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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Brushtail Graphics

Possum on the waterside

No wharfie ever called me nigger

31 January 1998

I was having breakfast in the Brushtail Café when John Coombs from the Maritime Union rang me.

"Those 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".

"Aw, 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".

I finished my apple and muesli, went back to the office for the Nikon and caught a taxi to Mascot.

When 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.

On 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.

They 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 change.

In a Third World country, no-one can hear you scream ...

Reflections on pedophilia, Arthur C. Clarke and the National Farmers Federation

6 February 1998


Most 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.

Stopping 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.

When 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.

Mostly 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.

While I was waiting I had plenty of time to read the papers and reflect.

Arthur 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 it out.

It 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.

Bruce 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 the point.

The real story happens at the other end of the movie and it's a nasty little tale about spin-doctors and reactionary politics.

In 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.

It 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.

Raymond 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.

Dart 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.

Ardrey 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.

There 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.*

None of the spindoctors apologised or explained their error. Probably they never even noticed.

• • •

But perhaps, I thought, I was being harsh on Arthur C. Clarke. Perhaps he was, after all, a sort of benefactor in Sri Lanka.

Clarke 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):

Such 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.

At 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.

Yes, 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'.

• • •

I was lost in this happy thought when Bob whispered "He's coming out ... he's looking this way".

I 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 next day.


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.


Killen time on the picket line

21 April 1998

I 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 ...

A 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!" ...

I 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.

It 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.

I 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 sores.

I 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.

I 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.

Joadja 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.

"Not long enough", I muttered, "And I had this weird dream about Jim Killen attacking Reith and Howard and supporting the wharfies."

"No 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 line eventually".

When I finished breakfast and felt slightly marsupial again I told Joadja about the rest of my dream.

"Now thatwas a nightmare" she said, "That was the last thirty years".

I 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 the wharves.

"Let 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!"

People 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.

The 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.

I 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.

"It's young Adrian, isn't it? What are you doing with yourself these days?" I asked, pulling up a chair.

"Ah, 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."*

*With apologies to the Stan Moran (who saw it all before).

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.