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Freelance writing for SMH.com.au, The Glebe, Cleo, SundayLife and elsewhere

I’m disorganised. Pity me

In Year Seven, I went to a high school where I didn’t know a soul, so had to make a name for myself from scratch. I was like Rabbit, Eminem’s character in 8 Mile when he first goes to the rhyme battles, only instead of baseball caps and baggy jeans, everyone was wearing a tie and what Scott Morrison would call an ill-fitting suit.

I’m proud to say that it took me just a few weeks to establish the identity that stayed with me until the end of the year. I was the Kid With The Messy Desk.

I was also the Kid Who Looked Ridiculous While Singing In The Choir Because He Opened His Mouth Too Widely, as some kind older kids were delighted to tell me, but the Messy Desk brand proved to be the enduring one. Continue Reading →

You need to eat idli

I once thought I knew a bit about Indian food. Back at uni, I regularly dined at those North Indian bain marie joints, and not just on butter chicken – although I have to admit that I always got butter chicken as one of the three selections.

Sometimes I even got lentils. Which I knew were called ‘daal’, because I was a man of the world. Or so I thought.

On other occasions, I even went out for proper, fancy Indian at restaurants where they serve the curries in little metal bowls and there are unlimited pappadams and various pickles on the side.

Years later, I went to India for the first time, and feasted on Goan fish curry, as well as the thali meals, a selection of lots of little curries and other delights on a metal plate, each in its own slot. I even had a favourite vegetarian dish, aloo gobi, which is cauliflower with potatoes. I know now that it’s about the most unsophisticated thing you can order, tantamount to asking for mac and cheese – but back then, I proudly proclaimed it as my thing. Continue Reading →

The promising debate that nobody watched

This election campaign still has five weeks to go. More than a month left, and we’ve already slumped into the contemptuous torpor of Johnny Depp in a quarantine apology video.

And to give you an idea of how long we still have to endure, that video was posted six weeks ago. Depp’s marriage to Amber Heard didn’t survive as long as we’ve still got to go in this campaign, and I’m beginning to wonder whether we will, either.

In an election where even the leader of the supposedly irreproachable Greens has been accused of paying people peanuts – or in peanuts; I don’t know what food they serve at the Di Natale Ranch – it’s no wonder that the opinion polls have been registering dead heats. Presumably everyone hangs up when they hear the word “election”, and stomps on their phone so it can’t happen again. Continue Reading →

A week our leaders will want to forget

When voters walk into polling booths in roughly one million years time, by which I mean on July 2, they will be thinking about their houses, and not just because they may well resent being asked to leave them in order to head down to a polling booth.

As I’ve already argued on this august website, the choice of housing policies provides an unusually clear contrast between the two major parties on one of the most fundamental and tangible of subjects.

Our houses matter to us. They’re the stage on which we live out our lives, and are generally the most important investment we’ve made for the future.

The same is true for our politicians, except that the houses in which they live at least part of their lives are often owned by their spouses, meaning that the mortgage is helpfully paid off by us taxpayers. Continue Reading →

Why’s Australia ruining Eurovision?

Today, Australia rejoices, because for the second year in a row, we are in the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Our contestant, Dami Im, smashed it in the semi-final, and will go on to potential Eurovisual glory later this weekend.

I hope she does well. Her song is ideal – it sounds like she assembled scientists in some high-powered audio lab and asked them to blend Adele with Stock Aitken and Waterman, plus a twist of ABBA. Perfect for Eurovision.

But even more sincerely, I hope that her performance in the final achieves another landmark for our proud, musical land. I hope it’s our last-ever appearance in the Song Contest. Continue Reading →

What I learned getting naked in public

I was 20 the first time I was invited to get naked in the company of other men. I was in Fukuoka, Japan, accompanying my parents to a conference, and we had been invited to a fancy dinner by the professor who was hosting us.

Before the formal kaiseki meal, our host and his colleagues – nearly all of whom were men – planned to bathe together before changing into bathrobes for the meal. Apparently it’s customary to chillax in the hot tub before an umpteen-course meal, and donning a yukata (a thin robe) afterwards means it’s easier to loosen than your pants as your stomach distends.

But when we were asked to arrive early for a dip, my father and I exchanged a quick glance of terror. We hadn’t shared a bath since I was a toddler, and it definitely didn’t seem the ideal time to start, let alone strip off in front of a dozen or so strangers. Continue Reading →

Court throws Manus overboard, so what’s next?

As someone who was briefly detained after the botched execution of a Chaser prank, I’m a fan of the rule that people shouldn’t be locked up without a good reason. This notion, which goes back to the Roman principle of habeas corpus, is the crux of the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning the detention of asylum-seekers on Manus Island.

Reading section 42 of the PNG constitution, I wonder why we ever thought it would permit the detention of people who have committed no crime. It prevents detention except under specific circumstances – although it’s unclear whether that covers pranks involving public nudity.

Shouldn’t arbitrary detention bother Australians, too? We often throw up our hands when an Aussie’s locked up overseas even after being convicted, but we’re fine with locking up non-Australians who’ve dared to seek asylum. Which is not only no crime, but protected by a treaty to which we’re a signatory. Continue Reading →

Cheaper houses, or secure investments? We can’t have both

We Australians are simple folk. All we ask of this world is a successful cricket team, an internet connection fast enough to pirate Game of Thrones, and a little patch of the earth to call our own. Ideally with a two-car garage, if you’re asking; and a rumpus room, backyard pool and maybe water views.

Our enduring dream of home ownership is why so many elections have been fought over the sacred turf of the Aussie backyard. John Howard was most explicit about it, campaigning in 2004 with the emotive slogan “Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?”

The former PM understood that his “battlers” in places like Western Sydney were mortgaged to the hilt and feeling precarious, and even though his opponent was one of them in Liverpool’s own Mark Latham, Howard prevailed.” Continue Reading →

How to survive Election 2016

Brace yourself, Australia. The 2016 federal election is roughly seventy days away, and if you want to know how long that is, it’s several weeks longer than your longest holidays in high school – even if you went to a private school.

It’s going to be gruelling even if you adore politics – even junkies can overdose. Several respected political reporters will be reduced to gibbering heaps by campaign’s end, and several commentators will be transformed from gibbering heaps into reasonable people.

If you aren’t into politics – that is, if you’re normal – it will be like being slowly having your teeth pulled, without anaesthetic, while the world’s most boring person reads statistical manuals to you. And because the Commonwealth for some reason doesn’t fund dental care, you’ll have to pay for the pleasure. Continue Reading →

Think before you snatch and grab

The would-be abductors have walked free. After several dramatic days of blanket media coverage, Sally Faulkner and the 60 Minutes team have been treated with more civility and process than they intended to utilise themselves with their ill-conceived plan to snatch Faulkner’s children from their Lebanese family.

And while they still face charges from the Lebanese state, and have paid bail accordingly, they must be incredibly relieved to be en route back to Australia, presumably just in time for an exclusive presentation this coming Sunday night. Continue Reading →