Notes on Ratbaggery

1 April 2013

1. What Is a Ratbag?

We think that ‘Anxious to Know’ must be a very selfish kind of person to think that any girl should endure dancing with him all night. He must think he’s a swell dancer. He wants to know what a ratbag is. He should know as Perth is full of them, and he’s probably one himself. After all, the people of Western Australia have no existence. They are people who have come to make a fortune, then return to the eastern colonies. They have no interest in the land except as an instrument of their material welfare. They are robbers and fleers. For them, secession is not just a ratbag’s dream. It is still taken seriously. Ratbag – meaning an eccentric or ‘queer’ person – most likely originated in Western Australia’s Hutt River Province.

2. A Capital Ratbag

Edna Rose Palmer, 19, was cycling past Constable Charles James Upston – on point duty at the intersection of Lennox Crossing Road and Commonwealth Avenue – when she called the Constable a ‘ratbag’. Palmer appeared in the Canberra Court yesterday on a charge of using insulting words to an officer of the law.

Constable Upston said Palmer used the term and other cyclists nearby laughed. She did not apologise when he said the term was offensive. When asked by the magistrate, Constable Upston said he had been called a ‘ratbag’ on occasions before, but not while he was a member of the police force. In response, Palmer said she had used the term in a friendly, joking fashion. She did not know it had any meaning.

3. Last of the Mohicans

‘Well Wisher’ says that we have Mr Menzies’ word that Russia is threatening us, and seems to indicate sarcastically that we should therefore discount it. This kind of fanatical ratbag Communist talk has nothing to do with reason. If ‘Well Wisher’ wants to know about the real threats to this country, he should go and visit Germaine Greer and Pauline Hanson in their Earl’s Court retirement home. They will be more than happy to brainwash him with their ratbag oration.

Bob Brown was another fanatical ratbag. As if a Mohawk of the days when George the Third was king had got into a ballroom of today, it is no use trying to talk reason with such people. Automatic Politburo parrots like Bob Brown and Paul Keating all have the insolence to preach about people ‘thinking for themselves’ by substituting partisan nonsense for reason. It’s a pity they can’t be packed off to Nauru and live there under CIA supervision.

4. A Camp for Displaced Romantics, or, the Birth of Australian Poetry in Nhill

On 5th April 1889, poet and critic Charles Harpur attacked aspiring poet John Shaw Neilson in what the Australian Sketch-Book described as ‘the opening salvos of the Australian poetry wars’. Harpur, ‘a soft-bearded native youth’ who had responded early to his calling as Australia’s first poet, was allegedly overcome by the ‘Muse of the Evergreen Forest’ who whispered to him during the monthly Nhill Mechanics’ Institute poetry reading at the town’s Station Hotel. According to the Sketch-Book report, Neilson’s coarse axe-rhythms and plough-rhythms, inspired by his tree-felling and farm-labouring day work, caused offense to Harpur’s sensitive, ecologically-attuned ears. A ‘tall, bleary-eyed and cockscombish person’, Harpur began yelling during Neilson’s reading: ‘Do you by any chance have another Earth to go to? Are you going to upload yourself to another planet?’

A native-born poet with convict origins, Harpur continued ranting as he approached Neilson menacingly with a billy-can. Intense and bespectacled, Neilson said in a fearful tone, ‘You wouldn’t hit a fella with glasses would yer?’ After Harpur was dragged from the bar by local patrons, Neilson, though visibly shaken, continued his reading, apologising to the audience for the disturbance caused by he referred to as ‘a big-city ratbag’.

5. Hello, My Name Is …

Hello, my name is Tom Eliot and I’m pleased to be given this opportunity to share the secrets that have made my modernism so successful over the years. Firstly, you don’t need a lot of brains in this business. I’ve always said that if you’ve got an IQ of 160, give away 30 points to somebody else, because you don’t need it in modernist poetry. What you need is emotional stability. You have to be able to think independently, and when you come to a conclusion you have to really not care what other people say.

More importantly, you need a robust strategy. The successful literary strategy I’ve adopted precludes standard diversification dogma. Many pundits would therefore say my strategy must be riskier than that employed by more conventional, traditional poets. I disagree. I believe that a policy of concentration – imagery, rhythm, musical texture, aphoristic phrasing, mastery of form and an original tone of voice – may well decrease risk if it raises, as it should, both the intensity with which a reader thinks about poetry and the comfort-level he must feel with its aesthetic characteristics before investing into it. Beyond fashionable causes, this concentrated literary strategy is sure to grow your stature and secure long-term investment in your literary art for generations to come.

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