Lifestyle republic


My main macchiato man Thomas is what i would call a hyperaesthete. He reckons the hardest thing about the last eight years of Coalition government has been Australia’s inability to, as Jean Cocteau would say, ‘digest style’.

Forget the A-list human rights scandals, forget the international war crimes or the raiding of Medicare, according to Thomas, when Johnny Spittlelips (as he calls him) took over in 1996, we were just about ready to shit pure Durasbestos out our rear end and leave the Venetian Blind wars, the America’s Cup fantasies and the Put-U-Up Settees behind.

But then, along came the missionary position government, administering flanellette policies to put any whiff of futurism to sleep and render us a nation of V-neckers again.

It was a demoralising time for Thomas and his friends who could see what was happening. Over the gleaming antique Gaggia he tells me it remains ever more so now. He says that he was sure that in the two years prior to the change of government in 1996 Australians were finally ready to take to the male shawl. He was expecting Keating to show up at an Arts turn in one before the year was out.

In architecture too he reckons we were just about getting it right. Apparently we were on the long-awaited verge of embracing vertical rather than horizontal weatherboards. It was also the dawn of an exciting era of customised pigments, of ochre & kelp & flame tree tones, of polychromatic bathroom design in a country where it seemed that pretty soon there would not be one self-respecting spa-virgin left among us.

But, Thomas asks, slowly shaking his head behind a thin mist of St.Kilda/Milanese steam, what happened? Why did we lose our nerve? Why, in the continent of violet skies, did we flinch and allow our true Cote d’Azure aesthetic birthright to become an ostentation rather than an automatic cultural wellspring?

Well, of course there are theories. Some, he says, blame it on an ageing population that acted as a kind of corduroy & custard anchor to the lightweight ship of dreams. Amidst the mid-90’s welter of Bangarra-chic and Helvetica haute-couture the coleslaw-set jacked up in a fit of deathbed panic and demanded a stay of execution.

Others say that if only French Clocks had been replaced with Argyle socks, and Mahler and Tozer put aside in favour of Nellie Melba on the pianola the ALP might have got across the line.

But what, as Thomas rightly asks, would that have been other than an exercise in agoraphobic taste? The lemonbalm schnapps would have soured in a grimace of bad faith and eventually we would have ended up back on the Kia-Ora cordial anyway.

‘Oh there’s nothing like a cold Kia-Ora
On a Sunday picnic with my fiancee Nora …..’

So we were caught in a bind that we have been suffering from ever since. Under the dun Howard tarpaulin we haven’t been able to eat a crouton or a thyme-studded kipfler without shouting it from the nearest TV or print media outlet as some kind of reactionary badge of style.

Thomas says he knows people who can’t even down a few wolfberries to ward off the jetlag without making it a conversation piece at dinner that night. It’s so unScandinavian, so tacky, so embarrassing, and it seems you can’t avoid it.

‘I mean, any idiot can taste the difference between buffalo milk and LightStart, can’t they?’ he bleats at me, wiping the bench. ‘Surely you can’t do foyer on the basis of that alone. Whatever happened to Covent Garden as a topic for conversation, or Talleyrand, or Barry Kosky for god’s sake!’

No, the whole show, according to Thomas, is in pretentious ‘look-at-me!’ tatters and he’s promised his family that if Labor go down this time he’s gonna brush up on his French and piss off to Nantes to teach English. He says at least over there they spilt blood for their right to an unaffected sorrel soup & sourdough.

Mind you, I don’t think he’s given up hope of an ALP victory. He says the pancreatitis was the best thing that ever happened to Latham, it slimmed down that awful jowly look he had, and taught him the real, rather than the perceived, value of good red wine.

‘You can’t keep drinking that Deakin Estate Shiraz as Leader of the Party. Not under that kind of pressure,’ Thomas told me, with a pained expression. ‘Come to think of it,’ he went on, ‘I’ve got a very tasty nip of Merlot Petit Verdot riding on the outcome of Saturday night and if Labor get home I might just send it express post to Mark & Janine to set the tone for the new era. Just as a bon mot.

‘After all, it’s about bloody time we had a first lady with enough late 20th century in her to keep her own name. Don’t you think, comrade? Si. I think it augurs well.’

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.