The LNP coalition and Labor must go

Both the Liberal/National coalition and the Australian Labor Party have proved themselves unfit to govern Australia and steps should be taken to remove them both from their positions of power. How this might be achieved I don’t profess to know – perhaps by direct appeal to the Crown – and so leave that for others to ponder, but it is my firm belief that while between them they control the destiny of Australia, our future as a country is at stake.

Why? Well to put it bluntly they are incompetent and deliberately obtuse, or both, and a threat to the future of Australia as a continent and a nation. As I have written previously, none of our politicians or their advisers has any real knowledge of Australian history and are seemingly oblivious to events that have occurred in their own lifetimes. What they do know seems to have been gained not by rubbing shoulders with ordinary people, but plucked from corporate press releases and other politicians’ campaign speeches. These reasons alone should condemn them as unfit to govern.

So without professing to have statistics at my fingertips, and nothing much more to guide me other than folk knowledge and strong gut feelings, I’d like to set out my reasons for calling for their removal from the peoples’ [plural intended] Parliament.

Climate Change

Climate change should be the overarching concern of all sides of politics, yet in all the pontification by both groups over the implications of this or that budget measure or economic strategy, not a single phrase has been uttered that might suggest any allowance has been made for the effects it will have on Australia – let alone the planet and hence our trading partners.

Climate change will have a profound impact on every aspect of society, from social cohesion to health to the economy and everything in between, but listen to our politicians and it’s as if the effects will be perhaps a little bit inconvenient and a touch nasty, but will allow us to continue on our merry way. All we need do is use plenty of sunscreen and not drive on flooded roads or use too much water, and it will be business as usual. The only thing that the political protagonists have done is quarrel over when and how emissions should be cut, and by how much. They have created for the country a new Dark Age in which all they need do is burn enough witches – these days masquerading as scientists and environmentalists – and Eden will be restored.

Science

Australia’s peak scientific body, CSIRO and its sister organisation the Australian Antarctic Division (an arm of the Department of Environment) have both been eviscerated by the current government. And what is worse, they have done so with barely a whimper of protest from the Labor opposition; not once in any of its pronouncements about countermeasures to government misdeeds has the Labor Party said it will restore funding to what are among the two most important research bodies in the country. It is from these organisations and others like them – world renowned for innovation – that solutions to climate-induced problems will come.

The Prime Minister’s opinion of science was laid out for all to see when he cut funding to both these bodies and announced the creation of a medical research fund, no doubt hoping that during his term of office a cure for cancer will be found and he will be lauded, perhaps even beatified, as some sort of visionary. It has been pointed out by others better qualified than I that many of the great medical breakthroughs have come about as a side benefit of other research.

Health and society

Neither political camp has any sort of health policy that can by any stretch of the imagination be deemed realistic. What their attitudes do prove, however, is that neither they nor their advisers have done any reading on likely trends in illnesses and diseases other than that fed to them by purely commercial interests.

Because our major political parties consider maintaining a healthy population to be a burden on the economy, preventive medicine is poorly funded in comparison to reactionary measures. Money that would be better spent on social programs goes to drug companies who provide the chemicals to control the symptoms of modern living.

We are constantly reminded of the economic dangers of an aging population, yet not once do we hear of any research that might suggest climate change will probably have its greatest effect on the elderly and the very young.

Nor do politicians seem aware of the time bomb that is diabetes among the young population. In this century the prevalence of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes among young children and teenagers has increased alarmingly. Some medical scientists have actually postulated that children born today may be the first generation in 200 years that does not outlive its parents. Is either side of politics addressing that?

Taxation reform

The approach of both the Coalition and Labor to this sole source of national income is nothing short of ludicrous. Without taxation no country can exist and to continually use tax cuts as election bait is not only unethical, but stupid also.

So as not to upset global corporations and Chambers of Commerce, corporate taxes have been dropping for years. Why? If a company gains profit in a country – especially by utilising that country’s non-renewable resources – why shouldn’t it pay a reasonable amount of tax? If the country finds itself needing to raise revenue, then shouldn’t the business world also bear its share of the burden along with the population at large? In an age when companies employer fewer and fewer people, and make bigger and bigger profits, surely it stands to reason that those companies should pay more tax to compensate for income taxes lost as a consequence of productivity gains at the expense of jobs.

The current treasurer lauds an expanded GST as a means of increasing the revenue base but apparently can’t see that the accelerating use of robotics in industry and a rapidly falling demand for manual labour will make that a less lucrative source of income.

The mining industry is taking more of our resources yet employing fewer people – trucks, draglines and other operations are now in many cases unmanned vehicles controlled from a computer many hundreds of kilometres away, and I suggest that it won’t be long before even that operation will be shifted to overseas countries hoodwinked or bribed into providing tax havens, a move aided by communications satellites paid for by the people’s taxes.

It is apparent that the government and opposition aren’t mentioning the obvious: if spending is cut to offset lower tax income, then private health insurance will replace our highly regarded public health system. A Medicare levy of just a couple of per cent of taxable income will be replaced by five-figure annual insurance premiums. The top income earners won’t be affected by this of course, and as their numbers include politicians, and politicians control the forces of so-called law and order, the end result seems fairly obvious.

Miscellaneous myopia

The Export Economy: Back in the 60s and 70s when England’s entry into the then European Common Market saw once-guaranteed exports of wool and other agricultural produce crash, government looked for ways to prop up a failing economy. One mantra, oft-repeated by members of what was then the Country Party, went something like: “If everyone in China buys just one pair of woolen socks, the country will be back on its feet again.” It never eventuated of course (nobody noticed that the Chinese much prefer cotton socks) and it was innovations and research by scientists at CSIRO and other institutions that helped agriculture regain its feet and, in some cases, burgeon.

So when the next “sell everything to China” light bulb lit up, this time inspired by the demand for iron ore and coal, our cargo cult mentality swung into action. Politicians who for years had lectured us on the need for caution and chided us for being ignorant on matters of supply and demand, approved mining licenses by the giant yellow truck load, ensuring a massive oversupply of minerals on the world market with the consequences we see today.

But not to worry, Tasmania has approved, and been given funding for irrigation schemes that will allow a massive expansion of dairying based on our most valuable and scarcest resource, water; this despite the fact that irrigation has destroyed vast tracts of Australia’s agricultural landscape and taken much of it out of production. There is evidence, too, that the value of dairy exports to China is falling. Never mind, there’s always horticulture and when that fails we can try woolen socks again.

International Relations Beginning with the Howard government, Australia’s view of non-Western Europeans turned us back to the days of the White Australia Policy, a time when some politicians seriously considered approving only blue-eyed immigrants. “Boat people” were the enemy – back then the Yellow Hordes from South East Asia – and Labor, seeing that there might be a few votes in it, welcomed the idea with open arms. Pauline Hanson and her 19th Century ideals and ideas had a brief surge of popularity among people who didn’t think much about much but was quickly neutralised by Howard incorporating many of her ideas into LNP policy and by a very dubious legal action orchestrated by our current Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, himself an enthusiastic, xenophobic Europhile, is now accusing Australians of mass xenophobia because they are questioning some aspects of very secret, so-called free trade agreements being “negotiated” with our more powerful neighbours, the USA among them.

Tony Abbott’s LNP, with the enthusiastic support of the Labor Party, has again raised the spectre of being overrun by waves of invaders from the north; not the Asiatic Hordes this time, but Arabs and Pakistanis and Iranians and Persians from the Muslim Middle East. These people, we are told, are not really refugees, but freeloading economic migrants, wanting to steal Australian worker’s jobs and lower our standard of living. It is convenient to ignore the fact that many members of the Federal Cabinet – including the PM – along with the CEOs and other top brass in many of our institutions are economic immigrants at best, lifestyle immigrants at worst. It is also apparently easy to overlook the fact that under these free trade deals, foreign countries can bring in their own labour force.

Militarism Was it just coincidence, I wonder, that in the same week that the country was celebrating (when it should have been mourning) the 100th anniversary of the slaughter at Gallipoli, our-testosterone driven PM, with the cooperation of his conservative New Zealand counterpart, announced that a latter-day ANZAC force would be sent to Iraq. No doubt in a few very short years we will be remembering this day also, celebrating or mourning depending on whether you were doing “what seemed best at the time” or being shot at, or weeping over the consequences it had for your family.

When G W Bush, to the great excitement of John Howard), announced we were going to invade Iraq, some commentators warned that we were heading for another Vietnam. The armchair generals in a resurgently militaristic West derided them of course; ‘Peacenik’, ‘Bleeding Heart Lefties’ and other phrases from the Vietnam era were bandied about. And those doomsayers were wrong, sort of; it is now worse, far, far worse than Vietnam, and deteriorating by the day – by the hour. ‘Domino Theory and ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ have been replaced by ‘Islamist Death Cult’ and ‘Fanatical Jihadists’, but the aftermath will be the same: we told oppressed people in countries whose oppressors we for generations created or supported that we were invading them to bring democracy and freedom and instead gave them many good reasons to hate us for another 2000 years. Those who sought a do-it-yourself solution to their problems we labelled ‘of uncertain allegiance’ or ‘terrorists’ and so added fuel to an already out-of-control bonfire.

Indigenous matters More than 200 years have passed since England stole this “uninhabited” continent from the people who have been here for more than 60,000 years, yet we’ve still done very little to attempt to right the great wrong done them. Every good thing done by one government (and there are precious few) is wound back or watered down by the next. In many cases, pressure from the National party members of the Coalition or from mining and agribusiness interests sees policies altered before they even see the light of day.

Our current Prime Minister appointed himself a champion of the Indigenous population and vowed that every year he would venture off into a remote Indigenous community (this year it’s the Torres Strait (TS) and Cape York’s turn) where he could have a jolly British-style Boy Scout jape in the woods with lots of exotic people around him. Fair’s fair, at least he went there I suppose, but what has he achieved? Nothing, other than amply demonstrating his total lack of hand/eye coordination when laying bricks, planting trees and watering gardens.

He blew and blustered about his great Recognition Conference and then was miffed when some of the delegates disagreed with him. When Aboriginal and TS representatives announced they would hold a series of conferences to facilitate the formulation of an Indigenous policy on the wording the referendum should contain, an indignant Abbott complained that they were causing division, that this was a matter for “all Australians”. Apparently the people who will be most affected should once again have no say in matters of vital importance to them.

Then to top it off, the government again displayed its appalling lack of knowledge about the country it governs when it awarded TS veterans service medals for their efforts during WWII. Now I’m not knocking the TSIs, two of my childhood heroes were saltwater men and the islanders per capita had the highest rate of enlistment in the country, 100 per cent of eligible men (and many under- and over-age), but it must have rankled with a few Aboriginal veterans in the north. When it was proposed that Top End Aboriginals be formed into a Coast Watch/Homeland Defence Force, it was at first strongly opposed. Inspired perhaps by subconscious pangs of guilt, it was argued that Aboriginals had no reason to like white Australians and so might aid the Japanese.

They might have stopped to think that just a few short years before, Top End Aboriginals had been massacred by whites in retaliation for the killing of Japanese pearlers and trepang divers who had kidnapped and raped Aboriginal women.

And to cap it all off, this champion of the indigenous underdog recently said that Australia had been nothing but [presumably useless] bush before the English got here. And so it goes on.

A Pause There is more I could say, but I’ll leave it for another time. I’d just add that almost everything I’ve written here probably won’t matter in the end because climate change will have the final word. In a recent TV documentary dealing with the problems created by inequalities of wealth distribution, a multi-billionaire was troubled by the fact that although he had given many millions to charity, when it all hit the fan, as it will, the disgruntled masses would not distinguish between the charitable rich and the selfish: “They will come for all of us,” he said.

I believe that like the self-centred and complacent among the rich, our politicians and their corporate masters feel secure in the thought that they will be all right because they have money for private healthcare and retreats in the more habitable places and vast stocks of food, so they will still be in charge of their destiny.

They are wrong. Inequality has already ignited the kindling in many countries, the increasing accumulation of wealth by a very few is adding fuel and the effects of climate change will fan the flames.

I am tempted to say that something must be done now, but I fear it’s already too late.

An imaginary conversation with Tony Abbott, MP

A brief and biased social history of Australia since World War Two

Part Three

Well Tony, we got here at last, to the point of this whole conversation. I apologise for the long-winded way of it, but you needed the background. Why? Well to my mind it seems you walk through life not seeing or hearing anything. Is it your money, or your upbringing? Or is it that superior attitude that your countrymen from all walks of life seem to adopt when they find themselves in the former colonies? I dunno. Of course it could be just the Celt in me, liking a good story and having to come to the point widdershins just because I enjoy the telling of it. That’s the old Australian way you know, Tony, the yarn for its own sake.

Anyway, I better get on. You’ll be wondering what shaped my attitudes and makes me think that I can lecture you on what being an Australian is. Well, it’s the people I grew up with, the people I’ve lived and worked and slept and argued and made love with these past 70-odd years. Not all of them were born in Australia, some came here when they were a lot older than you, but they all have one thing in common: they were Australians through and through, something you’ll never be. Speedos and a red and yellow cap don’t make an Aussie – Oh no, Tony, don’t go there, I wore that outfit once, rowed the boat and did the bronze and the belt swims and all. I lived among and worked with these people, talked and laughed and argued with them. People who’d got their education out in the world, learning as they went.

Like old Poppa, a Ukrainian I knew in Fremantle. He was 96 when I was a teenager and he’d been round Cape Horn under sail twice before he was 11 years old. There was Lindsay, who’d been torpedoed three times as a merchantman on the convoys. Didn’t get a war pension though, did they, those blokes? Not till there was only a handful of them left. Jock and Edie helped us kids when our house was quarantined – Jock had also been on the convoys I think. Nana, who was on a Papua plantation before the First World War. There was Grandpa George, an overlander who took cattle from the Snowy Mountains to the Northern Territory and who told me you should never look at the colour of a bloke’s skin; Aboriginal drovers he worked with said he could smell water. Grandpa Frank, crocodile trapper and pump guard on the King River; he got a governor’s commendation for diving into aforementioned croc-infested river in an attempt to rescue two men; he saved one. Uncle Bert who got me started on the guitar: council worker, truck-driver, one of the happiest people I know. Two-Ton Tony, truck driver on Cockatoo Island, who gave me a first edition of Tarzan of the Apes when I was 9. Alan Cust, a POW on the Burma Railway and the tradesman who mentored me. The Wade brothers, owner of the printing company where I did my apprenticeship – Ron was a navigator over Europe in Lancasters during WWII, Nev was RAAF ground crew in Singapore and spent the war as a POW in Changi; their Dad, Bertie, was on the Western Front for most of WWI. Then there was Mick Christensen, DFC, my instructor in trade theory at tech school; he was a sergeant pilot in Wellingtons during WWII and got his gong for nursing his badly shot-up bomber over the English coast so his crew could bail out over land, then turning back and ditching in the English Channel so as not to endanger lives. Jack Reddington, elderly father of my mate Kev; at 9 years old he served with the army of the British Raj as a drummer boy at the Khyber Pass on the North-West Frontier. My old Newcastle mate, a card-carrying communist from the age of 17 until the disappointment of Hungary and a fearless and tireless publisher of community newsletters and operator of the clandestine radio during Timor’s troubles. And the numberless blokes and sheilas, gay and straight, I laboured with in meat works, timber mills, newspapers, printing plants, tin mines, on farms and other jobs too numerous to mention. The men and women I’ve shared the stage with; the girls I’ve loved who loved me back and comforted me because they almost understood me. These are the people who shaped me, and many Australians of my generation and younger have been shaped by people like them.

And these are the people you have never known and can’t know, because they live in a world whose values and ethics you are unable to comprehend. They believed in a fair go and didn’t turn on people less fortunate than they were; they didn’t want to see a country divided into haves and have-nots; where people copping the burnt stick in the eye are turned against people without a pot to piss in.

Real Australians don’t wave flags or beat their chests about patriotism and loyalty and ask god’s blessing for their homeland because they don’t need to. That’s not the Australian way – or it wasn’t when I was growing up. God was the business of sky pilots and wowsers but it was okay to believe as long as you did it in private. My old man and his mates didn’t fight for a bloody flag, or a king, but they sure as hell would’ve knocked your block off if you’d said something about their colour patches. The flag was the government, officialdom, the establishment. Australia was in your heart, in your soul, your being – it was a state of mind, not of cheap Barnum and Bailey gee gaws and gimcracks, of Gilbert and Sullivan Border Force uniforms. Australia is Henry Lawson and Ned Kelly; Judith Wright and Dorothea Mackellar. Speaking of Ms Mackellar, you’ll never understand what she meant when she wrote:

Sheen of the bronze-wing; blue of the crane;
Fawn and pearl of the lyrebird’s train;
Cream of the plover; grey of the dove –
These are the hues of the land I love.

Which brings me to love of country, Tony. Love of country. You don’t have it, I don’t think anyone in your cabinet has it either – I’d hazard a guess that very few politicians do. You don’t feel it through the soles of your feet or see it in the old red gums hunching their shoulders and settling their roots deeper into the red dirt to wait out yet another drought. You’re too busy to see that, it’s all just countryside whizzing past you or under you while you’re on your way from A to B to tell yet another bunch of people – in whom you really haven’t the slightest interest – that you feel their pain.

You don’t hear it in the maggies yodeling in the morning, or the cheeky laugh of a little kid ringing out in the disgrace of the blacks’ camp on the fringes of a country town, or the cough of a big red boomer breaking the morning quiet out among the saltbush. You don’t hear Australia’s ancient choir singing to you in the heat of a midsummer day, or warning you that you’re only here under sufferance as the great Southern Ocean, throws the giant waves against the cliffs at Albany. You’re going too fast and are too preoccupied to hear that chorus.

You’re blind and deaf to all these things, Tony, because like so many of your mates you’re only interested in what you can get out of it. In how much money you can rip out of her to satisfy the avarice of you and your ilk. You value Australia for what you can get out of her, Tony, not for what she is.

I feel sorry for you in a strange sort of way. Australians don’t like their politicians much – never have really, except for a select few. I can remember the big black headlines when Ben Chifley died, and Malcolm Fraser got a decent eulogy, but they’ll be battling for nice things to say about you. As I said, we’ve never liked our politicians much, but we do expect them to show our country in its best light. Which is why Howard was doomed as soon as he started wearing that miniature Army combat camouflage outfit. And what possessed you to wear the shiny-arsed pushbike rider suit and wheel in your bike when you met the Japanese PM? I wonder what he thought. If you heard about some unemployed kid turning up dressed like that for a job interview, you’d be pontificating for days.

And yesterday’s joint party room vote on marriage equality proved something else. You’re gutless. Bloody gutless. You were worried about what your church might say and that you might lose a few votes because your hold on power is about as tenuous as your grip on reality. And it shows, too, that you don’t give a stuff for what the Australian people think or want. It’s all about you, and power and hanging on  to it. Well, mate, no sub is going to write the headline “Pommy Mug Lair Makes Good”, so you might just as well get used to the idea.

When you retire, Tony, the best I can hope for you is that you do a Bob Menzies and rack off to England. Maybe, like Bob, Her Majesty will make you a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and you can wear a funny hat and annoy the tripe out of the locals. Or you can ride a pushbike to John o’ Groats and some rock-throwing Highlander might or might not bounce a boondee off your scone.

Whatever you do, Tony, do it somewhere else but in Australia. Your mentor John Howard set social attitudes in this country back 50 years – you’ve added another 25 to that. You’re the worst PM in the worst government this country has ever had, and we’ll get on better without you.

So that’s it I suppose. I could go on but what’s the bloody point. I’m preaching to the converted on one side and making speeches to the deaf on the other. Go back to bloody England, Tony. You’ll like it better there.

 

An imaginary conversation with Tony Abbott, MP

A brief and biased social history of Australia since World War Two

Part Two

So where were we, Tony? Oh right, I’d got up to the 1960s when things began to change for the better in Australia. Well, one of the great things to happen was the introduction of The Pill – sorry Tone, I know that you wouldn’t have been much thrilled by that, being a good Catholic and all, but it’s a fact of life and it changed a lot of things, so I’m going to talk about it anyway.

There were a lot of exciting things happening around that time – especially if you were a youngster. Rock and roll was one of them, and films such as Blackboard Jungle scared the establishment into thinking the world was getting out of its grip and it fought back. I remember going to see the aforementioned film and later another one whose name escapes me at the old Hoyts in Fremantle and there were more cops lining the walls inside the theatre than there were seats for the audience to sit on. Fair dinkum. Talk about an open invitation to a bit of the old authority baiting that the newspapers and the rest of the establishment celebrated in the Anzacs but frowned on in the youth of the day – not much has bloody well changed there, has it Tony?

But I’m getting sidetracked. The Pill had an enormous influence on the young adults of my generation and the then teenagers who now call themselves Baby Boomers and generally speaking seem to have forgotten what it was like to be young.

It didn’t make all of us young blokes any more responsible when it came to sex, but it did give our girlfriends a lot more bargaining power. We wanted it, they did too – and could have it pretty much without fear – but now it came with conditions and so began the long hard struggle to get us blokes to realise that women were people too, the same as us but different. Some of us have never learned this, have we Tony? Have we Tony?

Of course all this free love and long hair on blokes – and before that pink shirts and jeans – put a bit of a strain on the establishment. And to make it worse, the young people started questioning things. Why were we in Vietnam? Why was it our business? (That was one of your worst efforts, the scars are just beginning to heal though there’s still pus under the surface. The establishment got us into it against wiser advice and then threw the blame back onto the naysayers when it all went arse up.) How about giving the Aboriginals a fair go, mate? And equal pay for the women; what about that? And how dare we play sport against South Africa.

Marches and Moratoriums and Freedom Rides were all the rage and the establishment fought back, hard. ASIO and the Special Branch took pictures and wrote up files, and the coppers were told to wade in to these dangerous bastards challenging the status quo.

I’ll save Bob Menzies for later, Tony. He’s in a category all on his own and isn’t really relevant to this part of my rant.

Then along came Gough Whitlam and things got even worse for your lot. Gough opened the universities and, as a mate of mine once said, “created a generation of educated, working-class radicals”. To this day, the Liberal and National parties haven’t forgiven Gough for making education more egalitarian, which, I reckon, is why you showed what a low bastard you are, Tony, when you made all those vicious attacks on Julia Gillard. Did she, I wonder, represent all the intelligent young women with a social conscience who laughed in your face back in the 60s and 70s? It also hints at why your mob is so keen to once more put tertiary education out of each of our mob.

Back to the time of Gough. Things started to happen really quickly. Oh, yeh, I agree, Gough made mistakes, but he showed people there was another way; a vision for Australia that hasn’t been matched since, and you can’t put a price on that. And we nearly got there – by the livin’ Harry, we nearly got there.

Unfortunately the eighties got in the way, and politicians on both sides of the House saw how easy it was to become rich if you just listened to the economists and the experts on everything from defence to education.

To give Hawkie and Keating their due, they did have enough decency left to throw a few crumbs to the people who elected them, but it wasn’t quite enough. The grey suits were back in force, the population was in debt up to pussy’s bow, and the stage was set for the proverbial two steps backward – and who popped up to lead us boldly forward to a replay of a golden age that never was? Why your mate and mentor, Johnny Howard.

You really like that mealy mouthed little bugger, don’t you Tony? He doesn’t like Australia either, or most of the people in it. He’s also a xenophobe and a bit of a closet racist. Remember how he insulted Sydney’s Chinese business community? Good one that. Someone should’ve told him though that some of those families have been in Australia at least as long as his.

I see now that the Libs are calling Johnny Boy a statesman. Strewth, Tony, pull the other leg; it plays Advance Australia Fair. Want me to tell you who I think was among our greatest statesman ever, Tony? A feller named Quong Tart. Never heard of him? Look him up some time. You won’t find him mentioned much because he was a Chinese Australian.

Anyway, here we are in the 80s and things are going downhill fast. We’re all into the banks big time and the economists have got everyone by the short and curlies. An unhinged purveyor of Shark and Tatties from up Gympie way starts telling us we’re being overrun by Asians and people start believing her and Johnno sees that she’s threatening to take a few votes off the Libs and Nats so he gets you to help set her up to be disgraced then adopts her policies and puts them in the Libs manifesto and bingo – goodbye the Oxleymoron. Pretty soon The Libs and Nats between them have set Australia back 50 years socially, wiping out most of the humanist gains that were made during the 60s and 70s. Green has become the new Red and the stage is set to start winding back meaningful Land Rights for Australia’s indigenous people, reintroduce prayers into Parliament and generally not do anything that might upset the bankers and the newly powerful, faceless global corporates.

This is cutting it really short of course. There’s lots of stuff swirling around at this time – shady deals to facilitate the first woodchip exports from NSW; the rise of Gunns in Tasmania; the Franklin Dam fight; the bastardry that was Noonkanbah; shonky deals all round. There has even been whispers that a conservative political alliance aided and abetted the promotion of Norm Gallagher, Australia’s most corrupt union boss ever, to the head of the BLF in order to rid it of its “red leadership” responsible for the Green Bans that saved much of old Sydney from the wreckers. Then there was Western Mining’s map showing how the mining industry would be ruined if Mabo was implemented. Johnny used that same map while he was PM to show how much of Australia was “locked up” by the selfish blackfellers’ greedy landgrab. He got his revenge on the Aboriginals though, didn’t he?

Johnny copped his just deserts and lost his seat into the bargain, but the ordinary people were betrayed again when, beguiled by the promise of a more people-friendly future, they elected a government led by a simpering god-botherer with heaps of dough. The warning bells should have sounded loud and clear when during an election campaign he fronted up at one of those corrupt, loony right corporate churches; he should have been booted out of the leader’s chair then, but he got away with it, and the rest is history. I was living in the US during the Gillard/ Rudd era, but I saw enough – and have read enough since I’ve been home – to know that you followed to the letter the tactics of the loony right Tea Party sect that now drives the USA’s Republican Party. The irony is, like the Tea Party, and the Pauline Hansons and the Reclaim Australias and all the other hate-filled non-thinkers, you get a heap of funding and encouragement from sources that are pulling the rug out from under the people you profess to stand up for – and the countries they live in – for the benefit of a very, very few. You might want to let the PM-in-Waiting Scott Morrison know that the Rapture isn’t really a lifting up to heaven of the saved, but the day when all the wealth of the world is in the hands of a couple of hundred people and the rest of us feed on the crumbs of a cake first baked for Ronald Reagan and becoming increasingly smaller.

And so, at long last, I get to why I think you don’t love Australia – and very few of the people in it. I’ll start with the people, but that’s for Part Three.

An imaginary conversation with Tony Abbott, MP

A brief and biased social history of Australia since World War Two

Part One

Mr Abbott, I won’t address you as Prime Minister – even though your party elevated you to that position – because I don’t think you deserve the title; Prime Ministers are leaders, you are not.  A lot of people might disagree with that opinion, perhaps thousands, and that’s fine, I can cop that sweet, but it’s me talking to you. Who am I? Well in your books, a nobody I suppose. A 70-something-year-old Old-age Pensioner born in Australia of mixed, though chiefly Celtic ancestry, who finished serving his apprenticeship in Fremantle a year after you arrived here from England.

Speaking of England, I’d like to ask you to clear up a couple of things about your move to Australia, because it seems very complicated. As I read it, your father had been living here with his parents who had migrated to this country in 1940, soon after the outbreak of WWII. Your father then returned to England where he met your mother, an Australian, and in 1960 the family came back to Australia under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. How could this be? Your father was living in Australia then returned to England, your mother was Australian and presumably a citizen of this country, so how did they manage to get assisted passage back here? If this was a rort, it might explain your relaxed attitude to today’s Parliamentary entitlements.

But back to the present and me explaining why I don’t think you deserve to be addressed by your title – neither do I think you deserve to be called an Australian, but more of that later. The Australia I grew up in was a pretty good place, still is as a matter of fact, but the way it was run left a lot to be desired. When I was a kid we had a thing called the White Australia Policy; you probably know about that, it was a latter-day construction of the belief that all our migrants should come from the British Isles – preferably England or Ulster and a few from the more compliant parts of Scotland but with allowances made for the Welsh and Irish and the naughty bits of Scotland that for some inexplicable reason wanted shot of England.

However, during WWII the Japanese gave us a bit of a shock and so governments of both stripes came up with a campaign around the slogan Populate or Perish, which was later expanded to the Holy Writ of the Two ‘I’s – Immigration and Irrigation. This, it was thought, would hold back the Yellow Peril, the Asiatic Hordes poised to sweep down upon us, carry off our women into white slavery and, in a grand irony, force upon us the evil of opium – the very drug the Western  Powers had forced upon the Chinese, leading to the Boxer Rebellion. However, the flow of Poms and Ulstermen was not enough to realise the Grand Ambitions of the Anglophilic Establishment, so it was decided that we would allow people from the less savory parts of Europe such as the Baltic states and the Mediterranean to sully our fair land. It was suggested that we should begin with only blue-eyed “Balts”, to allow the gentlefolk of Australia to accustom themselves to foreigners, but that was overruled and soon Italians and Greeks began arriving in their thousands, their customs and mannerisms giving rise to the same horrified reactions that greet Muslims today. One newspaper I recall ran a lurid story about a group of Italian men watching dogs copulating in a park. It was probably the same august publication that informed its readers that the saxophone solos in rock and roll tunes copied the mating calls of African animals and in the same article called Mitch Miller a prominent jazz musician. We were already pretty well versed in dishing out the borak to people who weren’t the same as us, after all, we’d been giving the Indigenous peoples gyp for a couple of hundred years and government policies and the media of the day made sure they stayed on the fringes and invisible.

Women and kids got the rough end of the pineapple too, even white women. Aboriginal women got it really rough though. Young blokes, and some not so young, in country towns all over Australia used the women in the blacks’ camps – euphemistically known as The Missions – as “comfort women”, to use a not-so charming Japanese phrase from WWII, with the added benefit that they didn’t have to feed, clothe or house them. It was a rite of passage for a young feller from the bush to get pissed with his mates on a Friday or Saturday night and then head down to the camps to root a gin. Wonderful stuff.

Any bloke  could bash his wife and kids without reprisals from the law, because the coppers “didn’t interfere in domestic disputes”, and the churches for the most part seemed to think it was biblically right and proper. If a woman left her husband, especially a woman with kids, she couldn’t expect help from anywhere, often not even from her own family. Rarely could she get a divorce – even if she could afford the legal fees – because her husband had to agree. Many married women didn’t know what their husband earned; he kept control of the purse strings and doled out “housekeeping” money to the little woman.

So you can see, Tony, Australia was pretty barbaric place to live. Oh I’ll admit that it wasn’t just Australia, every civilised country was pretty much the same. But that didn’t stop our soldiers, when they saw Gypos and Arabs treating their womenfolk badly, from being outraged. Terrible people the Wogs, uncivilised, mate.

Same thing happened when the Italians came over here. “Make their women wear black after their husbands die and all the old girls have to wear it for the rest of their lives. And those awful bloody head scarves the old women have to wear…”, this from women of my mother’s generation whose husbands often left them to sit out in the car, if the family owned one, while they drank with their mates in the pub, bringing them out a shandy or a glass of lolly water every hour if they were lucky. Women weren’t allowed in the Public Bar, only in the Ladies’ Lounge or, if they were accompanied by a male, the Saloon Bar. So that’s the sort of Australia I grew up in, Tony. Then along came the 60s and the 70s, and things really began to change.

But I’ll leave that for the next instalment and in that I’ll also explain why I think you – and a bloody lot of people like you – don’t really love Australia. Okay? Too bad if you’ve stopped listening, because I’ll keep rabbiting on anyway. I’ve got the bit between my teeth now and look set to bolt.

An idyll of Butler’s Swap

A prizewinning Old-Style Saddleback Muffed Tumbler
shown by Mr George Fontaine. Photo: NPA/Layne Gardner

Butler’s Swamp has gone. Confined, sanitized and renamed Lake Claremont, it has been incorporated into a ritzy housing subdivision with its own golf course.

I’ve written previously of tin canoes, and I once covered every square foot of that old swamp in one such, exploring its reed beds and mud-bars, looking for water rats and reed-warblers’ nests and hoping against hope to encounter a norn – a black tiger snake – lying in wait for some unsuspecting frog. At dusk, squadron upon squadron of little black and little pied cormorants flew in from the Swan River to roost in the paperbarks and drowned gums. During the spring their untidy nests clung precariously to limbs along with those of herons and egrets, while along the shores and in the cumbungi and tree hollows, grebes, swans and ducks nested. There were quolls there in those days, chuditch we called them, living in the thick scrub and remnant gum forest, and the water abounded with snake-necked turtles and sooty grunter. On hot, summer nights, thousands of moaning frogs counted down the hours to dawn with their incessant “wh-o-o-o-ooooop, wh-o-o-o-ooooop”, sliding up the scale a tone and a half on the final “oop”.

Why am I telling you this? Well as anyone who has read or listened to any of my tales will tell you, my Celtic and Australian genes endow me with a propensity to approach every tale widdershins – this one doubly so. I was going to jump straight in, boots and all, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, and as is usually the case with me, one thing led to another. So to add insult to injury, I’m going to introduce the story with a poem – doggerel I suppose in some eyes but in the tradition of a bygone Australia – and allow the main narrative to writhe and bubble and smoke in my brain until I write the next instalment. It will be a story about Australian childhood, about backyards and swamps and sleepouts (that’s a noun) and chickens and pigeons, or at least in this stage of its fermentation it’s shaping that way. So here’s the introduction.

The Butler’s Swamp Pigeon Society

More than 60 years have flown, since the kids next door and me,
Formed ourselves a little club, with a membership of three;
We argued long about a name, all choices seemed to rub,
But the name seemed more important than a rulebook or the sub;
And so we tossed it back and forth in youthful anarchy,
Till we settled on The Butler’s Swamp, Pige-on So-cie-ty;
The rules were few and simple – no trouble to live by:
We’d breed the nicest birds we could, and let them out to fly.

Now the boys next door weren’t short of cash, their father ran a book,
And their pigeon lofts were built to spec, whatever cash it took;
My birds, on the other hand, were in a hut of flattened tin,
That leaned against the bigger shed Ma did the laundry in;
But the BSPS didn’t care, about parental dough,
Or the cost of lofts, the clothes you wore, it didn’t want to know;
It was pigeons first and pigeons last and pigeons do or die,
We lived our lives with pigeons, and we let them out to fly.

The breeding stock was varied, when first our club began,
Unusual colors, crests or muffs, that’s where the fancy ran;
One member bred just black and white, that’s all that he’d give space,
While the other two would argue that, all colors had their place;
We’d trap a few on railroad tracks, where we also scrounged for wheat— Peas were hard-earned luxuries, kept to give a treat —
And trade for birds we really liked, ones that caught the eye,
Then wait impatient for the day, we could let them out to fly.

You’d do some fierce trading, for birds you liked back then,
One day I went to bargain for a pretty little hen;
A sort of dunnish-yellow with a dainty, rounded head,
A short, sharp beak and little muffs, a real knock-‘em dead;
She strutted round her owner’s loft, a kid from miles away,
His price, a dozen glassies, he wasn’t there to play;
But I loved her from the moment that her antics caught my eye;
And I hoped she wouldn’t disappoint, when I let her out to fly.

I put her in a cardboard box and strapped it to my bike,
Then pedalled home like fury – about a ten-mile hike;
I couldn’t wait to get her back and lock her in a box,
With a red and black peak-crested mate, the favorite of my cocks;
And show her to the membership (who said that pride was sin?),
To recount the gripping story of the haggling and the win;
But right deep down inside my heart, and here I will not lie,
I knew I’d be a nervous wreck, when I let her out to fly.

And so at last the day came round, when the little hen,
Could go outside and stretch her wings in freedom once again;
I opened up the sliding trap to let the birds outside,
So they could climb and circle, in their world blue and wide;
And watched in nervous wonder as the kit began to climb
Led by the little yellow hen, that costly jewel of mine;
The other pigeons levelled out to circle in the sky,
But the little hen kept climbing, when I let her out to fly.

My heart was thumping in my chest, I thought that she was lost,
Returning to the other loft, where I’d bargained at such cost;
But as I watched she clapped her wings, and held them like a sail
Above her head, as she rocked back, while fanning out her tail.
She repeated the manoeuvre, three times or four in all,
Then like some magic clockwork toy, my hen began to fall;
She tumbled over backwards, dropping through the sky;
That bird was pure amazement when I let her out to fly.

And though the day’s so long ago, I still can see that hen,
Tumbling there above my yard, then climbing up again;
All through my life, it’s ups and downs, the wild times of my youth,
The birds have been a constant, a refuge and a truth;
When I am down or troubled and my spirit feels boxed in,
A kit of soaring pigeons can free it once again;
So when I leave this world I love, if you want to say goodbye;
Just watch a kit of tumblers, I’ll be with them as they fly.

First published 2012, LikeTheDew

Flashback USA or Who hit me? What happened?

Australia: the good and the bloody outrageous

First published in LikeTheDew, September 2012
I’m republishing a lot of these because of a growing sense of horror at the depths to which Australia has sunk in just three or for years. Living in the USA, I watched events back home unfold and thought that when I returned home I may be coming back to a beloved country that was at last somewhere near the right track, if still a little off-course for the waterhole. Silly bugger me.

I’m going to tell you a little bit more about Australia and its peoples – good and bad – but first, as promised earlier, I want to list a few of the things that have been accomplished under the leadership of the much-maligned Julia Gillard. As I wrote last time, Ms Gillard is ridiculed in many quarters and from what I can see it’s simply because she doesn’t fit the mould, but under her gritty leadership the Labor government is now forging ahead with projects that her predecessors lacked the guts or vision, or both, to push through; notably:

  • From July this year, major industrial emitters of CO2 have paid a tax of $A23 per tonne. Revenue raised will be used to reduce income tax and increase pensions and welfare payments to cover expected price increases, and to pay compensation to some affected industries. The fixed price is set to rise by 2.5% a year, until the switch to an emissions trading scheme in 2015–16 when “pollution permits” will be limited in line with a pollution cap.
  • The beginning of the National Broadband Scheme entailing the roll-out of fibre-optic cable where feasible and the launch of 2 Ka-Band communications satellites to cover the whole continent – the earth’s most sparsely populated – with two very close orbital slots so that users can change satellites without moving their receivers.
  • Investment in sustainable electricity generation of over $A5b. 2,500 schools have so far been fitted with solar panels and eligible householders have received help to install 100,000 solar panels and 170,000 solar hot water systems. One state, South Australia, has already reached the national target of 20 per cent renewables and last year, with a generation surplus of 25 per cent, exported green power to its neighbour, Victoria.

These are the ones that get the most coverage (and cop the most flak), but there are thousands of others underway: major investment in water recycling and harvesting including capturing stormwater run-off in major cities and towns; income tax allowances of up to 50 per cent on the purchase of laptops, text books, etc. for each child and the provision of 300,000 new computers in schools; tax rates down by between 26 and 8 per cent for low and higher income earners respectively; and the creation of 711,000 skills-training places. The number of national infrastructure projects completed or underway is about 44,000.

Not bad for a government led by a barren, female sinner for whom, according to one teevee pundit, every day is a bad-hair day.

Of course a lot of this has been made possible by a mining boom that has lasted for more than a generation now, a boom that has many critics, including me. Despite the great short-term benefits that are accruing, I fear that future generations will be paying the price for as long as the human race lasts upon the face of the earth – and that probably won’t be all that long. Without some radical changes in attitude and thinking, I give society as we know it about two generations – maybe three. The human race may, if it’s lucky, last a century or so longer without these changes.

Petroglyphs from Save Dampier rock art

The mining boom, ah the mining boom. To finish, I’d like to tell you about the greatest act of vandalism committed by anyone, anywhere, ever – bar none. You’ve probably never heard of the Burrup Peninsula – or to give it its proper name, Murujuga – and probably never will unless it makes world news because of some catastrophic accident at the giant petro-chemical plants that will be built there.

Once an island, Murujuga juts out into the Dampier Archipelago from the West Australian coast a bit over 1,000 miles north of Perth, the State Capital, as the crow flies. In the eyes of the first Europeans to see it, it was a harsh, forbidding wilderness, rocky, arid and with little redeeming value. One of the island groups in the archipelago, Monte Bello, was once used for nuclear tests. As an indication of the first whites’ feelings for the region, Murujuga’s southern neighbour, North West Cape, was known colloquially as Madman’s Corner.

So what’s so special about this place? Well it’s not the vast deposits of natural gas, nor is it its suitability as a port for iron-ore shipments – not to my eyes anyway. Its beauty and value lies in the legacy created by the hundreds upon hundreds of generations of Aboriginal people for whom this place is an embodiment of the Dreaming, of the Earth; of the Spirit made tangible. It also holds the spilled blood of people murdered during the Murujuga [“Flying Foam”] Massacres over four months in 1868. Only six Yaburara people, the land’s custodians, are recorded as having escaped this police action and no compensation has ever been paid.

Murujuga has been described by Australia’s National trust as “one of the world’s pre-eminent sites of recorded human evolution and a prehistoric university” and is a record of the spiritual and temporal life of the area’s indigenous inhabitants over many millennia to the recent past. It is the repository for the greatest assemblage of petroglyphs ever created; perhaps one million works, including the earliest known depictions of the human face and depictions of animals extinct on mainland Australia for thousands of years. And it may disappear in just a few years of this century.

Since the 1960s, indifference, bigotry, ignorance and collusion on the part of successive state governments has seen the destruction or disruption of a little under 25 per cent of the site. In more recent times, while the state government was “assessing” the impact of petro-chemical plants, developers happily put the bulldozer through 100 acres or so of the “rocks”. The less that’s left, the easier to denigrate the site and what the dozers leave, the acidic pollution from the petrochemical plants will finish off.

Despite the pleas of scientists, indigenous peoples and a concerned public, Murujuga remains on the World Monument Fund’s list of the 100 most endangered places on earth, and while the Federal government pays lip service to its importance, successive State governments remain callously indifferent. In my personal opinion, Murujuga should be defended by the United Nations and Australia and the companies involved should be made to defend themselves before an international court.

As I have written previously, Australia is a land of paradoxes.

I’ve got nothing against Mickey Mouse personally, but…

As I said up there, I’ve got nothing against Mickey Mouse. Well, that’s not quite true, I can’t stand his voice; but that’s uncharitable, one shouldn’t judge others by their physical or mental shortcomings and in any case, it’s not his fault, Walt Disney gave it to him. Neither do I bear any ill will towards Walt Disney himself, not personally anyway. Even though my mother enjoyed telling all who would listen that for six weeks I had nightmares over the bushfire sequences in Bambi after Bernie Jamieson took me to see it back in the ’40s, I bear him no grudge. None whatsoever.

No, none of that matters. It’s what he – or his studio, and I’ll get the two confused here, I know – has done to children’s literature that gets up my nose. Fair enough, the Disney Cinderella was just one of a long line of modifications to an ancient Chinese folk tale, that is the way of folk tales, and for the same reason I could probably almost tolerate the latest rehash of Rapunzel. I will even argue that his Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Fantasia are just interpretations of the classics – after all, the culture police condone Shakespeare or Wagner set in the Bronx or East London or The Rocks because we of the uncultured classes are too dense to appreciate it otherwise and it makes them feel good to think they are bringing a little high art to the masses.

What I can’t condone, however, is what’s been done to Mowgli, and Alice, and Winnie-the-Pooh, and The Wind In The Willows, and Peter Pan – and this from someone who was never much taken by Peter Pan to begin with. Take Winnie. By growing up only knowing the film character, kids have been denied all the wonderful jokes and subtle asides in the stories and they’ve also missed a pleasant introduction to poetry.

Look what Disney did to the creatures in Kipling’s Mowgli stories. What’s become of Mowgli’s terrible nemesis Shere Khan, his guarantor Bagheera and his tutor, the disciplinarian Baloo? The dance of Kaa as described by Kipling is a terrifying thing and I can remember shuddering at what I knew would be the fate of some of the Bandar-Log when the python said: “…what follows it is not well that thou shouldst see”, but I could appreciate the justice in Bagheera’s admonition that Mowgli was never to eat beef because his life had been bought at the price of a bull. Where is all that in the bumbling, ever-so-cute stuffed toys that populate Disney’s version?

Once again, the introduction to poetry has been taken away, but if you’ve been raised on the screen version, why expend the effort of stimulating your own imagination by reading the original?

As a kid I had a beautiful folio edition of the Mowgli stories. The frontispiece was a color plate from a watercolor depicting a long-haired, slender Indian teenager, naked save for an abbreviated dhoti, loping through a fantastic jungle. Around his neck were a garland of flowers and a sheathed knife suspended from a cord. Those who worry about such things could probably read volumes into the flowers, loincloth and long hair, and good luck to them  – zip-a-de-dooh-dah indeed – but it beat the heck out of the Disney version.

Originally written for LiketheDew in 2010.

Illustration from Gayneck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji; illustrated by Boris Artzybashef. Publ Thomas Dent, USA, date unknown

Love the fact that a Russian did these oh so Indian illustrations for a book by an Indian about India