Gain of Fiction

MY lasting boyhood memory of Sunday television is that you had to be ill or weather-stricken to bother. There was usually an old movie you could drift in and out of – say, Duke Wayne squashed into a Corsair in Flying Leathernecks – or a gardening guru putting a deserved hurt on aphids. A Jimmy Swaggart broadcast was another option. My brothers and I would sometimes tune in to Jim for a laugh after Mass and, occasionally, we’d score a mention. I still remember the Louisiana loss to rock ‘n roll declaring, “Catholics, we love you but there is no purgatory.” I think that was before his own stretch in Coventry.

Why the musings on Sundays past? Because on this customarily peaceful day, the networks now lead at night with mayhem and homicide. That’s an inversion of G-rated flicks and hibiscus tips. Channels 7 and Nine frequently go head to head in this new Ivan Milat TV genre with ‘fresh’ takes on some of the bloodiest and most tragic murders, rapes and unspeakable enormities in Australia’s criminal annals. There are never any factual breakthroughs, of course, no matter how many times Liz Hayes suddenly takes her glasses off at the “Under Investigation” table. It’s entertainment. Like Commodus in Gladiator, they give us death and we love them for it.

This past Sunday, 7’s “Spotlight investigators” (yes, really) examined the “mysterious” Alva Beach deaths. As always, the promo hook was “new evidence” and, as always, there was none. “You be the judge,” the ads for ‘Saving Candice’ proclaimed. But ‘you’ cannot be the judge. The rule of law isn’t a NIDA improv. There isn’t even a judge who can be the judge. The case is still in the very capable hands of Queensland’s Deputy Coroner, Jane Bentley, whose judgement the in-denial families of the deceased are trying to finesse via Channel 7. Magistrate Bentley, as it happens, is not a lady for turning. Local police regard the tragedy as an open and shut case of self-defence.

To win the Netflix generation – famously antsy for arcs and finales – ‘true crime’ is becoming live prosecution. “Event television,” Nine’s announcer would probably call it. The Teachers’ Pet podcast – genuinely investigative albeit overly-commodified – has been spliced with #MeToo hysteria and ‘public interest’ journalism to produce a crusade; ideological for the ABC, commercial for the rest. Naturally, a few expendable men were needed. Craig McLachlan, Geoffrey Rush, Christian Porter and Ben Roberts-Smith were pushed out on the stage for starters.

The latest thing is to have your own coronial cause. News Corp owned the Lynette Dawson matter and the clicks that went with it. The ABC noticed. It wants to corner the market on the 1979 Luna Park fire. Troy Bramston in The Australian has very capably scotched the venture. There is no new evidence, not against Neville Wran or anyone else living or dead. In Brisbane yesterday, an inquest into the firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go in 1973 re-opened. Unlike the Ghost Train disaster, the Valley nightclub attack that killed 15 people was no accident. I mention it not because its return to official attention owes something to journalism but to emphasise that investigations into crimes and cover-ups can be important – even vital – in a democracy. It’s just that most of the wannabes running them nowadays are not Hedley Thomas.

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38 Responses to Gain of Fiction

  1. Not Uh oh says:

    I must be a bit older than you CL because back in my day Sunday night was a ‘must be home’ time to watch the Sunday movie. It was usually a recent hit which you may not have seen, didn’t go through to the wee hours and wasn’t full of ads.
    And then it all started to change.

  2. Cassie of Sydney says:

    “It wants to corner the market on the 1979 Luna Park fire. Troy Bramston in The Australian has very capably scotched the venture. There is no new evidence, not against Neville Wran or anyone else living or dead. “

    C.L., I’m not sure Bramston has “scotched” it. Bramston is an ALP man and he has been running cover for Wran…a particularly unsavoury individual. Wran wasn’t called “Nifty Nev” for no reason. Having said that…do I think Wran was involved? Probably not. Do I think Abe Saffron was involved? Absolutely. Do I think the fire was accidental? No.

    The truth is that there has never been justice for the families of who died in that terrible fire.

  3. Cassie of Sydney says:

    Sorry C.L…I also meant to write that I agree with the gist of what you wrote above.

  4. Suburban Boy says:

    I watched the first (I think) of the “Spotlight” programs, on the death of Jaidyn Leskie (yes, I had to look up the spelling).

    As you point out, plenty of promises of new evidence, “shocking” conclusions and what not. Seven even roped in some retired judge in need of some cash, who prostituted himself by providing a pretence of judicial seriousness to the whole waste of time.

    I didn’t see the program on the Alva Beach case, but like you I find it hard to reach any conclusion other than self-defence. Families of the dead men naturally wish it otherwise, but as you say the Deputy Coroner is on the ball.

  5. Rosie says:

    While admitting to being a watcher of Netflix I haven’t watched free to air since forever.

    Breathless rehashes of cases, often for an agenda

    Folbig (spelling?) and Lane cases come to mind.

  6. Shy Ted says:

    What you learn on the front line in health is people can and do survive horrific injuries and people can and do die from seemingly innocuous injuries or events.

  7. C.L. says:

    Thanks, Cassie.

    I don’t want to get bogged down in Neville Wran.
    I’m talking about proof and evidence.

    The Ghost Train was a rickety old piece of junk that leaked kero and was a disaster waiting to happen.

    That the Saffrons were in the industry doesn’t mean Abe ordered a mass murder to score a Luna Park lease.

  8. Cassie of Sydney says:

    “I’m talking about proof and evidence.

    The Ghost Train was a rickety old piece of junk that leaked kero and was a disaster waiting to happen.

    That the Saffrons were in the industry doesn’t mean Abe ordered a mass murder to score a Luna Park lease.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree….but I do think the coroner should have another look.

  9. bradd says:

    Sunday TV did have B.A. Santamaria and his ‘National Civic Council’. Even when I was a kid I used to watch him. I did not understand much of what he was saying but he exuded knowledge and authority.

  10. Dragnet says:

    I wish I had been more attentive to Bob Santamaria back in the ’70’s rather than looking forward to the World Championship Wrestling that followed on Ch 9.

  11. Mique says:

    I agree with Cassie about Troy Bramston. His credibility on any issue in which the ALP is involved is non-existent as far as I’m concerned. He seems to be competing with van Onselen for Paul Kelly’s post as ALP Apologist-in-Chief. Those of us of a certain age who watched Wran in action would not be surprised if the worst possible allegations against him turned out to be true. He was, indeed, a particularly unsavoury individual. But I think he was far too smart to have been involved even peripherally in the Luna Park fire.

  12. lotocoti says:

    Liz Hayes and her crack team of Criminal Minds are cheap TV.
    She’s already on the books, along with the EP, Ass Prods
    and other assorted schmucks.
    Most of the content is already in the News library.
    The so-called experts trouser a couple of bucks in appearances fees.
    Without adding too much to in-house budgets,
    you’ve got Prime Time Clickbait TV.

  13. rickw says:

    or a gardening guru putting a deserved hurt on aphids

    Alan Seal?

  14. calli says:

    All this ghastly re-arrangement and examination of old bones. For entertainment.

    Have they any idea of what this does to the families involved? Don’t they care that these are real people with barely-healed-over grief? I dread the day when a certain horror is revisited by these harpies.

    They disgust me. The True Crime is the fact that they get away with it.

  15. Diogenes says:

    I wish I had been more attentive to Bob Santamaria back in the ’70’s rather than looking forward to the World Championship Wrestling that followed on Ch 9.

    Which was then followed by the even more anticipated ‘sword & sandal’ movies shown “Epic’ Theatre, (at least in Melbourne).

  16. Cassie of Sydney says:

    “Have they any idea of what this does to the families involved? “

    Re. the ABC Luna Park documentary…almost all of the families participated.

  17. cuckoo says:

    I wish I had been more attentive to Bob Santamaria back in the ’70’s rather than looking forward to the World Championship Wrestling that followed on Ch 9.

    To say nothing of Epic Theatre. The dead zone of Sunday afternoon tv was where I fortuitously made some of my greatest cinematic discoveries. Imagine turning on the tv as a bored youngster one Sunday afternoon and discovering John Ford’s The Searchers.

  18. Speedbox says:

    lotocoti says:
    June 15, 2021 at 11:43 am
    Liz Hayes and her crack team of Criminal Minds are cheap TV. She’s already on the books, along with the EP, Ass Prods and other assorted schmucks. Most of the content is already in the News library. The so-called experts trouser a couple of bucks in appearances fees. Without adding too much to in-house budgets, you’ve got Prime Time Clickbait TV.

    I think that’s absolutely correct. These things are cheap as chips to produce but can be broadcast in primetime with the consequent fees to the advertisers and, happily, the average minutes of advertising per hour can be thrashed to within milliseconds resulting in even more bang for the buck. (drop off a few ads in the 11pm to midnight slot and the average is maintained).

  19. JMH says:

    I refuse to watch ‘reality TV’under any circumstances, so no valid comment other to endorse what Calli said above:- They disgust me. The True Crime is the fact that they get away with it.

  20. cuckoo says:

    After the Sunday lunch roast, the evening was Disneyland and baked beans on toast.

  21. Motelier says:

    I happen to watch the Seven promotion of the two dead men on Sunday night. What is clear to me is that the operators of the “000” service on the night in question need to answer questions. However, when you have alcohol, testosterone and a “damsel in distress” there will always be a loser.

  22. Bruce says:

    Was the ghost train powered by electricity or an internal combustion engine?

    I ask, because neither of those power options usually runs on kerosene.

    Furthermore, kerosene spilt on a concrete floor is not nearly as easy to ignite as petrol. As per the good old days of illumination, it needs a wick to pull up and pre-heat the stuff to produce a vapour that will burn in still air.

    I tried to force myself to watch that “special report”, but was put off by the off-the-scale “earnestness”. More Saracens than Crusaders.

  23. Cynic of A says:

    Ah, Liz Hayes and all the rest.
    They’re just scammers, nothing less.
    It’s the money! Nothing else comes into it. Absolutely nothing.

  24. C.L. says:

    Bruce, re kero etc…

    The original coronial inquest noted “the most probable” cause of the fire was ignition of flammable litter by a discarded cigarette or match. The ride was awash with flammable paint on the walls, ceiling and cars. Kerosene was used as a cleaning agent.

    Should have been clearer on that point.

  25. Nob says:

    Check your zhyte privilege.

    We never had a telly.
    🙁

    Sunday was milk the cows, clean up, off to Mass, visit rellies in town, (I would see Santamaria on the TV there and maybe some footy replay or wrestling) home for cold lunch, milk cows again in evening.

    It’s all in my new misery memoir.

  26. Infidel Tiger King says:

    I don’t watch it but at least MasterChef remains family viewing on Sunday night.

    I always knew it was bedtime when the Disney castle faded and the God awful MASH chopper started up.

  27. Xword says:

    Got to admit don’t mind Spotlight as long as it’s recorded and ad-zapped. The Channel 7 “preview guy” is a pain but the Channel 9 one is beyond The Pale. Listening to him describing upcoming “unmissable” crap shows in a slow, deep orgasmic/croaking-one-out timbre is too much for my blood pressure. Especially when he concludes “on Ni-i-i-yaan.”

  28. Ed Case says:

    The ride was awash with flammable paint on the walls, ceiling and cars. Kerosene was used as a cleaning agent.

    Okay.
    Kero as a cleaning agent doesn’ts make flammable paint any more flammable.
    Splashing Petrol from a can on the walls before the ride opens?
    Yeah, that’gonna make those walls explosively flammable in a big hurry, about 1 second after someone flicks a lighted match.

  29. Squirrel says:

    The true crime fad will no doubt pass – it probably works well now because it fits in nicely with the “be afraid, be very afraid and trust no one” vibe which is rampant in Straya in our Plague Year(s).

    Far worse, I think, is reality TV of the Big Brother etc. variety – the essential ingredients of which seem to be no privacy, do what you’re told by arbitrary authority without question, and ritual shaming and humiliation in front of the “tribe” – loathsome attitudes and values, the spread of which has surely encouraged and enabled the overreach by our politicians and their officials in dealing with the virus.

    On Sunday mornings past, I’m with Dragnet – even if you didn’t have much of a clue as to what Santa was talking about, Point of View would have been excellent grounding for budding polemicists and dialecticians, followed by fun and games with Jack Little and WCW at the other end of the Freudian spectrum.

  30. Ed Case says:

    Had completely forgotten the Luna Park fire, but remember Wran clearly.
    Recall when he went to hospital for polyps on the throat and exited with a voice that
    permanently resembled a broken arsed cane toad with laryngitis?
    Was that before or after the Fire?

  31. Ed Case says:

    For mine, the significance of shows such as Saving Candice and The Australian‘s relentless hunting of Chris Dawson, besides whitewashing questionable Police Activity [which is always the No 1 priority for our hopeless Media],
    is this:
    It’s The Narrative [Believe All Women & Not Now, Not Ever]
    In Action.
    You don’t like the Narrative, but Chris Dawson’s persecution is okay because Some Woman said so and 2 men can be stabbed to death because the stabber was allegedly protecting a woman he’s first met 10 minutes before?
    Sorry, seeing cognitive dissonance here.

  32. Old School Conservative says:

    Wasn’t Rex Mossop’s Rugby League show on Sundays?
    “I’m sick of having mens genitalia shoved down my throat” or words to that effect.
    And “It’s even slower when we watch the slow motion replay”

    Loved the man. Some of the above details may have been amended by the passage of time.

  33. C.L. says:

    You don’t like the Narrative, but Chris Dawson’s persecution is okay because Some Woman said so and 2 men can be stabbed to death because the stabber was allegedly protecting a woman he’s first met 10 minutes before?
    Sorry, seeing cognitive dissonance here.

    In the latter case, Ed, cognitive dissonance (a phrase that should be led to a paddock and shot, by the way) has nothing to do with it. The police investigated and believe the man’s story. This is highly unusual in self defence cases causing death. Cops are very jealous about who is and who isn’t allowed to kill people.

    In the Dawson case, I think you make a valid point.

    As I wrote in the post, I didn’t like the way The Teacher’s Pet became a commodified phenomenon. Dawson is indeed entitled to the presumption of innocence.

  34. Ed Case says:

    The police investigated and believe the man’s story. This is highly unusual in self defence cases causing death.

    You can say that again.
    It took 2 years of pressure from the dead men’s families to even get an Inquest.
    My point is that Dean Webber’s life wasn’t in danger, there was no Self Defense.
    The reason given for not charging him was that he was protecting Candice Locke’s safety.
    Perhaps that’s true, but i’ve never heard of at least an Inquest not being held fairly promptly after such an incident.

  35. C.L. says:

    My point is that Dean Webber’s life wasn’t in danger, there was no Self Defense.

    Right. Three blokes were beating down his door in the dead of night for a cup of sugar.

  36. lotocoti says:

    or words to that effect.

    Nobody likes to be pulled off by the Ref at half time.

  37. Lee says:

    My clearest youthful memory of Sunday afternoon TV was watching World Championship Wrestling, followed by Epic Theatre – badly dubbed Italian “sword and sandal” films, and the elderly widow neighbour who refused to watch TV on Sundays because it was sinful!
    Much has changed since the 1970s.

  38. cuckoo says:
    June 15, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    After the Sunday lunch roast, the evening was Disneyland and baked beans on toast

    Oi! I resemble that remark!

    Forgot about Sunday-night Disney. But it was probably more my sister’s thing. TV was rarely on over the weekend if the sun was up. Except for Bathurst or other occasional ATCC viewing.

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