Catherine Deveny, like her Age colleague Michael Leunig, is a Melbourne icon, loved (and sometimes loathed) for consistently calling it as she sees it in her columns on television and on the opinion pages. Jo Case talked to her about her new collection of her best writing over the past year or so, Say When.
What is your favourite article in Say When, and why?
Like all mothers, we pretend that we don’t have favourites but we do. Actually every night before my three kids go to sleep, I whisper into each of their ears: ‘You’re not my favourite, but you’re getting pretty close.’ You know, just to keep them on their toes. I think my favourite column this year is the one on Getaway because I got to bag Channel Nine (would you like a dumb blonde with that?), Catriona Rowntree (a woman I have an irrational desire to back over if I ever see in a carpark), Australian travellers (loud drunken bogans whose nasal accents cut through the humid Phuket air like a chainsaw) and Jules Lund (part man part Boonie Doll).
I loved your article on missing John Howard (or rather, missing hating John Howard) after the election – I’m sure you weren’t the only comedian (or leftie) to feel that way. Do you still miss him, or have you come to terms with his passing?
Only just. But I do miss hanging it on the little bloke who should have been running a newsagency in Moe instead of inflicting the dreams of his uptight white honky parents on the rest of us. I hope he’s sitting in a pair of fawn slacks somewhere suffering relevance deprivation.
If Channel Nine went bust, would you miss them, too?
No. I’d be thrilled. They are cultural rapists and creative vandals. The station is run by a pack of blokes in bomber jackets who get an erection at the thought of having a car park next to Eddie McGuire. They see life as a pissing competition and women as slaves, trophies or bitches.
Sam Newman has been a favourite target of yours, particularly over the past year. What have been some of the highlights (or lowlights) of your stoushes with Sam? What is it that you find most offensive and/or dangerous about him?
I’ve never stoushed with him; just railed against him. He’s a bully, a misogynist, a megalomaniac and a vain opportunist. The extent of his exposure and his popularity normalises offensive and sexist behaviour which is reinforced by the pigs in suits who laugh at him.
You write eloquently about the messy business of parenting – including the idea that men need to step up and be equal partners when it comes toresponsibility for raising children. (I love your apt point about men referring to looking after their own children as ‘babysitting’.) How would you sum up your parenting philosophy?
There’s a book called The Good Enough Parent. I’ve never read it, but it sums me up, There’s a lot of: ‘she’ll be right’, ‘you’ll get over it’, ‘bad luck’, ‘run it under some water’, ‘calm down’, ‘not my problem’ and ‘I don’t know where it is, where have you looked?’ There’s a term, ‘helicopter parent’ – always hovering. I’m the opposite. Whatever the opposite is of hovering is. Lying on the couch ignoring, I imagine.
The article ‘Just Keep Going’, about the everyday bravery of people battling depression or hardship, had an amazing response when it was first published in The Age. What inspired you to write the article, and were you surprised by the response?
I was in a bit of a black hole at the time and that’s what was going on in my head. I was amazed and thrilled by the response. Many sad people were extremely touched by it. These people were really suffering and feeling very alone. I was so honoured to have been able to make them feel that someone knew what they were going through and someone cared.
I was really moved by the heartfelt article you published on the eve of last year’s election, calling for Australians to base their votes on their conscience over their hip pockets; ‘not just for the white middle-class working families who have never had it so good’. How much work did it take to write that piece?
That piece had been brewing away for weeks. I had decided at the start of the election campaign that I would just take the piss ‘til the last week then try to write a ‘light on the hill’ kind of piece. During the election there were no rousing speeches; just talk about money and interest rates. It was all lawyers and accountants. As I wrote it I had tears pouring down my face and I thought I was going to be sick. It was a relief to finish but I felt so emotionally alive; as soon as I finished I wanted to go straight back in.
After the election (before the new Liberal leader was announced), you wrote: ‘I can’t really hate Malcolm Turnbull yet; I just like laughing at him in the same way I would laugh at a dog with a bucket on its head’. How do you feel about him now that he’s become Liberal leader – or ‘Head Boy’, as you put it?
Look, we’re all pretty rapt that finally we have an opposition leader who seems to be, how can I put this, leading. I mean Dr. Nelson, (Dr. Who) was nice and all but let’s face it: he was shit. Malcolm’s all tally ho, sense of entitlement, smell that born-to-rule patriarchy; but he seems to be a bit more in step with real life than any of his predecessors. Not that that’s saying much. He’s still a knob.
It seems that crap TV is easier to write about (or at least, easier to be funny about) than good TV. What are the worst shows you’ve written about this year? And what are the best?
Worst? Download, Benny Hinn and The Moment Of Truth. Best? Flight Of The Conchords, Boston Legal and Nigella.
Who are your favourite ‘targets’ and why?
Wankers, uptight white honkies, bullshit artists, fakers, people who should know better and anyone who uses media, power or religion to oppress the rest of us.
Last Christmas, you wrote that ‘having children and a vagina basically means being a slave and an emotional potty for the last two weeks of December’. What are your plans for escaping or embracing that fate this Christmas?
Alcohol. Sleep. Repeat until 2009.