If You Haven’t Got Anything Nice to Say – Sit Down Here

The art of the obit is a tricky one and potential exponents have had a field day recently what with Joh – a unique amalgam of the mayor of Porpoise Spit in Muriel’s Wedding and a dyslexic John Calvin – and Al Grassby. Al was a colourful – shall we say larger-than-life? – dude whose singular achivement was to be the worst-dressed person of the entire 1970’s. And achievements don’t get much more singular than that. It should be said at the outset that while Al knew a lot of Calabrians round Griffith, he wasn’t the Father of Australian Multiculturalism. That’s an accolade that properly belogs to Professor Jerzy (George)Zubrzyicki who is, of course a Sociologist.

Apart from Peter Costello who accorded Joh the title of ‘the outstanding premier of Queensland’ (presumably on the basis that Joh “stood-out” so to speak) most people have stuck to the tried-and-true “larger-than-life” stuff in respect of Joh which, fortuitously, can mean anything you want from “should’ve done at least 35 years in the pokey” to “morbidly obese” (vide Russ Hinze) and anything in between. For instance, Jenny Macklin observed that Joh was a larger-than-life character who dominated Queensland politics for many years and therefore earned a place in Australian political history. John Anderson suggested that he made Queensland what it is (which could work on a number of levels) and Flo declared that he’s with the Lord – which seems a bit more dubious.

However, rather that appproach perhaps than the warm reminiscence penned by a friend. Barry Cohen in an allegedly ‘affectionate’ piece in the Oz, takes Al’s already checkered (and vividly checked) rep and dishes it totally, revealing – in an entirely affectionate way – that Al was disorganised, loud, manic, chaotic, repetitive, an office boozer, appallingly dressed and staggeringly naive about poofs, all in about 600 words . Barry wraps it up by pointing out that “Al Grassby was an endless source of fun, but first and foremost he was a wonderfully warm human being who loved to help people if it was possible.” He does go on to say that Al helped thousands but it’s unclear as to whether it was by providing much needed belly laughs or something more tangible.

I’m sure Barry meant well but I’d think twice before commissioning him to write your epitaph.

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25 Responses to If You Haven’t Got Anything Nice to Say – Sit Down Here

  1. AlanDownunder says:

    Dim memory of a reported Japanese payment to Joh or Co. while he was Premier of $9 x 10^x for an option on a clay mine that was never exercised. Never heard any more about it and always wondered why.

    With an eye to the current state of the political art in the USA, I’d obit that Joh was not only “larger than life” but also “ahead of his time”.

  2. That’s why I didn’t write anything much about Joh. I think it’s inappropriate at this time, as anything I’d say would be very negative, but I don’t judge others who want to have their say.

  3. Ken Parish says:

    I just don’t accept that it’s inappropriate to say negative things about a public figure upon his or her death. I WOULD accept it if it were merely a matter of consideration of the feelings of grieving close family members of the deceased, but there are issues of public interest and making sense of history and political culture involved as well.

    At least for most members of the public, the time of a public figure’s death is just about the only moment when:

    (a) evaluations of that person can be made in light of their entire life;
    (b) the evaluator is free to write honestly without fear of being sued for defamation; and
    (c) the subject is sufficiently newsworthy for a minstream newspaper to be bothered publishing it.

    Certainly a later publication of a scholarly biography would both spare the feelings of the next of kin and conceivably be more thorough, but most likely it would get little or no media coverage and most people would therefore never get to hear about it. With significant public figures, I think the public interest in honestly evaluating that figure’s life and contribution should take precedence over sparing the feelings of the family. If you’re a family member of someone like Joh, you’d have to be pretty thick not to realise that some fairly harsh things are going to be said in obituaries. If they dont want to read them, they can always turn the page or hit the remote control button.

  4. James Hamilton says:

    And it’s all a wonderful opportunity to provide examples on how we should behave when Gough finally leaves us.

  5. Ken Parish says:


    Yes, certainly. I don’t put the previous observations forward with any ideological restrictions. I’d be very surprised indeed if some RWDBs don’t hoe into Saint Gough with hobnail boots at least as long and sharp as those employed by some lefties who stomped on Joh. And so they should. He is a major figure in Australia’s relatively recent political history.

  6. Geoff Honnor says:

    “at least as long and sharp as those employed by some lefties who stomped on Joh’

    Actually, the most acerbic commentary has come from the leader writers of The Australian. And funnily enough, no-one has yet identified the dread hand of Rupert behind it…..

  7. mark says:

    Some union fella or something is apparently (oh, we’re piling on the qualifiers here…) planning to demonstrate at JBP’s funeral unless Beattie boycotts the thing. Now, I’m all for speaking ill of the dead in Joh’s case, but that’s surely going too far.

    Speaking of going too far, ’twas a letter in today’s rather tabloidish /Times/ from a fellow in Qld who’d taken the time to send his invective Canberra-wards, in response to some statements made in Qld with which he disagreed. Perhaps the Courier-Mail wouldn’t publish him? The gist of it was that it was plainly obvious that anyone who criticised Joh was just trying to work out their feelings of frustration because Joh helped defeat the Communists, although who these “Communists” that Joh defeated were, and what the great northern dictator did to defeat them, he declines to say.

  8. liam hogan says:

    Jerzy Zubrzycki, Jean Martin, George Zangalis, a host of other good Australians were more influential in drawing up ‘Australian multiculturalism’ than Al. He was just the guy on the spot.
    Don’t forget the really influential one, though… Trudeau in Canada who got the multicultural ball rolling.

  9. James Farrell says:

    ‘Some union fella or something…’

    That would be Brian Laver. Now there is real anarchist, i.e. libertarian socialist. He tutored me at Griffith in 1979. I think he runs or ran a book shop in the West End. He also coached tennis, and either was or could have been (I forget which) a cousin of Rod. Our Brisbanite anarchist sympathisers should be able to fill us in on what he’s been up to in recent decades.

    Jo’s special branch would have had a file on Brian as they did on many political activists. I suppose that might seem mostly comical from this distance, but probably not so funny if it was you. Let’s not forget this is a state funeral. To me that makes all the difference, and I support the picket.

  10. David Tiley says:

    Just to show off (but mildly because I didn’t write it), I posted a guest blog on Joh, Brian Laver, Beatty, courage and the boycott at http://dox.media2.org/barista/archives/001986.html which I reckon is a good read.

  11. Michael S. says:

    James nails it in one.

    Beattie is pandering to the worst in the whitewash that giving him a state funeral is. Though I won’t trod out the names of all the dictators I can think of (go on, don’t think of an elephant) there is a point when some who are dead don’t deserve respect.

    Sir Joh trampled everything that we are supposed to value in a democracy, it is an obscenity that he get a state funeral.


    But on the flipside I don’t see why Anarchists should be so opposed to a State funeral per se, as Joh did serve the power of the State very well, it would only be fit that it should recognise him in such a sense. That’s putting an anarchist argument as such.

  12. James Farrell says:

    I just read the guest piece at Barista. What a ripper.

  13. I thought about it some more – the reason why I haven’t had too much to say on Joh yet relates more to the fact that my memories are intertwined with growing to adulthood in 80s Brisbane and his death has paradoxically stirred up some ghosts for me. But I’ll have something to say tomorrow, maybe.

  14. observa says:

    Perhaps Joh’s policies had one positive spinoff for Queenslanders, that it drove some of their detritus down South. I’m thinking here of the ‘family’ of queers and sexual deviates that circled about Dunstan and are still stinking up the political ether in Adelaide today. Fallen from grace Speaker, Peter Lewis might be a bit of a loopy maverick to some, but he just might succeed in bringing a few of these darlings of the left, kicking and screaming into the light of day. Some of their victims can only hope and pray for that day.

    Bent politicians of all types might have a prediliction for crucifying straight-shooting police commissioners like Salisbury and Whitrod, it seems. As for throwing public servants to the lions, you don’t want to ‘stash cash’ in departmental hollow logs, or be a DPP with a Labor Premier on the law and order warpath. Same goes for electricity consumer advocates, when a Premier is trying to keep an election promise on reducing electricity prices, he knew full well was economically absurd, or at best illiterate.

    Actually when you survey the State political landscape generally, it makes our Federal politicians seem positively competent and angelic by comparison.

  15. observa says:

    We gave Dunstan a State funeral too by the way.

  16. Rob Schaap says:

    Blogless as I currently am, I thought I’d gratuitously record here that Al really was quite simply and without qualification an absolutely, gloriously and adorably lovely bloke. Loved people more than anyone I ever knew. And he may not have researched every pronouncement he ever made (no-one could research THAT much), but knew how to put in the hard yards when they were required – I think he had more of the scholar in him than Baz allows, anyway.

    Anyway, bloody glad I knew him and bloody sad he’s gone.

  17. Tony.T says:

    Is dish the same as diss?

  18. Don Wigan says:

    “…the ‘family’ of queers and sexual deviates that circled about Dunstan …”

    Without wanting to debate the reliability of that assertion, Observa, I’d suggest it is drawing a long bow to link it with the sacking of Salisbury, regardless of what Stuart Cockburn and those 5DN journos claim.

    Salisbury was given a clear directive regarding Special Branch, agreed to it, lied about it, and was found out. In the Westminster system, at least as we understand it, there is no higher authority than the minister, who is answerable to parliament. It is sad that Salisbury was a man of integrity, but it doesn’t alter the position of accountability.

    On a near-related point, I remember seeing an interview with Joh when it became very clear that he had absolutely no idea of the notion of separation of powers. He wasn’t lying; he just didn’t understand the concept.

  19. observa says:

    Well Don, perhaps the title of the post was encouraging poking of maggotts. Let’s just say Joh and Don were iconic politicians with some feet of clay and they died peacefully in their beds with their families about them eh?

  20. zoot says:

    Observa, are you seriously drawing comparisons between Dunstan and Joh? My friends from South Australia never mentioned it was a police state.

  21. observa says:

    Not so much comparisons as contrasts Zoot, but unfortunately their legacies can be just as problematic. SA has always had a very straight and diligent cop force, which is why Whitrod was sent to clean up the Qld force, which upset some.

    Our problem was a queer Premier, who instituted liberal progressive policing to suit his taste, which the deviates have driven a bus through and hidden behind now for decades. If you neuter Special Branches and institute PC policing, you get the flip side of the Joh approach. Take Vic now with a woman in charge and now their coppers are getting killed. Perhaps you saw the Leb car hoons on TV in Sydney the other night and the typical PC copper response?

    In general with an aging population, our communities have less crime, but with neutered PC policing, the real villains and hoons are getting bolder and more problematic. There is a furore in Adelaide at the moment with an ex DPP lawyer, McGee, who got off with a $1300 fine, for driving without due care, killing a cyclist after a wine lunch and fleeing the scene of an accident. The police and prosecution response has shown an appalling lack of will/diligence, which the community is understandably outraged about. Liberal progressive policing becomes just as problematic as a Joh approach in the long run.

  22. MrLefty says:

    It’s rather absurd that the same people who declare that it’s tasteless to criticise someone after their death, are more than happy to LAUD them after their death. You laud, we respond, okay?

  23. observa says:

    Pop over here at http://www.slattsnews.observationdeck.org/?p=1012 to see why some of us are pissed off at the mock outrage of a liberal progressive State Labor Premier who we think has gutted the will/ability of our police to fight the good fight nowadays.

  24. Homer Paxton says:

    Mr Lefty there are no lauds in Australia or are you just trying to lord this over us?

  25. whyisitso says:

    “I’d be very surprised indeed if some RWDBs don’t hoe into Saint Gough with hobnail boots at least as long and sharp as those employed by some lefties who stomped on Joh”

    Looking back at this old post, I see Ken even then had a preoccupation with calling those with a different perspective on politics from himself RWDBs. I don’t reckon you have to be a RWDB to hoe into Gough’s idiocies.

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