horror! The horror!
Beckett he vanished
truth is never pure and rarely simple, as Joseph Conrad knew and the Sydney
Morning Heralds right wing celebrity journalist should have remembered.
Copyright violations by GAVIN GATENBY.
character from a Joseph Conrad novel, Paul Sheehan, clad in motley ideological
rags, is forever aimlessly wandering The Heart of Darkness in search
of saviours. He is drawn relentlessly upriver, by some dark unfathomable
longing, to search for iconoclasts and autodidacts working alone and unaided,
against the intrigues and narrow-minded meanness of officialdom; lone
white men with Vision, isolated among the barbarians; men who have
found the simple answers to the big questions.
One such visionary was (or maybe still is) Russell Beckett, vanished inventor
of Unique Water, the magic H2O with added magnesium bicarbonate that might
(if you believe the yarn) cure or prevent many diseases and make humans
live forever, as randy and fecund as rabbits. Upriver, Beckett and Sheehan
came together unavoidably, like two ships becalmed near each other.
So let us, like Conrads protagonist, Charlie Marlowe, sail upriver
with the ignorant and bloodthirsty pilgrims in search of Beckett
to the Inner Station, the farthest point of navigation and the culminating
point of experience.
Along the way we discover that, as with Conrads lost ivory trader,
Mr Kurtz, almost everyone speaks reverently of Beckett. Nameless wealthy
and conspicuous families are in awe of his Mind. Some testify that
he cured their ancient dogs and cats. Respected journalists wracked
by a range of obscure and hitherto incurable conditions are made
whole by the magic water and fall under Becketts spell. His ideas
are taken up by the Shelley family, noted purveyors of Berts carbonated
waters, who agree to blend the concoction for public consumption.
And finally, we approach the Inner Station, round the last bend and spy
Paul Sheehan, on the riverbank ahead; Becketts disciple enthusiastic,
fabulous. He assures us that the simple natives, lurking in the shadows,
will not harm us and rattles off a bonanza of free publicity
his own words for a product with extravagant and untested
medicinal claims. The savages hereabouts are in awe of Becketts
magic powers. Only the scientists, grey functionaries all, mutter, the
methods are not sound.
No sooner have we found the elusive Beckett than we discover Unspeakable
Things. (They must have been unspeakable because Sheehan, privy to these
dark secrets, spoke not of them until after Beckett vanished with the
daughter of one of the owners of Berts Soft Drinks, and things got
rather edgy). From the primal gloom of a Canberra court emerges details
of the death of Becketts wife, Robyn, who had alleged Beckett was
trying to kill her, slowly and painfully with a substance that could not
Of course, as Sheehan points out, no finding was made against Beckett
by the coroners court, but the celebrity journalists belated
revelation comes as if, at the end of one of his perorations full of burning
noble sentiments about the waters power to alleviate human suffering,
there had been found a postscriptum, written in a shaky and indeterminate
hand: Exterminate all the brutes!
And there is more: scientific researchers, product distributors and various
women have been abandoned, and the Shelley family left high and out of
pocket on the riverbank. On the whole, the trade will suffer,
the distributors can be heard muttering.
But we must depart now, taking Beckett aboard and abandoning Sheehan,
to be swallowed back into the immense matted jungle (presenting him first
with his lost copy of Towsers An Inquiry into Some Points of
Journalism and a precious handful of rifle cartridges). The man is
an insoluble problem. It is inconceivable how he has succeeded in getting
so far how he has managed to remain why he does not instantly
disappear. Do not condemn his early enthusiasm for Beckett, though. He
had not meditated over it. It came to him and he accepted it with a sort
of eager fatalism.
As we convey the dying Beckett legend downstream, to the wider reaches
of the river, into the light, it slips away (the horror! the horror!)
into the shadows of the Great Unknown or maybe Canadas Iroquois
What can Russell Beckett have been thinking? What can Paul Sheehan have
been thinking? How can any of us drab mortals comprehend? The point is,
they are gifted creatures, and that of all their gifts the one that stands
out pre-eminently, that carries with it a sense of real presence, is their
ability to talk, and write, their words the gift of expression,
the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible,
the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of
an impenetrable darkness.
Apologies to Joseph Conrad (who went upriver
on Paul Sheehan ...
Sydney Morning Herald and the dirty politics of the religious right
1 November 2004
No story about the 2004 Federal election more clearly illustrates
the reactionary role played by the religious right than the Muslim-baiting
of Ed Husic, Labors candidate for the seat of Greenway in Sydneys
piss and journalism
17 September 2001
In which Nick takes Joadja's tomcat to be desexed and Dr Gupta the vet
sounds off about far-right celebrity journalist Paul Sheehan.