Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Charles Wooley

What a lot of bull …

Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Portnoy’s Complaint.
Catcher in the Rye

Ever heard of them? Of course you have. You probably studied them and they are all modern classics still on the reading lists of University English courses everywhere.

I cite them as just a brief sample of the hundreds of books banned by the Australian government when I was a kid. Back then in the good old days of instant coffee and the white picket fence I couldn’t wait to get hold of them.

As an aspiring literary type (what ever happened to that ambition) I felt it was my duty to know exactly what were the words the politicians didn’t want me to read. My coterie of similarly inclined mates had ready access to these books in the same way our kids today have ready access to illicit drugs.

Wouldn’t you love it if you caught your kids sneakily reading any book let alone a banned book.

Were it the latter, as a libertarian I would double their pocket money. Not much chance of them claiming the reward though unless I force them to read this column.

We circulated the seditious literature and read it at home in secret. The well- thumbed pages always fell open at the good bits but we didn’t turn into whatever monsters the government feared the bad words might engender.

Well maybe we did. The foolishness of banning books was my first realization that the law was, as Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist (Dickens,1837), ‘An ass’.

Later as liberal depravity set in, I found myself Editor of the local university newspaper and publishing a review of the banned book ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ by Philip Roth. ‘Time’ magazine would later include this comic novel about masturbation in its list of the top 100 novels of the twentieth century. Still in the early seventies in Australia it was a banned book and it was an offence to possess it and certainly to reproduce passages of its prose.

So I was duly summoned to the office of the then Attorney General of the State of Tasmania, the Hon. Max Bingham QC. Actually I remember being ‘invited in for a cup of tea’, which didn’t seem too scary.

I had no idea back then that in China forty years later being ‘invited in for a cup of tea’ could be a precursor to simply disappearing. But Mr Bingham turned out to be a real gentleman and a true lower case liberal.

Max was much smarter than today’s local pollies. He was an Oxford law graduate and a Rhodes scholar from my university. Accordingly he was at pains to explain that, “While a book is banned, I don’t think that in a university newspaper it should preclude a measured appraisal of the work even though you have technically broken the law.”

Relieved, I politely drank my cup of tea, ate my raspberry cream biscuit and left the Attorney General’s office with the realization that there was one law for insiders and another for the rest of the mob. It was just as George Orwell, another author once banned in Australia, had observed in his political satire ‘Animal Farm’.

“All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

The calls for the banning of Hermann Nitsch’s ‘performance ritual’ at Dark Mofo are as pointless, vapid and misguided as censorship always has been. Who are they trying to protect? And from what exactly?

This newspaper (Mercury), which in my lifetime has not always been the champion of tolerance and liberalism that it now appears, was quite right to editorialise that if you don’t like it, protest by staying away. The bull will have already been humanely euthanized (which is better than I’ve seen in many abattoirs) and as for ‘ritualising violence and cruelty’ as the Ban the Bull lobby claim, I say “take a look at what your kids are watching on Foxtel and Netflix.”

Of course if it goes ahead it will be confronting but then not so confronting as a trip to the abattoir. The animals there I can assure you from personal observation do not always die a quick and painless death. The bolt to the brain sometimes misses its mark and the heaving, jerking and terrified animal is raised aloft into the disassembly line clearly alive and in agony.

I imagine the point of this ‘performance art piece’ is to draw attention to the darker side of our civilization, the bit we prefer to ignore. Art should sometimes be confronting whereas censorship doesn’t really want to stop cruelty and violence. It just wants silence.

I’ve read the letters of complaint in the newspapers and all the outrage on social media about Hobart’s relatively anodyne though public version of what actually happens to cattle seven million times a year in Australian abattoirs.

Let me repeat that for the complainants. SEVEN MILLION TIMES A YEAR. And you are upset about one, maybe or maybe not arguable ‘work of art’ involving a humanely euthanized bull.

I think you should all get out more.

I would like to host some reality check tourism to some of the places I have been. How about a week in Kabul? Or a tour of the slums of Kathmandu and Mexico City where children die for want of a dollars worth of antibiotics? Or take in the anarchic terrors of a sub-Saharan refugee camp where no one is safe?

Get off the sofa and the social media and take a risk. Danger might give you a real perspective on life. But since I fear you are probably not up for that, why not try some performance art at Mofo. You will be safe and probably even your prejudices will remain intact.

But at least you will know what you want to ban.

*Charles Wooley is a legend of Australian journalism, partly through his history with Sixty Minutes . He writes for Mercury TasWeekend, where this column originally was published …

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times …

The wondrous (bloody) art of Hermann Nitsch

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. elf

    May 5, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    I have a collection of May Gibb’s beautiful children’s books-part of our heritage, just as Beatrix Potter is to the Lakes District,

    It is more artistic to just let a bull be in a field or paddock, where it can chew its cud happily and lean against a tree.

    One of the most artistic books is that of Munro Leaf’s illustrations in the children’s classic of the Story Ferdinand the Bull.

    The book had as great a following as Winnie the Pooh; and it managed to get banned in Spain as well as Germany, (called degenerate ) and adopted as a fable about peace by children everywhere just because Ferdinand liked to look at daisies etc.

  2. Pete Godfrey

    May 4, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    A couple of other books come to mind that sparked much controversy, The Little Red School Book was one.
    The other one that was banned by our public library in my home suburb of Sydney was get this.
    “Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie” because it had nudity in it. Apparently the gumnut twins did not wear clothes and that was bad for us children to see.
    Fortunately I read it before our librarian banned it.
    I do not find the proposed art form tasteful, but then being a vegetarian, I don’t find killing animals for food tasteful either. As such my opinion is tainted.

  3. elf

    May 4, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    Be kind to plants, birds, animals and whales and yourlife will be happy.

    Respect their spirit and your art will flourish

    best wishes



  4. elf

    May 3, 2017 at 8:53 pm

    Whilst I agree public libraries are the saviour of art and everything I would not attend the bloody spectacle(pointless) or protest to have it banned; rather appreciate that sheep and cows and chooks have all contributed nutrients to our nutrient depleted soil.

    In earlier times animals were part of the family nearly, well cared for, prior to industrialisation, its all a matter of degree.

    I like yurts. And whales. We are not the only species.

    yes I agree too we can care about refugees, children, Syria and the drought in Africa and do our best to collectively increase overseas aid assistance and respond thoughtfully to the challenge of keeping the climate cool.

  5. Alison Bleaney

    May 2, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    # 12 ditto! Thank you Charles.

  6. Helen Walne

    May 2, 2017 at 2:21 am

    #11…What on earth are you talking about? I’m not aware that the Bull art has anything to do with Jewish custom……ref, “shekels”.

  7. Betty

    May 1, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    Bloody great article Charles!.

  8. Second Opinion

    May 1, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    Thank you Geoffrey Swan, at #10.

    Blue and yellow combine to make green.

    Wallow in it at your leisure.
    You have paid with your shekels: Enjoy.

  9. Geoffrey Swan

    May 1, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Thank you Charles – yet another great article.

    At the State Cinema last night I collected a flyer for a new movie coming soon called RAW.. looks like the Art Police may need to censor this one also..


  10. Second Opinion

    May 1, 2017 at 5:10 am

    Something for the enthusiast Art afficionados.

    A modern Morality Play, .

    Action 135 by Hermann Nitsch.


  11. Wining Pom

    May 1, 2017 at 3:16 am

    A very contrary topic and a good article Charles. Good comments too.

    I don’t want to see it and I hope that anyone who does understands the fact that it’s not torturing animals. Is all that explained at the event? Probably.

    Will some twisted being see it, and like those that start by torturing animals and later move on to humans be stimulated?

    Is it to make people aware of the suffering caused by abattoirs? I don’t think so.

    But it is good that it’s out there.

  12. Claire Gilmour

    May 1, 2017 at 1:49 am

    Love you Charles Wooley!

    Yo always out their experiencing/telling real life.

    Thank you for pretty much saying what I said.

    And I’ve worked in the abattoirs as a painter … and as a ‘short stuff’ I’ve had to clean areas, even the pro cleaners never cleaned before I painted! Maggotts dripping off the walls and all!

    Bring it on … truth, reality … life isn’t as kind, gentle and often as ignorant as many hope for.

    No beast is protected by ignorance …

  13. john hayward

    April 30, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    If the graphic reality of what we do to animals causes people discomfort, is that necessarily a bad thing?

    John Hayward

  14. Tim Thorne

    April 30, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Cattle should be culled. They are an exotic species which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and therefore climate change.

    If one more of the species over and beyond the 7,000,000 pa cited by Charles is to die, then personally I would prefer it to become a component of performance art rather than a component of a restaurant menu.

    Does Ted (#2) have any evidence that Nitsch is a “nutjob”, by which I presume he means someone with a psychiatric disability? Even if that is the case, that could not possibly affect the quality of his art. It is therefore a gratuitous, irrelevant insult.

    If Lady Gaga can wear a meat dress without her sanity being called into question, where is the difference?

    Well written, Charles.

  15. Second Opinion

    April 30, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    Fellini’s “Satyricon” comes to mind; along with much of Greenaway’s oeuvre.

  16. Bob Hawkins

    April 30, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    Great article Charles. And a nice response by Ted. Which leaves me in limbo as to how to view the planned Dark Mofo happening. It’s amazing what passes for “art” these days. If animals have to be killed to feed non-vegetarians, let their deaths be instantaneous. As to the merits of such an “artistic” parable, I can’t be persuaded to think it is other than pointless. Public consciousness these day about any one issue tends to have a life of not much more than a few days, maybe hours, maybe only seconds . . . Anyway, who am I to venture an opinion — I still eat red meat? So disregard my confused musings.

  17. Ted Mead

    April 30, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Well Charles, I wont’ be going to see nutjob Nitsch’s tasteless performance, nor will I be going to protest!

    The fact that some want it banned will probably make it more appealing to others!

    It’s unfortunate there are exponents who are desperate to pay $ to see such insensitive trite, when they could donate something towards a better cause.

    For the likes of Nitsch and his forlorn disciples, they need to get a life pronto!

    You nailed it` when you suggest the Arty-farty should get out more and see what’s really happening in this world, though a trip out to the slums of Calcutta maybe a bit too all confronting, particularly if they are out of reach from their BMW, porterhouse steak, café-latte and hot spa decadence.

    Though a trip to the Abattoirs may at least turn some of these ‘toffee-nosed, plump in mouth’ Art nuts into a vegetarian.

    I went to an abattoir on a first year at high school excursion. The distressing experience still haunts me, and is probably why I haven’t eaten red meat since!

  18. T.J.Smith.

    April 30, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    A very good article and comments thanks Charles.

    Being afraid of what you don’t understand is always a tad sad but apprehensible.

    When this human failing is adopted as a reconstruct then promoted and endorsed by the likes of Turnbull and his chief camp commendant/verbaler as one of our “Australian values” we can expect more of these self appointed censor types to be popping up and yapping.

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