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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This country would be alright if Cheryl Kernot were alive

2 June 1999

It was my long-lost business partner, Bruce Possum, who tought me how to do surveillance in a public place. Bruce specialised in the Half-Mad-Scientologist-With-Clipboard, and the Spaced-Out- Sanyassin-With-Collection-Tin ... but that was in another age.

The Scientologists have better things to do these days. They are said to be running California, or at least Hollywood, and they maintain only a token presence of clipboard-wielding initiates at the corner of Castlereagh and Park.

The Orange People struck me as being a sort of recognition code for lonely singles from the Eastern Suburbs. A very Seventies thing. If you wanted a fuck, you bought the guru's portrait on a medallion that dangled from a necklace of cheap wooden beads; you wore orange clothes, and said "hi!" to the next person you saw who was dressed like that. But the Sanyassins have long since acrimoniously split and faded into obscurity. These things happen, as they say in California.

On one occasion, Bruce wanted to stake out one of Chris Skase's media events dressed as The Wilderness Society koala, but I drew the line at that -- there are some things a possum has to respect.

Nowadays I always carry a big black name-tag with white lettering that says "ELDER POSSUM" and in really small letters underneath: "CHURCH OF CHARLES DARWIN OF THE LATTER-DAY BELIEVERS".

Whenever I have to stake out some public place thronging with people, I pin it on, clutch my big black Filofax to my breast and stride towards passers-by at random, grinning broadly.

You can get away with this for hours. People avoid eye contact, break into a trot, and change direction. You fade into a fog of avoidance you create around yourself, until all that's left is a fleeting impression of a salesman's grin, floating in the memory.

The only drawback is that every once in a while some Baptist halfwit or dopey New Age deist wants to dispute theology. I usually just tell them that if they don't fuck off and stop bothering me I'll rip their balls off with my teeth and stuff them down their throat. It's a solution of which I'm not proud, but it works, and I know the Mormon Church has spin doctors who are slick enough to handle the fallout.

But nothing like this was necessary on Saturday morning as I bothered the good folk strolling through Parramatta's Church Street Mall. They are used to running through a picket line of Mormons, and one hapless Elder was no trouble for them.

Despite what had seemed like an inside tip-off, there was no sign of Democrats' leader Meg Lees in the Mall. She had disappeared on Friday, after the switchboard and the fax were jammed by incensed party members and even a group calling itself "The GST Rejection Front", according to the worried staffers at her office.

There was a rumour she had gone to ground at a 'safe house' in Harris Park -- a nondescript flat near the station, equipped with a bank of phones, faxes and fast computers -- to call in all favours and fight for her political life. There was talk of a secret rendezvous at the Cosmo Cafe with a high-profile industrialist and of "saving her from herself" and "getting to her before Stott Despodja does".

I gave up on stake-out at 1.30 and caught the train home. Privately, I didn't give a damn anyway, but the job paid well and Meg looked like a mean mother who could look after herself.

She turned up on Monday morning, as I had told her staffers she would, and I went back to work on the Cheryl Kernot missing person case. What an appalling irony, I thought. Cheryl jumped ship and joined the ALP because, she said, she wanted to be part of stopping Howard's GST bandwaggon. It was a bad call. She survived the jump and squeaked through at the polls but then she disappeared into the black void the ALP reserves for those who are not really of "The Tribe". If she had still been leader of the Democrats she would have made her appointment with history.

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.