From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Back to Asics

9 December 1999

On Saturday afternoon Joadja and I went down to the Art Gallery to take in Michaelangelo to Matisse: Drawing the Figure. I have always been fond of drawing. It has a purity and rigour that other media lack.

There was a good crowd at the Gallery. Bob Debus was there, hiding from the park rangers, and also the maritally-challenged Peter Collins.

Lord Capon has done well with this show. They say it is the finest exhibition of drawings by the great masters of Western art ever held in Australia. Michaelangelo and Raphael are on show and so are Tintoretto, Rubens, Rembrandt, Guercino, Fragonard, Goya, Delacroix, Cézanne, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Picasso and Klee. There are bold nudes in a few lines by Kirchner and little gems of draughtmanship by Leonardo da Vinci. A tiny piece by Albrecht Dürer sent a frisson of wonder down my tail. It was a miraculously lifelike portrait of a fashionably dressed negress. She must have been an exotic figure in 15th Century Germany. What was her story? how on earth had she got there?

There was a drawing of a hefty bearded man by Camille Pissarro titled Study of a male nude posed against a wall, seen in profile, facing Right, which bore a striking resemblance to Paddy McGuinness and Joadja reckoned that a 1900 study of a haughty young toff by George Lambert reminded her in some curious way of Mike Carlton after a long lunch.

In the Renaissance, the nude came back into fashion, carrying the banner for a new secular art. It crossed my mind as I gazed at endless triumphal sketches of the male nude that the oiled bodies of the Gay Mardi Gras might represent the final baroque flowering of this drift in history. Perhaps, one day soon, there will be a new bio-diverse Renaissance, one in which species other than Homo sapiens take centre stage. It is the kind of genial thought a possum can have in a fine and civilised place on a Saturday afternoon in summer.

When we left the gallery we walked through the splendour of the Botanic Gardens and down to Circular Quay – where the sad figures of the homeless huddled in corners against the walls – to catch the train home. It was there we found ourselves confronted not with "the figure" but its post-modern equivalent, "the body". CityRail had sold the advertising rights to the whole station to Asics, the Japanese sports gear corporation, and they had turned it into a gallery dedicated to their brand name and the fitness obsession.

There were a huge model running shoes over the station entrances and big colourful banners with images of athletes stretched over the curved ceiling panels. Hidden projectors threw the Asics logo on the walls. Even the escalators had been decorated. It must have cost a fortune.

Well, it's harmless, I suppose, and CityRail can do with the money. Asics will probably get their money back, especially with the Olympic crowds expected next year, and a lot of kids will badger their parents to buy them Asics rather than Nikes, but I reflected that high-tech running shoes and the other paraphenalia of the fitness obsession are pumped out of grim sweatshops in Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and China by people who don't have much choice.

Upstairs on the platform, a bag lady sat among her possessions on one of the seats near the escalator. Her pants were pulled down and she was urinating through the slats of the seat. Our eyes met in a moment of mutual shame and embarrassment, but we both looked away. The fleeting moment of high civilization had passed, and we were back to Asics.