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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An incident on Oxford Street

30 March 2000

Tarkis, from Bruce Tarkis Creative rang me late on Saturday afternoon.

"Thank God I've caught you Nick!" he said "Can you do a marketing survey for us? We've had somebody stand us up at the last moment. It's gotta be done tonight. With your people skills, you'd do it on your ear. We'll give you $300 for the job."

It was one of those bad Saturday nights when Joadja was working in the café and there was nothing on TV, so I said: "Aw Jesus ... mate, I wanted to watch 'The Bill' tonight ... it's a bit late ... ".

He came around half an hour later and gave me a clipboard with a battery of chrome-plated tally counters riveted to the top. Easy. All I had to do was go to Oxford Street and do a two hour survey. There were photocopied sheets on the clipboard with columns to record categories of passers-by every 15 minutes: gay female couples, gay male couples, heterosexual couples, single gay females, single gay males, single heterosexual males, single heterosexual females, and a category labelled just 'other'.

I commandeered one of the outside tables at Cafe 191, ordered a long black, and started clicking. The place had been a Sanyassin restaurant once, but that was a couple of decades ago, before anybody had heard of ecstacy or the internet.

"Whatcha doin' possum?"

I looked up. He was a bloke of maybe twenty eight, thirty. Celtic, built like a meathead footballer. Red hair, beer on his breath, Wallabies cap, eyes like a roadkilled cane toad.

"I'm doing a marketing survey. Yvonne Allen's thinking of putting a shop here."

He grabbed my wrist and pulled the clipboard towards himself, peered drunkenly at it.

"how many single heterosexual men you counted?"

"Both of them came past, about an hour ago", I said.

"What about me?" he said.

"I wasn't sure, so I put down 'other'".

"What the fuck are you saying, penis-nose?".

"Calm down ... it's an old joke. Even Phillip Adams thinks it's funny".

"What about me mates? You sayin' they're poofters?"

• • •

Joadja arrived at Darlinghurst Police Station to pick me up a couple of hours later. Sergeant O'Houlighan had gone to Casualty at St Vincents to charge Cane Toad, and his yobbo mates were still being questioned out the back. A bunch of bimbos and nice middle class parents were arranging their bail when Superintendant 'Shag' Pile ushered me out of his office.

"Aren't you getting too old for this sort of thing?", Jo asked.

We went back to the cafe and found Tarkis's clipboard thing. It had fallen under the table in the melee. I'd only had a quarter of an hour to go before finishing the survey. Tarkis would be disappointed, but I felt he could bullshit his way out of trouble.

I didn't feel too bad after a couple of ciders, but on Sunday morning I discovered that I was, in fact, too old for serious sparring with rugger buggers.

So ended a week of disturbing discoveries and wild punchups. Paddy McGuinness learned that kerosene and water don't mix and that Bronwyn Bishop isn't a good-hearted lass. Bob Carr discovered that the trains weren't running on time and took Carl Scully out the back for a flogging. The Sydney Morning Herald discovered that Bob is forever saying it was somebody else's fault when he discovers that something's gone wrong and suddenly remembers he's the Premier of NSW.

NRMA board members Nick Whitlam and Anne Keating (those pillars of the city's business elite) fell out in a nasty spat that will echo through the cocktail parties for months to come and John Howard discovered that mandatory sentencing will dog him till the end of his rotten political career.

• • •

INCLUDED in Whispers from the mean streets -- Best of 2000

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.