on the waterside
wharfie ever called me nigger
was having breakfast in the Brushtail Café when John Coombs from
the Maritime Union rang me.
scabs from the National Farmers Federation have gone into Webb Dock",
he said, "Can you get down here with your camera and the 2000 millimetre
lens and help us with the intelligence side of the operation ... we'll
make it worth your while".
forget it", I said, "Just pay the air fare and expenses, get
one of the boys to put me up. The day I start charging for work like
that I'll piss on Mum's grave whistling the Horst Wessel song and join
the National Party".
finished my apple and muesli, went back to the office for the Nikon
and caught a taxi to Mascot.
I got to Qantas I had a chat with a union delegate I knew at reservations.
He bumped a businessman who was five minutes late checking in and got
me a stand-by on the next flight to Melbourne.
the way down I read the papers. Almost every columnist and half the
journalists were baying for the wharfies' blood. There were honourable
exceptions of course, like old Alan Ramsay, who is these days standing
out among the ghastly run of SMH columnists like some sort of righteous
Old Testament prophet.
were saying that the average wharfie earned $70,000 a year. So what,
I thought ... wharfies are socially useful, and you can hire three of
them for the price of just one Paddy McGuinness. The average journalist
starts on $50,000 a year and the first time they kiss Respectable Opinion
on the arse without gagging they get an automatic rise to $70,000 ...
$75,000 if they sign the bit that says they'll never again read a history
book or explore Really Fundamental questions. For the purchase price
of Ray Martin, Frank and Miranda Devine, Alan Jones, John Laws, Michael
Millett, Bettina Arndt, Paul Sheehan, Anthony Hoy and Mike Moore you
could run the whole Melbourne waterfront for a year and still have spare
a Third World country, no-one can hear you scream ...
on pedophilia, Arthur C. Clarke and the National Farmers Federation
people imagine that being on a picket line is one relentless confrontation
-- yelling at scabs, waving placards, chanting slogans -- but this is
an impression created by the five second image on TV.
the National Farmers Federation from introducing Third World conditions
to Australia involves much more than that. For every unionist on the
picket line there's at least one behind the scenes and much of the fight
takes place on the telephone. A lot of the work is pretty specialised.
There's the media war, and the political war. There's weeding out provocateurs,
and then there's the intelligence war ... which is where I came in.
I got to Melbourne it turned out my job was to identify a serving SAS
officer (codename: "Scoutmaster") who was a linchpin in the
NFF's grubby little operation.
it was boring work: long hours at Webb Dock, holed up in the back seat
of a borrowed car, peering through binoculars, with the Nikon and the
big telephoto lens mounted on a tripod between the front seats.
Every time the bastard came into view somebody got in the way, or shadows
fell across his face.
I was waiting I had plenty of time to read the papers and reflect.
C. Clarke was in the news. Just days before he was due to be knighted
by Prince Charles the reactionary old science fiction writer and 'futurist'
had confessed to being a common pederast, preying on the impoverished
boys of Sri Lanka, where he had lived like some sort of honoured cultural
icon and patron saint of 'sex tours' for four decades. I had always
wondered why he moved there and now the old bastard had just blurted
was a ghastly metaphor for the role of the IMF and the multinationals
in the Third World: Hello, young fella ... here's a dollar to buy some
sweets ... would you like to come up and play with my computer games
... I've got 'Predator' ... it runs great on the Pentium ... like a
Bacardi and Coke? ... sit down ... pizza? ... bet you like videos ...
you'll love this one ... it's all about bodybuilding ... have you ever
seen a grown man naked? ... enjoy.
Elder, the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald's 'Stay in Touch'
column speculated that movie buffs might now have to put a whole new
meaning on the infant-in-space image, the final scene in Stanley Kubrick's
movie of Clarke's novel 2001: A Space Odyssey -- but Bruce missed
real story happens at the other end of the movie and it's a nasty little
tale about spin-doctors and reactionary politics.
the opening scene of 2001 (Clarke wrote the screenplay) a group
of hominids on the ancient African plains are interrupted in their foraging
by the miraculous appearance of a sinister black slab representing the
God-like arrival of Consciousness. Suddenly one of the little pre-humans
picks up the thigh bone of a large animal and begins to use it as a
club. Soon the hominids are smashing the skull of any animal that comes
within range and slaughtering each other for food.
was Clarke's vision of the beginning of human society, but it wasn't
his own work. He pinched it from Robert Ardrey who got the idea from
old Raymond Dart ... which requires an explanation.
Dart was a pioneer paleoanthropologist who worked in South African caves
-- where vast quantities of animal bones accumulate -- during the 1950s
and early 60s. Analysing these shattered remains Dart concluded that
the destruction was caused by the ancestors of Homo sapiens. What separated
the early pre-humans from the apes was a basic instinct for aggression,
a massive level of interpersonal violence ... and especially cannibalism.
wrote this stuff up in lurid and pessimistic language. It might have
mouldered away in tiny scientific journals read by a handful of people,
but for a conservative author and now-forgotten playwright, Robert Ardrey,
who became an eager disciple.
mingled Dart's thesis with work by the Nazi biologist Konrad Lorenz
and sundry bits of zoology and sociology that came to hand and churned
it all into a series of best sellers: African Genesis, Territorial
Imperative, Hunting Hypothesis and Social Contract.
These wowed the conservative cocktail set and became required reading
for tens of thousands of talk-back radio jocks, PR hacks, newspaper
editors and politicians.
It was pop sociobiology on acid. The worst sort of predation, sexism,
exploitation and nationalism was sanctified because it was man's 'innate'
biology and justified in high-flown gibberish ... and it was here that
Arthur C. Clarke picked up the idea for 2001. The opening scene of Clarke's
screenplay spread the message to the world.
was just one problem: Raymond Dart had got it all wrong. A massive body
of later scientific research showed that Dart's collections of crushed
bones were just the left-overs of meals by hyenas and leopards or had
been crushed by geological action. The early hominids had not, after
all, been frenzied blood-soaked cannibals ... or even primarily carnivorous.*
of the spindoctors apologised or explained their error. Probably they
never even noticed.
perhaps, I thought, I was being harsh on Arthur C. Clarke. Perhaps he
was, after all, a sort of benefactor in Sri Lanka.
had later denied that he had sex with pre-pubescent boys (although it
was, he pointed out, difficult to tell exactly how old the little brown
chappies were). And had not Paddy McGuinness himself said (in his celebrated
defence of the Christopher Pearson - Chief Justice John Bray relationship):
relationships between young and old, especially when the older partner
is a person of great intelligence and civilisation, can be enormously
beneficial to the younger partner.
least by the standards of the royal family Clarke was a person of great
intelligence and civilisation. After all, they were going to knight
him. Who am I, a mere possum, to argue with them. In his time in Sri
Lanka literally hundreds of impoverished young lads might have benefitted
from Clarke's attentions.
perhaps I had been harsh. No doubt Clarke will be persuaded by the editorial
board of Quadrant to tell his side of the story in the next exciting
issue. It could be headlined: '2001: a Sex Odyssey -- How I was Hounded
by the Political Establishment'.
was lost in this happy thought when Bob whispered "He's coming
out ... he's looking this way".
sat upright and peered into the Nikon's viewfinder. "Scoutmaster"
had walked out of the portable shed, into the sunlight, and was peering
across at the picket line. I squeezed the button and the motordrive
did its work. When the prints were developed we had half a dozen stunning
portraits. I emailed the shots to an old mate in the SAS and double
checked with an ABC cameraman who'd worked on the Blackhawk disaster
story and we had a positive ID. His name was all over the papers the
Richard E. Leakey, The Making of Mankind, Michael Joseph, London
1981. See especially Chapter 13.
Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History,
Penguin, 1980. See especially 'Part B: Sociobiology'.
Donald C. Johanson & Maitland A. Edey, Lucy: The Beginnings of
Humankind., Granada, 1981.
time on the picket line
was trapped, naked, in an endless neon-lit Westfield mall ... there
was some sort of ultra-lightweight disco version of the Spice Girls'
greatest hits playing ... cheap CDs and shoes from China were falling
off the shelves and spilling across the aisles ... cheap suits from
China ... cheap jeans from Indonesia ... cheap watches from Thailand
... piles of TVs from Korea so cheap you wondered how they could do
it ... cheap gold gimcracks, silk nick-nacks and plastic Paddy McGuinness
dolls ... thousands of pale vacant-eyed consumers were flowing along
the aisles ...
pushy young man with acne claiming to be from Westpac approached me
offering home loans ... "How much do you want", he demanded,
"Buggered if I know", I said, "How much deposit do I
need?", "Deposit! deposit! We haven't asked for a deposit
in years", he said indignantly. I shoved him out of the way. He
stumbled and fell, sending Margaret Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin and an overweight
teenage Mormon in a white shirt and thick-soled Colorados crashing into
a table of discount Country Road tee-shirts selling for $3 (or two for
$5) ... there were harsh cries ... people were running after me yelling
"Competitive edge!", "Downsizing!", "World's
best practice!" ...
fled around a corner past a seething mass of Indonesian beggars and
into a carpark that seemed to stretch forever ... new four wheel drives
and cheap five-door hatchbacks in expensive metallic colors ... then
I was running down a long corridor ... there were huge shipping containers
spilling open ... Italian terracotta pots and Taiwanese VCRs, elegant
teak furniture from Laos, little mobile phones from Mexico were spilling
out of them ... getting in the way ... I was climbing over it and around
another corner ... there was a chain wire fence and barbed-wire and
fat fucking thugs in balaclavas with German shepherd dogs on chains
on the other side and suddenly there was ... my God ... old Jim Killen
arm in arm with John Coombs chanting ... "Does your Mum know you're
scabbing?" ... and I turned around and I was on Cheviot Beach and
there was a Chinese submarine beyond the breakers ... and Harold Holt
was swimming ashore and climbing out of the water and Bob Santamaria
was embracing him and they were wearing MUA tee-shirts and I screamed
but no sound came out and ...
and I opened my eyes.
was 10.37 in the morning. I reached out and banged the button on the
clock radio. The roof space was littered with apple cores, pizza boxes
and cider bottles. A weak grey light was creeping in through the ventilators
and under the eaves. Possums have fantastic bladder control, but mine
was near bursting. I rolled out of bed and climbed down from the ceiling.
had a long relieving piss, feeling my blood pressure drop till I was
light-headed, and looked at myself in the mirror. It was not an appealing
sight. In the two and a half months since John Coombs had rung me from
Webb Dock I had scarcely had a moment to scratch myself. My fur was
scraggy and unkempt and the skin above my eyes had split open into nasty
went downstairs and crossed the lane to the cafe. The early morning
breakfast crowd -- the folk with real jobs -- had long since departed
but a bloke was sitting in my favourite seat in the corner by the window.
slumped on the bar and asked Joadja for the usual. "Not here, not
now, possum", she said, with a sympathetic snicker and departed
into the kitchen. The radio seemed to have been tuned to 2SER FM because
some teenage journalist was interviewing a priggish English undergraduate
but then I realised it was Fran Kelly talking to Alexander Downer on
Radio National. I felt utterly drained and listless.
came back and laid my breakfast along the bar: a bowl of muesli with
soy milk, leatherwood honey and chopped apple, a jug of carrot juice,
four slices of toast with avocado, sun dried tomato and pine nuts ...
and a long black. "How did you sleep?", she asked.
long enough", I muttered, "And I had this weird dream about
Jim Killen attacking Reith and Howard and supporting the wharfies."
dream ... it's true, you must have heard the news while you were half
asleep", she said. "Even Bill Kelty turned up at the picket
I finished breakfast and felt slightly marsupial again I told Joadja
about the rest of my dream.
thatwas a nightmare" she said, "That was the last thirty years".
had got involved in the wharves dispute as a kind of weary duty ...
a fundamental loyalty thing, but every day surprised me: the confidence,
the support flowing in, the international boycott, the discipline, the
defiance, the ordinary people from the community turning up to blockade
them arrest me" was the feeling on the picket line, "What
the hell can they do to me ... they can't keep us all in gaol forever!"
were sensing that the economic rationalists had run their course. Nobody
much was listening anymore, so the thugs had pulled on their balaclavas
and got the dogs out of the kennels and stepped onto the front lines
and the spin-doctors and intellectual bully-boys, the human resources
experts and the PR wankers had moved to the rear.
edifice was stricken by a dreadful cancer. The Great God Market had
got what it wanted and run the world, but now the whole rotten structure
was creaking. Soon it would surely crumple in on itself in an economic
disaster to rival 1929.
looked again at the young fella sitting by the window. He was hunkered
down over his second glass of red, and it suddenly occurred to me that
I knew him. I had done some hidden assets work for his mum a few years
ago when his dad ran out on them and left them penniless.
young Adrian, isn't it? What are you doing with yourself these days?"
I asked, pulling up a chair.
yeah, hi Nick, I thought it was you I saw out at Port Botany on the
picket line", he said, with the wary look of a cornered animal...
"I'm writing for the Daily Telegraph ... but if you see
Mum, please don't tell her, she still thinks I'm working in a brothel."*
apologies to the Stan Moran (who saw it all before).
25 JULY 98.
In late July 1998, Stan Moran, the former leader of the Waterside Workers
Federation, died aged 92. The story about the Telegraph journalist and
the brothel was originally his.