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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A stakeout in the night

2 September 1999

The moon shone weakly through a rainy mist and water started to trickle across the concrete slab under the milk crate. My tail was wet and my bum hurt and the dim glow of a distant street lamp was only just enough to read by.

It was Monday night and I was hunkered down in the doorway of a locked public toilet on the edge of the park. I had a pile of newspapers and a bottle of cider in a brown paper bag and I was packing death. In both senses. Some bastard was going around bashing homeless old people to death in their sleep and the cops had hired me to help with the case. Something between an undercover job and decoy work.

"What with the budget cuts, we can't put one of the boys on overtime, but we can afford to hire you as a 'visioning consultant' -- you know how it is with the Carr Government", Detective Superintendent "Shag" Pile said.

"Why me?" I asked.

"Well, you're a night animal. Great night vision they say. And if the bastard does you in, the paper work will be easy. We'll just hand it over to the Wildlife Service at Hurstville. Gilligan will write you off as a roadkill". He laughed so much his toupee nearly fell off.

"Very funny, arsehole. What exactly do you want me to do?"

"Okay, so, we reckon this jerk probably scouts out his turf, studies his victims before he strikes, so you're watching for some sort of loner, a midnight jogger maybe. They lock the toilet here at dusk, so you can camp in the doorway", he stabbed his finger at the big wall map.

"Take your shooter and keep in radio contact. There'll be a patrol car within a couple of minutes drive 'till 4 am. If we don't hear from you every five minutes we'll come around".

At first I entertained myself listening to Brian Wilshire on my little derro's radio. His show goes well with long-shot stakeouts. It opens the mind to every shadow, every movement, every possible coincidence, but too much of Brian through one earplug and the police two-way through the other can be dangerous. By 11.30 paranoia was creeping up on me and I switched to the Saturday Herald.

The nearest street light fizzed out at 2.38, so I turned the radio back on to listen to the amiable Peter Hand.

Just then I saw a figure in a dark tracksuit on the other side of the park. He was carrying what appeared to be a white stick in his hand and he moved furtively from power pole to power pole.

After a minute or two he moved out of my field of vision, behind the toilet block. I called the patrol car and told them to move in discreetly. Three long minutes went by. Was that the cops I could see a couple of hundred yards away? Then I heard footsteps over the sound of my heart banging. My mouth went dry and I clutched the Browning in my right paw, eased it out of my trenchcoat pocket, and slid it under the newspaper on my lap.

Suddenly the man walked back into my field of vision. He was only ten metres away. Dark hair, dark complexion. He looked fit and dangerous. He stopped in the shadows and looked at me, then he slipped out of sight behind a big fig tree. I uncovered the Browning, ready to wave it at him.

Headlights came slowly down the street. A couple of patrol cars stopped and the coppers got out. The man didn't run away. The cops walked over and stood in the shadows talking to him, then they bundled him into the patrol car and drove away.

"So who did you pick up? Anybody interesting?" I asked Pile on Tuesday morning.

"Nah, it was only Frank Sartor, pasting up election posters", he replied. "We let him go with a warning. First offence, good character, no publicity. You wouldn't want Katherine Greiner as Mayor would you?"

It was a fine distinction and an ugly choice, but I had to agree with him.

• • •

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

FREE downloadable PDF booklet.