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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Among the barbarians
Nick Possum and the Victims of Political Correctness Inc.

10 June 1998

I was sitting at my favourite table by the window of the Brushtail Café reading City Hub when I noticed an attractive well dressed blond come down the lane. She stopped and pressed my office bell so I walked across the lane, introduced myself and led her upstairs.

"So how can I help you?", I asked. Everything about her said Money. She was a fine looking woman in her forties. Simple classical hairdo. Simple classical gold earrings. She put a lot of money on her back. Simple classical Double Bay suit (say, $1500). Simple classical $400 shoes. I could feel a simple $2000 fee in the offing. I get a bit of this sort of work. Women will discuss things with possums they wouldn't talk about to men (or even women).

"I feel horrible about this, but I'd like you to follow my husband. I suspect he's ... seeing somebody".

"What makes you suspect, what are the signs?", I asked. "In my experience these things often turn out to be some other problem the person is going through". This wasn't actually true, but I find it's important to defuse the situation if paranoia is on a roll.

"Well, he's become very mean, grumpy. He explodes over trifles. He's developed a real obsessive hatred of my women friends".

"And perhaps also of Asians, gays, Koories, the unions, the unemployed, young people, the ABC, judges, greenies", I ventured.

"Well, yes, but he was always very conservative, politically ... He's with a newspaper you see".
"Perhaps it's just a case of Mad Columnist's Disease. Does he also feel he's ..."

"No, It's not that, I know there's something more". I could tell she had made up her mind.

"Well, is there time you can't account for?"

"Tuesday nights. Every second Tuesday night. But also other times. He comes home late. Says sometimes he had to go to a meeting but he never says of what, and it's as though ... he's different ... as if some stress had been lifted from him. But it only lasts a day. I want you to follow him. I want to know".

Her face had a sad resigned quality. Did instinct tell her that behind the veneer of success and status there was something she would never have? "You'd better give me some more details about your husband", I said.

• • •

So it was that the next Tuesday evening I waited in the rain outside the grim grey block on the edge of the city where the target worked. I had no trouble with concealment. Homeless men are a fixture on the streets there. I picked up an empty bottle of cheap muscat I found on the pavement and slumped against the wall, pretending to be asleep. Twenty minutes passed, and the target emerged.

I followed him up the hill towards the city. He was nearly sixty and seriously overweight so he moved slowly. I had been shocked when I learned his name. It was not a nice scenario. I didn't read his column much, never listened to him on the radio, so I went down to the library and looked back over the last 30 years of his stuff, to get a feel for the case.

He was pretty much the average for a Sydney pundit: he'd been a fair-weather dope-smoking lefty in the sixties but he slipped effortlessly to the right in the seventies and eighties. By the early nineties he was a full-blown free market fundamentalist extolling a glowing consumerist future in which history would die and we would all become just the sum of our shopping. But now his world was disintegrating ... currencies and stock markets were crashing, an ugly nationalism was on the rise, there were millions of unemployed in Jakarta, the trade unions were getting stroppy and the Spice Girls had broken up.

I followed him down Elizabeth Street. He walked into the flash new hotel opposite Hyde Park. It was the sort of place where a five foot eight and a half inch possum in a grubby trenchcoat stands out, but I nodded to the conscierge as if I knew him and strolled in. The target was nowhere in sight so I sat down on the black leather lounge where I could see the lifts.

If he'd gone straight up to a room for a rendezvous with a woman I didn't have much of a chance of finding him. Perhaps, after all, he was going to a meeting. I flicked through the hotel brochure. There was a luxurious conference room on the fourth floor. I decided to check it out. I got into a lift by myself and went up.

When the lift door opened it was screened from the room by an opaque glass wall. I slipped out of the lift and looked around the edge. The room was set out for a meeting. A few people were gathered around a heavily loaded buffet table eating and drinking. My target was with them.

Their backs were turned so I walked casually across towards the only cover I could see -- a fake Louis XVII dresser topped by a china vase from which exploded an enormous dried flower arrangement. Concealed behind it, a passageway led to the kitchen. I pushed open the door. It wasn't being used.

I waited behind the dried flowers. The lift door opened and out walked Paddy McGuinness with Piers Ackerman and Dame Leonie Kramer. The room started to fill quickly. The celebrated redneck poet, Les Murray, was there with the Quadrant crowd. Frank and Miranda Devine drifted in. Then came Ron Casey with what looked like Alan Jones. Stan Zemanek turned up with Paul Sheehan, who was carrying a heavy cardboard box full of books.

There were not many women but Marlene Goldsmith arrived and I thought I recognised Bettina Arndt. Helen Demidenko-Darville was on the fringe of the party talking to a tall woman in a leather miniskirt, fuck-me shoes and fishnet stockings.

There might have been fifty people. I did some rough calculations in my head. I was looking at serious money. Their combined annual income was around $15 million. If John Laws had walked out of the lift it would have jumped to $27 million.

I was still utterly mystified as to what could bring this crew together when the chairman tinkled a small crystal bell to bring the gathering to order.

"I declare the 48th meeting of the Sydney Chapter of the Victims of Political Correctness Incorporated open", he announced. "There are apologies from John Howard and Pauline Hanson. Unfortunately pressing engagements have kept them in Queensland. In just a little while we're going to hear an appreciation by Brother Paddy of Brother Paul Sheehan's new book Among the Barbarians, but first I'd like to welcome a new victim to our gathering. Brother Adrian has been victimised. He's the latest to have his right to free speech attacked by the Political Establishment. I'd like you to put your hands together for the Brother as he comes up to tell us about his ordeal".

There was a murmur of approval and a round of polite applause as Adrian made his way to the microphone.

"Brothers and Sisters ... " he began hesitantly.

"'Brothers', we're 'Brothers', we don't have 'Sisters', in this organisation, Brother ... that reeks of the hegemony of PC. We won't have anything to do with the Sisterhood here", interjected a columnist from the Daily Telegraph.

"I beg to differ with the Brother", said an elderly female academic. "I'll overlook your use of the left-wing term 'hegemony', but I must say the appellation 'Sister' has a long record of honourable use in quite respectable organisations like the Loyal Order of Wives of the British Empire and ..."

"And in the trade unions and the Catholic church", somebody else added.

"Hang on a second, what have you got against the church?", said a thin mustachioed figure whose voice seemed oddly familiar.

"Bunch of Bog Irish republicans and wogs", the Murdoch editor sputtered. "What about Gerard Henderson and his wife? Irish Catholic feminism with a conservative spin".

"Anyway, who are you calling a wog?", demanded a swarthy talk-back DJ.

"Please, please, some consideration for our speaker", the chairman said, raising his voice above the din.
"I've just moved here from Adelaide and my friend Christopher Pearson ..."

"I know I'll be in trouble for saying this, but Pearson is a poofter. Are you a poofter too?" asked a tense, florid, white haired man seated in the back row.

Snickers and murmers of disapproval gusted around the room.

"Well I hardly think such terminology is called for", Adrian said.

At that, the florid man lurched towards Adrian. "PC! PC!" he screamed, "You won't let us say what we want to. Censorship! It's the Jews! The Jews are using the Abos and the poofters and the greenies! Locking up the land. Cheap imports. The yellow hordes are upon us! They took my guns! I fought for this country and now They won't let me evict possums from the ceiling!".

The chairman stood up and tinkled his little bell but everyone was yelling at once and nobody noticed. Adrian grappled with the florid man and they fell among the seats. All hell broke loose. My target started swinging wild punches at the bloke beside him. A champagne bottle spun across the room and crashed against the wall behind me.

I think it was Paddy McGuinness I saw, standing like a grim prophet in the midst of chaos as the fighting surged around him. He was bellowing slogans mustered from some deep leftist archive of the memory: "Brothers! This is what they want! Only with unity will we overcome the tyrants! We must have unity around our demand for tolerance and free expression!"

The melee subsided in a litter of upturned chairs, broken glasses, truffles, tiger prawns and soiled copies of Among the Barbarians. The Victims backed away from each other in small knots gibbering in low voices.
To my horror I saw the florid man staggering towards me. Perhaps he mistook the kitchen door for the toilet. It was too late to escape down the corridor but I remembered the adage Old Possum had taught me: "Bigots are easily conned by their own prejudices". I slumped against the wall and stretched out my paw. "Gibbit dollar boss, for an ol' marsupial to buy a drink, gibbit dollar for an old grey possum, boss", I said as he lurched around the dresser.

"Jesus", he muttered, reeling back, "There's an intruder, there's a fucking possum here. Who let the bludger in ... call security".

I fled into the kitchen but the back exit was locked and the Victims barricaded the door to the conference room.

Hotel security arrived five minutes later and dragged me by the tail to the lift. Most of the Victims averted their gaze but the florid man spat at me.

The chairman had reestablished order and Paddy was making kind remarks about Paul Sheehan's book. "It will rapidly become the bible of the One Nation party ... There is truth in every one of Sheehan's charges ... they will rue the day that one first-rate journalist has been so angered ..." I heard him say as the lift doors shut.

The goons hustled me through the foyer and threw me out into Elizabeth Street. "Back up the tree, possum", one of them sneered, "Don't bother coming down while your balls are still above your dick".

"I saw your face at Port Botany before you pulled your balaclava on ... You had your partner on a leash back then ... I'll tell my wharfie mates where you work, arsehole", I said.

He lifted a can of capsicum spray to my face but he fumbled with the button and I ducked around a taxi and limped across the street to the park.

I pulled the Nikon out from my trenchcoat pocket and examined it under the harsh glare of the street lamp. Despite having been bashed around in the encounter it was OK. I moved into the shadows and waited.
An hour later, the Victims drifted out of the hotel and started to leave in taxis and limousines. My target emerged. I watched through the viewfinder as he stopped near the door to talk with the tall woman in the miniskirt and the fishnet stockings. I squeezed the button and took a dozen frames before he jumped in a cab.

• • •

My hunch about Mad Columnists Disease had been right all along. I called his wife up and asked her to come over.

I searched her face as she slid elegantly into the chair opposite me. It was a kind, decent face. It seemed to be free of ego, or greed or envy. What did she really fear? What did she want?

I saw myself standing in court giving evidence in a ghastly celebrity divorce and I wanted no part of it.
I spread the prints out on my desk.

"I followed him to this hotel. He went to some sort of, ah, meeting there. He was there for a couple of hours. He walked out with this woman. I dunno, dunno ... she's another, ah, journalist ... writes about sexual politics, mostly. I've got to be objective. You wouldn't hang a dog on that evidence. I can't help you interpret this."

"Thank god, it's probably only another affair", she said sadly, "My worst fear was that he'd got mixed up with the Victims of Political Correctness".



A sensual moment with Alan Jones

28 July 1998

I was sitting at the bar with Joadja watching a current affairs show about the New Guinea tsunami disaster when a couple of boys from the local private school came into the café.

"Buy a raffle ticket to help the victims, Sir?" one of them said, holding a book of tickets expectantly.

"Why not?", I said. "What do I win if my number comes up?"

"First prize is this great CD set: Alan Jones Presents: Inner Peace, Dinner for Two, Sensual Moments. They sell for thirty dollars". He handed me a shrink-wrapped pack of three CDs.*

I thought I had misheard him so I turned the pack over and an involuntary shudder ran right down my spine to the tip of my tail. There, smiling out of the packet, was Alan (The Parrot) Jones. According to the blurb he had selected the music himself.

"Gee, I dunno", I said. "I've never been one for Alan Jones. I mean, I can't really see Alan bringing me Inner Peace."

"And I'm not sure if dinner for two or a sensual moment with Alan would be my cup of tea either", Joadja muttered.

"In your case Jo, neither would be a likely option", I said.

What the hell, I thought. The prize isn't their fault. A couple of bucks for a good cause.

"Well anyway, it's great that you're doing this for those poor people", I said. "They'll need all the help they can get to rebuild their lives after that terrible tsunami".

They looked a bit bewildered. "Aw no, it's not for that", the other said. "It's to help the Victims, the Victims of Political Correctness Incorporated."

Joadja rolled her eyes and departed in the direction of the kitchen.

I fumbled around in my pocket pretending to look for some change and didn't find any. "Sorry, must have left my wallet back at the office", I mumbled. "Why don't you pop down to the News Limited building? The Victims are well regarded down there, You'll sell lots of tickets".

They eyed me suspiciously and turned to go. "Anyway, what's second prize?" I asked.

"An intimate dinner with Alan Jones."

"Good luck ... I won't ask you what third prize is", I said.
*$29.95 at Braschs.