WHAT with the spigot of mates’ moolah turned off, elderly onanist Bob Ellis must have a bit too much time on his hands these days, as he has stepped up those exercises in automatic writing which The Drum finds so agreeable. And since that humble vessel is insufficient to the outpourings of such a cascading ego, Bob also has been alerting the world to his continued presence via a recently launched blog. Things are going well for Blogger Bob, who has not yet learned to link, but who nevertheless celebrated 1000-or-so daily page views by noting his site “just might attract some advertising, from cinemas and theatres, for instance.”
Idle hands are said to do the devil’s work, and Bob’s stubby digits would seem to be the proof of that. Where once Mrs Palm’s ten daughters were able to occupy their few empty moments extracting cheques from a Palm Beach letterbox – cheques drawn against the taxpayers’ account and authorised by NSW Labor pals and his crow-eating cobber, ousted SA Premier Mike Rann – their secondary joy just lately would seem to be the needling of another august presence in the pantheon of Australia’s artistic elite, the fantastically revered playwright David Williamson. Oh, and his missus, Kristin Williamson, is just a bit peeved as well, which is entirely understandable. Even without reference to that billiard table, what respectable matron could tolerate in silence assertions by her hubby’s critic that she and he once fused themselves into a three-day lump of sweaty, socially aware, artistic flesh?
It is not a pretty sight, the spectacle unfolding at Bob’s Table Talk, where mutterings of defamation writs are flying and the insults have grown very personal indeed. For little people, the sort who decline to discuss Proust with lanky strangers on cruise ships, such displays can bring only dismay. Here we are, the unsubsidised herd, heading off to work every day and happy in the assumption that the bankers of Australian culture are directing grants to theatre companies and film producers whose goal it is to showcase the work of our nation’s very greatest minds.
And yet there they are, the stellar beneficiaries of that same largesse, squabbling like wogs after a two-Valiant prang. It’s not nice, it’s not dignified – and no good will come of it. If the artistic elite is to continue its sacred mission of telling our stories in our voices, as submissions to the Australia Council often put it, those voices would want to appear a little more worthy.
To preserve faith in our artistic elite, the Professor’s advice is to look away.
But not every visitor to the Billabong is so high-minded. For those low sorts whose interests run to rubber-necking, here are a few excerpts from the escalating exchange of blows. Culturally attuned readers, those who prefer to think the best of our greatest minds, should read no further.
WILLIAMSON: it's been hard to endure the regukarity if your of your (sic) savage attacks on myself and Kristin over the years
ELLIS: Kristin's odd view that any critic of any of your plays must be sad, lonely, jealous or mad is very, very close in its reasoning to the longtime Soviet policy of gaoling dissidents in lunatic asylums and should, I suggest, be reconsidered before it is repeated. For it does raise the question, does it not, since she is so protective of your work, of how much she did of your work.
ELLIS: As always these Williamson characters speak in uncontradicted explicatory paragraphs, dumbed down to the level of those Women's Weekly subscribers who increasingly crowd the matinees, and his people only vestigially exist outside the hobbling plotline he and Kristin have rough-hewn for them, one steamy summer Sunday afternoon in Port Douglas, Noosa, or Byron.
ELLIS: …in her haughtily glamorised memoir David Williamson: Behind the Scenes, [Kristin] understates, by my count, her own unhidden adulteries while overstating and hyperbolising David's; and I speak with some close personal knowledge of this, and of matters long known by a few surviving elderly readers once agog at the Williamson-Ellis exchanges in Days Of Wine And Rage, whose re-publication Kristin has lately forbidden…
ELLIS: You do not rate as a writer of prose, David. Please do better in this field if you can. Take lessons. Practise. Go to Kristin for tips. And please do not moan of your unjust persecution by your vigilant envious enemies when many, many theatres put on your recent mediocre plays while refusing better ones. Or moan in better prose.
KRISTIN: Oh Ellis, you poor man. You're 70. Let it go. How sad that you spend late nights thinking of a new way to malign a playwright who has survived 40 years when you have barely made it in the alternative theatre. Yes, I loved King O'Malley but you did have a gifted co-writer … I hear you are sought after as a speech writer by every state politician who has ever lost an election.
ELLIS: The state leaders I wrote for, Carr, Rann, Gallop, Bacon, Rees, sometimes lost elections before I worked for them but never after. The federal leaders I wrote for, Keating and Beazley, each lost and won an election, Beazley only on the numbers alas, with 400,000 more votes than Howard. I work for Bill Shorten and Paul Howes now and each is looking good; like future Prime Ministers some say.
ELLIS: why for f**k's sake declare that old friendship should stop me railing against a bad play, any more than our three nights in bed in Diamond Creek should stop you from bagging me now, thirty-seven years later?
ELLIS: One night when we were f**king in Diamond Creek in the bedroom with the billiard table in it you told me you were descended from German royalty. And it struck me then that your attitude is a good bit like that of a royal. No criticism will be tolerated.
BEN POBJE (piling in): I don't do speech work: I am an acute diagnostician.
ELLIS: I have sex five times a fortnight at 69, a rate unchanged since I was 50.
There is plenty more, and worse, but please do not visit Bob’s Table Talk. It could only shatter your faith in our erudite and artistic betters.