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Polly Peck
10 October, 2005  
Capital Offences

Tubby Callinan appears at the Canberra Readers and Writers Festival and talks about inspiration, characters and family … Lillian, Bomber and Fabbo strut their stuff

imageAs the pop music rang out across the Telstra (“soon to be privatised”) Theatre at the Australian War Memorial yesterday afternoon (Sunday, Oct 9), the audience must have known the military fiction session of the Canberra Readers and Writers Festival was going to be something special.

Consuming the front row was none other than the Hon. Ian (“Tubby”) Callinan and children’s author Jackie French.

“Wombats are literally single minded,” French explained to The Tub before assuring him his cousins in the bush are also “very cuddly”.

The symbolism could not have been more apt as the MC informed 20-odd Canberrans with a median age not unadjacent to the Tub’s that the next speaker, in addition to his legal career, was quickly “building a reputation as a novelist”.

What an insult to Central Queensland University Press’ A-list author who inter alia has brought us The Lawyer and the Libertine and The Missing Masterpiece. It’s a bit mean to describe a reputation that has well and truly taken-off as “building”.

Scuttlebutt among the publishing houses indicates demand has been running so hot for his latest offering, After The Monsoon, that sales should soon nudge from the bestsellers list that other restrained Renaissance man and his parliamentary diaries.

Still, the slap in the chops didn’t seem to bother the High Court’s writer in residence, who got stuck straight into the nitty-gritty of the writing game with the helpful insight that, “Authors are bower birds”.

But it’s Tub’s characterisation that is his metier. It’s character, character, and more character that drives his novels. And he hews them from his experience of the world and his own family.

I was particularly impressed that he kept to a lawyerly double negative when explaining the failure of his Uncle Frank’s farm: “He was not, it must also be admitted, a man who was not partial to the occasional glass of rum.”

He explained the centrality of the Northern Rivers district of NSW to Beyond The Monsoon. “That is why I chose it as the focal place of the story, even though much of it is set elsewhere.”

Happily, the aging devotees of his work were relieved to learn that: “I do not think that I have quite exhausted, for the purposes of storytelling, all of my impressions of the years 1939-1945.”

To partially satiate those thirsting for more he is publishing a short story in the Travellers’ Tales anthology, out this week. The subject matter? His father’s “very special task” as the commander responsible for moving trainloads of WAAFs around the country during World War Two. In The Tub’s own words: “It was not a job for a young bachelor.”

Sunday’s appearance at the War Memorial came hard on the heels of a broadcast His Honour made on Friday (Oct 7), when he told ABC wireless that journalists were sitting at “26 out of 29” in the credibility polls, which may explain why he knocked back my offer for a tell-all interview with Justinian.

* * *

I reported last week that the shadow attorney, Nicola (“Lillian”) Roxon, had devised a marvellous plan to win office in 2007, using the expertise of Sizzler’s marketing ideas. The campaign gained further momentum on Thursday (Oct 6) when Lillain sent out a press release titled: “Family Relationship Centres are not sausage factories.”

No, she’s right. Sizzler never did sausages. Still, watch this space. You’ll know Labor really thinks their slogans are biting when Bomber starts telling us that dessert is in the national interest.

imageSpeaking of the Big Bloke(s), if you caught Laurie Oakes’ interview with Bomber on Sunday, you’ll have noticed the Leader of the Opposition’s train of thought has entered the twilight zone.

Jabba wanted to know Labor’s position on Australian workplace agreements. Bomber: “There’ll be a million of those things in place when we come into office, and you can’t wander round cancelling contracts.”

Judge for yourself the presumption implicit in that answer.

Then again, perhaps we should be thankful Kimbo has such a respect for the rule of law after his recent “lock down whole suburbs” mantra. Compared to “Fabulous” Phil Ruddock’s conception of ministerial responsibility our gung-ho opposition leader seems reasonably enlightened.

You probably caught Fabbo’s refusal on the snatch-and-grab TV bulletins to take any responsibility for the shambles that is the Department of Immigration, in light of another damming report:

Question: “Do you take any responsibilities for the criticisms?”

Ruddock: “No. None at all. Okay. Thank you all.”

End of press conference.