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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Night flight to Timor

19 May 1999

By virtue of what emotion do we risk our lives, sometimes so casually, to move the mail?
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

It was Wednesday morning at 07:05 when the Cessna Super Cargomaster took off from Bankstown and headed north, following the coast.

There were just the three of us: me, my old friend Richard the bush pilot, and the mysterious Timorese, Maria. Behind us there was the consignment.

It was concealed under a dummy cargo of cardboard boxes in the cargo space. There were ninety-five Chinese-made Kalashnikov rifles each with three magazines but sans bayonet (to save weight), carefully padded in four plywood crates. No ammunition. Then there were 100 semi-automatic pistols packed in three big blue plastic drums. Each was swaddled in bubble-wrap with a home-made nylon holster, three fully-loaded magazines, 50 spare rounds, a cleaning kit, and a little instruction booklet. Each load was strapped under a Butler cargo parachute.

A few minutes after take-off we flew over Paul Keating's new renaissance revival palace. It was nestled next to John Laws' place in a beautiful secluded valley west of Wyong, and I wondered if Paul had slipped up to Jakarta recently to console his embattled old friend Soeharto.

We stopped off at Rockhampton to refuel and then flew over the Shoalwater Bay Training Area where, for years, our army had trained the Indonesians in 'counter-insurgency warfare'.

"What's the dummy cargo?" I asked.

"Oh, I borrowed my wife's stuff", Richard said, "She bought a whole warehouse full of fat little Santa Claus dolls -- just a few cents each from an Indonesian Chinaman who went bust last year. She snipped off the red caps and dipped everything except the head in a vat of black dye and sort of turned the mouth down at the corners with a couple of strokes with a black Texta. She sells them at the Balmain markets as Paddy McGuinness dolls, for ten bucks. She's cleaning up. Soft toys. They weigh bugger-all but they take up lots of space".

There had to be a message there, if only I could see it.

We turned inland and headed for Timber Creek where we landed for the night. It was 35 degrees but the air was blessedly dry. We slept on the ground next to the plane.

We flew out on Thursday evening so as to arrive over the drop zone at 21:00 hours, passing west of Timor at 15,000 feet as if we were heading for Sulawesi. It was moonless and pitch black. Then we doubled back to pass east of Dili -- hurtling towards our rendevouz with the independence fighters.

At 20:35 Maria and I went aft. We clipped on our safety harnesses and shovelled the dummy cargo away from the rear door. One of the cheap cardboard boxes split open, spilling a couple of hundred Paddy dolls onto the floor. It was too late to secure them, so we worked with them underfoot.

We clipped the drums and crates of weapons to the static line and marshalled them towards the door. Sweet Mother of Charles Darwin, what if it was a trap. What if ABRI were waiting with a few well-placed machine guns or even real anti-aircraft stuff. My mouth went dry and my tail went stiff. I check everything again and thought of Joadja. I was definitely getting too old for this sort of thing. Maria sang softly to herself.

Richard's voice came quietly through the headset: "Okay, Three minutes".

He pulled her back to 130 km/h, just safely above stalling speed. I eased the cargo door open. There was a screech of air as it folded out above the fuselage -- they were never designed for this sort of work. Paddy dolls tumbled towards the door and sucked out into the darkness as I threw out the static line. I peeped cautiously around the edge of the door. Wind cut under my glasses and my eyes ran, but I saw a couple of torch beams stabbing towards us and an open field below.

"Get ready ... ready. Now! Go! Go! Go!", Richard's voice screeched.

The drums of pistols went in a few seconds.

"Stop! Stop! We've overshot the drop zone. I'll come around for another pass."

Maria was heaving the crates of rifles down towards the door as we banked sharply, circled, and came in again. "Go! Go!" Richard ordered, and as she slid them up, one by one, I leaned against the fuselage and shoved them out with my foot.

Then they were gone. I kicked a couple of dozen Paddy McGuinness dolls clear of the door, watched them fall into the darkness, and pulled it closed.

"Jesus, imagine if we had one of those Air Force C130s", Maria said, "We could have dropped enough stuff tonight to do over the fucking integrationist thugs in a few days. Howard and Downer are such grovelling creeps."

We slipped back into our seats. Any moment I expected to see an Indonesian fighter slip alongside and order us to follow him ... but it never happened.

By Saturday I was back in the office. The whole thing had an air of unreality.

I was reading the papers on Sunday morning when the mobile rang. It was Tommy. He was calling, he said, from Jakarta.

"The consignment arrived in good order. It is much appreciated. The Phillip Adams dolls were a nice touch, as you say. He is much admired here on the Radio Australia and internet, but why do his dolls look so grumpy?"

"Ah, it's a sort of local joke, Comrade; a cult thing. Very arcane. I'll explain it over a Bintang next time we meet", I muttered.

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.