By Nancy Cato
February 17, 2013
Yes – silly isn’t it. I feel rather foolish making this awful public confession that I’ve sort of lost my Aunty, but it’s a fact – if a fact can be ‘sort of’. Anyway, I do my share of complaining about the lack of any sort of facts in much of today’s media, so ‘fess up I must. It’s embarrassing. Aunty Ambidextra Balancedia Clarificia (ABC for short) has been in our family for – well, since she was born really, in 1932 – making her only 7 years 5 months older than her niece. It happens in families.
Mind you, she’s not just my Aunty and she’s not really my Aunty at all – as in a blood relation or anything. My Mum and Dad just happened to take her in as a tiny baby and reared her as my Aunt. This also happens in families. Goodness knows where her parents were – she seemed to be surrounded by fusty, old, white, politically-absorbed males at the time – but that’s for later.
When Aunty arrived in our house she was just a noise – no visual accoutrements at all – but she sure made her presence felt. Dad was a busy dentist; his surgery attached to our house allowed him to sneak home regularly, in-between patients, to listen to Aunty holding forth on one thing or another of national importance. He’d get up at some ungodly hour like 4am to listen to Alan McGilvray commenting on the overseas Test Ashes Series and managed to know exactly what was going on in the much-loved serials The Lawsons and Blue Hills every lunch hour.
It was in those early days that Aunty did three things of enormous significance for my family; three things that formed a bond between my Aunty and me, changed the course of my life, and caused this current rising panic because I can’t find her.
First Significance: Dad was a cricket tragic and as soon as I was old enough to appear to be able to understand what he was saying, he explained the system that Aunty had used 2 or 3 years earlier in 1938, to telegraph Test results back home from England. Apparently, I was sitting on the floor playing with my toy monkey and had my back to him. He was tapping a pencil on the kitchen bench to show me how the broadcasters in Aunty’s Studio simulated the sound of bat hitting ball. I showed no interest. Dad tapped louder, but not even clap of hands and stamping of feet made any difference. I don’t remember that bit of the story, but I DO remember getting swooped up suddenly into an enormous, heaving bear hug and trying to wipe my dad’s tears away with Bunky’s tiny hands.
Aunty had inadvertently alerted my parents to the fact that I was unable to hear a word said. I was deaf.
Second Significance: Dad was a Menzies man. He thought the world of Pig-Iron Bob, Prime Minister at the time of my birth in 1939. Bob could do no wrong, say no wrong, think no wrong. And because Dad understood that lip-reading was useless for radio, he started to interpret what was being said via Aunty, right as it was being aired. Faithfully he imparted News Bulletins, Political Debates, The Country Hour and countless discussions of life in the 1940s.
I’m not sure at what point I started to question my Dad’s political wisdom, but question it I did. I suspect it was during Bob Menzies’ second stint as Prime Minister from 1949 to 1966. Life as Dad explained it seemed to be all about ‘privilege’, and this seemed at odds with what I saw around me. My best friend in the whole world – a girl of similar age but vastly different lifestyle to mine, would only come across the word ‘privilege’ by reading Jane Austen, which she did, avidly. As a flow on from The Great Depression of 1929, her dad was out of work and their lives were those of devastating hardship and deprivation. It took five minutes in the local milkbar one day after school to realize that people could be judged by their perceived wealth or lack of it. I was served at the counter; my friend was ignored. She was nine.
Aunty had forewarned me of the world of privilege, aspirational politics and ‘The Born To Rule’ mentality – where those who HAVE can want you to WANT to have but not necessarily HAVE. And from that moment in time, although my 1940’s schooling forced me to become ambidextrous, I made sure my natural left-handedness kept me from straying too far to the right to taste the Tea Party scones.
To his credit, over the years Dad did everything in his power to relay the messages coming out of Aunty’s mouth. We argued loud and strong and learnt to be fair and balanced with each other’s points of view, just as Aunty was.
Third Significance: One day in the late fifties, just before Aunty blossomed and started manifesting herself publicly, wearing all manner of costumes in the new Black and White medium of her choice, she did something else for me. She financed celebrated stage and radio actors Patricia Kennedy and Wynn Roberts to tour country Victorian Regional Centres to record a series of radio plays with local talent. I was extremely fortunate to be one of the chosen and my new career was on the way.
Aunty offered me – a country teenager with a profound hearing impairment in times he of gross ignorance of disability – the opportunity to audition. That led to training with top professionals like Keith Eden, George Fairfax, Wal Cherry and Corinne Kirby (Whitbread); professional performances of radio and television plays; living with and learning from Patricia Kennedy, one of the finest actresses Australia has produced, and perhaps most importantly of all, continuing my love of hosting Children’s Television in its own ‘Adventure Island’.
I owe you so much, Aunty Ambidextra Balancedia Clarificia (ABC). I love you and I want to say ‘Thank You’.
But where the Hell ARE you?
You taught me to trust you. I knew I could turn to you. I knew you’d deliver the news of the day in an unbiased, dignified, professional fashion no matter which political party held the upper hand. You quenched my thirst for information with savvy discussions, widely drawing on the knowledge of men AND women who were experts in their field.
You were fair. You acted on principle. We could trust you. You gave us FACTS.
And now I seem to have lost you. Why?
Why have you abandoned your principles, Aunty?
Why have you chosen to disguise yourself so?
In the days of Prime Ministers Keating and Howard, each thought that, although they were badly done by, you were fair. You didn’t rush to seek the view of the Leader of the Opposition about every detail, big or small including the inner workings of the Government. Why are you doing that now?
When Kerry O’Brien was in full flight on the 7.30 Report a couple of years back, you allowed him to make mince meat of anyone who avoided questions, blatantly lied or gave the responses of a Dodo. So why treat Jon Faine of ABC 774 with such public shaming and then refuse to answer questions such as those posed most recently by Peter Clarke of @MediaActive.
Why are you insisting on using the same tired old faces of often politically irrelevant, white, mosty-male Opinion-Singers with – it has to be said – the charisma of turtles farting. Have you seen the terror on their faces if ‘same-sex marriage’ or ‘Asylum Seekers’ are mentioned? Why don’t you try a few other words, like, say ‘Ashby/Slipper/Brough? Tampa anyone? Mr Reith?
Why are so many of your journalists not asking the hard questions instead of “Where did you get your glasses?” of politicians of all political persuasions? Why are they relentlessly seeking out opinion over facts?
And what’s with the over use of representation of only one Think Tank on your panels? There are others apart from the IPA. Do you really believe they’re the smartest brains in the country to give an expertly informed explanation (as opposed to an ideologically based one) on – let’s pick a subject – Climate Science? You might just as well leave the studio-stable door open and let the Bolt horse around with his nonsensical charts.
Why have you abandoned your principles, Aunty? Why have you abandoned me?
You have made me sad. At 73 years of age I cannot afford to be sad. I want to live what’s left of my life to the full and be informed. I want people to have what is rightfully theirs. I want you back, Aunty, just the way you were.
Please come home.
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