In a tweet in reference to a piece in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), Chris Uhlmann, former ABC journalist, said the following:
‘Top of the morning sewer rats. Why not waste a lazy day in hysterics over this? “One can only imagine how even more hideous the whole episode would have been had the internet – including its sewer, Twitter – existed back then.”’1
The first section refers to people like me who are active on Twitter and who are dissatisfied with the direction the nation is going. We are the sewer rats. While I am sure there are some disgraceful people on Twitter, I haven’t seen many of them, and that is because if I see any halfwits whose idea of debate is personal abuse, I simply block them. Often, the blocking will be after I have had a bit of sport with them, as people like that are almost to a man (it is usually ‘men’ in the loose sense of the word) uninformed, and limited in their abilities with English, in spelling, grammar and punctuation. Some of the ‘sewer rats’ on Twitter have taken the name as a badge of which to be proud, in much the same way as, during World War Two, the defenders of Tobruk took the term rats, coined by nazi propaganda broadcaster William Joyce, also known as Lord Haw Haw2. One of my father’s mates, Jack Griffith, was one of the Rats of Tobruk, and was at one time president of the local Rats of Tobruk Association in the Newcastle (NSW) area. It was him and many others like him who halted the advance on Egypt by Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps3, so being called a rat had a certain resonance for me, and brought back memories of Jack and my father’s generation.
The AFR piece to which Uhlmann referred in his silly tweet was by Phil Coorey, the political editor of that newspaper, and it is his musing on the position Christian Porter finds himself in, after revelations of the alleged rape of Katharine Thornton in 1988 when she was 16. In introducing this piece, he refers to the Azaria Chamberlain case from 19804. Azaria Chamberlain was a nine-week old baby on a camping holiday at Uluru in central Australia with her parents Lindy and Michael. At about 8 pm one night, Lindy Chamberlain saw a dingo exit the family tent and inside, found the baby’s bassinet was empty. She was heard to have screamed: “My god! My God! The dingo’s got my baby”.5
Coorey states that Chamberlain has much to be angry about, but then strangely says “but one small mercy, as far as she is concerned, must be that there was no social media in the 1980s.”4 The article to which he links is from 2014 which states that she used to get anonymous abusive letters and have people abuse her in public. While it is likely that if social media had been around in the 1980s Chamberlain would have received abuse, it would be from the sort of RWNJs with whom I have a bit of sport before blocking. The fact that there was no social media in the 1980s makes one wonder how Lindy Chamberlain, could have been sentenced to life in prison for murdering Azaria, when the first coronial inquest into the latter’s death came to the conclusion that a dingo had taken Azaria, but that the remains had been taken from the dingo by a person and disposed of in some unknown way. The baby’s remains have never been found. This also has a personal resonance for me, as I knew the magistrate, the late Dennis Barritt, who presided over the first inquest. However, after this inquest there was a trial where Chamberlain was convicted of murder. It took two more coronial inquests and a royal commission to exonerate her.
Why was Chamberlain tried and convicted of murder? It was because newspapers fuelled suspicions that the Chamberlains killed their baby, possibly as a religious sacrifice, because they were from an uncommon religious sect, the Seventh Day Adventists. Newspaper stories even reported rumours that the Chamberlains were somehow linked to the Jonestown mass suicide from two years earlier, or that Azaria was killed to atone for sins of their sect. Furthermore, journalists also couldn’t cope with the Chamberlains’ demeanour as it didn’t fit with what they expected from a couple that had just lost a child6. Politicians, ever the cowards, apparently felt they had to placate the proprietors of the newspapers and their scribes. So, given there was no ‘social media’ in that day, perhaps Coorey should be more careful about where he points the finger.
I do wonder what some of the astonishingly good investigative journalists on Twitter would have made of the trumped-up charges against Chamberlain. People like Jommy Tee, Ronni Salt and several others have uncovered numerous instances of government corruption, and broken stories which the mainstream media has eventually picked up.
While people like Uhlmann and Coorey, who also calls Twitter a ‘sewer’, would probably be apoplectic at the thought of calling anyone on Twitter a journalist, I feel it is warranted, mostly because those in the mainstream media, like Uhlmann and Coorey are so clearly out of their depth in attempting to be journalists7,8. They seem mostly to be mouthpieces for their proprietors. Unlike Uhlmann and Coorey, I don’t group all journalists in their camp. There are still many excellent journalists around, but a large proportion of them seem to be women, which perhaps says much about the quality of men that go into journalism. And they wonder why independent journalism is on the rise and corporate journalism in decline.