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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Brushtail Graphics

The enemy within

1 February 2003

An angry brown stain of bushfire smoke spread over the horizon. Even though the nearest fire was up in Wollemi you could smell it in Werrong Lane when I went down to the Brushtail Café for breakfast.

I was scanning the papers when the mobile rang. It was Ted from the Rural Fire Service headquarters at Rosehill.

“We’d like you on standby for arson investigations. We’re really short of people with investigative skills and all the cops are busy on the Great Crusade Against Terrorism.”

Me too, I told him, but arson work sounded more interesting than meaningless contract surveillance for the police. I was heartily sick of hanging out in Lebanese coffee shops on the off chance that a mullah who once met a man who said he knew Osama bin Laden back in the 80s wandered in and ordered a falafel and a Coke.

“Can you get yourself out here pronto?” Ted asked “We’ll have to kit you up with some fire gear. We don’t let anybody within coo-ee of the fireline without the full kit these days.”

“Thanks. Been ages since I’ve been on the line. I lost my last kit years ago, and it’d look out of date by now.”

I finished breakfast, packed the Nikon and the PowerBook, said goodbye to Joadja (who was expecting to get called out herself at any moment), and caught a cab.

At Rosehill, Ted ratted through the storeroom and assembled a pile of used gear: Probane treated jacket and pants, fire-rated boots, a battered helmet, gloves, water bottles and belt. The yellow jacket and pants were stained with enough charcoal to give me a bit of cred if I had to go out on the fireline.

They found me a desk and a phone and slapped down some maps and a pile of recent situation reports. I started flicking through them, looking for suspicious ignition points, tell-tale patterns or odd concidences.

A young journalist hovered around, waiting for Phil Koperburg or maybe John Winter and trying to make sense of the melee working around her.

“What’s your role in the great scheme of things, Mr Possum” She asked.

“I’m a road lightning expert.”

“What’s road lightning?”

“There are three types of lightning: sheet lightning, fork lightning and road lightning”, I replied, quoting the old fireys’ adage.

“Lots of bushfires are started by lightning. Sheet lightening doesn’t strike the earth so it doesn’t cause fires. Forked lightening starts lots of fires at once when a dry thunderstorm passes by, but road lightning is the one that always starts along the edge of a road, usually with multiple ignition points.”

“You mean arson”.

“You got it. It’s a big problem. All those fire trails and old logging roads out there are a double-edged sword. They help us get in to wildfires and, if they’re in the right places, we can use them as firebreaks, but they also help loonies on trail bikes and even 4WDs get into right out into the back country to light fires.”

“Can you stop them?”

“Pretty difficult, unless you catch them red-handed”, I said. “A cunning arsonist on a fast bike can light a dozen fires and be back home jerking off while he watches the blaze on the evening news a couple of hours later. And then – horror of horrors – our psychopath might even be a member of the local fire brigade, so he’s got real inside knowledge. The enemy within, as we say.


“It is. Personally I reckon we could do more. It’s like this: The knowledgeable arsonist reads the weather reports and watches the news and he knows when it’s going to be a bad fire day. He knows when to strike for maximum effect.”

“But we know those days too, so we know when to be on the lookout. As for the places the arsonist can strike, well that’s more difficult to narrow down: after all, it’s a big country. But we can make some shrewd predictions. We can close some key roads, forests and parks and do ground and air patrols.”

“Wow, it’s a bit like the war on terror.”

“Yeah, but I’m only looking for a dozen half-bright psychopaths that nobody admires. Out there in the real world there are hundreds of millions of angry dispossessed people who hate the Yanks and reckon bin Laden and his boys are bona fide heroes.”