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 standout performance in the topless comp

1 March 2004

Proper eutherian mammals,
Mice and hippopotamus and camels,
(So researchers have detected)
Wear their boobies unprotected.

Ron Strahan

The fine art of going topless at the beach is surrounded by convention and etiquette, I reflected, as I lay on a lurid towel warming my fur at South Maroubra.

For weeks, my investigation of Liverpool Council had dragged me back to Maroubra, on the other side of the city, where I was keeping a merchant banker, a prominent local politician and their colourful associates under observation.

The mammaries of the human female have always held a relentless fascination for this marsupial, I suppose because lady possums carry their nipples demurely hidden in their pouches.

Yes, I mused, idly scanning the talent on the sand, there are two unforgivables in the art of toplessness: vulgarity and self-consciousness.

The genre hasn’t changed much in a quarter of a century so even rank amateurs have now mastered the basic plays. The most common is lying demurely on the back, a decent distance from the crowd. Sitting up chatting to friends is okay, but although animated conversation might make the performance more engaging, such ploys have long since failed to impress the judges.

The ritual of rubbing on the sunscreen provides some scope for individual flair but few can carry off the touching of the breasts without vulgarity, and having the boyfriend massage in the sunscreen is the pits. At least, I’ve never seen it pulled off successfully.

Standing up and walking into the water (let alone running), is edgy stuff indeed. In the first place, convention dictates that be done at least 50 metres outside the flags. Somehow it always seems tainted with self-promotion.

So it’s not often you see the bar raised by a performance that threatens to rupture the envelope, but just then right in front of me, I saw it done.

She snuck up on the audience with an innovative curtain-raiser. Young, brunette, athletic, with a short gamin cut, she trotted out of the surf with three young male surfies, well-waxed surfboard under her arm.

A few metres up the beach they stopped. The young Amazon dropped her board, ripped off her leg rope and peeled off her wetsuit.

Underneath she wore only a skimpy white bikini bottom.

Hmmm, nice opening statement. Easy, natural, original. Straight away, the judges pencilled her in for 15 points.

On the mammary scale from small-but-perfectly-formed to Rubensesque, she rated closer to the former than the latter, the perfect physique for the performance that followed.

The foursome broke into a lively and lengthy discussion of surfing technique with much fighter pilot-type handplay as they debated the finer points of left- and right-breaks. The young men behaved impeccably, their eyes never straying below her shoulders.

After five minutes the assembled judges agreed, by a process of mental telepathy, that this was an impressive performance. It was certainly worth 70 points – but how would she bring it to an end?

Suddenly, leaving the boys to their discussion, she sauntered over to her gear, crossed right in front of the crowd and picked up a couple of items of clothing. Nice work. Not a hint of self-consciousness. 75, maybe 78.

The only question now was the end-game … could she cover up elegantly, for a high 85?

But wait, a sensation! Without putting her gear on, she sauntered back through the crowd and resumed her animated conversation with the boys. Ambitious stuff. She was shooting for a ton.

It was a high-risk strategy. The seconds crawled into – was it two, three – minutes? The tension was almost unbearable. Finally, she unfurled a wrap. Another small item of clothing fell to the sand.

The audience sweated out the seconds, praying for the sort of relief you feel when an Olympic gymnast completes a heart-stopping performance on the bars, but she wasn’t going to let them out of their misery yet.

She tied the little sarong around her hips and went on animatedly discussing the finer points of pulling off the wave. There was an inaudible collective gasp. The judges pencilled her in for an average of 95. Surely, surely, the end was in sight.

The seconds stretched out like hours.

Finally, finally, she reached down to the sand, plucked up a tiny sleeveless white top, slipped effortlessly into it, picked up her board, and wandered off with the boys.

The judges agreed they’d witnessed a hot new talent, whose performance this late in the season was unlikely to be beaten. It was hard to see how it could have been better but we put her down for 99 points (because only God can be perfect).