JOURNAL FOR 22 SEPTEMBER
Last week was five speeches in five days. This week is thankfully a bit quieter.
The first speech was another double act with the Irish Ambassador at a peace dinner at Canberra Grammar School. It was an interesting occasion, not because of the speeches Richard and I made, but because of talking to some of the boys who had visited summer camps or school exchanges around the Asian region. Their knowledge about Asia, and indeed their enthusiasm to learn Asian languages, was impressive.
The second was a lunch-time speech in Melbourne to the Australian Council for Europe, mainly about the Euro. I rather enjoyed this: it was a relatively informal occasion and an opportunity to try out some of the themes for a lecture I'm giving in Sydney later in the year--potentially rather a minefield, but I'm keen to do it since I've been involved in debates about European monetary systems since I started in the Treasury the late 1970s.
Then another lunch-time speech the next day to the Cook Society--a group of senior businessmen with an interest in Britain and Australia. I had spoken to the Cook Society in London on my first day in the Foreign Office (after my first appointment, which was to receive a lecture on equal opportunity in the Foreign Service). The Cook Society lunch was pretty informal: a chance to talk about what is happening in Britain and about Britain/Australian relations.
Then back to Canberra where I was opening an exhibition by the printmaker, Leon Pericles. He is based in Western Australia but had studied in Britain for a couple of years doing a post-graduate degree. His prints are delightfully quirky--technically superb but also with a great sense of humour. He invented a fictional West Australian outback town called Widjimorphup and has based many of his images around that. I bought one of the Widji Bank, complete with hand-printed currency: it will nicely complement the other banknotes on my office wall (a set of one of the rejected designs for the Euro notes - a very psychedelic set of designs that would have caused even more of a storm in the UK!). Leon and Moira stayed with us in Canberra, so we had a fun dinner party for various artists and others.
The final speech was at the opening night of the Canberra Film Festival. This was at a showing of "Elisabeth", the new film about Queen Elisabeth I, which is British-made but has two Australians in the leading roles: Kate Blanchette as Elisabeth and Geoffrey Rush as Walsingham. The French Ambassador is played by Eric Cantona, but my joke about this fell flat, since I don't think many Caberrans know who he is! I fared slightly better when I ventured into the risky territory of Australian politics with a comment that Elisabeth had said she was married to England but never that she was the mother of the nation (no-one in the UK will understand that: Pauline Hanson recently said she felt like the mother of Australia, and attracted much ridicule for doing so).
The election campaign continues to be surprisingly low-key: it hasn't yet caught light, and perhaps it never will. The polls show the two parties neck and neck, and it looks as if quirks in individual electorates may be as important as national swings. The election is having to compete with the Commonwealth Games (Aussie news coverage is even more national-centric that British), the footy grand finals next weekend and of course the continuing Monica Lewinsky revelations.
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