Category Archives: television

Leave Matt Damon on Mars


A tiny lily from Peel, near Bathurst. Pic: Chris Marshall.

There’s an awful lot going on, and all of it’s good, all of it’s about participating in Life with a capital L.

A couple of hours ago I got a text message from a nurse at Prof Harnett’s clinic. The entire text message was just two digits: a one and a zero. Ten. Ten! Brilliant! My lucky number relates to my CA125 level, an indicator of possible ovarian cancer activity. High numbers bad, low numbers good. Ten is a lovely low number.
In the run-up to this blood test I kept myself pantingly busy working on the 200 Plants and Animals exhibition which opened last Friday night. We had about 50 people at the launch. The exhibition, whipped into aesthetic line by Cate McCarthy, looked fabulous at about 4pm on Friday evening. Two hours to spare! I even had time to go home and have a shower and put a skirt on.

The exhibition is all about paying attention to where we live. Which is in a planetary system that appears robust but is actually caving, crumbling, subsiding, declining, getting warmer, losing bits of itself. The exhibition (which continues until 5pm next Sunday) explores the bit of the system that we’re inhabiting right here, right now – focusing on non-human living things. A hundred local plants, a hundred local animals all feature in the exhibition. The largest thing is the skull of a horse; the smallest is a tiny, tiny dead beetle. It includes my own bit of amateur biologising: a pressed dandelion from the back yard, and crocheted human brains (humans are included but only as the “one hundreth animal”). There’s a spotted marsh frog painting by the Hazzards; Mum’s pobblebonk; my friend Kirsty Lewin’s black cockatoo mask; lots of photos by Tim Bergen; bright pastels by Johannes Bauer who is both ecologist and artist; Ray Mjadwesch’s specimens including the dried remains of a sugar glider that died after being snarled in barbed wire; our old dog Taro; a glass-art cat with a chain saw. Mostly native animals and plants, but a few introduced species that share this habitat.

Working on this exhibition with the BCCAN committee and others in the team, my sense of this planet as a teeming, rich-in-every-corner thing has grown. I got angry with an ad for Mortein on television the other night. It seemed incredible to me that wholesale scorched-earth policies in private homes are allowed, willy nilly, along with anti-bacterial hand washes. Good to have in hospitals, but the idea of daily life in disinfected spaces now seems a lesser life.
Which brings me to Matt Damon on Mars with his potato plants fertilised by human dung. There he is in a superhuman struggle against the basic facts of life: our bodies were created and are supported by our one and only planet, with its air and water and animals and plants and seasons and sea and earth. And he wins. He works out how to “science the shit out of” his dire situation. The movie brims with an eager love of science, of figuring things out, trying things out, failing and trying again. I enjoyed that. It was also a long paean to NASA. I’m as much a fan of NASA as the next person, or maybe even more, having grown up next to one of the tracking stations that tracked the Gemini and Apollo missions.

But in these days of climate change and environmental destruction, such enthusiasm over humanity’s ability to shuck off the demands of our slow-evolving nature just makes me a little sad for us and for the planet we’re buggering up in the process. There we are, soiling our own nest, just waiting to take flight, get off into outer space, colonise distant planets, all in close-fitting Star Trek suits.

On television a few days later, there was the lame Revenge of the Sith, in which the vibrant world of the original Star Wars movie was oddly reduced to a cross between daytime soap and a computer game for kids. It was all smooth surfaces and whizzing things. Where were these beings growing their food, disposing of their waste? Where was biology in all this? (Okay, just Googled it. Star Wars does have its own biological objects and rules, according to Wookieepedia.) When James Cameron’s Avatar came out, I thought it might have been the beginning of a different type of futurism, one that explored the idea of living sustainably within an ecosystem. But Avatar was a one-off. The future, as imagined by Hollywood, still has a Jetsons quality (it’s the future, and you never see the Earth’s surface, let alone a single tree).I love science as much as the next person, or even more, having so far been saved by modern medical knowledge. But the idea that we can “science the shit out of” our environmental problems, including climate change, will not work on its own. I think it needs to be united with a profound acceptance of – and interest in – the limitations and workings of our own bodies and our own planet.

Today I am Charlie

I’m not sure who I’ll be tomorrow but today, whether I like it or not, I’m Charlie. I continue to have some non-Charlie thoughts: My snapdragons in the garden out the front are failing to launch. They’re long and spindly, browned off in the heat, producing just the odd flower here and there. I was expecting them to look colourful and lush by now. Last night on ABC TV, Professor Brian Cox, the anointed  successor to Sir David Attenborough, celebrated the extraordinary, audacious human race, the species that went from the obsidian-headed axe to outer space in the blink of an eye, geologically speaking. We’re better than these guys, he said, smugly indicating the baboons in the background.

Sitting in the back of a van on the way to meet the returning crew of the International Space Station, he used a marker pen to write out the formula for gravity. Which is:

gravity formula

Retrieved from


Knowledge of this formula allowed the astronauts to apply the brakes at exactly the right time to achieve exactly the right speed to allow their vehicle to drop out of orbit and land on earth.

Racing over the frozen landscape of Kazakhstan to meet the returning spaceship, Brian Cox said he was glad Newton published his formula back in 1687 because it meant people didn’t have to start from scratch every time they wanted to get into outer space. By writing these things down, humanity has been able to info-share across the ages and gee, we just keep getting smarter and smarter!

But this morning I’m Charlie, and I feel it’s barely warranted to crow over our superiority to the baboons. I’m Charlie today because yesterday, men in balaclavas, armed with kalashnikovs and a rocket launcher, gate-crashed an editorial meeting in the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Cartoonists and journalists were mowed down. You know the story. In the aftermath, people expressed their solidarity by saying “I am Charlie” all over social media and in rallies in Paris and London.

I know what it’s like to sit in an editorial meeting; to liaise with cartoonists; to go about a day in the life of a working journalist. Having it all explode in blood and carnage is, as the perpetrators intended, truly terrifying.

I’m also a white person with #firstworldproblems, living in the West, in a house with snapdragons out the front in a quiet street where the most egregious noise I’ll hear is the howl of a Malamute as it joins in with a distant ambulance, or the thumping of music when the neighbours clean their house on a Saturday morning. I expect to go about in peace, without being caught in crossfire or gunned down because I’ve turned up for work. I’m not personally responsible for the cycles of violence in the world. But I am Charlie, and Charlie, to some minds, represents the West and all the liberal freedoms and privileges available therein. A West that conquered, colonised and controlled the world and now expects to get a latte in peace.

It could be me in the firing line. Because I’m Charlie.

There’s no telling what might happen on account of one thing leading to another. You find a sharp sliver of obsidian and think it might add some oomph to your club. The next thing you know, you’re on the moon. You plunder and colonise the world in the name of God, and find yourself fighting the locals who are defending themselves in the name of God. There are reasons why murderous nutters get a hearing in certain circles. Those reasons can be found in history. As far as we know, it’s a law-governed universe; gravity works both here and in outer space. On this earth, the law of history is that if you’re the top dog you’ll be challenged, sooner or later, by the dog under you. It’s all there in writing.

But we prefer hubris over history lessons. We’ll study Newton on gravity but on conflict resolution, we’ll take our cues from the baboons.

A pause. A bit of a Google. I just found a review of a book about a herd of peace-loving baboons that turned their backs on violence.
If they can do it, maybe we can do it.

To hell with target audience


This is wild, this is brilliant. It cares not for its target audience.

This is what I like about the 1970s (maybe this clip happened in the late ’60s but its spirit didn’t really arrive in Australia until the early ’70s): things weren’t so pinned down. Popular entertainment relied on entertainers, not target market. The entertainer came first, not the vehicle. It’s why things are so empty now.

I’m working on teaching resources for a course called Write Simple Stories and it’s all about identifying the target audience first and going from there. I agree that this is a good course of action if one is writing a training video about how to operate a fire extinguisher. But it’s killing entertainment.