through the campaign. They all agreed she was a vastly better candidate than the previous one, who was aloof and ineffective. And one of them gave me some advice on how to help her do better into the future. “Get her to connect with the local sporting clubs”*. That fit into the message I had received loud and clear in my time with the campaign – that is how you get through in Aston. By being a visible local.

The Party at the End of the Day

At the end, the Liberal volunteers and I exchanged our pleasantries, and we moved to our respective lives. They were all going home, not to their function. I was heading to our function at Bayswater Soccer Club. It was a great function, where the small band of true believers watched as the results came in across the country. I learned that Labor HQ didn’t think the swing in Aston would even get near 5%. I also learned that HQ were similarly pessimistic about Menzies, which ran a similarly low budget, shoestring campaign.

The 7.4% swing to Labor in Aston was something to celebrate. There were booths that Labor had not won in decades. This was a campaign of guts, shoe leather and exhaustion. There were Labor people who had been fighting for no gains for many, many campaigns who now had something to cheer. Russell was jubilant. Jacqui was relieved and delighted. Jill was over the moon. It was wonderful to watch. Pam was ecstatic – she had managed a campaign that went wildly more successful than Labor HQ had predicted.

State MP for Bayswater, Jackson Taylor, Aston Campaign Manager Pamela Anderson and Labor Aston candidate, Mary Doyle

And then everyone had the chance to celebrate as the night wore on. There was a massive cheer – one of the biggest of the night – for the victory of Monique Ryan in Kooyong. It didn’t matter she was a teal – the fact was, the Liberals in Victoria were being routed. Tim Wilson losing in Goldstein was also cheered with derisive laughter at the former member of the IPA.

Morrison’s concession speech
Emotional times for Albanese’s speech

There were then cheers for the concession of Morrison and then later the victory speech of Albanese. By the time Albanese spoke, most of volunteers had left. A few had gone to the Trades Hall function, not knowing how they were stay awake. Most had gone home, happy with the result. But I listened to Albanese’s speech as the volunteers heard it – as a thank you to the true believers, like those in Aston who could not barely keep their eyes open at this point of the night. Mary Doyle was again in tears – happy ones this time.

The Future…?

Bernard Keane (and others) might think that Alan Tudge might disappear into the night and that the Liberal Party might try to install Josh Frydenberg into Aston. But I question the logic of that idea, based on the knowledge I accumulated during this campaign. Aston is now a marginal seat – the Labor campaign made it that way with next to no budget and a new candidate. People in Aston now know who Mary Doyle is. And Frydenberg does not have the connections and profile that Tudge has built over 12 years as the incumbent. He is of Toorak, not of Rowville. And there is a vast difference, even if they sell expensive cuts at meat at the IGA. It is hard to imagine the local Liberal volunteers being all that enthusiastic at being used in the same way as Fowler was used by the ALP in Sydney. If the Liberals did try that move, the Aston Labor volunteers would be ready for a by-election. For the first time in decades, they would be saying bring it on.


Mary Doyle has responded to a few things that were written in the blog, and made these comments on Twitter.

a) The tears on Sat at 5:35pm were due to a convo w/ a last min voter, Ross, who wanted me to know how glad he was to be voting for someone like me and as he walked in to vote, it hit me all at once that ppl really responded to me and wanted me to represent them

b) I have had my character nicely built up already by handing out many kinds of flyers over the last two and a half decades and being told to ‘f**k off’ by ppl , so at age nearly 52, Liberal voters refusing my HTV is water off an old duck’s back by now!

c) the Lib vols @ Rowville weren’t privy to my visits to the sporting clubs around the other end of Aston… not being a particularly sporty person myself, Jackson Taylor took me along to meet many of the local sporting clubs around Boronia, Baysie & Wantirna. So there’s that 🙂

Oh and d) I still have dreams of being a rock star… so if there are any musos out there who’d like to collab with me feel free to slide into my DMs

Cultural Comment Politics

Killing Preston Towers

I decided some time ago that Preston Towers must die. But how to do it was the question. Why must he die? There’s a number of reasons why he needs to go, but I have been too gutless and weak to do it.

  1. The Era of the Pseudonym is dying. When I started Preston Towers, it was a time when there were a fair few people using pseudonyms on which to comment on politics. The most famous in Australian political twitter was Grogs Gamut, who was working in the Australian Public Service and couldn’t tweet and write about ideas under a real name. Being a teacher, there’s always similar limits (though not as draconian) to social media output under one’s own name. Having the pseudonym gave me a freedom that made fellow teachers fairly jealous. Over time, however, the pseudonyms have disappeared. Grogs Gamut was famously doxxed due to his influence, but he managed to make his hobby into a full time paid living. I was never skilled enough or interested in doing anything like that. (This is not false modesty, I really could never do the things Greg Jericho and other people in professional media do). Most of those other pseudonyms have disappeared over time
  2. Threats of Doxxing. One of the threats with using a pseudonym is that people who disagree with you can threaten to doxx you, in order to silence your voice. Van Badham and her partner, Ben Davison, tried this tactic some years ago, using my real first name in order to issue a barely veiled threat of doxxing me. There have been some other attempts over the years – always from so called “progressive” twitter. I suspect after a while that Van and Ben had realised that I posed little threat to them, so they stopped. I pose little threat to anyone, which is why no-one has never been persistent or serious about their threats to doxx me. That mildly surprised me during the 2013 election campaign, where I pissed off a lot of people with my takes about western Sydney and about the Labor Megaphones in the AusVotes / AusOpinion blog. But here I still am, 9 years later.
  3. Screenshots! My latest project has been to expose the misinformation and lies of various people with large followings with screenshots of their publicly available tweets, whether it be on PT or on the Mill of Content. Misinformation and lies really annoy me, especially when people with good intentions are influenced by people who are acting out of bad faith and mendaciousness. And that activity to be the one thing that is driving the latest threat to doxx me. There is a person (I am not naming the person, but there’s a fair few who would know who it is) has been telling her followers that I have been “stalking her” for 8 years and that she is going to ring the police, ring my place of work, and doxx me. It’s just not true that I have been “stalking her”. (I’m pretty sure we followed each other on twitter not all that long ago, for a start.) Stalking is a serious criminal offence, and I have no interest in going anywhere near that person. For a start, I have read what can happen to multiple tricycles that are near her. But more seriously, I have had, for a bit over a year now, an alt account that has been following accounts of various political influence and interests. The account follows people like Rita Panahi, Caleb Bond, and PR Guy and the like – people I wouldn’t want to follow on my usual accounts, but acts as a way to find out what’s happening in Big Opinion Land. And even though I have never followed her on that account, her tweets appear all the time, liked and retweeted by all sorts of people.
  4. It’s absolutely my own fault. Because twitter causes people to repeat dumb mistakes, I kept screenshotting and publishing her ridiculous statements and pronouncements, even though she kept repeating her lies about me “stalking her”. I just find it fascinating and a little bit galling how someone can spread misinformation at the rate she does, and have so many fawning followers. I didn’t think she was serious, though, until she found my real name professional account and possibly searched my LinkedIn one day. I realised that someone who would be serious about attacking me could do that. Plenty of people know who I am, and it wouldn’t be hard for those who loathe Preston Towers to tell someone who wanted to silence me. It’s really not that hard to do. And because that user has been laughed at and belittled by so many in the last two months, it appears that she decided that attacking me will make up for the comprehensive humiliation that she has suffered. And she can continue to defame me without correction because I can’t stop her, who am I? Just someone with a pseudonym. Mud sticks, especially amongst those who are as allergic to the truth as people who would continue to follow people like that, despite all they have done. It’s all so very twitter. But it’s not the real reason why I am Killing Preston.
  5. The mistakes live on. I have made a lot of other dumb mistakes on twitter. Lots of attacks, arguments, comments, garbage acts, mistakes of comprehension. All sorts of dumb shit. And the stain left behind by those mistakes don’t always fade away. I regret what I have said to a whole bunch of people that I respect and admire for what they say and do. I was going to name people I have wronged, but me naming people has caused problems in the past, and that’s not my intent or purpose here. My various mental health issues have all been there to see, combining with arrogance and stubbornness to leave damage to how people see me. And fair enough too. I have been an absolute fuckwit at times. I would love to have the opportunity to apologise to all sorts of people, either in real life or online, but I burnt those chances some time ago. That makes me sad, because I know that in real life, I’m a fairly laid back and affable person, and I cringe when I look back at those actions, which I would never have done in person.
  6. What else do I have to say? Aside from the mistakes, I have also realised that I probably don’t have a lot left to say with the Preston Towers account. There’s a number of middle aged, middle class white men with opinions out there. While I despise most middle aged, middle class white people (I hate golf, fishing, boats, horse racing, BBQ posing, and I love women’s sport), I know that I am forever grouped with that lot, and so my voice doesn’t carry much weight on twitter. And that’s a good thing – twitter should be a forum for the marginalised, those who haven’t got a voice on more commercialised and mainstream media sources. I am over-represented on all sorts of media. I also look at my commentary on politics and have realised for some time that I am repeating myself, and not bringing much in the way of new insights into anything very much. Compiling the Mill of Content has reinforced that fact.
  7. Western Sydney No More. When I started the account named for an apartment building in Penrith, I was different to the other Middle Class Middle Aged White Men in one key way. I was providing an insight into life and issues in Western Sydney that wasn’t around all that much in media sources. And frankly, still aren’t. But that’s a fault with the traditional and new media that will never ben fixed. The jobs and HQs are all in the inner city, the media professionals mostly come from a small pool, and even they do come from “outside”, they are quickly initiated into the cliques that reinforce the norms. It’s a self perpetuating cycle. But there’s little point in continuing to bash my metaphorical head against that wall of indifference. Besides, Western Sydney can be discussed by others on social media, especially since I haven’t lived there for more than 2 years. I will continue to comment on where I live now, but I can do that on another account in a less pushy way.
  8. Life! I love my life away from Twitter – personal and professional. Twitter has helped with the former and latter. I have met many great friends through twitter, and I will continue to talk to them on my real name accounts. Using the account has made me very adept at understanding contemporary society and language, meaning that I get what teenagers are seeing, saying, hearing and experiencing. It has made my more relatable and a better teacher. An example came this week in the VCE English Language course that I have started teaching. I ask the question – “remember blogs?”. I got a number of chuckles, especially from those who are adept and experienced users of social media. There’s even a student in that class who knows how to use Twitter – a rare person indeed in an era where Twitter is not all that popular with teens. This particular student has more followers than Preston Towers, so he knows what it’s like to have such an account. He knows that with more followers comes more fights, more annoyances. And that’s great for him. I have had enough of it all.
  9. The Mill of Content is Fun! More people like the Mill of Content than Preston Towers, that has become clear – and that’s good! Since I switched it to be an archive / media aggregator, I have realised that it provides a useful service, which is what I like to do in general. I like being helpful. I enjoy it a lot more than tweeting with constant looking over my shoulder and having to lock the account. Plus, who wants to hear my opinion any more? I don’t want to most times. With the Mill, I get the chance to produce a primary source hub. And if anyone tries to doxx that, what can they say about the account? It tweets publicly available tweets. One day, I will attach my real name to the Mill, because I still have the dream of making it a useful resource for students studying VCE English Language. And that would make me very happy. It would mean that my knowledge, insights, and memories accumulated as Preston Towers wouldn’t be for nought. However, it’s Time to Die, Preston Towers.
Classical Music Uncategorized

Confronting Assumptions in Classical Music Recording – The Videos of David Hurwitz

When you practice a piece of music, something I have not done in some time, there’s a necessity to find the section in the music that is giving you the most trouble and working on it, so it gives you less trouble. The problem was always for me – I was never persistent enough to entirely iron out the mistakes. The troublesome section would continue to bite me – especially if I stopped playing it for a while.

Normally, this blog has been about politics, and ordinarily I would make some point about most of our politicians being similar – not persistent enough to iron out mistakes. Or, in their case, lacking the reflective ability to know about their deficiencies.

And yet, I won’t be extending that metaphor, largely because I am disgusted by most of politics and by most politicians. Thinking about politics makes me exhausted, quite frankly. So, I am writing about something that has been consuming me this past couple of months – assumptions and beliefs I had made about “classical” music performance. And having them confronted, forcing me to be persistent and iron out the mistakes I had been making. Most of our male politicians in Canberra are incapable of any of that kind of thing.

2021 and David Hurwitz

I wrote about my classical CD collection last year in this post – which spells out how the recordings of Roger Norrington came to dominate my single version of most repertoire collection. It also shows how my 2020 rediscovery was based mostly on my opinions from my 20s. I even started to buy the recordings of the 2010s answer to Roger Norrington, Francois-Xavier Roth and his Les Siecles group. But as I have continued to look for multiple versions, I discovered the videos of David Hurwitz.

David Hurwitz is a finance and real estate bloke in New York which is just a way to fund his true love – classical music. He plays percussion for community orchestras and is the executive editor of, an American classical music review website that comes up a lot when you search for reviews of specific CDs. Lockdown for him has meant that he has taken to Youtube and spilling out all of his knowledge, wisdom, anecdotes and feelings about classical music. A LOT of all of those things.

Hurwitz has pumped out more than 500 videos in this last year, and I have watched a fair few of them. They have jolted me. Led me down an entirely different listening path, and forced me to confront my own prejudices and judgements about classical music performance. Thing is, after watched these videos, I have developed a large respect for his opinions, because they clearly come from a place of great, detailed knowledge of the works, conversations with other experts, musicians and conductors. Above all, his love for music is what drives him, but it’s a love based on research and detailed reflection. It is also admirable that Hurwitz’s anecdotes and opinions reveal that he has no time for marketing hype and grand statements. He is also very, very funny. Using a Karajan CD box in a workout video is one of the funniest things I have seen on Youtube.

Confrontations and “Howevers”

Over the time of watching the videos, I have been confronted by his contention that Roger Norrington may well be the worst conductor of modern times ; that Francois-Xavier Roth and Les Siecles were just more HIP hype ; that the (cheap, but widely praised) Riccardo Chailly cycles of Brahms and Beethoven that I had bought in 2020 were “boring”; that Gramophone and its reviews may just be mostly bullshit. He also places a lot more emphasis on respecting US orchestras and the conductors who worked there – especially in the 50s and 60s – than most of what I read before. In addition, a very large proportion of recordings in my shelves didn’t even made it to his “good” section of his videos (with a few exceptions). As I said, very confronting, especially to my mid 20s self.

There’s two ways to respond to confrontations. Be like a lot of men on the internet and shut down and stay with the views you formulate in your 20s, or really try to understand how you reached those views. Also, do the research. This last point made me dive back into the Maestro Myth of Lebrecht and realise great chunks of it is complete half arsed bullshit, even if Karajan still was a bit of a tyrant with bizarre ideas about cars.

I think this is still my favourite bonkers conductor moment

One of the features of many of Hurwitz’s videos is that he will suggest a range of good, very good and excellent recordings of any particular work, with the climax being his “However” recommendations for what he believes is the best recording of pieces. I started by listening to some of them on Apple Music – if I could find them – and then, if I loved them, I would scraping through Amazon and Ebay for them. That has not been all that easy from Australia, due to sky high postage costs from the US and Japan. However… I have managed to get a fair few. What I have discovered is that indeed, pretty much all of them have been absolute bangers of recordings (I know that term is probably not age appropriate, but I think it’s apt) and better than the ones I had.

That’s not to say that I have become a Hurwitz disciple in the way I was a slave to the trends that abounded in my 20s. I don’t agree with him on everything. For example, I still prefer Stephen Hough’s Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto recordings to the Lortie ones he recommends – partially because I have long adored the music of Saint-Saens and have my own ideas about how it should sound, which is not based on the opinions of others in the way many of my opinions were formed about other composers’ works. An example of this would be that I have almost no opinion of Bruckner or Sibelius, because I have not really heard much of their music. Also in terms of differing from Hurwitz, I also still like a lot of what Roth is doing, because I don’t think he’s a slave to his research in the way Norrington, Gardiner and some others in the HIP movement tended to be in the past. I think a lot of HIP people who are recording now are very good. I also still like Norrington in a couple of recordings. I will admit, however, in regards Norrington, that I had stopped listening to most of his recordings some years ago, which I thought was due to me losing interest in music. Listening to them now up against other recordings, I realise that most of them really aren’t that good.

Where Hurwitz’s videos have been of most help to me is to understand the distinctive features of the music, conductors, orchestra, sonics of the recording and the sound that arrives as a combination of all of those features. He provides a system upon which I can base any future judgements. Having the reference editions can help triangulate where your tastes are. The problem for me previously was working out which “reference” ones to get. And Hurwitz’s recommendations have reached into all sorts of unexpected areas, such as Naxos and the super cheap Brilliant Classics recordings from East German state orchestras. Plus, I know which super cheap Warner or Universal boxes to look for. I also will go down the Czech Supraphon rabbit hole at some stage, because I have long admired the music of Martinu (I think of him as one of the best composers of the 20th Century) , but have found it hard to find recordings.

The other thing Hurwitz’s videos do is show the features of repertoire that is largely unfamiliar – such as Martinu’s – in a detailed and entertaining way. There’s corners of the repertoire I have not experienced in a lot of detail, but look forward to doing so, having bought the However version of them, or finding them on Apple Music to listen to in the car first. (I need to stop buying CDs, even if they are mostly cheap!) He has, for example, has shown me how to approach Dvorak in a way I had not before. I have been blown away by the recordings I have been buying of his music.

A New Way of Listening

The result of all of this reflection and self confrontation is that I feel much better about my choices and listening to music these days. I have a sense of connection to a wider world of music listening that I had before, that my listening can have a focus and purpose. That my classical connection isn’t just a very extensive musak soundtrack. This feeds to a wider sense of who I am as a person. That in my late 40s, I have needed to do a close zoom into my belief systems and realise what is received wisdom and what is genuinely my own, or what can be genuinely my own into the future.

Watching the videos en masse have also shown me in a profound fashion the worth of respecting tradition. In other words, music performance should not be based purely on the printed notes and written research – in this analogy, some in the HIP crew were like fundamentalists using the Bible for their purposes. Music should really be a thing where traditions passed over time should be more respected, which is a good philosophy in life. We can’t just throw out everything that has happened between the time the music was written and now and start anew. That philosophy of life should not be applied just to music.

Cultural Comment Politics

Lebensraum and the Giant Rat – Bolt’s Farewell Letter

Nationality “chooser”, Adam Goodes abuser, convicted racist Andrew Bolt has left Melbourne. Ordinarily, the tale of some rich, out of touch media columnist leaving the city that helped to build a career of deception and performative bigotry wouldn’t be worth looking at. But the farewell letter to Melbourne – from the Herald Sun of December 2 – and his desire for some living space is so funny, so crypto fascist, so swollen with pretention, that it absolutely needs to be read. I would like to thank the benefactor who sent me the whole text, so I didn’t have to pay to read it. And now, you don’t have to.

Here we go.

The house is sold and I’m heading bush, without a single tear, but I’m not alone in fleeing Melbourne after months of lockdown. That’s it. I’m out of here. Melbourne, I loved you once but it’s all over between us. So the house is sold, the boxes packed, and I’m heading bush, without a single tear.

Bolt has always thought of himself as a wordsmith, an artist. Goes back to his days of desperately trying to impress his colleagues at The Age and his wistful desire to work at the ABC. No tears! Sure there’s no tears.

Plus, so much for being a battler for the average man writing in the average man’s paper – being able to leave the city and work from outside the city, selling his $2.8 million home in Malvern East. Plus, here he is, trying to portray a love affair with Melbourne. One that was purely one sided, where one side is an abuser.

Blame maybe the coronavirus for the cold goodbye. I’m not alone in fleeing Melbourne after months of this virus lockdown. That didn’t just leave me feeling claustrophobic and wanting out before this crazy government’s next stunt. I was felt threatened by how eagerly so many Melburnians accepted home imprisonment and looked for people to dob in.

“Crazy government’s next stunt” is code for “a government using science based decision making”. Bolt has several issues with science, as in he does not believe in it. It’s a curious position for an admitted atheist being so enthusiastic in his faith that science is wrong about the world, while Bolt’s instincts are much more reliable.

The most astonishingly hypocritical part of that paragraph, however, is when he bemoans Victorians “seeking to dob each other in”, when Bolt himself has been encouraging people to vilify Indigenous people, Islamic people and others who don’t fit into Bolt’s own picture of acceptable behaviour and attitudes. He’s Melbourne’s biggest virtue signaller, and yet, he has managed to convinced himself that it’s other people’s “dobbing in” that’s the problem.

How I need more space, fewer people and a wide sky to let me dream I’m free. But, honestly, I was pretty much done with Melbourne already. I’d planned for years to bail out the moment I could. That’s now. Kids left. Savings topped up. Career optional.

What a way to build a connection with a working class / everyman audience – he’s made lots and lots of money from his act over the years. So relatable.

So part of this move is me — but part of it, Melbourne, is you. It’s more than 40 years since I moved from Murray Bridge to Melbourne, and my first real job. How I adored the capital of the Garden State. There was more green than I was used to. More flowers.

Bolt has been doing his level best to make sure Victoria is less green now and into the future with his climate change denialism. And we know about his first real job – working for the Age, a place for which he still clearly pines. Ironically, the way it is these Ninefax days, they might be ready for his brand of right wing demagogue act.

The city seemed sedate, too. Ordered.

The Germans in the build up to WW2 were also good at ordered cities.

Oh, it had flaws. The Yarra bank, across from the city centre, was an eyesore. I still remember seeing a giant rat there, before the warehouses went and restaurants and the casino came. Now the only rats are the human ones a casino inevitably attracts. Is that an improvement? Or just more “progress” to regret, like the rash of pokie machines that infected the city from the 1990s, the previous time a Labor government drove the state broke and needed cash.

The massive hypocrisy of a writer for the Herald Sun being opposed to gambling is one of the bigger guffaw generating moments. Has he read his own paper? Seen the ads? Seen the stories? Have never seen one of his beloved Liberal Governments wind any of that gambling back. Nor even seen Bolt himself write all that much about these venal places. But when you’re a fake, pretending to hate things when you have little to lose is easy to do.

The best part of this “farewell letter” is the giant rat. If that rat was still alive, it might well be the only true friend Bolt made. He would have known his kind when he met Bolt. Conversely, it could have been a different story entirely if the giant rat ate him, doing the city of Melbourne a favour, but sadly, alas, if he was still alive, he would now cut a tragic figure as a symbol of a lost opportunity.

I also remember when Melbourne boasted it was Australia’s arts capital, and few dared disagree. Back then, it had a new arts centre, and gloried in hometown playwrights like David Williamson and bred performers as wildly wonderful as Barry Humphries. But Williamson then moved to Sydney, as did others, and once-rollicking Melbourne grew so po-faced that the Melbourne International Comedy Festival last year stripped Humphries’ name from its top prize because he’d offended transgender activists. A city that swaps a Humphries for a Hannah Gadsby has had fun stamped out of it by a new elite that wants laughter to have a licence. And a city that insists it’s still an arts mecca because — look! — we have lanes coated with graffiti really needs a reality check

Old white writers is what Bolt loves and knows, and they are fading away. With Bolt, Humphries’ best character, Sandy Stone, is not a satire, it’s a life goal. There’s nothing rollicking about Williamson’s tired schtick about comfortable Melbourne middle class conversations. Bolt, though, would have got a sustained thrill being a subject of one of those scenes, even if it was criticising him. That’s because Bolt clearly loves being the villain of the professional middle class – the professional troll. He probably realised that when he was on the outer with the Age’s culture. Better to be discussed than ignored.

The commentary on Hannah Gadsby’s finely honed comedy is yet another example of Bolt’s misunderstanding that the world is no longer accepting the bigotry and aggressive apathy of a society unwilling to look at itself. And the last line is just dumb.

Then there’s the traffic. When I moved to Melbourne, it had 2.8 million people, and that already seemed plenty. But our politicians, addicted to macho-growth, doubled it to more than five million. Homes with gardens were torn down and replaced with apartments. The city spread like cancer, and Melbourne now has just too, too many people. Boy, have I noticed. Finding a break in the traffic to get out of my street got harder. Sunday went from a quiet day on the roads to jam-packed. And with so many newcomers crowding the city, you couldn’t talk any more about a “we” — people sharing the stories that turn individuals into a community. Stories? We barely share a language, now that immigrants no longer feel the pressure to integrate, as did my parents’ generation. In the virus crisis, the government translated health warnings into 53 languages, and still it wasn’t enough. Victorians born overseas were twice as likely as those born here to get sick. And have you noticed how brutal Melbourne has become? More gangs, more street violence, more home invasions.

This section is so laced with crypto fascist dogma that it can be used as a template for anyone seeking the ways racist writers position their desire for society to opposed non white immigration. It has all the ingredients.

  • Blaming traffic on the newcomers, Fiona Scott style
  • Replacing homes, that Anglo – Celtic desire, with apartments filled with foreigners, who are fine with that kind of thing
  • A city growing from immigration is “like cancer” – the analogy is clear, but even if it the connection wasn’t clear…
  • Jumping from a complaint about being trapped in “his” suburb to “newcomers crowding the city” – damn those new migrants
  • There is no community because these foreigners speak their own languages now
  • These new migrants are twice as likely to get sick. How dare they be poor people who live closer together, therefore being more susceptible to the spread of disease.
  • And clearly, by the placements of the next set of comments, these new migrants are vicious criminals

What Bolt clearly needs is some lebensraum.

Even the language is more brutal. I this week read of the “heartfelt” Instagram post of a footballer’s fiance, battling to get pregnant through IVF. “’Motherhood sounds so f..king magical,” she wrote. How that obscenity jarred next to “motherhood”.

One of the most mendacious tricks of these frauds like Bolt is a pretense to want “civilised” discourse, while they themselves preach layers of hate with civilised language. It’s also the refuge of the faux intellectual. Ben Shapiro belongs to the same vapid school of judgmental language critique.

True, Melbourne still does things well. It has the Richmond AFL club, for one. And no city can get more people to a big game so easily.

Bolta is a Richmond fan. Trust him to support a club that might make him seem like he’s connected to the “working man”. Also, can’t imagine him being all that much of a fan of the vocabulary of Dustin Martin.


He’s fooling no-one. Blot will return to Melbourne when Wagner is on. Not to see his beloved Trent Riewoldt kick some steaks.

I’ll also miss the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square. Its Australian art gives me a happy outing a couple of times a year.

He would be ignoring the Indigenous art displays. And most of the modern stuff.

But the rest? What can Melbourne now offer me that compares to the joy of leaving it? You may know the feeling as you drive away. Houses finally give way to paddocks and soft hills, blue in the distance, or you crest a rise and see the great ocean at last. The horizon expands. The air freshens. The roar of cars gives way to bird calls. Breath in, tension out. Melbourne behind you, a gentler life ahead.

“Soft hills”. There he is, trying to be Les Murray again. Cringeworthy doggerel from someone seeking his gentle life of being able to produce his bigotry and hate from a safe distance, without having to run into people directly affected by his mendacious poison.

He’s found his room to live, having failed to stop the invasion of the Infidel. He’ll still write and get published, because the Hun is a vile organ, riddled with the cancer caused by this blot on the landscape.

Cultural Comment Politics

TealChoices – How people with the ability to choose did

Choices Part 1 – WorkChoices

Fifteen years ago, the word “Choice” was heavily discussed in Australian politics. In the built up to the 2007 election, WorkChoices was one policy that helped to sink John Howard. Work “Choices”, as workers knew, was no real “Choice” at all, for those people being retrenched and then re-employed on nastier, meaner employment agreements and contracts. It was one overreach by a hubristic Liberal government taking advantage of a rare majority in the Senate.

Flash forward to the recent election, and Choice was again the word that dominated the election. The choices were vastly different this time, however. This time, there was a paradigm shift and a societal momentum towards making a decisive change. Choices were made to vote for someone other than the two major political brands. More voters than ever decided to choose outside the regular two political brands – actually did it this time, instead of just thinking about it. And the big two will be worried about that shift. 

Choices Part 2 – TealChoices

Those choices – TealChoices – were provided to electorates to whom choice outside a mainstream two brand decision is a daily reality. Go to Kooyong and Wentworth and you will see people making all sorts of choices – shopping at a high end IGA (in Melbourne, often a Ritchie’s), Toscanos, Harris Farm Markets. These are the areas in which being able to choose a form of transport into work – a well appointed train, tram or bus service that offers multiple routes. Even driving is not a punishing affair as it is for those in other parts of the cities. For the people who own their own houses living in those suburbs, there are choices in life afforded to those who have accumulated resources over the years, and are not so threatened by a rise in interest rates. For those who rent, they are similarly unencumbered by the rise of interest rates and are not exposed to the emotional scarring that mortgage stress can create. That’s why these groups have choices. In the past, however, only 15 – 20% of the people in those kinds of areas have chosen to carry their choices into their votes – with a couple of exceptions. In Hobart, people in Denison chose an independent voice, Andrew Wilkie. In North Sydney, there was Ted Mack. But this time, that change. The mood changed.

Why are they Teals?

One of the driving forces behind the teal wave is Simon Holmes a Court, son of Robert Holmes a Court, who was a symbol of the old Liberal / Commerce nexus. For his grizzle about the “teal” label, it works. They are a blur of blue Liberals and the Greens. While News Ltd overstate his influence and power over the movement (massively), his money and name did help to connect and draw upon a wider community dissatisfaction with a Liberal Party that had moved further and further away from the socially progressive / economically conservative values of the Liberal Party. Communities that were continually revolted by the lazy outer suburban dog whistling of Tony Abbott, then Scott Morrison. In addition, communities that could see that their Liberal government was not the party of Menzies. It was instead more like a Calwell Labor government might have looked like – one stuck in the past, dedicated to weird, throwback socialistic actions like funding coal fired power stations and not backing environmentally sustainable future business opportunities. It was like an inverse of this famous cartoon from the 1949 election. Except this time, it was Morrison and Joyce stuck in the Chifley car and the Teals were Robert Menzies, offering the future. Except this time, the car was electric.

These people had, for the first time, a viable choice in an acceptable form – a community based, usually well educated, economically centrist “teal”. And, most importantly, someone selected by a community based process, not someone who would normally put their hand up to be independent and make the campaign about them. These were candidates responsible to the community organisations that had selected them. That model worked in those seats in Melbourne and Sydney with a sizeable cohort of older, established, but environmentally minded voters, as well as a considerable number of younger voters who might have considered voting Green, but realising that a teal candidate was worth a first or second preference, in order to bring about action on climate change and asylum seeker issues.

The Greens and Teal

The Greens could have, at one stage of their life, ridden the teal wave. Fiona Scott, the one term member for Lindsay, said to me at a prepolling booth in Lindsay in 2016 that she believed the Greens would be the part of the seats like Mackellar, Wentworth and Warringah, while the Liberals would eventually be the party of the outer suburbs – the mortgage belt. That wasn’t a random idea. There was the evidence of a teal wave buried deep in senate votes in traditional Liberal seats. There were reasons why the Greens had senators for many years in NSW and Victoria in particular – high votes in those seats. Liberals and others used to derisively call them “doctor’s wives”, but they were in reality people who were clearly tired of having just a choice between Liberal and Labor and decided that climate change action and more progressive social policies – unbound by the anchor of pragmatism that causes Labor to compromise – were important, at least in terms of senate representation. There were many within the Greens in NSW – me included – who were advocating for a more dedicated push into those seats, much like the Victorian Greens’ successful push into Prahran in the state parliament. The Greens in NSW, however, made a decided choice to be dedicated to a harder edged socialist platform – progressive socially and economically – that cost them the opportunity to take those seats. Their constant churn of HOR candidates also did not help their cause. That is not to say that their decision was necessarily a bad thing – it is good to have a party consistently challenging the status quo, and in NSW, they have consistently challenged the systems that operate in that largely flawed and in many ways corrupt state. On a side note, David Shoebridge will be a loss to that state’s parliament. But his departure to Canberra will also be welcomed by people fronting various parliamentary committees.

Younger Voters and Brisbane

However, a discussion of a teal wave becomes somewhat more complicated in Queensland, where the movement has been more Green than Teal. More an inverse of the Sydney and Melbourne model, where the younger voters had more influence than the older ones. Of the top five seats with younger populations – people under 35 – in Australia, three of them in Brisbane were ripe for the Greens. Lots of renters, lots of university students. That would be of considerable benefit to the Australian Greens’ active courting of younger people wanting decisive action on climate change, asylum seekers and social policies. It also helped the Queensland Greens that over the years they have taken a different pathway to the NSW Greens, deciding in part, especially more recently, that candidate choice and dedicated building towards victories over many years was the pathway to success. A solid ground game, lots of doorknocking and a positive environment and social policy focus led by Larissa Waters has helped the Greens in Brisbane build a solid choice for voters, especially younger voters.

For Brisbane’s three inner city seats that turned Greens, therefore, with a combination of those younger voters combining with older, wealthy, “teal” voters in their million dollar Queenslanders created the perfect storm to push the Greens over the line. This is why Brisbane’s choices need to be seen different to those taken in Sydney and Melbourne. It might also help to explain that Labor’s response to the Green rise – especially that of Terri Butler – to be negative, was perhaps not the most effective strategy. It might work for older voters, but cynicism and consideration of “pragmatism” and “compromise” is not what younger voters want. They want to choose change, not more of the same.

Rural Choices

Before considering the future of this teal wave, this is not to say that the notion of choice is limited to wealthy inner-city areas. There have also been choices made by the relatively wealthy and comfortably off in rural areas into the past, with traditional Nationals seats disappearing from their books. There was New England, where the National-minded rebel Tony Windsor won on the back of his time in state parliament. In Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, another former National, but independent thinker did the same as Windsor. In Calare, the people chose TV presenter Peter Andren as their voice. The people of Indi decided that a local, Cathy McGowan, was a better option than a political blow-in, Sophie Mirabella. In Nicholls, there was a swing to an independent. In Cowper, there was a swing to an independent. And finally, we have Kennedy, where an agrarian socialist, Bob Katter, has been charming locals with his bizarre mix of socialist, Labor, Nationals and crocodile focused doggerel for years. 

The Teal Curtain – Where does the Teal Choice Stop?

What might be forgotten, in this new era of choice, is that most Federal electorates still do not offer that choice. Never was that more stark for me than when I was standing at a prepoll booth in Aston, with just me and my red Labor How To Votes and the Liberals. No Greens, no community independents. Just the two major brands. A bit like those areas that just offer Woolworths and Coles. The areas where most people watch or listen to one of the commercial TV or radio stations, but not the ABC or SBS. For those areas, the outer suburbs, teals – community independents – would always struggle to mount a campaign. This is why people like Alan Tudge knew they were relatively safe in this election. There is a Teal Curtain, whereby people either side of it will have or won’t have a viable or realistic choice outside one of the major parties. Where those alternatives can hope for 15% or maybe 20% at most. In Melbourne, the teal curtain can be best guessed to be an Eastern Suburbs phenomenon, whereby the curtain runs along Warrigal Rd, then up to Union Road towards Bulleen. In Sydney, the curtain can be more effectively drawn around Wentworth in the eastern suburbs, and then in the northern suburbs along the Pacific Highway, even though it may head further west in time.

Bougie Shops and Teals

If you want to took for the teal curtain’s movements, look for where there’s a choice other than Woolworths of Coles. I’m not talking Aldi, which is more of a choice for working class people and is very popular in places that still have the choice only between Liberal and Labor. I am referring to wherever there are bougie IGAs that sell expensive French cheeses or Harris Farm Markets type shops (Harris Farm had a shop in Penrith for a while, which did not last long – it needed to be in Springwood…). This is completely unscientific, but hey, this is just a blog, after all.

What of their Future?

For the Greens, there is still a worth in the teal wave and their impact on younger people who are the children of wealthy parents. We cannot underestimate the appeal of the Greens to those in their 20s. In my very Liberal, very conservative booth in Aston on Election Day, I saw many people under 25 march straight to the Greens volunteers and take only their material. This is why in that booth, there was a doubling of the Greens primary from 5% in 2019 to 10% this time. One of the most Liberal booths had one of the biggest Greens swings. It was one of the biggest Greens swings in Aston. On a side note, just around the corner, there is a bougie IGA that sells the most amazing cheese and sauces. That cannot be just a one off phenomenon in seats where choices are available.

I have no idea, though, what is going to happen with the teals. As Holmes a Court says, the teal members are all community based independents, looking out for their communities. They all have a Choice. The new Greens members have fewer choices, because they belong to a party. However, as we have seen, the Greens have more choices and freedoms because they don’t have to appeal to a wide range of voters. Whatever happens, it will be much more interesting than Federal politics has been for some time. And we won’t need to be looking too closely at the Liberals’ PotatoChoice.

Cultural Comment Politics Uncategorized

The (Tread)Mill of Content

I see a mill gleaming amid the alders

the roar of mill – wheels

cuts through the babbling and singing.

Welcome, welcome, sweet song of the mill!

How inviting the house looks, how sparkling its windows!

And how brightly the sun shines from the sky. 

Now, dear little brook, is this what you meant?

Halt! from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller

The Ever-Pumping Mill of Content

If you’re relatively new to twitter, like a friend of mine, then it’s an alluring, bright, sparkling and confusing place. I know, because that friend is now asking me a lot of questions about the layers of meaning, codes and shorthand being used by seasoned twitter users. Last year, she obtained mastery of the TikTok algorithm and went viral with excellent, funny Content. This same friend has, this year, become even more incredibly passionate about social issues, especially about the way women have been sidelined and abused by powerful men. The events around the rape of Brittany Higgins and subsequent women’s marches has been her radicalising moment. As a result of this, as well as a sense of frustration about the portrayal of Melbourne across various media outlets, she has thrown herself onto the never ending (Tread)Mill of Content and it’s difficult to hang on. So this blog post is written partially for her, and for anyone else who wants to be a successful producer of Content, or perhaps want to understand their position as an audience member.

Turning People into Performative Products

For anyone not familiar with the notion of a Mill, it has become a metonym for anything that emerged in the production of goods and pretty much the advancement of society, whether it be the dark, satanic mills of Blake or the constantly whirring mills spinning through the imagination of poet Johann Müller and composer Franz Schubert in the song cycle Die Schöne Mullerin.

In this extended metaphor, the Mill of Content is the endlessly cycling, voracious requirement social media has for content. The most brutal and unforgiving Content Platforms are TikTok and YouTube, but also possibly its most pure, in terms of the distance between everyday human interaction and a performative version of it – most with sustained success on both of those have an artifice, brand and style that helps establish their engagement and fan base.

On Twitter, however, it is considered an insult if a twitter user is accused of being “performative” and that their interactions, and Content is a product of artifice, repetition and strategy, rather than spontaneously human expression. Understandably, as many with large follower counts are spontaneous and genuine, but also naturally gifted at attracting attention with that spontaneity and genuine warmth. However, these people are rare, and the timeline and archives of most successful twitter Content producers do show evidence of some consideration and positioning in the way they craft and pitch their tweets.

The product at the end of the day is performance, of people performing in response to issues and events of any given day. In order to have sustained success with a twitter account – especially for those without other media platforms – it is the result of daily, repetitive work in producing up to date, savvy Content. After a while, it is clear to see what serves as grist for the Mill of Content.

The Process of Content Production

Step One – The Initial Content

There are many approaches to becoming a Twitter Content Producer. And many that aren’t in this post. These are the ones, however, that have become obvious over my time on twitter. This also refers to Australian political twitter, as that is my experience.

Minor Media Figures / Twitter Famous

What is remarkable about the bigger, more popular Content producers on Australian twitter is how big minor media figures are on the medium. People who have small or fringe jobs in on mainstream media, but pump out wildly popular Content. Examples are people like Tonightly writer and performer Greg Larsen, Utopia secretary Nina Oyama, sometime Chaser fringe dweller and occasional Feed sketch guest Ben Jenkins. Their roles might be small in the media outside twitter, but they really work hard on their Content, as to collect a big following. An advantage for them is that they aren’t known well enough outside twitter to attract a swarm of haters / admirers / stans which would give them more freedom to be edgy and critical of politics and the media. They aren’t being monitored by News Limited and Liberal Governments as much as people like Leigh Sales, and there is also less for them to lose if they make a mistake of tone. For the most part, these minor media figures will occasionally appear on panel shows, but mostly will stay stars of twitter.

An exception to this rule was Yasmin Abdel-Magied, who like the other popular Content producers was a largely unknown (and very happy, upbeat) presenter on a Sunday morning cultural program that sat somewhere near Offsiders and televised church programs. However, because she had worked for the ABC, and not on a comedy program, her innocuous tweet about Anzac Day meant that News Limited could feast on it for their own performative outrage purposes.

There are also those who have built their profiles with Twitter to gain larger profiles. Jan Fran and Mark Humphries are two in this category, successfully taking their relatively small roles and using twitter to make themselves and their Content better known more widely. Fran in particular is showing herself as being adept at understanding issues and repacking it as Content on the ABC’s Question Everything. Humphries has used his physical appearance of being an every(white)man figure from a John Brack painting to create extended grotesque (and accurate) presentations of the power given to such white men in Australian society.

Journalists Making Their Reputation

The same principle of minor players in media organisations being Big on Twitter also applies to media employees who are skilled Content accumulators and producers. The better ones are mostly younger reporters, making their name and reputation on the back of their twitter efforts. Eliza Barr and Josh Butler, for example, are particularly skilled at using twitter to create Content. Sophie Elsworth did the same thing with her twitter account in 2020, becoming a lightning rod for right wing dissent from the actions of the Victorian Government and thus obtaining more exposure in other News Ltd platforms. It could be said that Sharnelle Vella, Channel 7’s state political reporter, fits into this category, but her role on television was already fairly significant. Sharnelle is, however, one of the most skilled Content producers on twitter at the moment. Matilda Boseley, of the Guardian, as a contrast, is making her mark more on TikTok, perhaps recognising that it is a more attractive and accessible medium for younger media audiences.

The Gruen Principle

At this point, it would be instructive to see how the notion of minor performers using social media to make themselves as presences on Australia media are the people who appeared on Gruen / The Gruen Effect. It has proven to be one of the most successful engines for making minor media figures into players on other media platforms. Dee Madigan, Jane Caro, Rowan Dean, Russel Howcroft and Todd Sampson have all managed to launch themselves in various ways. It was probably natural for each of them to be good at providing content, as they are all advertisers. (At this point, I will not quote from TISM’s Greg the Stop Sign, as tempting as that may be).

It is useful, however, to see how they have all managed to set up their own Content pathway – and Twitter’s role in it. Sampson has barely used it, and has had multi platform success. Dean used it to an extent, but realised “editing” The Spectator Australia and being on Sky is more lucrative than Twitter. Howcroft doesn’t need twitter to build his brand, but has dabbled in projects that suit his business minded content.

On twitter, however, Madigan has managed to become strategist for Labor, and uses her twitter account to provide informal and colloquial Content that is intended to boost the party’s brand and set the agenda and tone for its supporters. Caro has managed to carve herself on twitter a position as a spokesperson for public schools, progressive issues as well as a reliable, regular commentator on The Drum, which continues to be a neat showcase for the takes produced by various producers of Content. Caro’s Content, usually, is not as calculated as many. Hers is more a natural ability to attract comment and response. A recent example can be found with this tweet.

Twitter had two days with of content in response to this tweet, where Caro was raising an ages old, classist dichotomy between liking sport and not liking sport. It wasn’t original, but it was timed well.

Media Famous

The people who have well known roles on the media – Dave Hughes, Leigh Sales, etc, have a different road to travel. Almost every one of their tweets attracts comment – praise, criticism and everything in between. They don’t need to work that hard to produce Content – there’s enough people out there to take their tweets and riff from them. One or two tweets is often enough – they have bigger platforms that demand their time and skills at producing popular Content.

The Professional Content Harnessers

There’s a number of people who work in media and outside it who are very good at harnessing Content. They are able to see the issues of the day and spin their takes to the extent where their views become the focus of discourse for the day on twitter. They are also very good at timing.

News producers and editors are very good at this. I got an insight into their world when, for five years, I used to catch a train to work from 6.40 to 8.10 am and then back from 4.20pm to 6pm (never again, by the way). My twitter account became very popular for Content, because I was able to set up a good timeline on Twitter for good news sources and was able to package up information and throw in a perspective as a tweet or retweet. This is why radio / podcast producers and editors like Matthew Bevan and Osman Faruqi are very good at seeing what is news for the day and how to set off a discussion about those issues. Their jobs are to read, understand, chunk down and then write short form explanations about complex issues on broadcasts. So it goes on twitter, they know how to attract attention. The latter in particular is very skilled at stirring discussion in all sorts of directions, including with the timing of his takes, so his work attracts attention throughout the day, from fans and dunkers.

The Experts and Specialists

One group of people who have benefitted from twitter are experts and specialists in fields that usually are not provided with much exposure in media outlets, due to their relative obscurity. Their content is usually valuable and helpful. There are many experts who are very good at chunking down their messages. They are also able to be personally engaging, like the next group of Content producers.

The Socially Popular

There are people on twitter who are just good at being engaging and popular, and all of their Content is liked. They generally aren’t in the media, just ordinary people, but ones whose lives, views and interests are similar to their friends, and later, their fans. They can look at the developing consensus view about issues, can pitch their take to fit into that consensus, and time their takes well enough to accumulate more agreement for that position. After a while, with a development of their popularity, support and confidence, they also make opening pitches for a consensus view about an emerging event and / or issue. They are also, as people, generally warm, personable, respond positively to those who agree with them. These are the kinds of people that have reached the height of popularity referred to in this tweet.

The Socially Popular – CONtent or conTENT?

The personas of these socially popular Content Providers can either be genuine or performative – or, in many cases, a mix of both. Is the persona a con? Or are being allowed inside the tent of their real life? Twitter, by its nature and demands requires a level of performance on a daily and weekly basis. In addition, exaggeration and hyperbole gets more attention and cut through.

This style of Content production that brings no financial or work benefit to the ordinary people behind the accounts does come at a personal cost, however. The sheer number of mental health cries for help, breaks, deactivations and alt accounts are testament to the pressures created for those who choose to place their heart and soul (even if it is a little bit exaggerated and / or performative) onto something like Twitter. However, even that could be performative. Truth is, we don’t know as audiences whether it’s CONtent or conTENT. And mostly, audiences don’t care – they just like the Content pouring out.

Hashtag Heroes

I have written extensively about “Megaphoning”, which is to take a simple message and continually repeat it, collecting more and more voices that agree. That process continues, even if the players on the Megaphoning treadmill change in time. The latest example of this phenomenon is PR Guy 17, whose Content is constant, calculated and frequent. There is enough evidence from the tweets that the account is run by an enthusiastic Labor supporter – whoever runs it has made too many mistakes and has strayed from Labor social media policy and practice for it to be a paid Labor operation. For all of the dunking and opposition that the account has attracted, it does produce a lot of very popular Content. Whoever uses it is also not afraid to do a bit of dunking of its own. A crucial part of the tactic being employed by PR Guy is the use of Hashtags, which helps to signal to the audience where the action is in terms of whipping up collective anger. Hashtags are deeply unfashionable amongst highly experienced twitter users, but for those who don’t use it as much, they act as a very handy search tool. Whoever runs that account it is also good at engaging with and responding to supporters and the odd critic when it suits their purposes, having a touch of the Socially Popular approach.

Step Two – The Feedback Loop

After these initial tweets of Content, the Mill then kicks into action, where the feedback loop kicks in. And it’s the feedback loop that can really punt Content into the trending stratosphere.


This process is one of the first steps of creating a social media brand, on the back of Content produced by others. The people who do this are the dunkers. These are the people who wait for a take from anyone that has been referred to – public figure, politician, media star or other well known person on twitter – and will come up with a clever dunk, as a quote tweet in order to get a block or snarky response, or via screenshot. Nick Schadegg is one of the great masters of the dunk – the second one being a dunk on Jane Caro’s take.

The Political Dunkers

There is a a subset of dunkers who have a political agenda and social media strategy behind their dunking. They are those people who seem to sweat over the tweets of politicians such as Bill Shorten, Anthony Albanese, Daniel Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian, Scott Morrison, et al, just so to dunk on them. They will either dunk by replying, or quote tweeting, depending on their intent. The speed at which some people respond to those tweets would indicate they set up to know when those tweets are issued. Then they are used as a rallying call for the supporters of that dunker to continue to spread the negative response, building a momentum of criticism. A look at the replies and Quote Tweets for politicians will reveal all sorts of social media approaches and tactics.

Affirmation Seeking

One of the most notorious seekers of affirmation for their views was Joe Hildebrand, who relentlessly tweeted supportive tweets for his takes. So much so that “Hildebranding” was the term for it. He is not the only one to do that, however, instead authors giving out likes and the occasional quote tweet, thus providing approval for their fans, as well as satisfying a need for affirmation by the authors themselves. This is not something restricted to the socially popular, but they are more likely to be appreciative of the support.

The Shunners

Another excellent producer of Content is the process of Shunning. One thing that the socially popular Content producers have as an advantage over many is that attract a number of passionate supporters who would do anything for them. It is often the case that this shunning process happens as a part of the feedback loop.

This is the way is works. If the socially popular Content producers decide that someone needs to be shunned by their supporters and fans, they can make that happen. It’s not a difficult process – it usually requires one of the following:

  • Someone responding out of spite, aggression or jealousy to someone who is socially popular. That person can then quote tweet, or screenshot that reply, ensuring that the supporters will then set upon attacking and / or shunning that person
  • Providing a quote tweet or screenshot of a tweet that is deemed to be offensive / out of step / not “reading the room” and then making it clear why that person needs to be criticised and / or shunned
  • Selecting to get into an argument with a critic, so to raise the stakes and temperature of the situation, exposing the critic to more attention, and hence, hopefully for the socially popular person, more shunning.

In this context, the term “cancel culture” is worthless, because people are not “cancelled” by twitter campaigns. Not all that much real world power is not wielded by everyday people with twitter accounts. Johnny Depp is still winning awards and living from his royalties, as is J.K. Rowling. Graham Linehan is still living from his royalties for Father Ted and IT Crowd. Pauline Hanson continually appears on various platforms, because she produces Content that attracts audiences. PR Guy has been the target of many “cancel” campaigns, and they plough on regardless.

What the shunners do have, however, is the power to shun people on their platform, just like any religious community, school playground or in the Mean Girls universe. That doesn’t mean that it can’t hurt to be shunned, but it’s not “cancelling”. Those who are “cancelled” can still have friends and supporters, just not with a certain group of people on Twitter. If they want that support, however, it’s usually too late. Shunning, if done effectively, lasts a long time.

What the process of shunning DOES do above everything else, though, is produce great Content for the audience.

Convo Twitter v Broadcast Twitter

There is another issue, however, with feedback – that nexus between audience response and Content producers who are of good faith. As the excellent expert Dr. Emma Beckett points out in these tweets, it would be nice if twitter was about talking to people as people, not at them. Convo Twitter as opposed to Broadcast Twitter. Twitter’s algorithm does hide a lot of replies, and can distort the tone of feedback.

The Audience

What is “Good” Content?

Who are the audience for all of this? What makes “good” Content? What makes Content “good” is purely in the eye of the audience. That’s it. The Mill produces Content that appeals to all sorts of audience members. Like with radio, TV, movies, there are many demographics and interests. There’s fans of snark, fans of the earnest, fans of stirrers, fans of dunking, fans of “eating a burger!”

That is why it’s probably a bit of a waste of time complaining about people in those different demographics. Each of us pick and choose what we decide is lame and what is acceptable. For example, if people choose to cling on those outdated water drop emojis, it indicates they are still annoyed about the fact Angus Taylor is still a Minister. There are people still stung by plot line resolutions in 1990s television shows and movies. Others are still salty about the whole last season of Game of Thrones, which went to air at the same time Taylor’s water issue came to light.

Audience as Wannabe Content Producers

For most twitter users, they aren’t skilled producers of Content. Or at least, constant producers of continually high quality Content. As my opera singing mum would say to people who said they wished they had mum’s abilities, “performers need an audience”. There is a twist to this, however. For a lot of the audience of twitter, they are widely dissatisfied with the way “mainstream media” packages and features news. They sense that some stories and perspectives gain the upper hand while many stories they believe are important fall between the cracks. That is the narrative that the likes of Ronni Salt promotes, and her supporters believe. These same people also believe the illusion that Twitter is a platform that provides unfettered, unfiltered access to journalists and the famous for the ordinary person ; as well as a platform for anyone wishing to create Content.

It doesn’t, and it isn’t.

The Impotent Cold Call Fury of the Waterdrops

Most of the audience who use water drops as emojis are people angry about what they see as the unchecked corruption of the Liberal Party and go onto twitter for some sense of solidarity and support for their anger. Their @ responses to journalists they believe are biased is a misguided and attempt to have someone acknowledge that their concerns are being heeded. There are also a number of people who are the “I am just asking a question troll type” to which Dr. Beckett is referring. The combination of the anger, the Twitter algorithm, and trolls, these cold call replies to most experienced Twitter users have been rendered almost pointless.

Some media professionals, especially this year, have been annoyed (some performatively) by the flooding of their notifications of angry, powerless people. High profile people like Leigh Sales have struck back, criticising them and highlighting the numbers of people angry with her tweets and work on 730. It didn’t have the effect of stopping the criticism. It hasn’t stopped Sales from hosting 730, nor using twitter. It did, however, create more Content.

Likes – The Rorschach Inkblot of Audiences

If you want to see who the audience are for certain Content producers, one of the more reliable indicators is who likes what on twitter. While it is true that likes don’t necessarily mean approval or agreement, over time, patterns emerge of the audiences and fans of those key Content producers. And certain tweets stand out like Rorschach blots, revealing the personality of those who like them. Or, alternately, who dunk on them. That was certainly true of the Jane Caro football tweet, who flushed out supporters and opponents of her doing all kinds of rhetorical gymnastics as a response.

Getting On or Off the (Tread)Mill of Content

If new or inexperienced twitter users are frustrated or confused by twitter, it is much easier to see twitter as a constantly moving treadmill of Content, dominated in Australia by savvy, experienced users. Some people are very skilled at persisting in staying on it each day. So many of them have to be.

For the rest of us, we need to make decisions about our approach and attitude towards the Mill. Do we continue to provide Content, or are just happy to consume it? Or just drop off completely?

On this point, I don’t really want to make this post about me. The intent also is not to settle old scores. These are reflections on my observations over the years of having an account that produced Content that developed a reasonable following. I used a number of the approaches listed above. My attitude and feelings about having such a position as a Content producer might be illustrative for others. And because I love classical music, I wanted to use bits of Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin to express that perspective.

I was once attracted to the sweet song of the Mill of Content, and encouraged to contribute to it – the dopamine hits were awesome. However, these days, I feel more like the wanderer from the opening song – seeing how the water never ceases to move, seeing how heavy the stones of the mill are. Unlike Schubert’s miller, though, I am going to now stick to my wandering. And I want to stick to Convo Twitter, rather than Broadcast Twitter. I can see, though, why being one of the Producers in the Mill of Content could continue to dazzle and fascinate.

To wander is the miller’s delight; to wander!

A poor miller he must be who never thought of wandering, of wandering.

We have learnt it from the water, from the water!

It never rests, by day or night, but is always intent on wandering, the water.

We can see it in the wheels too, the wheels!

They never care to stand still but turn tirelessly the whole day long, the wheels.

The stones themselves, heavy as they are, the stones!

They join in the merry dance and seek to move still faster, the stones.

O wandering, my delight, 

O wandering!

Master and mistress,

let me go my way in peace,

and wander.

Wandering, from Die Schöne Müllerin, by Johann Müller

N.B. Thanks to Anne, Ben and Dick for ideas and feedback for this post (and yes, I do realise they sound like characters from an Enid Blyton book)


Megaphoning Angrily Grates Always – But No, DanStans aren’t Trumpian

There has been an emerging genre for journalists with some kind of twitter presence. Sledging the #IStandWithDan DanStans. This week, it was Phil Coorey’s turn. Journalists like Coorey are the gatekeepers, they shape how most media consumers see Twitter, because most people don’t know how it works, and don’t use it. So the images of the “extremely online” on twitter are there for the likes of Coorey to present and manipulate. So, deconstructing its premise and examples provides a neat summary of the tricks such pieces have used is important.

For those who are or aren’t extremely online, however, there needs to be a quick revisiting of the notion of the Twitter Megaphone. They are like people at a union picket line or at a process, saying the same lines, gaining comfort and power from being part of a movement, with an amplified voice. I have written about them twice – in 2013 and 2015. Their megaphoning is focused generally on repeating the same lines about the Liberal Party and media bias. They aren’t bots, they aren’t paid, they are enthusiastic amateurs. They get particularly excited when small matters of possible corruption are not grabbing headlines, more skating around the margins of media coverage. Hence, James Ashby’s interactions with Peter Slipper (remember that?) and recently, Angus Taylor’s shambolic activities relating to water. Hence these megaphones have more recently put waterdrops in their names.

My argument about these megaphones hasn’t changed. They are largely harmless. Plus, it’s possible to see where their frustration comes from – because there’s a grain of truth in a lot of what they say, especially about News Ltd media and Sky “News”. They are members of a tribe, angry about biased media coverage. However, as a group, they quickly become too hardline and inflexible, meaning that they lose credibility with each strident tweet. The leaders of these megaphones on twitter – especially Vic Rollison and lately “PR Guy 17”, have used megaphonics this time around to defend the Andrews government. And it’s these people to whom Coorey is referring throughout most of his piece.

Let’s Say Trump! The New Godwin’s Law

Getting back to Coorey, his piece this week attracted a polarised response, and it’s little wonder – that’s what he wanted. His “prediction” at the end of it was laughable especially considering that the title of the piece is “Dan’s fans and Trump’s base: spot the difference”.

“The very publication of this column will invite a similar barrage of invective and apoplexy. Most won’t even read it before reacting.”

No, really? People might be offended by that? That’s performative prediction, invoking Trump, is another example of the lazy new trope infecting opinion pieces: As Bad As Trump.

So, Coorey is asking people to compare a bunch of well meaning Victorians with the lunatics supporting Trump and expect them to accept it. Sure, that’s a rational, reasonable thing to be doing. It was just part of Coorey’s act to gaslight all of the critics of his piece to suggest that anyone wanting to criticise won’t have read all of it. But in reality, the piece is so vacuous that it doesn’t take long to take it apart.

It should almost go without saying that the headline suggestion is a dumb comparison. Even Coorey seems to know that it’s a dumb comparison, as can be seen with this credibility-stretching argument –

Premier Daniel Andrews is not Trump. In terms of character, beliefs, values or performance, he’s not even in the same universe.

But his cult-like followers, who rally around a Twitter hashtag of #IstandwithDan and refuse to countenance any possibility that he is capable of error, are in the same orbit as the Trump legions.

“Same orbit”. It raises the question – which planet are they orbiting? Which planet is Coorey on, witnessing these orbits? But getting away from Coorey’s bad metaphorical gymnastics, no, they are not in “the same orbit”. Trump’s supporters are actively seeking to undermine every single media outlet’s right to report everything, as well as promote conspiracy theories that are dangerous for the future of the US. That is nothing like a group of Victorians clinging to the hope that the Victorian Government’s roadmaps and strategies will work to bring down COVID numbers, even if some of them are repetitive, narrowcasting megaphones.

It is reasonable to suggest that there have been mistakes made by the Victorian government in their pandemic response. I said as much in my previous post about the coverage. Coorey makes these same points, but with a heavily weighted, simplistic take, so he can butcher all critics of the media’s coverage. Here’s some examples.

  • In Victoria, however, there were errors made. Quarantine was contracted to a security company not up to the job. Consequently there was an outbreak. That has not been confirmed – there is an inquiry in place to discern exactly what happened and who was “to blame”. But even if it emerges that private security firms were not suitable for that purpose, the AFR, amongst other media outlets, have actively supported outsourcing public sector activities to the private sector for some years. We shall see if they change this stance if the inquiry has shown that the private sector is not up to doing certain jobs.
  • Even today, with numbers in Victoria very low, the Premier remains reluctant to reopen, indicating the government still does not have faith in its testing and tracing regimes. This is pure speculation, based on no provided evidence. Today’s announcements about the next stage of the roadmap provides a contradiction to that speculation.
  • Moreover, after all these months and hardship, no one in government – including the Premier, his now departed health minister and the public sector chief – claims to know who was responsible for the quarantine contract. There is an inquiry on, we are told, and we must wait for that. Yes, that is how an inquiry works. Coorey would know that, but is performatively suggesting that it’s a smokescreen.
  • But Andrews, in the eyes of his supporters, is beyond criticism or scrutiny. This suggests all supporters. Plenty of the supporters of the government’s actions have been critical of elements of the response. They, however, don’t exist in the false premise behind the piece.

Coorey, like every other writer in this genre, cherry picks examples of random critics, implying that they represent the whole. Cherry picking is the first resort of the desperate columnist – and twitter makes it so easy to do. It’s easy to find these examples:

When an email emerged recently that further suggested he was less than honest in his denials about rejecting offers from Canberra of army assistance, one supporter attacked the journalist who reported it: “Didn’t you hear the Premier’s denial? Stick to the facts.”

That is, a politician’s denial carries more weight than documentary evidence.

“Blah blah – apparently the more you sink the boots into Andrews, the more popular he becomes,” taunted another.

Same with Trump.

Two responses from angry megaphones = Same as Trump.

And then comes the expected reference to the waterdrop megaphones –

Many of the Premier’s supporters incorporate in their Twitter handle a blue water drop, which is a protest against what they believe was a lack of scrutiny of federal minister Angus Taylor over a water deal. Yet they resist any scrutiny of Andrews.”

So, these Trumpian Andrews supporters are now many. There’s a reduction of the contention about Andrews supporters. The reduction becomes even more through the invocation – again – of the trivial Baxendale press conference mistake, which is an issue that was a blip on the landscape of this pandemic.

“A few weeks back, Andrews verballed The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale by insisting she had included a false premise in her question, when she had not. Regardless, his supporters piled on.”

Coorey, aside from raising a non-issue, is just plain wrong. As can be seen in this video, Baxendale asked about findings from the inquiry as if they had been released. In transcript she produced on Twitter, a pair of brackets emerged around a phrase she had intended to include, but didn’t. Andrews wasn’t “verballing” Baxendale, he was correct in his critique of the premise of Baxendale’s question. Coorey is just wrong in his defence of Baxendale. More to the point though, it’s still remarkable how this minor incident is continually referred to by journalists wishing to gaslight the critics.

It’s an irony that this Baxendale incident was the last case Coorey uses against the DanStans – because he ends with this phrase:

“That’s increasingly a consequence of an era in which people can choose their own facts and everyone is expected to be a polemicist, making the middle line the hardest to hold.”

It’s almost as if he has never read The Australian. Coorey seems to have missed the parts where Rachel Baxendale was front and centre in the campaign to hound and harass Yassmin Abdel-Magied so much that she felt as though she needed to leave the country. There is nothing “middle line” about Baxendale and her employer. There is also nothing “middle line” about this piece.

Coorey’s gaslighting hatchet job got support from what has become the usual supporters for this genre – people who have trouble responding to critics on twitter, and just like to place them in the “mad left winger” bucket.

No, it’s not. It’s yet another example of journalists playing the “we are the only sensible centrists” card, trying to point at parallels about online supporters in Victoria and the US that aren’t there. A bit like this tweet, about Joe Biden suggesting that a journalist continually asks the same style of questions makes Biden Just like Trump. No, it doesn’t. It makes him someone with a genuine point to make about the way certain journalists always pursue the same agenda.

Megaphones Do Grate

There is a cautionary note to add at the end of this piece. There are people on the fringes of any campaign that do what Coorey refers to here

“I don’t really want to dwell on the gory details, but there’ve been death threats and rape threats and photos of me circulated on the internet for weeks,” Baxendale told Guardian Australia in a recent article on the dangers of questioning Andrews.

It’s become a boring trope, suggesting that this represents the bulk of Andrews’ supporters, as is inferred in this piece.

It does need to be acknowledged that there are some people who are feeding this perception that all defenders of Andrews are mendacious trolls. An example – these pathetic comments about wanting NSW to have increasing COVID case numbers.

It is clear that this kind of garbage needs to stop. And there’s megaphones that need to realise how their tweets are providing evidence to bad faith operators wanting to gaslight all supporters of the Victorian Government. PR Guy, in particular, provides a double edged sword. His tweets are classic megaphoning, providing comfort to a group of people wanting an optimistic view to the horizon. Many of his tweets raise reasonable points about the agendas of some media outlets in their reporting of the pandemic response in Victoria. But it lacks nuance and relevance. Neither of these things are true – the Ruby Princess matter was given exhaustive coverage, and aged care shortfalls have also been covered for a long time.

Yes, we know there are megaphones. Yes, they can be aggravating. And yet, Phillip Coorey’s suggestion that somehow these megaphones are as bad as Trump’s boosters is offensive. They are, for the most part, Victorians wanting to support a government that has had to learn difficult lessons and work on a response to a pandemic that has resulted in a drop in COVID cases and spread. They might be too enthusiastic in that response. They might be too easily triggered by questions posed at press conferences. Especially by questions about hotel quarantine. Of greater interest is whether Melbourne as a city is ready for the next stage, not who texted who about security guards in March. Plus, there are substantial questions to be asked about the agenda of journalists who work for News Ltd – the same organisation that run anti-ALP campaigns every election, Federally and in Victoria. Twitter is one of those places to ask such questions. Maybe not as much as some do it. Maybe there needs to be more nuance. It doesn’t matter – bad faith columists like Coorey, using the same template as Joe Hildebrand, will continue to find the outliers.

Bad Faith – It Never Ends

Ultimately this comes down to a question of how Australian political journalists use Twitter. It is becoming clear that there are two conclusions to reach about that usage.

Conclusion 1 – They do not know how to filter out the megaphones, the trolls, the disgusting, the clowns. It’s easy to do – blocking and muting tools are there.

Conclusion 2 – They know very well how to filter out the megaphones and the fringe dwellers. They just choose to draw upon them for fodder for their columns. For most media consumers, they don’t know how to use twitter, so it’s really easy to sell that image of the extremely online. They are using them in order to be performatively offended, as well as to protect them against substantive and substantial critiques of their work.

There has been so many pieces like this over the years that the second conclusion is becoming inescapable.

In the next couple of weeks, Trump’s supporters might be rioting and killing people if Trump doesn’t win the election. In Victoria, the megaphones will dash off an angry tweet to a journalist asking a question at a press conference. A bit like a fan of a sporting team tweeting in a frustrated fashion.

People get angry reading the media, Phil. That doesn’t make them Trumpian.

Classical Music Cultural Comment

The Rediscovery of CDs – Reflecting on a bygone sound

In today’s streaming world, most of us don’t buy CDs anymore, it’s true. Especially if you are a tech minded person and use twitter to get your news. CDs? They are so old. Yet during this imposed isolation in Melbourne, I have turned to my CD collection a lot more, and placed the little plastic discs into my dedicated CD player. I am no audiophile – the CD player is an “entry level” Yamaha one I bought years ago, my amplifier is also “entry level” and my speakers are from a Philips stereo setup my dad bought in the early 1990s. Part of the reason why I have been using CDs is not because I am a Luddite – it arose because the bluetooth connection from my devices to the amplifier is glitchy. The cables that connect the CD to the amp, and the cords that connect it to the speakers has proven to be more reliable. Another significant reason is that I focus more on music played from a CD than through streaming. Psychologically, streaming is for background music, pop music and for the car. Not for really immersing in the music.

So it has come to pass that I have paid a more attention to my CD collection than I have for more than 20 years. And it has revealed a lot about what forms a person in their 20s, but also what it tells me about life as it stands at the moment.

Me as a Young Classical Fan

I was 16 when my dad bought me a CD player, mini stereo system and three CDs to go with it. Classical, of course – we were a distinctly classical only household (though that didn’t stop me from buying Kate Ceberano’s Brave soon afterwards). It was a revelation – great sounding music in my own room. Being the 80s, that was a big deal. Not long after, I drowned my awkward teenage sorrows in the Big Tunes of Rachmaninov and then explored the hard core stuff – Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony at full volume (Dad was starting to regret his purchase that that stage).

That was the start of an odyssey through music that was no longer bound to just listening to the radio. Through my early 20s and to when I got my first full time job as a teacher, my focus was on building a classical music library. To find out what to listen to, what to discover, I didn’t have access to a lot of sources locally. I also didn’t have a lot of classical music loving friends at school or even at uni. So, I listened to Martin Hibble’s Just Out on ABC FM religiously – I especially liked his inability to fall into line with what record companies wanted reviewers to say. I also used my lunchtimes at Fisher Library at Sydney Uni to pore through old back issues of the UK Gramophone magazine – generally the most respected storehouse of reviews and articles. It was the early 90s, so no internet databases, subreddits or google to help me. I investigated.

I look at the collection now and it tells me a lot about mid 20s me. I was a socially awkward 20 something manchild, I developed a lot of bad opinions, influenced by all sorts of things. I decided that I liked Georg Solti because he wasn’t a severe Nazi-looking bloke like Karajan. (I had also read excerpts of Norman Lebrecht’s Maestro Myth, so was influenced by his comments about Karajan). He was also on the Channel 4 Orchestra program with Dudley Moore. So there’s a lot of Solti there. There was lots of Ashkenazy, because Dad gave me a recording of him doing the Rach 2nd and 4th Piano Concertos, so that started me off with him.

I was also on Team Norrington when it came to the battle in the early 90s between period instrument ensembles – largely fuelled by record companies – between Roger Norrington at EMI, John Eliot Gardiner at Deutsche Gramophon / Archiv and Christopher Hogwood at Decca / L’oiseau Lyre. I plumped for Norrington because he seemed to be having more fun. Plus, he was genial and friendly on the BBC programs of him conducting the Beethoven 9 (which are, these days, completely unavailable anywhere). I grew up with Karajan’s Beethoven in my head – Dad had Deutsche Gramophon box sets at home – “the best of Beethoven”, and so on. That’s why I didn’t much like Beethoven until I heard Norrington. To me, it was also a bit of a rebellion against Dad and the older generation to be enjoying the earthier interpretations of the historically informed performances. It also helped that I was studying history at university and could see the worth of doing such research. It got so that I only listened to their interpretations of classical, baroque and early romantic music. I became a rusted on ideologue, believing the modern orchestra was not right for the music from that period. (I cringe now at those views).

There were also a lot of CDs that I could get on sale at Lawson’s and Ashwood’s second hand shops on Castlereagh St, plus at the Pitt St Virgin Megastore classical sales. I had read about the recordings in Gramophone first, of course. In those days, I was dedicated to getting one recording each of a whole lot of music – so I could have a wide ranging collection, not a whole lot of recordings of the one thing. The idea of owning 6 different performances of Beethoven’s symphonies or sonatas struck me as being indulgent.

As I said, I had a lot of Opinions. A lot of them not my own, but I stuck to them like glue.

In the late 90s, I got married (as it turned out, too soon for the both of us, and in my case, it was largely because of my terrible self esteem that I married the first woman who had shown an interest in me). As teaching, children and marriage took over – as did a massive array of bills and barely keeping our heads above water financially – the CD collection sat in boxes, barely listened to. Occasionally, if I was allowed to indulge every so often, I would buy the odd CD here or there if I was in Sydney. I was barely ever in Sydney in any case – my life was firmly entrenched in the outer suburbs, where classical CDs were usually Best Ofs or featured the likes of Richard Clayderman.

That marriage ended in a heap in the late 00s, I went into a new and much better relationship, plus I was a bit more financially stable over the next 10 years. The CD collection, however, stayed largely as it was, save for the occasional purchase influenced by Hugh Robertson at Fish Fine Music – he ran the only classical CD shop left in Sydney. I would also occasionally go onto the – appropriately named for me – Presto Classical site in the UK. At least though, this time, my other half gave me the present of a custom made home for them.

The Weighty Cabinet of Ancient Artefacts

Enjoying and Enhancing the Collection

So we entered 2020 and at the end of last year we have moved to a different house, with a nice place to sit and listen to music. I need music a lot of the time – I have a streaming setup in my home office, even though Apple Music and Spotify aren’t all that great for classical music. At the end of the day, however, if I want to be freed from the restriction of that space, I go into the back room, get out a CD and sit in the middle of the sound and connect with the experience those musicians were aiming to produce. Not a playlist, not a shuffle – the CD. It has been different, as well as lovely. Though, as I discovered, a bit limited. Thing was, through all the years, it never ceases to amaze me that the full price of classical CDs is exactly the same now as it was in the 1990s. It always struck me that someone has to be suffering because of that.

Rethinking the CD collection has become my isolation hobby. There are gaps, I realised, which seems counter – intuitive for a collection of 800 CDs. That number, however, is small in comparison with people considered to be “serious” collectors. I don’t intend to be one of those, but I did want new things, different things.

One of the priorities was getting more CDs by some of the musicians I have heard in concert halls – if you want to listen to any artist with the English Hyperion company, such as Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne or iconoclastic harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, you have to buy the CDs – they don’t stream a lot of their recordings. That’s good news for their artists, if they can shift CDs to the swiftly dwindling CD purchaser – artists with companies like Hyperion (as opposed to Naxos, who pay a one off fee) receive much better royalties from CD sales than they do from streams.

Another priority has also been to find CDs of works I already have, but by different conductors and performers. Make me listen in a different way. As such, I have been able to do something I could only dream of doing in the 90s – buy whole boxed sets. That’s because, while the full price of new CDs has not changed a large amount, the cost of box sets more than 2 years old and second hand CDs has plummeted. Ebay and Amazon is a storehouse of historical gold. Plus, on physical CDs, there are some recordings that are hard to find on streams. For Apple and Spotify, it can hard to find specific recordings from specific artists – and tracks downloaded in the past can disappear. As a result, I have been able to pick up box sets of performances declared legendary by various sources. $25 for 6 – 8 new CDs sometimes. I have used Gramophone articles and reviews to lead me to get boxed sets of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as looking back over back catalogues of what I would have loved to be able to afford 25 years ago. What has also really made this process richer for me is that the research behind these purchases has been a lot of fun.

Rabbit Holes!

In these months, watching Mad Men led me to speculate which recording of Beethoven Pete Campbell would have bought. I decided Leonard Bernstein’s would be his go – the American with fashionable ideas, not the Karajan of Bert Cooper. That launched me on a journey to know more about Bernstein. I ordered cheap box sets of his Mahler and Beethoven, as well as other things he has done. I then went through the existing collection and found bits and pieces of his recordings I had forgotten I had. With the purchase of the DVD of his recording of Candide, I remember a time when I watched that performance with Mum. She loved it so much that she was driven to learn Glitter and Be Gay, one of the last songs she learnt afresh, and one that suited her style down to the ground. So that was nice. I have also now purchased books about Bernstein, and I’m sure that I will find out more about him in time. I’m looking forward to the Bradley Cooper film about his life.

My rabbit hole chasing lead me to the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics (I had no idea the Vienna orchestra uses different instruments to others), and then to Wilhelm Furtwängler, discovering his complex place in German history. It struck me as curious that Furtwängler’s place, with him protecting Jewish players, refusing to do the Nazi salute and other micro pieces of resistance saw his legacy questioned, while former party member and unapologetic rising star of the Nazi period, Karajan, is still lauded. I am happy to find out more about that – I am not the Norman Lebrecht fan that I was in the 90s – but it was a question that continually arose. It is important to me who is behind the CD. That’s why, for example, I have binned my Charles Dutoit and James Levine CDs. Aside from that, however, it also struck me how different Furtwängler’s approach to Beethoven was to Karajan’s. There was something plastic, shiny, empty and a bit dead to my ears in Karajan’s. And that was before I knew about his past. Or this garish car he asked Porsche to build for him.

With Furtwangler, while his sound was nowhere near as good as Karajan’s, there’s something spontaneous and human about his performances – flawed note wise, but a fascinating glimpse to another time when being right, disciplined and consistent wasn’t the be all and end all. His recording of Beethoven 9 done at Bayreuth, and the stories behind it, provides a glimpse of music that historically and psychologically is so different from today’s. Plus, it’s at variance with the historically informed performances that I was welded to in my 20s. Beethoven and Brahms are great enough to be played in all sorts of different ways and be enjoyed.

My current rabbit hole is a more joyful one – a rediscovery of French music. Inspired by watching Tour de France, I have discovered Les Siécles, a contemporary French orchestra who are playing uniquely French instruments from various eras and playing them to breathe new life into French music, as well as music from other nations. It is in their recordings of French music that I am finding new delights into the sound world and panache that their composers bring us. And then comparing them to other recordings that bring different insights. I am no longer a period instrument ideologue. As spring has started, the light, transparent and breezy glories of the French are wafting through the house.

As I sit in my lounge chair, with the music playing – sometimes with the CD booklet in my hands, learning more about the music – or being reminded about it – it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon after work or have blasting when doing chores around the kitchen. Music becomes an immersing experience, helping me focus, helping me relax. No longer a background. So putting on a CD is quite a nice thing.