2019: Not Such a Good Year (deaths)

I had a good enough 2019. I enjoyed interesting work, went on a trip to Singapore, Bangalore, Mysore, and Mangalore (no kidding), spent a magical Easter in Mallacoota where I have holidayed since I was a schoolboy, and enjoyed an eccentric roadtrip involving a lot of wheat and barley which took in Tittybong, Rainbow, Warne, Brim, Sea Lake and my favourite pub, the Victoria Hotel in Dimboola. Furthermore, it was suddenly insanely cool to play the flute. Jean-Pierre Rampal and James Galway could only marvel at the excessive fame of Time’s entertainer of the year, the classically trained flautist Lizzo who, it is said, also twerks, raps and sings, and is apparently an icon of a year which suddenly saw full figured women come into their own.

But 2019 did not treat well Cardinal Pell, Julian Assange and other journalists, the climate problem, China, forests, or white leftist politics.

Three interviews were notably illustrative. First, Andrew Bolt’s hectoring but nevertheless excruciating interview of Gladys Liu, the Hong Kong born federal member for Chisholm, who professed to have no recollection of her long associations with Chinese Communist Party fronts, and seemed not to want plainly to condemn the building of military bases in the middle of the South China Sea. It was part of an annus horribilis for China’s image abroad.

Second, Emily Maitlis’s interview of the Queen’s child, Prince Andrew, reminiscing about his friendship with the late alleged gigolo Geoffrey Epstein, which got him sacked from royal duties.

Third, the former accountant and former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s interview of himself in his Christmas message, bizarrely predicting in relation to the climate emergency of which he is an architect that if we don’t respect ‘the higher authority, beyond our comprehension, right up there in the sky,’ ‘then we’re just fools, we’re going to get nailed’. The climate change enthusiast got 55% of the primary vote in his rural seat in this year’s federal election. Presumably his former media adviser and, as of 2019, mother of the 6th Barnababy, was not consulted about the Christmas message.

In response to Mr Joyce’s video, God sent the apocalypse and Prime Minister Morrison secretly went on Hawaiian holiday, (Fiji, where he holidayed in May was presumably no longer an option since he seriously pissed them off in August), before fleeing back to the Canberra bubble when the holiday was outed, sent in the armed forces and reservists to the initial displeasure of the firies, and promptly made a political tv ad celebrating what he had only been dragged reluctantly into by public opinion.

First, though, the deaths of 2019. Australian icons passed on: Bob Hawke, who latterly amassed a wealth of more than $50 million as a China consultant, Tim Fischer, Margaret Fulton, Clive James, Les Murray, Dimmey’s (aged 166), the Uluru climb (35 climber deaths later).

Other notable Australian deaths included former Victorian Premier John Cain who lived to see his son John Cain appointed to the County Court of Victoria and as Chief Coroner, the lovely Barney Cooney, the Hon. Jack Winneke, the Hon Phil Cummins who lectured in professional ethics at the University of Melbourne for more than 20 years, and veteran journalists Mike Willessee, and Les Carlyon who formerly edited The Age.

Less well known was Vern Plueckhahn, the founder of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and the forensic pathologist whose testimony’s rejection in Lindy Chamberlain’s trial would ultimately be found to be one of Australia’s greatest miscarriages of justice. Also the South Australian QC and judge Mark Griffin who was much loved and respected despite having defended John Bunting in the Snowtown murders trial. Obituaries revealed that Adelaide was such a conservative place in 2012 that allegations that he had visited massage parlours forced him to resign.

Ningali Lawford-Wolf died in Edinburgh, too young (like the Innuit singer songwriter, Kelly Fraser). It was The End for Mr Movies, Bill Collins. HRH Prince Leonard of the micronation Hutt River Province passed, leaving a tax debt of $3 million. The mother of the Beaumont children died without ever finding out who murdered them.

Jon Faine, who once declined an offer to be the inaugural Victorian Legal Services Commissioner, did not die but retired from ABC 774’s morning slot after 23 years in favour of Virginia Trioli. His last broadcast with premiers past and present was quite something. (John Burns, formerly of Lawyers Guns and Money, incidentally, also announced he would hang up the microphone after 20 years on 3AW with Ross Stevenson).

Other former notable leaders of nations and nation like entities to leave the world were Jacques Chirac, Robert Mugabe, B. J. Habibie, General Hussain Muhammad Ershad of Bangladesh, Vietnam’s General Le Duc Anh, Mohamed Morsi (Egypt’s first ever democratically elected president, who lasted one year and died in prison), Sir Dawda Jawara the democratically elected founding father of The Gambia, for a long time a civilised democratic nation in West Africa, and Peru’s ex-President Alan Garcia, who killed himself as the police were about to arrest him on bribery charges. One leader died in office, aged 92: Tunisia’s Beji Caid Essebsi. The first leader toppled in the Arab Spring, also Tunisian, also passed: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In a category of infamy of his own (bad as Brother No. 2 and Li Peng may have been) was the Iraqi Sunni Dr Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (his PhD was from Saddam University). The US came to really regret letting him out of prison. The leader of ISIL blew himself and 3 of his kids up while being chased through a tunnel by US army dogs intent on gnawing them to death, an ignominious end for a man who claimed descent from the Prophet. ‘No single figure caused more chaos in such a short time,’ opined The Guardian. Some in Australia may be distressed by a leadership who yearn for the 1950s, but al-Baghdadi wanted to, and did for a time, restore the 7th century, right at the beginning of Islam which is a comparatively new religion. His people crucified a lot of folks back in the recent past of the Caliphate the last vestige of which disappeared in 2019. They used many a young Yazidi girl as sex slaves as part of a genocide against that people, and promoted grotesque terrorism. I nevertheless found distasteful and diplomatically foolish President Trump’s mode of gloating over the death. Much better, after all, to have captured him and tried him before an international court, and to have expressed regret that that proved impossible.

David Bellamy, the botanist and latterly controversial environmentalist, who was arrested picketing the Franklin Dam, passed on. So did Polly Higgins, the top UK lawyer best remembered for her campaign for the recognition of the crime of ecocide, and Penny Whetton, the noted Australian climatologist.

Bruno Ganz, a Swiss actor who played Hitler in Downfall and whom you might have seen in The Party, died, along with the 7’3″ Peter Mayhew (aka Chewbacca), Carrol Spinney (aka Bigbird and the voice of Oscar the Grouch), Doris Day, the Florentine film and opera director Franco Zeffirelli, aged 96, and his costume designer, Piero Tosi. Zeffirelli directed the classic 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet with a soundtrack by the brilliant and prolific Italian composer and Forza Italia parliamentarian, Nino Rota, (who named his daughter Nina Rota). Irene Shubik, who commissioned ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ and cast Leo McKern in the role, passed too.

I. M. Pei, the Chinese-American architect whose pyramid graces the courtyard of the Louvre was 102 when he died. Sir Jack Zunz, Utzon’s engineer to the Sydney Opera House, also died.

 Jacques Loussier, the French jazzman who pioneered elegant versions of mostly Bach, a soundtrack of my childhood, died. His version of the Goldberg Variations is beautiful. The great American opera singer Jessye Norman died. So did João Gilberto, the father of bossa nova, and husband of Astrud Gilberto with whom he sang a famous early Portuguese version of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. Also the German-American André Previn, pianist, composer, and conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and many others. He was once married to German violinist Anne Sophie Mutter, one of the most successful instrumentalists in the world, and had ten children born nearly 30 years apart with five wives, one of whom was named Lark Song. With Mia Farrow, he adopted Soon-Yi. She married another of her mother’s lovers, Woody Allen.

Toni Morrison and Sven Lindqvist died. The latter Swede wrote an odd book called Terra Nullius in 2007 about the history of aboriginal people in Australia, especially about Maralinga, after travelling thousands of miles throughout central Australia without ever meeting one. He wrote another odd book, A History of Bombing, attributing the popularisation of aerial bombardment to the British. He also made a controversial contribution to the history of holocausts in Exterminate All the Brutes (as Kurz said in Heart of Darkness). The extraordiary old-school US literary scholar Harold Bloom passed. He could supposedly recite from memory the whole of Shakespeare, Blake and ‘Paradise Lost’, Milton’s 10,000 word now rarely read epic poem. Also deceased is Judith Kerr, author and illustrator of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

Three very different men died, their legacies marred by allegations of sexual misconduct: Donald Trump’s and Prince Andrew’s mate Jeffrey Epstein, Sogyal Rinpoche who wrote the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and Ivan Milat who protested his innocence to his last breath. Anne Hamilton-Byrne, whom the law scandalously never caught up with, died, also having engaged in much misconduct towards girls and boys alike.

Justice John Paul Stevens of SCOTUS died, having travelled from conservatism upon appointment to liberal. One of the Koch brothers, David, died. They used their great wealth to finance the insurgent right wing libertarian movement which is such a feature of world affairs today.

One of the largest and oldest travel firms, Thomas Cook, ceased to be, stranding 600,000 tourists worldwide. And it was the end for the Beatles, 22 million sales later.

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