Jolly tick-tock of Canberra’s Paradise Clock

His novel, No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, won the country’s most valuable literary award, the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature.

Of course Boochani was not able to attend the awards ceremony. Since 2013 the Kurdish-Iranian journalist has been banged-up on Manus Island.

And so my Vida, her voice ringing with the warm sincerity that is one of the things all sensitive Australians love about her, telephoned him to congratulate him. For as well as the fact of his winning such a grand Australian award (reason enough for a warm prime minister to pipe up) there is the much-reported fact of the mountains the imprisoned writer had to climb to write his book and submit his book. He somehow composed it tiny piece by tiny piece using a mobile phone.

A big-hearted prime minister, appreciative of the arts and with some generosity of spirit, with in his or her ethical DNA the slightest trace of the true Australian sense of a fair go, with a true Aussie admiration for the battler would be quick to publicly praise the author, to phone him up. But, of course, Boochani testifies, he hasn’t heard a word from that cold, unChristian pentecostalist, our actual prime minister, let alone from the minister for immigration the potato-headed and potato-hearted Peter Dutton.

Nor has there been a word of congratulation from cold, robotic Bill Shorten.

No wonder some of us to make political life bearable, have, as well as an imaginary prime minister, an imaginary Labor leader/alternative prime minister. Certainly I have such a sheila, the right honourable Xena. She too is very Vida-like, but also has some of the qualities of Germaine Greer, Gillian Triggs, Angela Merkel, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, Xena the Warrior Princess, Ashleigh Barty and of the famous female superheroines Atomic Betty and Shanna the She-Devil. But that is another story.

Just as ABC Radio National prides itself on being The Ideas Network my teeming millions of thinking readers have come to think of this weekly essay as The Ideas Column.

And so today I pass on an idea, the notion of a Paradise Clock, that has just leapt out at me from a smart review in the latest online New York Review of Books. Discussing two new books by famous New Optimists reviewer Anthony Gottleib wonders in passing why there is no cheerful equivalent, for optimists, of the famous Doomsday Clock.

That clock, administered by atomic scientists, moved the hands closer to or further from midnight, depending upon its maintainers’ feelings of how close mankind is to Armageddon. Why not, Anthony Gottlieb muses (without following his idea up) for optimists a Paradise Clock with hands indicating what progress mankind is making towards human perfection?

This a ripper idea that suggests all sorts of smaller-scale adaptations. Why not, I propose, a Canberra Paradise Clock?

Using it, a small panel of accomplished, discerning and intellectually nimble people who love our city and who are excited by its progressive dynamism could indicate, moving its hands, how close we are to (or how far away from) becoming a perfect city.

The ever-changing, restlessly tick-tocking clock would be stimulating fun for those of us who (like the New Optimists whose brainy, brawny books have just been reviewed by The New York Times) are not only optimistic by nature but who also believe that the facts about Canberra point to the truth of our city and its citizens getting enviably better and happier all the time.

So for example the recent brilliant success of our first ever cricket Test, at Manuka, (promising the holding of more and more grand events at that boutique venue) would see the hands of the Canberra Paradise Clock being nudged and tweaked even closer to that dreamed of Midnight of metropolitan perfection.

Readers, for you what is the time, now, on the Canberra Paradise Clock? Of course if you are a typical Canberra grey pessimist/miserabilist (probably living in Yarralumla and convinced that Canberra has been doomed ever since the Hell of self government was forced upon us) you will think it is miserably early in the day.

For me, though, (seeing the city bristling with busy tower cranes, the crimson light rail trams making their cameo trial appearances along their soon-to-be-completed route, the Manuka Oval triumph still fresh in the memory) the hands of the clock say it is about 12 minutes to that paradisiacal Midnight.

Ian Warden is a columnist for The Canberra Times




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