My Column

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Sat Mar 17 16:06:54 MST 2001

Marching in the Bin

The death of cricketing legend Sir Donald Bradman has been the occasion of
a huge outpouring of publicly sanctioned grief. Nothing could have
illustrated more clearly this nation's tendency to seek its heroes among
sporting men and women as well as among the military. The hagiography has
been unrelenting. The notable and noble exception was the ABC, which drew
attention to Bradman's membership of the Free Masons and his quarrels with
the Catholics on his team, namely Stan McCabe and Bill O'Reilly.
Of course we are all supposed to forget about such things.  Nevertheless it
is important for Australians to realise that anti-Catholic bigotry was
above all class prejudice directed against the workers.  With the rise of
the Democratic Labor Party and the shift of a significant section of the
Catholic vote to the Liberal Party from the 1950s, anti-Catholic prejudice
died out. However this was less a triumph of tolerance as a victory for the
Anglo establishment over the Irish-Australians. Quite simply the Irish
Catholics won acceptance by abandoning any radicalness and settling instead
for a watered down Australian republicanism.
Bradman, whose post cricket career was as a well paid professional board
man, was a conservative through and through. He was also the most ruthless
and single minded of cricketers. He may have mouthed the usual cliches
about cricket being a team game, however the late Jack Fingleton and Sid
Barnes often complained of his selfishness during their long partnerships
with him. Over after over he would take a single of the final ball and get
more than his share of the bowling when it was easy.  Again among the
records he set is the not so often mentioned fact that he was also the
first Australian to refuse to share a prize with his team mates.
That such things are not known is due to the fact that Bradman outlasted
all his enemies. He also protected his own reputation with a great
zealousness. He was quite simply the keeper of his own legend. How though
should he be remembered? Of course this should be above all as a brilliant
batsman.  For one year, 1930, he was as one touched by the gods. He was it
seems a total destroyer of bowling.  After that he was only very, very
good. However we should also remember the less savoury aspects of his
personality.  He should see him too as a key member of the Anglo
establishment and we should resist those, like John Howard, who seek to
make him a people's hero.

A kind reader sent me a copy of Lewis Browne's The Wisdom of Israel - an
anthology of writings from the Jewish tradition.  Currently I am reading
through selections from the Talmud, which is the distilled wisdom of the
rabbinical culture that flourished  following the fall of Jerusalem in
70CE.  It consists of two books- the Mishna and the Gemara.  The following
gem is from the Mishna.

"Honi ha-Ma'aggel once saw on his travels an old man planting a carob
tree.  He asked him when he thought the tree would bear fruit.  'After
seventy years,' was the reply.
'Dost thou expect to live seventy years and eat the fruit of thy labour?'
'I did not find the world desolate when I entered it,' said the old man,
'and as my fathers planted for me before I was born, so do I plant for
those who will come after me."

It is such anecdotes that illustrate Browne's great definition of wisdom as
'a sort of sanctified human decency'. It also provides a contrast with the
current attitude towards finite resources.  These are being used up in a
totally selfish way with no thought for the future.

Showing at the Dendy is the wonderful The Song Catcher, written and
directed by Maggie Geenwald. Set in the early part of the 20th century it
tells the tale of  a Dr Lily Penleric a musicologist who has been passed
over for promotion in favour of a male. On the selection panel was her
married lover who voted with the majority against her.  He still however
expects her to continue to provide him with sexual favours on the
side.   In a fit of rage she resigns and heads off to her sister who
teaches a school in the Appalachian mountains.  There she stumbles upon the
marvel of an isolated community that has preserved for centuries hundreds
of folk songs.  Along the way she meets and falls in love with Tom an
initially hostile war veteran and musician played by Adrian Quinn. Theirs
is a fiery romance but it still achieves an ideal balance where the
strength of each is acknowledged.
For those of us reared on 70s feminism (I still have the scars!) there is
much to enjoy in this film. Thus in keeping with the line of the film it is
the woman who proposes and carries her man off with her at the end. The
theme of the hardship of rural life for women is also brought through
clearly.  One horrifying birth scene ends though in the film's most
beautiful moment, when the three women having passed through the gates of
horror sit in quiet joyful companionship and sing a comically derisive song
about men.
Speaking as a mere male I found it a privilege to be allowed to view this
reconstruction of female culture - so secret and so resistant. There is
also a sensitive portrayal of a passionate lesbian relationship.   Sadly
though there does not appear to have been any gay males in the Appalachians
prior to WW1.
However it is above all the music and the cinematography that makes this
film an absolute treat. For readers who are interested the film's story is
based loosely on Cecil Sharp's collection Folk Songs of the Appalachian
Mountains.  Sharp's assistant on his expedition to collect the songs was
Maud Karpeles.  She went on to become a world authority on folk music and I
have two of her books in my library. Unfortunately the filmmakers despite
their feminism appear not to have been aware of her existence because there
is no mention of Karpeles in the film's promotional material.  Nevertheless
this was a film I thoroughly enjoyed and it comes highly recommended indeed.

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