Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

A weird story about how Australia is a cultural backwater, starring Milo Yiannopolous

By now, everybody should have read Richard Cooke’s piece in the Saturday Paper about how Australia’s right wing has a habit of inviting the worst of the world to our shores:

This national strain of credulousness has since been politicised and weaponised. The ABC has been cowed into compliance. Fairfax Media has been gutted, and that means the Murdoch press calls the shots. In their world, Nick Cater counts as a formidable intellectual import, and he’s a former laundry van driver who cut his teeth in the University of Exeter sociology department. In comparison, every climate change hoaxer and vape merchant and tax-cutting lightweight from abroad really is a god in the firmament, and is given Olympian treatment accordingly.

If you’d failed everywhere else in the world, argued Cooke, Australia’s right wing commentariat would give you a safe harbour.  Yiannopoulos had recently suffered a number of blows to his empire, so Australia’s mainstream conservatives gave him a book tour in Australia.

Thus begins this strange tale of a weird publishing company based in Melbourne.

Very famously, Yiannopoulos had a massive falling out with the proposed publisher of his book, Simon & Schuster.  Yiannopolous opened 2017 with comments in praise of paedophilia.  He claimed they were merely ‘poor choice of words’, but he parted with Breitbart, the far-right commentary site that was his key platform.  The comments also worried the company proposing to publish his upcoming book:

But at Simon & Schuster, the publishing house that awarded Yiannopoulos a $250,000 book contract late last year, it’s possible to imagine executives exhaling with something akin to relief. For the company, which seemed somewhat blindsided by the initial reaction to Yiannopoulos’s book, the news offered an incontrovertible out—an opportunity to save face with authors and booksellers appalled by the deal, without provoking charges of suppressing free speech or unleashing the rage of his millions of followers. And on Monday afternoon, Simon & Schuster issued an extremely brief statement, saying, “After careful consideration, Simon & Schuster and its Threshold Editions imprint have cancelled publication of Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos.”

Yiannopoulos claimed that other publishers would be queuing up to publish the book.  Instead, Yiannopoulos decided to publish the book through his own company, Dangerous Books.  Other books published by the company include The Antifa Handbook (a guide to why Antifa hates free speech, apparently), Fatwa: Hunted in America (some kind of ‘Muslims are bad’ text by Pamela Geller), and Regan: The American President.

Weirdly — and this is going to get way weirder — the publishing rights were sold in Australia to a company called Wilkinson Publishing.  Wilkinson Publishing is based in Melbourne and has an extremely weird catalogue.

On the one hand, it’s the publisher of such classics as Diabetes Recipes by Jess Lomas, Michael Yardney’s What Every Property Investor Needs to Know about Finance, Tax and Law, and One Direction also written by Jess Lomas.

On the other hand, it’s like a vanity press for cranky old white guys.  What bookshelf would be complete without Dog Lovers’ Poems by former Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett?  Wilkinson Publishing also produces The Official Aussie Joke Book by Philip Adams & Patrice Newell, Patrick Smith’s SportGalbally’s Lore by David Galbally QC and Kim Lockwood, and Gus and Wallsy’s French Revelation by Robert Walls (a former Australian rules player and commentator) and his dog.  Here’s the description of that last one:

Robert Walls had just turned 60. It was time to take stock of his life so far. A successful Australian Rules football playing and coaching career had transformed into an equally successful media career. But it was time for change.

Following the sad passing of his first wife, Robert had met someone new. Her name was Julie and for his birthday she had bought him a boxer puppy named Gus. Sensing a need to shake life up a bit, Robert and Julie decided they would leave Australia behind and fulfil a dream of spending a year living in southern France in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. And they would be taking Gus with them.

Gus & Wallsy’s French Revelation is the story of that French experience, and it’s all told from Gus’ point of view. It’s a unique and highly entertaining account of a beautiful adventure had by a man, woman and their dog.

More concerning, it’s an outlet for the less savoury ends of the Australian media landscape.  Rowan Dean’s Corkscrewed (which I reviewed here) was published by Wilkinson, along with The Best of The Spectator Australia: The Writers, The Covers, The Issues 2014-2017 (edited by Rowan).  Mark Latham’s Outsiders is published here, as are at least two works by Andrew Bolt, Worth Fighting For (which I reviewed here) and Still Not Sorry.  It also publishes the new edition of Helen Dale’s The Hand That Signed the Paper (the book that was famous for being a literary hoax) and her latest novel, Kingdom of the Wicked.  Not surprising, then, that it also publishes Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Freedom’s Salesman.

But it seems to have a long history of catering to the fringe ends of the political spectrum.  In 1993, it published Gerard Henderson’s Scribbles On.  Back then, it was an imprint of Information Australia — the company that publishes the Who’s Who, the Directory of Australian Associations, and David D Burns’ Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy.  But Information Australia and Wilkinson Publishing appear to have ended their relationship.

Wilkinson Publishing was established by Michael Wilkinson who (of course) is a former journalist.  He worked for the Herald back before it merged with the Sun (to become the Hun that we know and love today).  Crikey lists him among former journalists who have made it in senior management.

So what links a former journo to a bunch of old cranks (including some of our most toxic cranks) to Milo Yiannopoulos?  If you answered: Sharri Markson’s dad, you are 100% on the money.

Max Markson’s company, Markson Sparks, has been handling the PR for a number of the books listed above.  He is also Latham’s publicity agent and the guy responsible for arranging Milo Yiannopoulos’ tour of Australia.  Latham, as we all remember, recently joined Leyonhjelm’s gun-smooching political party, and Yiannopoulos was a recent guest of Leyonhjelm’s to Parliament House.

Framed differently, Wilkinson Publishing produces a crapload of weird shit, plus mysteriously ends up being the publisher for Max Markson’s unhinged clients.  We can safely assume that Wilkinson Publishing isn’t engaging Markson off its own bat, because Markson already had the relationship with Latham and Yiannopoulos prior to the publishing arrangement.

When asked why he would take on a client (Latham) who had publicly attacked his daughter (Sharri), Max Markson said that it was ‘purely a commercial decision’.  Australia is now an environment which can support a cottage industry of right wing crankery through pulp publishing houses and PR agencies.  Something has gone wrong, and we need solutions to fix it.

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