The Wreckage of a Neoliberal's Passage
Report on the burning of Maurice Newman
at the Eureka Stockade Memorial, Ballarat, 3 December 2013
Through the night the cardboard bust of Maurice Newman, chair of PM Abbott's Business Advisory Council, stood at the west side of the Eureka Stockade Memorial in Ballarat, illumined by lantern light and looking angry, glum and eerie as might a hungry ghost awaiting exorcism.
A burning exorcism was coming but it had to bide its time till all in the lantern lit circle of some 60 people had had an opportunity to introduce themselves and say why they had come to honour the dead of the Eureka Rebellion, bloodily suppressed on very ground up which we stood 159 years ago.
This was the Eureka Dawn Service and the opening act of the 2013 Reclaim the Radical Traditions of the Eureka Rebellion celebrations which are convened by Dr Joe Toscano of the Anarchist Media Institute. Participation was of the essence. What's more speeches were being broadcast live on Melbourne Radio 3CR to unseen participants.
When the time came i was given the microphone to explain the ritual and its subject.
This was the fifth Eureka Dawn effigy burning, i explained, a recently added component to the evolving rituals of the Eureka Dawn Service as we search for ways to make the Reclaim celebrations sacred, meaningful and radically relevant to the times.
If invoking Eureka Spirit, that fighting courage of the Stockaders when they were faced with tyranny and state violence, had the power to bless, then it also had the power to curse. The Eureka Dawn effigy burning is a kind of popularist pointing of the bone.
Choosing the subject for burning gives us cause to look about and ask who is the most the prominent public figure denying Australians their rights and liberties in this season. Who are the Governor Hothams, the Gold Commissioner Redes, the corrupt cops and magistrates of this time?
In the lead up, i had been asking this question in personal conversations, on FaceBook, on radio when Dr Joe interviewed me on 3CR program "Radical Australia" on 27 November and also in media releases reported in the local press. An excellent way to make an event topical and attractive, it seems to me.
A variety of responses came: President Obama for his Drone Wars and NSA spying, PM Abbott whose steadily unveiling neo-liberal agenda is widely abhorred and feared, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman whose threatened "bikie legislation" will restrict rights of assembly for any group the Premier cares to name, and Scott Morrison, Abbott's cruel and deceitful persecutor of refugee boat people.
Nominated by Dr Joe, Maurice Newman was chosen on the flip of a coin in the foyer of the 3CR studios. The name meant nothing to me, but Dr Joe reckoned identifying the modern day tyrants is part of our job. After all my 2012 choice of Major General Michael Krause, door opener for the US Marines occupation of Darwin in 2012, had served that function.
By web searching for images and descriptors of Mr Newman i was soon informed of the pernicious influence of this neo-liberal ideologue - a one time banker, Chairman of the Stock Exchange and Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (appointed by PM Howard to suppress leftist broadcasting), outspoken climate change denier and now chair of Abbott's government service cutting razor gang.
Cutting and gluing cardboard to form facial features is a meditation in itself and when supplemented with readings about the subject's mean-hearted words and deeds, the effigy comes to form shaped by concentrated intent. The aim is for a dramatic image which expresses the essential character of the subject as a damning political cartoon might.
Under the lightening sky and with microphone in hand, i led them that were interested (effigy burning and bone pointing is not for everyone) to the exorcism site, spruiked some more and with the final words: "May you know the wrath of the people and may you wake in fright!", lit the effigy from behind.
Four days work to be turned to ashes in less the 30 seconds, i handed over the mike to friends who could describe the action to radio listeners and knelt in front to watch the pattern of the burn and read the omens.
Smoke began palling though and from behind Maurice Newman's head, increasing in intensity and drifting to his right. As the first flames appeared at the back, smoke issued dramatically from his mouth as it might the exhale of a fire breathing demon.
The flames built up from behind and soon his whole head was wreathed in flames, his face staring out at us with unrelenting, and remarkably enduring, meanness.
Then all at once his facial features collapsed, slid away and there was nothing left of Maurice Newman but a blaze of cardboard embers to warm our dawn-chilled hands upon.
Ashes to ashes, Mr Newman.
The smoke of your deceits and the malevolence of your persona will endure, it seems, longer that one would wish. But then in an instant you will fall from grace and begone and the wreckage of your passage will be left to warm us.
11 December 2013