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 tale of two Sydneys

11 May 2000

After a swag of work my bank account was flush and I was feeling slightly guilty, so I agreed to do a freebie for a coalition of community groups fighting a development proposal down at Cooks River.

They sent a small deputation to see me so we pulled together a couple of tables outside the Brushtail Café and they spread out some photos and glossy brochures. They wanted to get the inside story on the proposed North Arncliffe development, which, they told me, was threatening the integrity of a precious bit of Sydney's history.

"Look at this!" a lady called Nola said. "This is Tempe House. It was built in 1836 and it might be the most beautiful Georgian villa in Sydney. The garden stretched to the banks of the river. And this little hill here is called Mount Olympus. What they want to do is build twelve storey flats right up to the back of Tempe House here, and right up to the banks of Cooks River here. It's just monstrous! There's not much that's beautiful in our part of Sydney and we don't want to lose it."

It did look pretty dreadful. Redeveloping the North Arncliffe rust belt will make a few developers a motza. Building right to the river's edge is pushing it too far.

On Saturday I called up Abdul the cabbie and booked him a few hours. We drove down to North Arncliffe and parked outside a car wreckers at the back of Mount Olympus. I'd intended to slip over the chain wire fence and have a poke around but there was a big grey limousine waiting in Arncliffe Street. A uniformed driver was leaning on the bonnet. After a few minutes a man in a nice suit walked out of Tempe House and got in. Sometimes you get lucky.

We tailed them to Sydenham station. He got out and Abdul dropped me off. I followed the target across the road and queued up behind him to buy a ticket from the machine.

"'Scuse me mate. Very embarrassing. I just need ... I got this bent coin in change and the machine won't take it and I need $1.80 to get home. I'm sorry to ask, very embarrassing ..." He showed me a bent coin.

There are beggars with plausible little yarns like this all over Sydney these days. I fished around in my pocket and gave him a couple of dollars.

I got my ticket and followed the target down the stairs. In his $2000 Amani suit he struck an odd figure among the people thronging the platform. It wouldn't take much to push most of them over the line that separates just-scraping-by from dirt poor ... when the boom goes bust, as it inevitably will.

We had five minutes to wait, but five minutes is a long time on Sydenham station. Below the platform the edges of the line were crusted with a thick layer of cigarette butts and papers and bottles. The asphalt was blotched with trodden-in bubble gum and the paint was peeling from the seats. An incoming 747 roared overhead, so low you could almost see faces at the window.

He got on a City Circle train and I sat behind him at the back of the carriage. The sun was setting when we got off at Circular Quay. The city lights were winking off the wine-dark waters of the harbour and the opulence was blinding.

There is a transient democracy about Circular Quay. The rich and the poor mingle along the concourse and in the shadowy corners homeless people sit on plastic crates with the patience of those who have nothing to hope for. I followed him towards Campbells Cove and the democracy faded with each step we took. By the time he walked into the Park Hyatt it had just about vanished and we were in another Sydney altogether.