The time I asked Shaun Micallef a question


A book review of sorts.

Back in 2010 I went to the launch of Shaun Micallef’s first work of fiction — a novella called ‘Preincarnate’ — at the Hi Fi in west End (hosted by Avid Reader). I’d been a big fan of Shaun’s ever since his show on the ABC in 1999. This piece of comedy gold I think it is fair to say — changed my life.

Anyway, there was a question and answer session and after two very bland and useless questions I decided to speak up. Crucially, I had a belly full of beer, which may or may not have influenced the fact I asked — a little bit too confidently — “So Shaun, you’re such a great guy — what’s your secret?”*

And I intended the question (that most extreme of sycophantic arse-licking) as something playful that he could deal with in that ‘character’ he assumed so often — demonstrated so amazingly in the clip above. Except he took the question quite seriously and seemed almost embarrassed. He then bumbled through a rambling, overly-humble and not-quite-funny response. Oh well. I still love you Shaun.

And so because I am genuinely lazy, forgetful and pretty much a philistine, it has taken me until last night to actually complete reading it.

And it’s quite a mindfuck of a book. I guess that’s the point of a novel dealing with time travel and revivification and soul-transference — and that’s all pretty much lumped on the reader just in the first chapter. And each chapter jumps back or forwards in time and leaps from character to character, I imagine to establish some deliberate state of confusion — something all the characters seem to be feeling at the same time you do.

See I like to think time travel in fiction is best dealt with in the Dr Who sense — which mostly ignore those paradoxes. And if you are going to go into paradoxes and conundrums, and talk about it and muddle over it — you’re best off doing it in a simple and illustrative way like in Back to the Future.

Someone once told me (and I have no idea if this is true) that there was this screening of Catch-22 and the theatre got the reels the wrong way around and played reel #1, then reel #3 and then reel #2. But no one complained and no one seemed any wiser.

And so this book is a bit like that screening.

Another element that fucked with my head was the proliferation of characters — obviously chucked at the reader for comedic value. And there’s also so much detail — again in the pursuit of gags (most of which are well worth the rabbit hole you get sucked into). But at the same time this was one reason I actually didn’t latch on to the narrator (who is not named —at least I don’t think so) until well into the book. And that was a bit tough on me — me being just a little Queenslander. About 100 pages in I was so bewildered I re-read the last 20 pages and was still perplexed.

It also didn’t help that I read it over two or three weeks – like 5 pages at a time. So I guess I have myself to blame for a fair chunk of that head-scratching.

But in saying all this — the story-telling and the gags were all fantastic. I actually finished it too — which says a lot — unlike the bookmark halfway through The Island of the Day Before which still sits in my bookcase either like a monument to my lack of perseverance or a telling critique. (Probably the former).

Thankfully it does all make sense at the end — kinda.

A solid 6.5 out of 10.

* I have a feeling Rob Sitch asked this of Peter Costello on the Panel once. Wha?

Two on the Great Divide – A review

I’ve been watching this show for the past three weeks and have been enthralled, but it seemed like I should see it all before I made a judgment. So Two on the Great Divide was screened on the ABC and if you hurry (and live in Australia) you will be able to see all three episodes.

The “two” in the title are John Doyle, a “comedian” to the general populace, but to me: an all-round-dude. And then there is Tim Flannery — a scientist, a geologist, plus a few other bits of paper he gives to his grandma to frame on the wall – and I think a one-time Australian of the Year. I guess you could also call him an environmental commentator too.

Two very different people at a dinner party. At least at a boozy, no-holds-barred dinner party I would hold. At that setting, I would much prefer John Doyle. If I was out hiking or riding in the wilderness, perhaps I would pick Tim. But then again, I would probably drag John along – just so we could bitch about Tim.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Tim, I just don’t really want to know him personally. And I certainly wouldn’t want to spend how many weeks it took to film this series in such close confinement with him.

I would describe Tim Flannery as quite drunk with excitement about certain things, but then incredibly sober when you want to just ramble and talk about poo.

The first part, the drunken enthusiasm – may seem charming. But Tim does this in a way that makes you cringe. For example: he uses your name a bit too much when addressing you. Personally I find that a bit subversive. I know from my humble psychology — PY101— background that if you want to endear yourself to someone you mimic their body language, you mimic a few of their actual key spoken words and you drop in their name a few times during conversation. Tim does the ‘name-drop’ thing so much you want to throttle him the next time he does so. He is also just too “decent”.

This is where John was conceived in Lithgow – I love that he would share that with us.

John, on the other hand, is just perpetually drunk. He might not be actually intoxicated, but he has a swagger about his prose. It is sometimes affectionate and considered, but then he will throw a grenade into the conversation. And sometimes you will think he is playing a diplomat — but then he says, or makes it impossibly clear — what he thinks. With a fantastic bluntness.

Plus John Doyle is crazily funny. And perhaps there’s a great wisdom in his words.

Anyway – the characters make this series. I might have actually grown to enjoy the fact Tim was a bit of a dip-shit. And then the actual main character — the Range — is, you know, spectacular.

The Gold Coast which Tim thinks, due to its geology and massive population, is in great danger of a disastrous storm-surge in the near future.

The Great Dividing Range is a strip of mountains that stretches from Melbourne up through the Snowy, across to the Blue Mountains in NSW, north to Barrington Tops, then New England, Mt Warning, over the Queensland Border at Lamington, then up to Toowoomba (where we are riding on Saturday) and then Carnarvon Gorge and Mt Bartle Frere and all the way to Weipa and across the Torres Strait to Dauan Island – only 7km from Papua New Guinea.

And crucially, ALL rivers to the west of the Divide (above Lithgow) flow west, and rivers to the east, flow east to the sea.

But the other thing that makes this series is the totally obvious FACT that our recent mining boom is raping our landscape. It is so omnipresent in this tiny strip of our nation. The Great Divide must only take up 10 percent (if that) of our country – but the influence of that activity is extreme. The point they keep drumming in is that there is a literal great divide amongst Australians, not just a big mountain range (which is quite pathetic — let’s face it, by world standards).

This is Toowoomba (where I was conceived incidentally) and where we are riding to – and back from – on Saturday. Toowoomba is where the Divide split into the great escarpment and the Divide.

We also get to see how the Brumbies of the Snowy are literally trampling other indigenous- species into oblivion (yet fools think that is cool), we don’t get to see poker machines at the Penrith Leagues Club (cause filming there is banned), but we do see how the club indoctrinates the next generation with skill-testers. We see the coal-seam gas debate in Queensland and how that has brought farmers and environmentalists together and John Doyle’s genius when he says that he thinks the Greens are at fault in being so bloody-minded and “black and white” when attempting (and failing) to reach out to rural Australia.

One of the big bits of infrastructure that coal-seam gas has generated. (pun intended).

We also see that the view from the highway is probably amazing, but just over the ridge, beyond any casual inspection, there will be a big, fat, hole in the ground that stretches for miles around. A scar on the earth’s crust at best or more likely a massive gaping wound on the once beautiful landscape.


I had many “favourite” TV shows when I was a kid, but right now i am just saying — and don’t tell any of my other favourite childhood TV shows — but Press Gang just might be at the top of the list.

And if we’re calling Press Gang my favourite TV show just amongst us friends, then this is perhaps my favourite episode. I’ve ripped it and uploaded it, just to show you all how fucking good it was. Just try and argue different. Just try.


And you will see Kenny Phillips, the impossibly-nice but luckless, and badgered assistant editor, with his bad hair, his bad clothes and his sensible shoes not quite visible (but you knew they were there) – coming home from the maelstrom of Junior Gazette newsroom, where he has just spent hours trying to smooth over all the damage the editor (Lynda Day) had created. All without any appreciation. And he comes home, slunks into his room and picks up a guitar and suddenly sings a song – a good song, a song the actor (Lee Ross) actually wrote.


At this point it is safe to say – I LOST MY SHIT.

So Press Gang was produced in the late 80s, early 90s and was written by Steven Moffat who has gone on to do other TV and movie wonders (like the current Doctor Who) but in my opinion he never really ripped shit up like he did during the Press Gang series.



Lynda Day

She’s the main character and straight away she’s almost entirely un-likable. She’s a megalomaniacal control-freak — a horrible bully, perhaps with serious ISSUES. But of course she was entirely likeable once you saw her “heart of gold” underneath – mostly exposed by her hopeless attraction to Spike (Dexter Fletcher). Lynda was played by Julia Sawala who some of you may know as “Saffie” from Absolutely Fabulous.


Spike Thompson

Played by Dexter Fletcher of “Lock, Stock and Two Barrels” fame – Spike is the crazy, wise-cracking tough guy at school. On the surface he’s one of those “random American characters” shoved into a show so it can be sold to foreign audiences. But he becomes more than that and his nationality is used quite effectively as a plot device. “Will he fall for Lynda, or will he go back to the States?”


Kenny Phillips

I think I’ve already covered Kenny, but he’s not just a foil. In other episodes his character does have a few luckless affairs with women and he gets to lose it on more than a few occasions.


Sarah Jackson

Sarah is a bit like Kenny, but I suspect a lesbian version. She does have “boy” problems in the early episodes, but then she evolves. Sarah is fucking smart, determined and one of the only ones that can stand up to Lynda – even though Lynda kinda wins in the end. Always. Poor Sez. She is also quite righteous and the perpetual “VOICE OF REASON”. By the way, I want to call my next band “Voice of Reason”. So I trust you guys not to steal that.


Colin Matthews

Colin was the entrepreneur. The schemer. He was an ultra-capitalist and had no (apparent) soul. He even had no interest in women, until something happened…and that was an amazing episode too.


Fraz Davis

And finally Fraz. He was the token “dumb” one. Comic relief. But of course we didn’t realise he was just silently wise and totally awesome in a different universe which future episodes proved. He was always of course so horribly sweet and seemingly oblivious to any bad stuff. Oh fraz.


I am not sure if there are any other kids shows that are comparable – but to me Press Gang treated kids like adults. Anyway – hopefully you will understand once you see this episode. And here it is, the youtube settings mean it is JUST FOR YOU! I hope you enjoy, and if enough of you say so, I’ll upload the second episode of this saga.