WHAT A shame the old Champion Hotel on the corner of Brunswick and Gertrude streets was turned into a rug salesroom. The Bloodhouse was its nom de guerre, and you didn’t need to add an adjective, the adjective, because in Melbourne it went without saying. The blacks’ Bloodhouse, that is what everyone knew it to be, a place where any driver who pulled up outside and waited for the lights to change received a 60-second education in despair. Not the patrons’ despair, because they were too far gone to care, shouting and facing off, lurching into the roadway, women hiking stained dresses and squatting for a squirt in the gaps between parked cars. Much More Ballroom, the hippy mecca, used to be just up the street, but love and peace didn’t cut it on that corner. The vibe, man, it was bad. Stepping over pools of spew, sometimes comatose bodies, it just wasn’t cool. For caring, gentle white folk who talked of love and peace the Champion was a bummer, a corner to be avoided lest it spoil a nice buzz.
It is gone now, long gone, and the former patrons swept from sight. Great for property values, and not one of the terrace renovators who have transformed Fitzroy from slum to chic would wish it back. But today, a few hours after Andrew Bolt was found guilty of ruffling a new, paler and vindictively sensitive species of blackfella, you can’t help thinking how much the old Champion is needed.
The victors will be out there tonight before the cameras, telling how Black Australia just isn’t going to take the Dutchman’s slanders for one more day. Their lawyers will be skiting, too, and the ABC’s talking heads will nod and put the soft questions that, at the government broadcaster, signify support and sympathy.
Indeed, even if a reporter wanted to note that artist Bindi Cole, one of the triumphant plaintiffs, would never, ever have been denied service in the front bar of a quieter, whiter pub than the Champion, he will not put the question. Too dangerous now, legally too risky. Who but Bolt has had the balls to say the emperor has no clothes, and that the exposed skin is so often no darker than a Greek’s? Certainly nobody at the ABC or The Age, where it must have been a day of unsettling internal dialogues. Yippee, the dominant voice would have cried, that Bastard Bolt got his! But what of us and the opinions we express? Might we be next? Expect tomorrow’s editorial to begin by deploring Bolt for what he is and what he wrote, with the rest an exercise in nuanced incoherence. On matters of race, once you have mastered maudlin impotence, it is by far the best policy not to care enough to have a point of view, especially one that might see you sued.
And that is why we need the Champion, as a reminder that the problem, the real problem, has nothing to do with educated self-promoters who know how to get the grants and play the system. They can look after themselves, as it seems they have all been doing, hurt feelings and all.
But the poor bastards who made the Champion their second home, what of them? They have been moved on but are still out there, high on smack in Smith Street, pissed to the gills and just as quarrelsome in the dirt of the Fink’s dry riverbed, bearing bruises and offering sex for a flagon on the outskirts of Ceduna and a thousand other outposts of shame.
Do you think those children of the Champion – grandchildren and greatgrandchildren by now -- will be celebrating tonight in the long grass, breaking out the cheese and pinot gris, doing a little networking, sizing up the opportunities for a grant to shoot an SBS documentary about the day Bolt had his ears boxed?
Not a chance. The Champion is gone and for too many whites, the old problem, and still the real problem, has been largely pushed from sight. Now, thanks to Judge Mordy, it will be perilous even to speak of it.
Justice? We have not seen that today. Not for open debate or common sense, and certainly not for those who need it most.
UPDATE: "Emerging Indigenous artist" Bindi Cole talks about herself and Aboriginality. Have the barf bag ready at about the 3 minute mark.