Month: January 2019

Art critic and author was destined for success

ROBERT Hughes was always larger than life. His personality was so forceful that he dominated every gathering in which he took part, from a conference to a casual lunch. He was witty, irascible, opinionated and impatient with fools. Although everyone was his audience, he had a gift for friendship that put people at their ease.
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Hughes was one of a generation of great expatriate intellectuals, who had many characteristics in common. Like Barry Humphries, Hughes had the knack of shooting down opponents with one well-turned barb. Like Clive James, he had a lifelong love affair with the English language, no less obvious in a small magazine article than in a large book. Like Germaine Greer, he had a temper and an ego that occasionally alienated his fans.

He was always destined for success, but he shot to worldwide prominence with the television series The Shock of the New (1980). It was the ideal successor to the original art mega-series, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (1969). Hughes picked up the story where Clark had left off, displaying his gift for the well-turned one-liner.

Although most people probably got to know Hughes through his appearances on TV, he will be remembered for his writing. His early Art of Australia (1966) was a sparkling read, although of dubious value as art history. After spending 10 years as art critic for Time magazine in New York, the book The Shock of the New (1980) was more sure-footed and became a worldwide hit.

His masterpiece is undoubtedly The Fatal Shore (1987), a monumental examination of the early years of Australian settlement. For Hughes this project was a way of paying his dues to Australia. It surprised him that it became an international bestseller, making the small world of colonial history into a topic of global interest.

The Fatal Shore made Hughes one of Australia’s favourite sons. He sacrificed that high esteem after being catastrophically injured in a car accident south of Broome, in 1999. While sympathies were running high, he spoke and acted in a brazen, arrogant manner and was widely criticised. He returned to the United States denouncing Australia and swearing never to return.

But return he did, and all was forgiven and forgotten. The only problem was the state of his health, which had been permanently shaken by the injuries received in the car crash.

For a man like Hughes it was hard to grow old, let alone grow old as an invalid.

A man’s man and a ladies’ man, he was always the centre of attention. His views were forthright, and expressed with astonishing eloquence. He wrote with intelligence and integrity, and brought a literary flair to the much-maligned discipline of art criticism.

He will be remembered, quite simply, as one of Australia’s finest writers.

John McDonald is a long-serving art critic for Fairfax.

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Riding on Deek’s experience

It’s the odd-couple relationship which started from one of Canberra’s most devastating disasters and now Robert de Castella is ready to help Caroline Buchanan take Olympic Games gold.Almost a decade after bushfires ripped through Canberra’s south, destroying more than 500 homes and killing four people, Buchanan and de Castella have formed an athlete-mentor relationship they hope will yield Olympic glory.The pair hardly seem to have much in common – de Castella is a marathon legend with an expertise in endurance while Buchanan is a daredevil BMX star with a thirst for adrenaline. But both had to rebound after the fires tore through their lives and a meeting organised by Buchanan’s dad sparked a long-term relationship.It’s de Castella’s advice that is helping Buchanan deal with the hype and expectation of being a medal favourite in London.Buchanan will begin her Games campaign tomorrow morning when the seeding runs of the women’s BMX competition start at the Olympic precinct.She’s ranked No.2 in the world and is the time trial world champion, but the chance to win gold has been the source of her motivation for the past four years.‘‘[De Castella] just told me to be the professional I am and that I’m the ‘complete yellow pages book’,’’ Buchanan said. ‘‘He said anything that happens on the course I can handle it, and that’s great advice.‘‘I’m going to use that going into these races … it’s not about his bike knowledge, it’s about giving the support and I appreciate it.’’De Castella has been Buchanan’s official mentor since they teamed up through an Australian Sport Hall of Fame scholarship program initiative.But their relationship runs much deeper than mentor and student.The bushfires brought them together and they’ve remained close since. And even when she was nine years old, de Castella could recognise Buchanan’s talent.But it’s not the technicalities of flying over jumps they share.Instead, it’s the way to handle the pressure of performing on one of the biggest stages in world sport.De Castella was a marathon world champion in 1983 but could only manage fifth in his Olympic campaign the following year because he put too much pressure on himself and trained too much.Buchanan’s other high profile mentor – surfing great Layne Beachley – is also in London.‘‘I’m still getting used to talking about riding and not running,’’ de Castella laughed. ‘‘When we first met she just had that quiet confidence and determination to do well, but attitude is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s just such a big deal to come to your first Olympics and have that expectation of winning … it’s really challenging and difficult to deal with it.‘‘I don’t know much about the event at all, but I know what you need to do to manage all the pressure. I do have a bike and I have come off a few times, so I know the dangers, but it’s more about dealing with everything around what happens in the race.’’Buchanan was too young to compete when the sport was added to the Olympic schedule four years ago.Since then she’s had a burning desire to reach her goal of racing for Australia in London.The 21-year-old has worn the Olympic rings on a chain around her neck to remind her of what she was working towards. So is she feeling the pressure with her dream on the verge of becoming a reality?‘‘Not really, and I like pressure,’’ Buchanan said. ‘‘Diamonds are made under pressure and I definitely enjoy it. ‘‘I think most of the pressure is going to be on the local girl, so I’m just going to enjoy it.‘‘Winning the time trial [world championship] was good for me, I know over the four international races we’ve had this year, I’ve been the fastest by the clock on every single trap. ‘‘So I’m just focusing on consistency and that’s one of the big keys coming into an Olympics.’’
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Stable dumps suspect jockey

RACING giant Darley Australia has distanced itself from Mark Zahra after the top jockey was named as being under investigation for race fixing.
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Darley Australia’s managing director, Henry Plumptre, said yesterday that Zahra (below) would not ride a Darley runner until the police probe into his handling of a horse at Cranbourne last year was completed.

”Mark is not currently riding at the moment, but I think we’d leave it until the investigation is finished,” Plumptre said.

”This industry stands or falls through the integrity of our sport, and if there is an issue all I can say is that we’d be extremely disappointed.”

Zahra was reported as saying yesterday: ”They told me I’m not needed, at least until this thing’s over. The really disappointing thing is that I haven’t been charged with anything. I’m implicated in something, I guess, but I haven’t been charged.”

Darley is owned by United Arab Emirates Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed, who has racing bases in six countries. Zahra has been one of the leading riders for the global stable’s Melbourne base, collecting more than 100 wins on Peter Snowden-trained runners during the past few seasons.

Zahra rode Baikal in a race at Cranbourne in April last year. He is being investigated for allegedly riding against beaten favourite Retaliate to give Danny Nikolic’s heavily backed mount, Smoking Aces, an improved chance of winning. Smoking Aces won the race.

Zahra was named in The Age yesterday and on Monday night’s Four Corners program on the ABC as being under investigation, along with Nikolic, for alleged race fixing.

Racing Victoria is waiting to be briefed by police on the investigation before considering any action against the riders.

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Six-day rule costs Swan two games

COLLINGWOOD’S hard-line decision to suspend Dane Swan for two matches was based on a season-long ban on drinking alcohol six days before a game. Swan’s indiscretion also violated a recent vow by the players to avoid alcohol completely until season’s end.
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Swan was suspended after the Magpies found evidence that he had been drinking on Sunday night. Swan did not deny drinking, as has been speculated, but did deny that he had consumed a significant amount, the proverbial ”skin full”.

Collingwood’s director of football, Geoff Walsh, said it was merely the fact Swan had broken a team rule that cost him. ”Fundamentally a strict club policy was not adhered to, and we felt that couldn’t be ignored,” he told the club’s show on Fox Footy last night.

”There’s nothing more to the suspension beyond the drinking and beyond the breach. It’s a clear mandate from the playing group and supported by the entire football department that six days before a game you shouldn’t be out and about, let alone drinking.”

Walsh said the rules applied to every player. ”Like everyone, he’s subjected to and … agreed to certain rules and certain protocols. And when they’re breached, there are consequences.

”Dane’s disappointed, there’s no doubt about that. Disappointed that he’s let himself down, let his teammates down and let the football club down. There’s no doubt he’s remorseful and disappointed but entirely understanding that his actions have led to the consequences that are on the table.”

Walsh said the suspension sent a message. ”I don’t think we’re cutting off our nose at all. What we are [doing] … is reaffirming and endorsing that we have rules and regulations that everyone, whether they’re your best [in the] playing group or they’re No. 500 on your list, we all operate and live by the same standards because we’ve all signed off on them.”

Swan is likely to play in the Magpies’ VFL team in the second week of the ban.

Collingwood considered there was evidence that Swan had been drinking when he turned up at the club for training and meetings on Monday. There is speculation he was queried about his physical condition by a teammate on Monday morning.

In the past few weeks, a concerned Collingwood skipper Nick Maxwell and vice-captain Scott Pendlebury called a meeting at which players pledged to abstain from alcohol until the end of the season.

Even before the pledge, Swan would have broken the prohibition on drinking by 24 hours. But the players’ vow to eschew alcohol meant he had broken what the club called its ”protocols” on two counts.

The decision to suspend him was made at a meeting involving coach

Nathan Buckley, Walsh, the leadership group and several other senior players. It is perhaps the clearest sign of the expected tougher line on behaviour by Buckley.

As a result of the suspension, Swan will miss Collingwood’s critical games against Sydney and North Melbourne, as the Magpies, who play only top-eight sides in their last four games, seek to secure a top-four spot.

The two-match penalty, immediately the subject of debate given the potentially damaging effect it might have on Collingwood’s flag prospects, is consistent with the suspension meted out to midfielder Sharrod Wellingham, who was outed for the season’s first two matches after he missed a rehabilitation session and admitted he had been drinking the night before.

Collingwood’s official statement said: ”The decision was made after the club became aware that Swan had been drinking alcohol six days before next Saturday’s match against the Sydney Swans, a clear breach of club protocol. The suspension followed discussions between a number of parties, including the leadership group.”

Collingwood is 14-4 and in third spot, but has Hawthorn chasing hard and fifth-placed West Coast still seeking the double chance afforded by a top-four finish.

As matters stand, the Pies would have to travel to Adelaide in the first week of the finals, with a trip to Sydney another possibility. All this is to be determined over the last month, beginning with Saturday night’s blockbuster at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, where Collingwood has won the past six times it has played there, but will have to do it this time without its 2011 Brownlow medallist and three-time Copeland Trophy winner.

Swan’s absence may be keenly felt. He has had an outstanding two months since he missed two games with a hamstring injury in rounds nine and 10. In the eight games since, he has averaged 39 disposals and been dominant in at least three games, soaring to the top three in Brownlow Medal betting.

The three-time All-Australian has avoided club suspensions or sanctions for several years, despite a reputation for enjoying himself. His most serious blemish was as a youngster, from an incident in 2003, which led to a conviction for affray. Swan was ordered to perform community service and pay $100,000 to a victim in a Federation Square brawl with a security guard. The incident almost cost him his career.

The Pies did manage, arguably, their best win of the season without Swan, when they defeated the Crows in Adelaide in round nine.

His suspension adds to a bad week for the AFL. It came 24 hours after the Western Bulldogs stood aside young midfielder Tom Liberatore for the remainder of the season after he was found by police drunk and with an ecstasy tablet in his pocket in the King Street nightclub district in the early hours of Monday.

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Swan, Buckley men on different paths

TO SAY that Dane Swan was bound to run foul of Nathan Buckley once the new coach was appointed would be an exaggeration. But it is clear that Collingwood’s past two Brownlow medallists diverge in their approaches to football.
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Unlike his coach, Swan has never been one of those players who does absolutely everything – peeling the proverbial skin off his chicken – in his preparation for games. He is a serious competitor, but relative to, say, the meticulous Scott Pendlebury, the tattooed midfielder is more old school. He has never hidden his fondness for a good time and a full social life.

Swan gives the nonchalant impression that he plays football for enjoyment and mateship, and that there are aspects of the modern game – the meetings and monastic lifestyle that it demands – that he finds odious.

Hence, no one in the Collingwood loop was terribly surprised when Swan withdrew from the leadership group before the start of the season. He’s not one for telling teammates how to behave, or for organising and running meetings. He trains – hard – and he plays.

The decision to suspend Swan for two matches is a tough one, given he hasn’t done anything to anyone. To our knowledge, he didn’t put a barman in a headlock, punch or abuse a bystander. He’s had a drink six days before the next match. In days of yore, that session would be compulsory. In his version of events – which may or may not differ from the club’s, the Pies having sought ”external” verification as well as ”internal” – he didn’t drink much.

The decision to suspend Swan is consistent with Buckley’s long-standing hard line on player behaviour. At a similar stage of 2006, Collingwood skipper Buckley was disappointed when his predecessor, Mick Malthouse opted not to suspend Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson for their role in a drunken brawl in the wee hours.

Malthouse took a more tolerant view of player misdemeanours than his skipper, who also believed that the players should have more say in enforcing standards, along the lines of Sydney and Geelong.

Buckley’s belief in player empowerment means that the leadership group, headed by Nick Maxwell, had a significant say in the decision to suspend Swan. As football chief Geoff Walsh said last night, this is a case of players abiding by their own standards, which they ”signed off on”.

That said, there is no question that players want to do the bidding of their new coach and would frame the penalty accordingly, just as their pledge of abstinence from alcohol for the last part of the season would be made with Buckley’s uncompromising standards in mind.

The tricky part for a club is always: a) what to do when the offending player is a star, and b) when the upcoming games are crucial.

There is always an argument that the rest of the team ought not be penalised for the actions of an individual. Malthouse took that stance for much of his coaching career, trading Tarrant rather than suspending him, in 2006. When Collingwood went harder and suspended Alan Didak and Heath Shaw for their drunken car crash and fictitious explanation in 2008, the club really had no choice because the pair had lied.

Here, the benchmark for punitive action was established before round one, when Sharrod Wellingham was rubbed out for two matches for drinking and missing a rehabilitation session. Walsh noted the ”consistency” of the Swan penalty.

That’s the problem with curfews and prohibitions. They can bite you at the least-opportune times.

Swan’s loss could well prove the Swans’ gain.

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