Newsletter 474

Published January 16, 2023
Is it a bird, is it a plane...?

It’s amazing what happens when you take your eye off the news momentarily. I’ve been in Singapore for a few hectic days attending the art fair, but when I finally looked at the Aussie press I find our beloved Premier Perroquet apologising for wearing a Nazi uniform at his 21st birthday party in 2003. As this sounds like something Mel Brooks might have scripted, no-one could seriously accuse Our Leader of modelling himself on Der Führer, but as errors-of-taste-and-judgement go, he makes Justin Trudeau look like a style master. We know Perroquet is associated with Opus Dei, but the Nazis are a little too far right even for that sinister organisation.

While I don’t think the Premier should be put on trial in Nuremberg over this historical gaff, the excuses have provided a wondrous source of comedy and some acute insights into the Young Libs.

Somehow, at the age of 21, after the best education money can buy, Dominic Perroquet thought it would be a hoot to dress up in an SS uniform for a big party. Already we can see the sensitive instincts of a contemporary politician at work. Lines such as: “He was very young…” and “What red-blooded young man hasn’t felt like dressing up in a Nazi uniform from time to time..?” don’t quite cut the mustard. By 21 you are a functioning adult, not a child. By 21 you have finished school, and maybe university. What part of the brain still thinks the Nazis are good for a laugh?

The Herald told us: “At the time he was heavily involved with the Young Liberals, which he later went on to lead.” Ah, so that’s the reason he dressed as a Nazi! It was the influence of the Young Liberals, where such things are presumably viewed as unexceptional. Are these the same Young Libs widely believed to be a bunch of privileged hooray Henrys with a predatory, condescending attitude towards women? Who set the tone for the party that did so well in last year’s Federal elections? I’m suddenly seeing them in a new light.

One wonders what the Premier actually studied at school and university. Modern History obviously didn’t feature on his CV. Neither did the arts, if we can take anything from his stated belief that Sydney Modern is the greatest art museum in the world.

A final twist came when the Premier’s predecessor, Saint Gladys, re-emerged from the Optus inner sanctum, to post a photo of herself as Superwoman, at her own 21st. It’s not clear whether this was intended to strategically distract from Perroquet’s woes, or whether there is friendly competition as to which Liberal politician had the most embarrassing errr… birthday suit. As we’re still awaiting the ICAC’s final verdict on Saint Gladys’s beneficent activities as Premier, it might even be a plea for sympathy. You’d have to be hard-hearted to convict a person who dressed like that at her 21st.

Perhaps there should be a new rule that stipulates all politicians must submit their 21st birthday photos for scrutiny before being allowed to assume office. Who knows what skeletons might come tumbling out of the family album?

This week’s art column is a piece I wrote last year, after attending the Aotearoa Art Fair in Auckland. I would’ve preferred a slightly earlier publication, but better late than never. In March there’ll be another installment, so the article falls between the 2022 and 2023 versions. It was always intended as a more general story, looking at the New Zealand art scene and drawing some cross-Tasman comparisons. Considering that Sydney is the second biggest NZ city, there should be no shortage of local interest in the topic.

The movie being reviewed is The Fabelmans, which I enjoyed as much as anything Steven Spielberg has ever made. It’s a filmmaker’s autobiography – a coming-of-age tale told with consummate skill. You’ll be relieved to learn that at no stage does the young Spielberg ever feel the urge to kit himself up in an SS uniform. But then again, to the best of my knowledge, neither was he ever a member of the Young Liberals.