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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Far better Ita Buttrose appointed than Dick Smith elected

4 November 1999

When I woke on Saturday morning I felt like a real tradesman. My arms ached and my paws throbbed. There was pain in all my joints. It struck me then that a fortnight of serious home renovating is pretty much like a long bushwalk or the second week on the fireline at a serious bushfire emergency. At the end of the day there's the massive exhaustion, the meal under makeshift conditions, the early bedtime and the sleep of the dead. In the morning there's the pain.

The staircase from my office to the ceiling was slowly taking shape – problem by problem, amid dust and chaos. It's always the same with old houses. Everything is connected to everything else, and you struggle with history, trying to preserve the best and work around the problems.

I had cut myself off from the world, reading only the headlines in the Herald and listening to the radio news, so the referendum snuck up on me. Even so, it seemed that, in reality nobody cared too much.

The Yes mob were running on the idea that nothing much will change, other than that the 'Head of State' will be an Australian citizen. It was just a necessary piece of housekeeping, a bit of sentimental nationalism really. The No People were running on the preposterous idea that without a hereditary head of state the country would descend rapidly into anarchy. The chooks would stop laying, statues of Queen Victoria would be pulled down, the servants would go bolshie and the country would end up being governed by politicians.

And some republicans were asking: "Would Bob Menzies have been a republican?" And answering "yes". Were they kidding? This was the Liberal prime minister who wanted to name our unit of currency the 'Royal' when we went decimal in 1966 – an idea laughed out of court by the whole populace, even in those conservative times!

What will really change if we become a republic? If you ask that question the answers are all in the realms of psychology. An act of maturity. A national coming-of-age. Cutting loose from mother's influence. But the rich will still get richer and the poor relatively poorer, the Aboriginal people will still be battling uphill for every bit of social improvement, farmers will still do dumb things to the environment, the regions will still get dudded by the capital cities and the class struggle will go on just as it did before.

The whole republican thing looks like, well let me put it this way: some merchant bankers salve their consciences by getting involved in worthy projects to do with The Arts and others become republican luminaries.

"So how are you going to vote?" Joadja asked, when she brought lunch up from the café. It was almost the first time we'd discussed the subject.

"You keep forgetting that wildlife don't have the vote", I said, "But if I did get to vote I'd vote Yes to the republic and No to the preamble – ghastly second-rate mission statement that it is".

"And the direct election thing?"

"Oh bugger that! The direct electionists – what do they want? If they only want a ceremonial president, why the big fuss over directly electing one? Direct election would just become another very expensive political circus. Or do the direct electionists really harbour a weird political fantasy about a charismatic national figure as a powerful president with wide reaching powers, a person 'above politics', an anti-politician? No, far, far better to have an Ita Buttrose appointed than a Dick Smith elected", I replied.

"Well I'll be voting Yes because a victory for the Yes vote would be a blow to the hereditary principle", Joadja said. "Why don't you take a break on Friday night and we'll go down to the Three Weeds at Rozelle and take in the National Junk Band's Pre-Referendum Extravaganza?"

"Why not?" I replied. "You know what I believe in: happy music in the pub and long walks in the rain".

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 1999

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.