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.


We've been online since 1997.
Check out the archives or …

powered by FreeFind

Locations of visitors to this page


© Nick Possum/
Brushtail Graphics

Too good to be true
Paul Sheehan and the magic water debacle

1 February 2005

Down at the Brushtail Café the talk was mostly about the resurrection of Kim Beazley. How many times, the wits were asking, can you reheat a pork pie before you end up down at the emergency ward getting stomach-pumped.

But I wasn’t chewing the fat, I had a missing persons job that really intrigued me: the disappearance of Unique Water inventor Russell Beckett. The
Canberra scientist had skipped town and I had a client who wanted to find him.

He was said to be in the US or maybe Canada in the company of Tania Shelley, daughter of Bert’s Soft Drinks owner Denis Shelley. Bert’s manufactures the magic mineral water that’s supposed to cure or prevent everything from arthritis to Alzheimers plus make you live forever and have many babies.

Beckett’s disappearance had Denis Shelley worried, and not just because he hadn’t heard from his daughter. Beckett had vanished before the start of the product’s long-promised clinical trials at Royal Melbourne Hospital – trials that would make or break magic water’s wondrous and untested medicinal claims; trials that were awaited with interest by the ACCC.

Beckett’s disappearance had the Sydney Morning Herald’s celebrity loony-right journalist Paul “Dog Whistle” Sheehan worried too. In the 24 January edition, exclusively revealing the scientist’s disappearance, Sheehan was back-peddling and trying to sound like he’d always been a cautious Unique Water sceptic, rather than a booster.

“What on earth was he thinking?”Sheehan wondered publicly. But the real question is: what was Sheehan thinking when he triggered, in his own words, a “bonanza of free publicity” for the product when it was launched in April 2002.

Sheehan’s original puff piece ran in the Good Weekend of 6 April 2002. He got the cover too, and his story directed the public to Bert’s Taren Point factory, where the stuff could be purchased wholesale.

Of course Sheehan worked disclaimers into his Unique Water articles, but there was an air of nudge-nudge, wink-wink about them, a sense that they were a boring formality demanded by ‘political correctness’ and scientific bureaucracy. Overshadowed as they were by Sheehan’s personal testimony and palpable excitement , they weren’t likely to dissuade the desperate and gullible.

Sheehan’s story was good for Bert’s. In the first week they sold $1.8 million worth of the stuff. Almost three years later, with Unique Water now marketed in Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, the Shelley family are crying poor, according to Sheehan. They’ve invested something over a million in the production facilities and still haven’t “by a long shot”, earned their money back. I dunno. Do the maths yourself. On the face of it the product should have made millions by now.

Ah yes, what was Sheehan thinking? By his own account he’d been put onto the story by fellow right-wing journalist Peter Bowers who , with his wife, was taking the water. Sheehan, who seems to suffer from a wide variety of exotic debilitating ailments, tried it and reckoned it worked. But this is anecdote, it ain’t science.

The fact that Beckett believes that there is “no … necessary reason for living organisms, including humans, to age physically, to suffer from degenerative diseases or to die” should have raised a red flag. At least Sheehan reported this awkward fact in his Good Weekend story, but another red flag was wagging in the background. Back in April 2002 Sheehan didn’t tell us he’d found out about a 1991 Canberra coronial inquiry that recorded an open finding into the death of Beckett’s wife Robyn. Counsel assisting the inquiry had put to Beckett that he had engaged in a campaign of cruelty against her (he denied it), and it emerged that Robyn Beckett had told at least ten people that her husband said he would kill her slowly and painfully with a substance that couldn’t be traced.

Russell Becket denied any role in his wife’s death and the coroner made no finding against him, but, if you were a journalist, wouldn’t you have wondered, after stumbling on this disturbing story, whether you shouldn’t ask the man’s scientific critics a lot of searching questions about his theories, or maybe put this particular story on the backburner (in favour of the one about the Prime Minister’s dog having puppies)?

But Sheehan rushed on, and he wasn’t unaware of the dangers.

“Some people have suggested that Beckett has been hiding from critical review”, he wrote on 15 April 2002, in a breathless follow-up story that reads somewhat poignantly now. “I think exactly the opposite may be true, that he's been racing to get the water into production so that as many people can test it as soon as possible. He was thrilled when the first clinical researcher at a hospital contacted him last Wednesday.”

We’ve all passed a lot of water since then, and the clinical reviewers are still waiting. Maybe they should give it to Kim Beazley … now that would be a test.

More on Paul Sheehan ...

The Sydney Morning Herald and the dirty politics of the religious right
1 November 2004
No story about the 2004 Federal election more clearly illustrates the reactionary role played by the religious right than the Muslim-baiting of Ed Husic, Labor’s candidate for the seat of Greenway in Sydney’s west.

Cat piss and journalism
17 September 2001
In which Nick takes Joadja's tomcat to be desexed and Dr Gupta the vet sounds off about far-right celebrity journalist Paul Sheehan.