Sydneysider – A Personal Journey
A couple of days ago a friend forwarded to me for comment a long poisonous diatribe against Halal food labelling that is doing the rounds on Facebook.
Here’s a sample:
“Toasted cheese with a dollop of Vegemite was my favourite late night snack, but I leave off the Vegemite now that it’s owned by the American company Mondelez International and sports a little ‘Halal Certified’ notice.”
“No worries, my Aussie owned and made Bega cheese still bubbled under the griller while the jug boiled for a strong cup of tea.”
“That was until I noticed this funny little Arabic hieroglyph on the back of my Bega cheese packet too. Bloody hell, first my Vegemite and now my Bega cheese! No worries, I’m happy with plain toast.”
“I wasn’t game to go through the whole fridge or I’d have starved.”
“Trying to find Aussie tucker on the shelves is hard enough but trying to find tucker that is not Islamically sanctioned is near impossible, and it’s meant to be.”
And so it went on, for a few hundred words. It was crap carefully written with brain-damaged bogans in mind. A melange of unconfirmable assertions, half-truths and outright lies.
So who wrote this stuff? If you live long enough you’ve seen most things once or twice before and you learn a few tricks, one of which is to copy a section of the text and paste it into Google, to find out where it comes from.
It didn’t take long to trace it to its source: Larry Pickering. The name will mean nothing to most younger Australians unless they’re obsessive far-right loonies, but Pickering was, for many years, beginning in the 1970s, the conservative cartoonist of choice for the mainstream media, having worked at the Canberra Times, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian. He dropped out of cartooning in 1981, except for an occasional appearance in the Bulletin and went into tomato farming and pretty much disappeared from public notice.
The man now runs a very nasty ultra-right blog devoted to a veritable jihad against Muslims of all varieties, Labor, the Greens and the unions. He came to notice most recently for a vile cartoons that depict a strap-on dildo-equipped Julia Gillard as a rapist.
Way back in 1981, when I was driving cabs, I had my own little experience with Larry. It happened that I was driving through Surry Hills when I scored a radio job to take a customer called Pickering to Mascot Airport. I arrived the Murdoch press’s grim Holt Street building to find Larry Pickering and a woman. They hopped in and I headed for the airport. It seemed that Pickering was going to give her a joy flight in his private plane.
On the way, it became evident from the conversation that the woman was a journalist. She was giving Pickering a lot of rope and he was big noting himself big time. Pickering was a man I really hated. He’d always reminded me of Caran d’Arche, the odious cartoonist of the French anti-semitic right during the years of the Dreyfus Affair before World War I.
At the airport Pickering directed me to the small airlines area (known as “TWA” or “Teeny-Weeny Airlines” to taxi drivers). The woman hopped out and the big man opened the offside front door, filled out a Cabcharge voucher with the trip details and handed it to me. He’d left the space for the fare blank.
“Put ten dollars on top for yourself, driver”, he said airily, handing it to me.
“I wouldn’t accept a tip from you, Mr Pickering”, I replied.
“Fuck off!” he muttered. He slammed the door so hard he nearly broke the hinges and stalked away. I wrote out the exact fare on the meter and drove off, wondering if there would be any repercussions.
A few days later, a long profile piece about Pickering’s career appeared in a daily newspaper. The woman had done a real job on him, and in the article she remarked that he was so unpopular that even the taxi driver had refused to accept his tip. I was delighted with this outcome because Pickering was the sort of right-wing populist poseur – typically described by their apologists as a “larrikin” or a “knock-about bloke” – that falsely associated themselves with the working class.
There are a lot of nasty populist demagogues around: Paul Sheehan, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones spring to mind, but Larry Pickering is in a class of his own. In the climate of war-mongering, generalised fear, and Islamophobia being whipped up by the federal government and sections of the press, his little bit of poisonous hysteria will, unfortunately, get a big run in the darker recesses of social media. Frankly, I hope he swears off so many products with Halal certification that he starves to death.