Tarago Diaries #1 – Nervous Cattle

Reflections on the country and the media from Mark Seymour.

Author:  Mark Seymour.

Date: 16 September 2018.

Original URL: https://www.facebook.com/MarkSeymourOfficial/posts/1664472036992462?tn=K-R

Article Text

“This is a government whose conduct is selfish and shocking. It is a narcissistic government, consumed with their own jobs and their own struggles, and they have forgotten the people of Australia.”

Bill Shorten. 23.08.18

The story begins a little after 6, in the Ibis Budget hotel carpark. Low lying fog, the roar of parliament and jet engines..

It’s a hell of a place to be in, sitting in the car, down between the freeway ramps, airport traffic roaring overhead, listening to the replay of parliamentary bedlam on the phone app, stunned by Shorten’s outrage, as he tries to cut through. Someone is crying in the background. Really?

Canberra has gone mad..

A bitter wind howls up the Tullamarine causeway, smashing through the churning mass of bodies and bags. Inside the airport, announcements explode against steel and glass. Faces stare, bewildered, fearful, moving, headlong. Looking at phones. Looking up again to avoid collision. But they don’t. I don’t.

Waiting is everything. And hurrying. Every movement has a purpose. There are no beggars here. No one is out of step. No fringe dwellers. No refuge for the lost. No warmth or softness. We transact, bags, cards. We pick up, put down.

“Hello Again Mr. Seymour. Yes. That’s right. Just lay it down there. Have a safe flight.” Next..

Sydney rears up through low cloud. Flat. Damp. Andy the rep waits in a Renault Koleos. “Busy?” I say. He is. “That’s a good isn’t it?” He smiles. Distracted. Glances nervously at his phone.. “Never busier.” Has he heard about Canberra? 

He has. He gives me the same face I’ve been seeing all morning. Shock. Aghast. He shrugs. What can he say? What can I say? They’ve gone mad. Again. I’ve yet to theorize. But that’ll come. It has to.

In the meantime there’s radio to get through. Across the spectrum. We’ve got the lot. Can’t complain about that though. Access. Publicity. The tour. General spray and see what sticks. ABC, MMM to 2GB. They control the content mostly. All different, each with their own culture, so you’ve got to watch the P’s & Q’s. Get the spin right. And everywhere the staff are gasping. Have you heard? At the ABC it’s darkly ironic. Everyone knows the serious stuff and are keen to share. The M’s think it’s hilarious. That’s ok. Everything’s hilarious at the M’s. You only have to cough and they roar. Ha! Seymour coughed. It wasn’t a cough. I was gasping at Canberra while they asked me stuff about the Grail. On the phone under the desk.. Dutton got 35. The Minister of Misery. Suck it up Australia. Then across to 2GB and there, oddly, it’s ‘Oh dear they’re at it again and we’ve barely had time to adjust but otherwise it’s all about you Mark.. and your parents’.

The family choir. That’s nice. And middle aged. Who’s people am I talking to? Ray Hadley’s? I’m bursting to talk about Canberra. Maybe they knew that already. Given my views. No time to draw breath. Maybe the research was a deflection. Anyway. It was cool.

We’re out of there now.

We drive. Back to the phone. Video. The Canberra press gang, flailing at three cabinets ministers who have fallen on their swords. We can’t go on like this they say. Malcolm hasn’t got the numbers to lead. Hang on. What? He did just before. How so? Because there’s shit going on mate and the nation is blind to it.

Their heads bob stupidly, ghoulish, craving approval, trying to smirk their way through the catastrophe, deflecting questions coming at them like missiles.. It’ll all be over soon and you can all get back to whatever it was you were doing before we lost it..

A woman’s voice cries out shrill and insistent as they saunter off, still smirking. “Will Peter Dutton be the next prime minister?”

Really? That tool?

Who the fuck knows?

We’re done for now. More later. Andy drops me off near the galleria. I go down into the Sydney underground, out of the wind and rain, pulling the phone out when I can, peeking at Canberra, while rain soaked punters lurch into the station. Coffee would be nice. There’s a shaver shop nearby. Discount blades. Always a must. Oh. And there’s that Sassoon MV I’ve noticed. One of those rotating new fangled things where the slick looking ginger bloke does a smooth number three all over then walks out into the daylight beaming and up for it.

I want one. The lady explains the technique in a squeaky voice. I can barely hear her over the train announcements. There’s a clear plastic ring to adjust ‘za clozerness of da cut..’ Yes. I nod wisely. I get it. 4 grades. On the side of the thing. Yeah. I see. That spot where’s she’s pointing with her long green finger nail.

Coffee next door. Check the phone. Christ! Julia’s having a crack. Finally. After all the blokes have blathered and stabbed. A woman is in the ring. But it’s too late. Everyone’s handicapped. It’s like the Stawell gift now, but with knives. Conservatism shredding itself. The public death throws of a pack of the stiffs. Except for Julia maybe. She’s popular. Punters love her.. But nice is not cool and not to be trusted. You’ve got to be miserable. Like the dark lord of North Brisbane. She’ll get done too. I just know it.

The hotel’s in Chippendale. Walk south. Rain’s stopped for now. But the crowds are worse. March down the Broadway. Push through. Students surging out of the Tech on the corner. Dinner in an hour with some people from the office. Free meal. One of those nice supportive chats maybe. Best not to be gloomy. They’re all young ones now, maintaining the rage. Don’t want to spoil their fun with my withering negativity. Or mention Canberra. The old ones know me though. They always knew how to jolly me along but they don’t do the schlepping anymore.

It’s random but I wonder if someone’s going to ask me about songwriting again tonight? Like, what comes first? Words or music? Got asked that first thing this morning. On the ABC. Into a camera. It’s a lot easier than falling on your sword, I thought. Canberra again. You can make any shit up, if you’re so inclined. Mind you I’d never say that.. not out loud. You gotta start somewhere after all.

Thing is, I don’t actually know what comes first. You can’t tell people it’s just scratching at metaphor or any thing like that can you? They’d think you were slack. They wanna believe there’s a system.

I feel like screaming..

“There’s no friggin’ system.. Look at Canberra!”

Although I did mention ‘metaphor’ once, to some jock in North Brisbane, to see how he’d react. Wha? He looked at me like I was a total idiot. Sprouting some weird lefty intellectual bullshit.. “Just joking Mate,” I said.. to relieve the tension.. “It’s the music Mate. Music every time.” Should’ve seen the relief on his face. I was the real deal again. But for a moment there.. boy.

I pretend not to limp as I make the turn into Cleveland, sun blasting off the road, the gammy right knee screaming at me.

Dinner in 30 minutes. Hotel bathroom. Get this hair thing done. Give the instructions a quick once over. Shower’s running. Check the time.

Christ on a bike!

I’ll be late for the pep talk and Thai. Wrestle with the blade. 4 levels of sheer. 3 mil to 13. The damned thing won’t drop into place. Hang on. Off. On again. That’s it. That’s gotta be right.

The first stroke. Straight down the guts. Look in the mirror. Fuck! It was on the 1. Not the 3. I wanted the 3! Jesus wept. Is there any more tellie coming up? Think. New Zealand next week. Maybe it’ll grow back by then. I’m half done. There’s no way back now. No trimming with these Sassoon jobs. Go hard S. You’re committed now.

Look in the mirror. What the hell have you done? Tony Mundine sort of. Except older and white.

Then it was back to the ABC after dinner. Into the bowels of Ultimo. Raining again. Live in the studio.. The polite ABC faithful. They’re a lovely bunch. A hundred odd. Richard Glover jokes about, what else? Canberra of course. The punters chuckle nervously. But it’s only a bit funny. Actually, it’s not funny at all. It’s shocking and awful. We’ve all been betrayed. But we’re a polite mob aren’t we? Fed bullshit mostly and we know it. I step up onto the little stage looking like a killer without the neck tats. Maybe even a bit Duttonesque. They blink and smile at me. I need to soften up. Breath. A Kiwi love song. ‘Beside you’ by Dave Dobbyn. A song of trust and belonging.

Later outside the bomb proof doors, we wait for an Uber, 
like nervous cattle. The fog closes in.