“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





15 December 2015


John Charles Bannon as I'd best remember him: tidy marathon runner and Premier of the free state of South Australia, on the steps of our parliament house, 1987 ... from the excellent book, Made in Adelaide, written by Marie Appleton, photographed by Stephen Hardacre and Denys Finney and published by Savvas, Adelaide 1987

Bannon clocks off: the death of a good honest man who trusted the wrong bastards and got shafted 
by PHILIP WHITE - a shorter version of this was published in InDaily

South Australian Premier Don Dunstan knew about wine. On the wall opposite his desk hung a huge bright splash by Tom Gleghorne, called The 120 year old Shiraz.

When he wasn't out, being amongst his people, or writing cookbooks, Don gazed into that dazzling beauty all day, every day. Every time he lifted his eyes from the official papers. Every time he answered the phone.

He chose it. It was there.

The 120 Year Old Shiraz ... I know the colour registration's all wrong but the images I dig from Tom Gleghorne's 1970 model iPhone are all a touch dodgy and the original's locked somewhere in the bowels of the Art Gallery Of South Australia ... thanks Tom for your approval to use it ... and thanks for inspiring Don and your life of brilliant work ... respect

Those were the times when our Premier also had a solid silver cigarette box full of Rothman's King Size Plain on his official coffee table. I think it was a gift from somebody in Penang. 

Context: Back then, Her Majesty the Queen, and her Mum, smoked Rothmans King Size Plain every afternoon at four in their special naughty room in the palace. I understood from courtiers I courted that good Queen Bess favoured a Campari, her beloved Mum a London dry gin. With their smokes.

Don's low table sported a great big heavy Dunhill 'table' lighter and a huge ash tray. If things weren't so bad as to prescribe a malt whisky, his was usually a good office for a glass of fine South Australian red and a smoke.

Don was fun royalty.

Two premiers followed him: Corky Corcoran and Honky Tonkin, neither of whom seem to remembered for much other than the safety of their forgettable heterosexuality.

The electorate, led by the media, felt contrast was desirable in those bony years.

Then, in 1982, South Australia elected the fresh-faced marathon runner, John Charles Bannon to take its premerial management chair.

Being the isolated village Adelaide is, it was impossible for a young hack to avoid getting to know Bannon; even call him a mate.

Bannon the thespian: the carafe is empty

Bannon would abide 'a good red' but he was really a posh Coopers Ale bogan: a Saints boyo. Way back before cloudy became fine. He was outstanding as a law school student for stuff like dressing as a mediæval peasant with Tony Brady to hand Prosh magazines to the gentlemen coming and going from the Adelaide Club.

Bannon buddy: Wendouree co-proprietor/co-winemaker Tony Brady at the new toilet block he designed and built, complete with Zen contemplation retreat ... photo Philip White

But wine? Bannon's Minister of Environment and Planning and Deputy Premier, the protestant trumpet-blowing preacher Don Hopgood, was in charge when 25 hectares of the Penfolds Grange vineyard was removed from the Register of State Heritage to permit its subdivision and destruction by the unholy alliance of John Spalvins, managing director of the Adelaide Steamship Company, beleaguered owner of Penfolds, and the former Lord Mayor of Adelaide, the developer John Roche.

I'd been campaigning and lobbying to have the entire Grange MacGill/Magill property saved as the Australian Wine Centre. It was all under threat. There was nowhere on earth, I argued, where one could come off an international flight, get in a car, turn right, drive in a straight line through the prettiest, most naïve Victorian-era bluestone city and be in that country's most famous historical wine complex within thirty minutes.

Max Schubert cried when they pulled his vines out. They broke him. 

He was my friend.

Max Schubert in his tiny office in the bond store at Penfolds Magill ... photo Milton Wordley
Schubert Court, Grenache Avenue, Traminer Way, Hermitage Road ... the street names in that bland Tupperware Tuscany are obviously the work of some mega-sensitive developers' poet.

I wonder how much they paid for such sensual lyricism.

Roche spent some of his profits developing a vineyard at Frankland in Western Australia. That was the first vineyard I watched die of salt. Spalvins can still be spotted here and there, dining on beef with tables of suits, drinking old vintages of Penfolds most right-wing wine, Bin 707.

A wine named after a 1960s Boeing passenger jetliner, for Bacchus' sake.

In a rare public spray, Spalvins made the news in October, claiming that the current owner of Penfolds, Treasury Wine Estates, was overvalued.

He'd know.

Reflections in the window of the great restaurant of Penfolds Magill Estate, Saturday 12 December 2015 ... finally, Treasury Wine Estates, the owner of Penfolds, has put some proper money into making the place what it should be ... that's Dr and Mrs Mary Penfold's original Grange cottage in the foreground, with the only surviving block of vines ... Shiraz, of course ... photo Philip White
Back to more ancient history: Bannon and his Agriculture Minister, Kym Mayes, were suckered again by the big wine ghouls: Penfolds, Lindemans and Orlando, the PLO. Under the guise of relieving an oversupply of grapes somebody came up with the evil Vine Pull Scheme.

The PLO sought a Barossa and McLaren Vale that looked like Coonawarra or the Riverland. They hated dealing with so many peasant grape-growers. They wanted cheaper, vaster, mechanical monoculture.

They were bedding Monsanto.

The oversupply, of course came from the swinging seats of the irrigated Riverlands, where the wine was largely crap and the profits scarce for everybody other than the toughest refinery-owning ethanol peddlers and the discount retailers of the day. Proto Shoppies.

Who were a colourful lot. Within a couple of years of the uprooting Dan Murphy himself did six months of a two-and-a-half year sentence for sales tax fraud. He was deemed too crook to serve the other two years.

Vine Pull. Folks like Brian Croser, keen to develop the thing he called the Adelaide Hills around himself, and vineyard development consultant Di Davidson, who made money putting new broadacre vineyards everywhere, were suggesting that Barossa viticulture as it stood on the old hand-hoed father-to-son scale was over. Just over. Full stop. Finito. Verboten. Kaput.

There was a report, commissioned by and paid for by the Bannon government, which led to that Vine Pull destruction. Not to mention the wasting of many millions of taxpayer dollars they then threw at growers who pulled up and pulled out.

Us punters paid cash in advance to diminish the quality of the wine we bought.

All the Iberian varieties we need in this new heat were trashed. While the cool climate Cabernet/Chardonnay/Pinot evangelists had their day, irreplaceable, century-old, pre-phylloxera bush vine Grenache, Mataro, Cinsault, Carignan and Shiraz were bulldozed and burnt by the great-grand-children of the pioneers who planted them.

Bacchus only knows the genetic stocks we paid to destroy forever. 


In doshing out our cash like that, Bannon's government diminished the quality of the wine we were addicted to buying from the unionists in the bulk discount bins. The pattern was set: to this day they ensure that ethanol remains our only permitted self-administered drug. Through their stranglehold over the Australian Labor Party through the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, these Woolies/Coles/Colonel Sadness/Macca's/Bunnings/Hungry Dan's/Shoppie shelfstackers and tilljockeys now dictate our town planning, our cuisine and ethanol types; its price ...

Before I get too far into that, let me explain I got sick of writing that old men were crying in the Barossa pubs because the PLO wouldn't pay them fair money for their fruit. Like the standard minimum grape price was set by government at $186 per tonne. So a big-squirting Riverland Sultana grower could squeeze out twenty or thirty tonnes per acre at $186 the tonne, whilst a Barossa  dry-grown heritage bush vine vigneron would be picking less than a tonne per acre and be paid that same $186.

I recall the 1983 Grange, just for example. Very roughly, two tonnes of dry-grown bush vine fruit made about one pallet of Grange: 60 dozen. That wine was soon selling for the same price per bottle that Spalvins' Adsteam's Penfolds had paid for a tonne of the grapes.

Guess which grower took the $4000 per acre Vine Pull cash?

"I just bulldozed my great-grandfather's garden," they'd sob. I'd sob. The smoke hung around for three years. The Barossa was blitzed. Nearly all the bush vine Grenache in McLaren Vale was bulldozed and burnt.

Thirty pieces of silver.

I have tried for thirty years to procure a copy of that report that we, the people, paid for. Patrick Conlon, as Minister in the Rann Labor government, sincerely assured me eight years ago that he'd spent ten grand of taxpayers' money attempting to find a copy in the government files. Last time we spoke, he guaranteed it still wasn't there.

Now Patrick's not there.

For fuck's sake. Labor spent millions of our money butchering this country's irreplaceable viticultural heritage, and they haven't got a copy of the report? Surely folks who write such diatribes at the taxpayers' expense are obliged by contract to keep a copy for inquisitive folks? Gimme. What have they got to hide?

The Australian National Wine Centre: an ordinary suburban arena imposed upon the Adelaide Botanic Garden, with its back to the people ...  now little more than a bling-rich wedding joint

The other mob's no better. Thanks to folks like Croser, the National Wine Centre rose from my old Penfolds Magill idea. But his gang insisted their Shangri-La should be new, and his Liberal mates agreed. Liberal Premier Dean Brown wanted to squeeze it into Tram Barn A on Hackney Road. He was toppled by his colleague, John Olsen, who dared to impose it on our Botanic Gardens.

The joint was virtually bankrupt before it even opened. It was run by the person who's just landed in the Senate, without election: Ann Ruston (left, with her son and another bloke), more or less the deputy deputy Prime Minister Bananaby Joyce's assistant minister for all the water in the Murray-Darling Basin if there's any left and Bananaby lets her. She owns Australia's biggest rose garden in the Riverland and now the National Wine Centre's our most ridiculous wedding shack, with a wing full of the offices of the hipster equivalent of the children of the wine bureaucrats who put it all up there at the small consideration of about $50 million of our money.

Roses. Roses everywhere. Weddings.

But Labor's back in, of course, and such tasteless nonsense is repeating through the current government's Regional Development Fund, where taxpayers' money is being shloshed around like somebody else's water. Who are these people? From where I stand, not one serious grant has made much sense. $2 million to Wolf Blass? $2 million to Chester Osborn? 

There are more of these extravagances coming. It's our money, not the bloody government's.

But back to John Charles Bannon. At our first official encounter he came out from behind his desk, sat on the easy chair beside me, put his right leg over his left knee, pulled his sock down and his trouser up and played with a hair on his tight marathon-running calf for about half an hour.

I knew he was a good, truth-telling sort of a bloke. But then the State Bank splattered all over the wall behind him while his dad, the great artist and printmaker, Charles Bannon, emerged from the Flinders Ranges to begin nudging the rubbing strakes beside me in The Exeter. John's gubmunt was crook; Charlie Bannon was still rooster cocky with his chest thrust forward, but inside he was in worse shape than the economy. Cancer. The hospital was a block away.

Everyone in that pub knew that the bank was down three or four billion, yet it had never been mentioned in parliament or the press. It took a respectful conservative, Jennifer Cashmore to eventually stand up in the house and ask the big question: is the bank crook, too? Upon which everyone feigned aghastment. Two years too late.

When Charlie was really full-bore dying of cancer he phoned and asked me to get his war service revolver from the glove box of his ute in the car park and smuggle it into his ward so he could step away from the horror at his own leisure.

He teased me when I explained I'd even consider shooting him as a mate, but whether I did it or he did, I'd be an accessory to his slaughter, having smuggled the roscoe. Heaven for him; gaol for me. Instead, the painters Basil Hadley and Tim John smuggled proper food in, and we delivered the odd good red, whether he could drink it or not.

In the middle of all that I was on the local ABC891 doing the morning show and I'd just fanged through a half hour of queries about the bank and asked who'd got all the billions and why wouldn't the Premier answer our calls. That was hard work that stuff, because I still admired John and his commitment and ordinariness and knew far too much of who'd ripped this naïve state off and what that Premier's own father thought of his son's management capacities and how much he thought that son of his felt obliged to prove.

I ran down the corridor to the toilets in the newsbreak. When I got back the producer said "Whitey, Bannon's on the phone. He called back. He'll only speak to you."

No mention of the bank. He told me Charles was dead and asked whether I'd eulogise at the funeral gathering in the Don Bradman Room a few days hence.

"He loved drinking with you blokes in The Ex," he said.

That, I thought, and think more, was a mark of John Bannon's greatness. He was jealous of his fierce Dad's ability to sit in the pub and drink Coopers with his mates. And he was simply, country-boy naïve. He never expected to find real bad guys in his town.

Since his premiership, look at who's had their arse on that awkward chair. Remember Dean Brown? He was toppled by John Wayne Olsen (fair dinkum), who was of the same party, but could waterski barefoot and went to live in California. Mike Rann? Remember him? He went to live in Italy.

We pay for these blokes to go and live in such places.

Jay Weatherill? He just gave $2 million to Wolf Blass and another $2 million to Chester Osborn. Our bloody money.

He was no Don Dunstan, and he was a runner more than a smoker, but at least I can remember John Charles Bannon. He caught the same deadly stuff that topped his canny Dad, and lived it out as proudly.

But as Premier of our state? Bewildered and hoodwinked by the big bad end of town, he gave our money to the busted-arse grape-growers.

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