MDFF 31 January 2016

Today’s dispatch is  Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics.  Originally dispatched on 14 December  2015.  The editors will republish this dispatch until you have read it in full!  

Hiya Folks, Namaskarum,

So the 2015 Parliamentary closed with one of my favourite politicians in hot water. It couldn’t happen to a nicer fellow. Once again we that live at the Front of the multipronged ethnocentric assimilationist attack that Remote Aboriginal Australia continues to be subjected to, derive one of the few joys we get to enjoy… Schadenfreude. …. Ode an die Freude…(the Flash Mob)

Back when Mal Brough was one of the main architects of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, he shamelessly lied through his teeth to justify the Howard Government’s last throw of the dice in an attempt to avoid electoral defeat. The collateral damage done to the social fabric of these unique remote communities was of no concern to those political opportunists nor to those that followed.

Yet now almost a decade later we suddenly hear in the Parliament that Mal Brough is being accused of telling porkies, and his new boss (need I remind you that ‘mal’ means bad in Latin?- apologies to all the good people called Mal) springs to his defence “these are only allegations”. C’mon Mal, why not call a spade a spade? He’s a fucking liar and always has been and always will be. (Lies- The Knickerbokkers)


Jack Waterford, the Editor-at-Large of The Canberra Times, is a journalist who in my humble opinion most persistently hits the nail on the head in relation to Indigenous Affairs in Australia.

The definition of ‘At Large’ in an on-line dictionary is “… especially of a criminal or dangerous animal) at liberty; escaped or not yet captured”. I for one hope they never capture him.

Jack’s latest contribution so encapsulates what I have tried to reveal in countless musical dispatches, that I’m offering it in its entirety as a Christmas Present.


Aborigines have again been caught out letting their comparative disadvantage increase, compared with non-Aboriginal Australians and concentration camp inmates at Manus Island. Scores of our best statisticians are now hard at work looking down the wrong wombat holes in search of an explanation.

How could this happen under our first prime minister for Indigenous affairs? Or indeed, under the maternalistic reign of Jenny Kabbarli Macklin, the wise and all-knowing oracle able to reinterpret any evidence that did not suit her preconceptions? How could 10 years of photo opportunities of miscellaneous ministers, policemen and army generals (the latter supplied with their public relations officers) walking with Aboriginal children towards remote area primary schools actually produce worse educational outcomes, whether in school attendance rates, or in reading, writing and arithmetic?

How could it be that after so many expensive prime ministerial weeks in Aboriginal communities, showing Aborigines, in front of thousands of specially imported white public servants, how to hammer in nails, that we now know most of the objectives of the “closing the gap” will not be achieved, and that in many cases, the gap of Aboriginal disadvantage, compared with other Australians has widened?

Would it have been worse without such stunts? Or without the hand-chosen advice from hand-chosen Aboriginal leaders without constituencies but ample access to the media? Or the efforts of professional bureaucrats inside the single most important department of state, under the guidance of the leader of the public service?

Or is it, as usual, the blackfellas’ fault again. These dreadful people who rebuff all efforts to help them. Are these surly ingrates about to squander the opportunities to be provided by our determination to “give” them a constitutional affirmation of their existence, whether they want it or not?

Those who suspect the latter might note that, so cunning have been these recalcitrant folk, that even when, or if, their health, educational, economic or mortality statistics improved (compared with how they had been some years before) they did not improve by as much as the equivalent improvement for the whole population. That is, they fell further backward even when going forward. (Just like, except worse, than most of the bottom half of the population under the last 20 economic boom years.)

One of the latest encyclicals describing, if not doing anything very much to change the situation is a report by the Productivity Commission, filling in for the now-abolished COAG Reform Council in preparing the necessary annual report on COAG’s work, under the National Indigenous Reform Agreement, on progress in meeting COAG’s Close the Gap targets.

This report points out that there is now a massive whitefella industry in preparing annual national reports describing, in entirely impersonal but voluminous detail, on Indigenous outcomes and disadvantage. Most of those involved in this industry, some at $400,000-plus a year, have their salaries paid from money described as going to Aboriginal affairs, but can manage for years without actually having to encounter a disadvantaged Aborigine.That’s in line with the fact that only about one dollar in every 10 notionally being spent on Aboriginal Australians is ever touched by an Aboriginal hand.

The authors of this (200-page plus umpteen-page set of statistical addenda) report note:

“The commission estimates that the total page count for the other national reports is close to 2000 pages, with the equivalent of almost 7000 pages of data available as electronic attachments.

“There is considerable overlap and duplication across the various reports. And some of the data used for the assessments are not updated each year, which means for annual Closing the Gap reports there is little option between data updates than to reiterate past findings.”

This is most unmannerly on the part of the Productivity Commission. The normal practice is to deplore waste and duplication among programs benefiting Aborigines, rather than the Aboriginal industry, on which the national prosperity may rely, particularly if Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation thing takes off. Indeed the usual practice is to call for more reports, better statistics, more conferences and working parties, even if they are to be focused on ways of cutting the overlap.

To be fair on the PC, however, it gives the statistics a pretty good look-over and comes up with some cogent criticisms of them, which might, with the right bureaucratic opportunism, require a good deal of further joint study, preferably away from the office. Perhaps, in the circumstances at Yulara, if at a cooler time of year.

The other reports to which the PC refers are never, of course, issued simultaneously. That has the effect, inter alia that one can choose any one of them to prove almost anything, other than that life for Aborigines is improving, or improving much. There’s the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report; the Report on Government Services: Indigenous Compendium; the Prime Minister’s own Closing the Gap report; and the Institute of Health and Welfare report on the Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Overview. And there’s  the ATSI Health Performance Framework Report produced by the Health Minister’s Advisory Council; and, of course the Indigenous Expenditure report.

This booming industry has, alas recently had a few economic setbacks, at least for those given to weighing, counting, parsing, measuring and calculating Aborigines, if not, necessarily, for the benighted subjects of all of these attentions.

We are, for example, now deprived of regular very glossy reports from a Commonwealth coordinator-general for remote Indigenous services, who was, by the end of a generally unlamented reign under the last government, given partly to co-ordinating the work of other coordinators-general as well as making up his own not particularly reliable statistics of whatever took his fancy. It is not clear that anything much, other than empires, collapsed after the function was dispensed with.

Then there was another body – almost the only actually useful one, as far as Aboriginal communities were concerned – called the Closing the Gap Clearing House. It gathered information on what programs actually seemed to work, and what did not. It also collected program evaluations, as well as material reviewing (as opposed to auditing) the efficacy of particular policies and programs. This had the clearly undesirable effect of allowing good and bad experiences in one region to inform decisions in other regions. This is a function best carried out by ministers, from their own deep reservoirs of experience and ideology, and by those officials who have learnt that promotion depends on the paper flow with colleagues, not achievement in different communities.

Naturally, the clearing house was the first to go, as an efficiency, even as efforts were redoubled to increase the complicatedness, uselessness and detachment of any number of other activities designed to get better transparency, accountability and, no doubt these days, agility and innovation in Aboriginal affairs.

It should not be assumed that I have even begun to describe the limits of such enterprise in closing the gap on Aboriginal disadvantage. The surprising thing is that the statistical reports are concerned with matters such as bums on seats in preschools rather than spreadsheets in Canberra.

Or in each of the other capitals, including on City Hill, which itself has no triumph of which to speak. Virtually every single one of the states and territories has a bureaucratic operation duplicating each and everything that the Commonwealth and COAG does in trying to close the gap, if only to feed in doubtful statistics, or political marketing advice, to the powers that be within their domains.

And these are but mere government bodies, staffed by officials. There is now an additional group of academic and non-government agencies, and lobbies in the health, education and welfare industry, churning out data, or copying selected pieces of other people’s data, all for the higher and greater good of Aborigines, whether they want it or not. Not much of it is greatly informed by any effort to get an Aboriginal viewpoint on the results of these labours, other than with the facilitation of a further industry of urgers and observers ready to say, for a price, that the victims have been told and seem to understand what has been decided for them.

Of course the Closing the Gap industry is itself but the mere tip of an iceberg of investigation, reports, inquiries, tests, tracts, commissions and consultations generated among whitefellas in Aboriginal affairs, and used to decide what’s best .

More than 40 years ago, writing about Aboriginal ill health in a book, I commented that the academic medical literature already contained at least one paper describing it for every Indigenous family, and predicted that a day would come soon when there was at least one for every Indigenous individual. I expect that this time has arrived. Not much of this scholarship did much to improve health.

Aboriginal ill health is but a subset of an academic and official literature pontificating on Aboriginal disadvantage in education, in incarceration, in social and economic status, and morale. Most is very sympathetic to the problem, whatever it is. Some have been quite angry and strident about the persistence of disadvantage, or the failure of everyone to fix it.

No national shame, here or elsewhere has been better documented, recorded, discussed or made the subject of so many conferences, inquiries and consideration. One can wake, like Rip Van Winkle, from a sleep of decades and take up a conversation on appropriate policy as if nothing had changed. Other than that a few more generations have been stolen and a few more tens of billions spent .

No problem has seemed so intractable, in spite of sincere, earnest and well-funded efforts to do something about it. Scores of politicians, from prime ministers down, have sworn they will personally make a difference. If there has been an inclination to scoff, there has been some acknowledgment that it has been said before, but that this time he, or she, means business.

I have known and observed every single minister for Indigenous affairs, however described , since the function acquired ministerial status in 1968. Yet I cannot think of a single one since, perhaps, Peter Baume in 1980, whose contribution made a positive difference to outcomes in Aboriginal affairs. And I wouldn’t really write home about Baume.

Even when the bad decisions or well-meaning but stupid interventions of hopeless ministers had negative outcomes, the ministers had a good less long-term impact than one might imagine. No one expected much better, and their appropriate fate is, simply to be forgotten. Can anyone, for example, remember anything, good or bad, that Amanda Vanstone or Phillip Ruddock did in Indigenous affairs? Yet Vanstone apparently has expertise to offer the constitutional recognition argument, and is, accordingly, back on the public payroll .

One could write a history of Aboriginal communities, families or individuals without thinking of a single thing that any federal minister (or prime minister) did or said that made much of a difference to their lives, or which even had much long-term impact on policy and practice, or social or economic outcomes.

That is not very remarkable. Aborigines may attract bureaucrats, academic and politics like dogs attract fleas. As is often noticed and deplored, some get into all sorts of unhealthy interdependence relationships, sometimes extending over generations, trapping people in long, and often highly dysfunctional cycles of helplessness, hopelessness and depression.

Such people – the givers as much as the takers, the people making lives and careers from it as much as people from whose misery they profit – need help, not least in weaning and being weaned .

For all that, only Aboriginal people can liberate themselves from their conditions. The most that their friends, people who think they are their friends, and people who think they know best for the objects of their pity, can do is to help create the environment in which that liberation can occur. More reports, more studies, more seminars, and more bureaucrats are unlikely to help much. They are, in fact, the biggest problem.
I say amen to all that, but Jack “ only Aboriginal people can liberate themselves from their conditions” is much much easier said than done. “The environment in which that liberation can occur” is all but non-existent. But, never let that flickering little flame of hope be extinguished.


…Deep in my heart, I know that I do believe..  (We shall overcome- Joan Baez)

…. A change is gonna come, and there is Beauty in the World… Not least in these remote Aboriginal communities. (Macy Gray – Beauty In The World)


Have a Happy Christmas,

Pinne Kanam.



Poetry Sunday 25 December 2016

From Ira Maine’s work.  April 2013


Will I,
When this the oldest war,
When dearth and damnation,
The failure of courage,
The endless floundering
Is done,

Will I,
Finally, raise a sword
And run,feet pounding the grass,
Exulting, a lunatic,
Possessed at last with certainty?

Ira Maine, April 2013

MDFF 24 December 2016

Today’s dispatch is Watiya.  Dispatched on 19 December  2016


In previous Dispatches I have mentioned the Tree of Knowledge outside the Yuendumu Mining Co. store. Recently a pair of Tiyi-tiyi (mudlarks-Grallina cyanoleuka) built a neat round mud nest up high in that Athel pine. The pair take it in turns to look after their chicks and keeping a small murder of Kaarngka (Crows- Corvus) at bay.

Watiya is the Warlpiri word for ‘tree’ or ‘trees’. Warlpiri has quite a few words like ‘sheep’. The context determines whether the word is singular or plural. No doubt linguists have a technical term for such. My favourite linguistic technical term is ‘expletive infixation’ (e.g. ‘tele-fucking-phone’).

untitled-52Papunya is 130Km kurlirra (South) of Yuendumu (Yurntumu). On the way there, one gets into ngalyarrpa (sand dune) country in which many large and juvenile kurrkara (Desert Oak-Allocasuarina decaisneana) trees grow.

Nyirrpi, is a community of several hundred people located 150Km karlarra (west) of Yuendumu. Nangala has travelled to Nyirrpi and worked at the Nyirrpi School for decades (since its inception). At the kakarrara (eastern) edge of Nyirrpi there is a cemetery which features a forest of numerous prominent white painted crosses. Too many of our friends are buried there. It was therefore a most pleasant change for me to travel to Nyirrpi other than for a funeral, a Christian wedding!

On the way Nangala pointed out a grove of kurrkara trees, which had sprung up in the last decade. Is she jumping to conclusions, when she raises the possibility that climate change might have something to do with this?

At Nyirrpi School, they (I am told) had their best Christmas Tree ever. It was a Wakulpirri tree (Dog wood- Acacia coriacea). Wakulpirri is one of the more generous bush food trees. The plentiful beans taste delicious when the pods are roasted whole on hot coals. Not unlike freshly roasted peanuts.

Ernst Anschütz, who wrote the modern lyrics of O Tannenbaum (according to Wikipedia), in his wildest dreams, would not have been able to imagine the Nyirrpi School Christmas Tree

Athel Pine (Tamarix aphylla) is a declared ‘noxious weed’ in the NT. It has spread along a 400Km long stretch of the Finke River. It causes serious ecological damage, not least drawing salt to the surface. In Yuendumu there are some very large (and old) Athel Pines, which were originally planted as shade trees, a purpose they serve very well.

To the best of my knowledge unlike the Rubber Bush (Calostropis procera) which spreads rapidly and widely, especially at cattle bores and yards, not a single Athel Pine has sprung up in the Yuendumu region, only the planted trees remain. Yet the Vegetation Police have been trying and sometimes succeeded in killing these old trees. Why can’t they apply the “innocent until proved guilty” approach? When it comes to Aboriginal Australia that fundamental principle on which the whole western legal system rests, has been out the window for ages. They don’t even apply it to our trees!

Lately in Yuendumu we’ve had a tree lopping contractor who has removed some lovely gum trees , … watiyaju ngulaju jurlpu-kurlangu ngurra… (those trees are bird homes). The contractor also killed a row of large Athel pines. Trimming the trees where they encroach on electricity cables, I can understand, but really! Remove the whole tree? Definitely yet another case (of which Yuendumu suffers many) of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Over the years I have seen many instances of tree vandalism in Yuendumu, and not much evidence of consultation or discussion. It was thus, that I concluded that the row of Athel pines had been removed without permission. On checking I found out the trees had been removed by request from the residents of the nearby house. I do however note the neighbours (who shared in the enjoyment of the shade and privacy) were not consulted.

Let this be a cautionary tale for all those who have strong opinions on matters affecting Aboriginal Australia- for Heaven’s sake, seek out the facts and examine the nuances, before you launch your dogmatic beliefs and opinions at a wider audience, and never, but never, tar everything with the same ethnocentric brush.

Ponder the possibility you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Jurlpu ka nyina mi yurdingka… (The bird is up high in the tree)

….I wanna be free like a bird in a tree….

I wish you all freedom, happiness, health and wealth (in that order) for 2017


More silier than usual

Dear reader, we imagine that most of our readership is in holiday mode. Well then,  what a perfect time to reflect upon some of the derring-do and pluck that has made this country famous. Famous because as Peter Fitzsimmons, (the bandana weraing Jingo-ist) would tell us, we’re second to none in volunteering for any war anywhere. And  will do our very best in wanting to be in the thick of it. It’s national insecurity on an immeasurable scale. And with Peter at the helm, “By Jingo, we’ll do it’. So pick up your Pimms No.5 . Forget about the Turnbull reform agenda. And learn more about heroic deeds in days of yore. 

cat-2This painting depicts the moment before these two albatross DV A fighters, (of KrieglufttanzangriffgeschwaderXV11) were intercepted by Flt Lieut, Edgar Crutchmore RFC. Crutchmore on secondment to RAAF establishment Point Cook as flight instructor and veteran of the western front, was famous for being the only limbless pilot capable of flying any aircraft in any theatre during the First World War.

Until the celebrated exploits of Douglas Bader, the popular imagination of stoicism was held solely by Crutchmore. According to contemporary sources, Crutchmore lost both his arms when demonstrating the efficacy of hurling grenades from the cockpit of a Handley page 0400 Heavy Bomber. Crutchmore not anticipating the effect of slip stream hurled the grenades out of the waist gun position only to find them hurled back at him via the ‘centrifugal vortex induction effect’, (CVIE) in which he responded to the incoming grenades with a habit borne by instinct and clockwork precision, caught both before nano-seconds later his arms were blown to bits. In typical insouciant savoir-faire, when recuperating in hospital, the Yorkshireman replied to the press, “it was all armless fun really’.


Crutchmore’s patent.

Celebrated as the “armless aviator”, Crutchmore toured the Empire extolling the virtues of loyalty, Empire, stoicism and single- mindedness. Although armless, Crutchmore was re-assigned to the 23rd fighter wing based at Ypres , (the famous ‘Wignell’s Wipers’ squadron) and was instrumental in developing ‘Cruthchmore’s flying finger’, a loose formation of fighters that combined both attack and defensive positions. Further refinements resulted in the development of “Crutchmore’s single finger” and “flying thumb”. All of which were adopted with great success by RFC crews. Crutchmore chose a pair of barbecue tongs as prosthesis for his right hand and an intricate prototype swiss army knife for his left hand, claiming; ‘that it gave him the facility to both pick his nose, fly an aeroplane, and protect the virtue of young ladies from the ravages of the evil Hun’.


Crutch’s last fight.


Crutch’s noble sacrifice. ‘So that we can be free and multinationals can rent-seek and pay no tax”, ( M.Turnbull P.M)

With an intricate system of improvised pulleys and wires, the “Crutchmore patent”, he was able to fly his plane, (a specially converted Sopwith Pup) with ease. Outpacing the germans in Immelman’s and out doing the famous ace Von Boelke with a sustained sequence of somersaults, half pikes and dives. To whit the ace declared him, ‘the true wizard of the air’, and Crutchmore returned the compliment to Boelke by pronouncing him as “Boelke the better type of Boche’. Niceties aside, the carnage in the air was unstoppable, and Crutchford after having flown several hundred sorties was picked to recuperate and lead flying instruction at the Point Cook RAAF base.

Crutchmore developed a unique auto pilot system by deploying a piano roll, an Imperial typewriter and the internals of “Dr Pulvermachers Self applicable Electric Belt”. To equip his Sopwith pup which he flew single-handedly from London to Melbourne. Upon arrival his request for a ‘cup of tea and the latest intra services test scores’ set the public into a state of wild adulation. The next week Crutchmore devoted himself feverishly to the training of his enthusiastic younger charges with the catch-cry, ‘I’ll bet you a hundred to one the Hun will come’. And that Spring they surely did. In his last encounter, Crutchmore depleted of ammunition, and badly wounded lost control when his piano roll auto pilot stalled in the key of B flat minor. He flew his damaged Pup into a close formation of two Albatross fighters. All aircraft plunged to the ground, and none survived, The epitaph in the Argus summed up the encounter. ‘At the very last, Crutchmore’s pup gave the Hun a damn good licking’.

Poetry Sunday 18 December 2016

The Open Savage by Adrian Mitchell

the open savage
enters a roomful of coded conversation
the open savage
hides himself underneath

the open savage
is invaded by visions
the open savage
sing embarrassingly

the open savage
attends a logical dissection off the universe
the open savage
weeps as he throws baked beans at the platform

the open savage
does not explain himself
the open savage
is himself

the open savage
is accused of being open
the open savage
smiles like a jar of honey with no lid

from the apeman cometh
Adrian Mitchell 

MDFF 17 December 2016

Today’s dispatch is  Overshadowed.  Originally dispatched on 18 October  2015

bom Dia meus amigos
I’ve just spent a fortnight in Alice Springs Hospital, and I’m fine.
It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

I took the opportunity to finish reading a fascinating book by Eduardo Galeano- ‘Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina’ (The open veins of Latin America)

…let it bleed…..

The book tells the history of how it came to pass that half a continent endowed with fabulous riches was exploited and was to remain poor and underdeveloped to this day.

Any inkling I may have had that I may have been wrong when ages ago I jumped to the conclusion that such economic myths as ‘the trickle-down effect’ and ‘the level playing field’ were nothing but the Global Economy’s beads and mirrors, were soon dispelled as I read further.

The Methuen Treaty of 1703, was a military and commercial partnership agreement between England and Portugal. A so called free trade agreement. Duties on Portuguese wine exported to England were to be one third less than those applied to French wine, textiles from England were to enter Portugal duty free. Portuguese Port wine thrived. England’s industrial development was way ahead of Portugal’s. Portuguese industry could not compete. The Portuguese textile mills were silenced, and three centuries later, remain silent.

The sound of silence…

The resulting trade deficit was paid for by gold exploited from Portugal’s colony Brazil using slave labour.

In the second half of the book, Galeano refers to “Industrial Infanticide”.

Successive Australian Governments have committed industrial infanticide on Aboriginal owned enterprises born during the brief enlightenment that was the policy of Self Determination.

In 1947 oil in Devonian reefs was discovered near Edmonton. After a few false starts the Alberta Basin oil exploration boom was well and truly on its way following the drilling of Imperial Oil’s ‘Wildcat #134’ subsequently renamed Leduc #1. This oil boom attracted Jim Cundill, who had studied geology in Western Australia on his return from a stint as an interpreter in post-war occupied Japan. When Jim returned to Australia from Canada, he was joined by his Canadian friend, Nelson Meyers, and they formed a firm of geological consultants. They were amongst the very few geologists in Australia who at the time had oil exploration well-site experience. Well-site geologists “sit” wells and in the ‘oil-patch’ are known as “gravel pickers” or “rock doctors” (pronounced in a pronounced North-American accent: “ rhaaak daaahckters “). On completion of my studies I joined the thriving firm of Cundill Meyers and Associates.

Jim and Nels quickly trained an Australian team of gravel pickers, and the rest as they say is history.

….oil to the world

On a well-site in Queensland Nels was approached by a character bearing a black box with dials. The fellow claimed the black box to be an oil detecting device that he’d invented. The fellow was waxing lyrical about the virtues of the black box that he intended to sell, and Nels expressed an interest in buying it. Could he look inside the box and have it explained to him how it worked, was Nelson’s modest request. “Absolutely not!” was the character’s response. Nels didn’t buy the black box, and never found out if he’d missed out on a once in a century opportunity.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been touted as a once in a century opportunity. If ratified it will be the largest free trade agreement in human history. Recently Australia signed up to the TPP. New Australian Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale was asked for his opinion on the TPP. “It has been negotiated in secret, and we have very little information on it, how could I possibly have an opinion on it?” Richard hasn’t been allowed to look inside the black box.

Many black boxes have and continue to be sold to or be imposed on Aboriginal Australia.

The Food Security black box results in an ever tightening grip on income and expenditure and external control of the local economies in remote Aboriginal communities by a Government owned monopoly. Under the guise of “food security” Outback Stores is taking over and/or putting locally owned businesses out of business by selling unhealthy take away foods, fuel, videos, mobile phones, toys, trinkets, beads and mirrors. Anything that makes money.

The Indigenous Protection Areas black box yields an ever tightening grip on management of huge tracts of Aboriginal land by Government funded and controlled external hierarchical bureaucracies.

The Housing black box was sold with a promise of “cultural sensitivity”. A non-core promise since replaced by an autocratic ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy. Homes have been converted to ‘housing stock’. Management (tenancy, repairs and maintenance) of housing is subjected to an ever tightening grip by imposed external hierarchical Government funded and controlled bureaucracies and external contractors.

What is inside these black boxes? The colonial assimilationist imperative.

In the Hospital, on one occasion when the doctors did their round, a doctor peeled down the pressure sock on my leg and remarked “your leg is looking much better!”

A Hansel and Gretel moment…. It was the wrong leg!

…you put your right foot in ….. you put your left foot out….

até a próxima vez


More for the Silly Season

Dear reader, recent events in Fremantle would have you believe that Australia Day is only now considered by some to be a day shrouded in controversy. The naming of a day in honour of the vanquishment of a people, their culture and traditions is a strange way of celebrating a nation’s identity. But way back in 1934, no such qualms existed. Australia day was all about “Civilising”, and for the mother country the recognition that ne’r do wells had made good. No such recognition for ne’r do wells these days, they’re part of a business plan that sees them imprisoned for being native in the north, and just imprisoned for arriving from the North. So please enjoy this fragment of a simpler time, when the “crimson thead of kinship” united us all in a bond of decency and fair

Southampton’s over Sydney, 23 Feb, 1934 Oil on Canvas.


1934 centenary. All guests to the Governor’s ball had to arrive naked and supply their own billiard cues.

This painting was painstakingly reconstructed from a photograph (now missing) which records the historic flight of No 2 squadron RAAF, over the Sydney harbour bridge. The flyover, organised in great haste by the RAAF was initiated as a compensatory gesture by the RAAF from the disquiet felt by Sydney-siders and the Steven’s Government that Melbourne, then in the throes of the 1934 Centennial celebrations and the Macrobertson Air Race was getting all the glory.

Such was the level of disquiet and festering interstate rivalry, the Colonial secretary, then aptly named ‘The Secretary to the Dominions and White Empire’ telegrammed Whitehall, suggesting a flag waving excercise. It was determined the ‘Australia Day’ would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the kinship between New South Wales and the mother country with a flyover and leaflet drop. Leaflets proudly displaying the Union Jack, a map of the globe, (one fifth in crimson) and the outstretched hand of Britannia, were to be dropped above the people of Sydney. Among the several hundred thousand were several leaflets signed by their majesty’s King George V1 and Queen Mary.

With incredible speed a squadron of then brand new Supermarine Southampton’s were despatched via the empire route to Marseille, Cairo, Aden, Bombay, Singapore, a short diversion to Hong Kong, then by parabolic astral compass to Rangoon, then to Trincomalee and via the Cocos Islands to Darwin. Then, to demonstrate the amphibious capability of the upgraded Southampton, the aircraft, “Sydney, Surrey and Southampton”, then taxied down the then unfinished stretch of the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. From Alice Springs, the planes readied themselves for the long haul flight to Sydney. Due to a bush fire outbreak outside Daly Waters the planes were delayed, ferrying water to outlying stations and finally made it to Sydney on the 23rd Feb, some four weeks after the official Australia day celebrations.


HMAS Sydney awaiting the arrival of the Southampton squadron. Circular Quay 1934


Walrus amphibious aircraft. Demonstrating the first ever use of the ‘left handed skyhook’.

In spite of the delay, the population of Sydney turned out en masse to witness the superb flying boats arrival and waited breathlessly for them to circle the bridge and the land under the arch. To add weight to the auspicious occassion, the Amphion Class cruiser HMAS Sydney was anchored in readiness with its Walrus aircraft circling overhead. The leader of the squadron Flight Lieutenant Sydney Harbourson DSO. MC, V.C and bar, was selected as he was both Australian born, educated in the mother country and represented the apotheosis of Empire, being both a member of the Harelquins and opening batsman for Lord Rothermere’s first eleven. With due precision the Southampton’s prepared to land. Before landing the leaflets were “let go’ and the crowd “ooed” in fascination as the mighty planes descended upon the crystalline waters of the harbour. With a roar of the Perseus inline twelves and a splash they caressed the still waters with a perfect line of spray and foam, before coming to a complete stop. And as the engines faded, they gently, one by one, sank.

The board of enquiry revealed that the hulls had sustained termite damage on their journey across the top end. The hulls were irretrievably riddled with borer, and in the words of the enquiry, ‘were no more than an intricate sieve”. The leaflets, when they fell to ground, were discovered to be ads for Indian Root Pills and Dr Morse’s Pile Ointment. An inadvertent mix up between the Crown Office and requisitions made to the Indian Army being the ‘root cause’ of the problem. In the end, Sydney-siders went home happy, for amongst the throng some had gathered those leaflets signed by the King and Queen. And quietly in little outhouses across the suburbs they were put to ‘royal’ good use.

Enter the Summer ‘Silly Season’


A sticky encounter. Cockburn encounters Schtenkentopf over the dome of Flinders Street

Dear reader, we regret to announce that the editorial department, which includes, Simpkins, Tompkins, and Dodson have all resigned, They cite idiocy in the “real world” and being “Fed Up” with keeping pace with the P.M for ‘Innovation, thought bubbles and Ideas” Malcolm Turnbull. We desperately tried inspiration, “Look at the splendid things Donald is doing in the U.S‘ and they just responded very dryly, “Frydenburg“. Indeed we were flumoxed, So desperate to reassert some fragment of interest we have delved deep into the annals to find some episodes of derring do that really made Australia Great!!  And just a reminder the episodes we describe here as vetted by Malcolm Roberts of the seventy votes’, ‘Are all True’

Flurry over Flinders Street. 15 dec 1916.

A true scene in which a Point Cook Royal Aircraft Factory Fe2 was intercepted by an Albatross Dv 11 and wiped from the skies. In this engagement the pilot of the Fe2, Flight lieutenant W. C. Cockburn, held his nerve until the german plane, piloted by unteroffizier Reinhard Schtenkentopf, was within touching distance, before delivering a short paced bouncer to his observer gunner, P.T Plimsole. Pluckily Plimsole defected the ball in a perfect hook shot to send the ball spinning directly into the goggles of Unt-O Schtenkentopf. The German pilot, temporarily blinded by the collision between Ball and Goggle, briefly lost control and as the plane stalled the plucky australian, seizing the initiative took cover behind the vast dome of Finders street railway station where he was able to plan his escape.


Schtenketopf, scourge of the sweet factory.

Soon thereafter the tenacious german spotted the Fe2 whilst performing an Immelmann, (to dislodge the cricket ball) over the then, incomplete spire of St Paul’s Cathedral and watched in some satisfaction as the Fe2, losing control, plunged into the Allen’s Confectionary factory.

Apparently the cricket ball, bouncing off the shattered goggles of the german pilot, glanced against the albatross propellor, (which was made of the finest Pomeranian Willow), and travelling in a perfect parabolic arc, it then, descending at almost the speed of sound, by pure chance, hit the australian pilot / batsmen as he sought cover. The first ever incidence of an aerial cricket fatality, and a precursor to the fully enclosed full cockpit mesh canopy protector. With typical sanguine irony the german returned to his squadron and remarked in his log, ‘The, (spelt as ‘ZE’) Australian tried his hand at cricket, to which I was temporarily blinded, perplexed, and rendered lifeless, before I regained my composure and then with a lofted delivery achieved contact with my adversary to which he subsequently then smashed into Allan’s Factory. A sweet victory’.

Poetry Sunday 11 December 2016

Today we continue with more poems from Ali Cobby Eckermann’s award winning novel Ruby Moonlight,

After the massacre, long after the massacre, the young woman sleeps.


in her sleep she dreams
of a guardian spirit

who sits nearby watching
the young woman’s sleeping form

her beauty is unbounded
even in trauma

tight ringlets frame her face
in slumber she looks childlike

her telltale tribal nose is wide
her stature confirms her ancestry

her bosom and buttocks are firm
her stomach is taut

this spirit familiar
is a Shadow too


there is a bend along the river
where fish slow in shallow water
she hears them splash

in the shelter of sandstone
under the overhang hidden by trees
she slumps in shadowed sorrow

in this overhang a cool breeze blows
language sings in her skin
she lays within prayer and prospect

there is little movement
days pass without incident
she tunes to river flow

Ali Cobby Eckermann
Ruby Moonlight 
Magdala 2012

MDFF 10 December 2016

Today’s dispatch is  Overshadowed.  Originally dispatched on 19 September  2015

ഈ നല്ല ആരോഗ്യം ഹാസ്യത്തിനും നിങ്ങളെ സൌഖ്യമായിരിക്കുന്നുവെന്ന് കരുതുന്നു

I will never forget nor forgive Tony Jones’ role (when he was a Lateline presenter) in deviously setting up one of the main triggers to the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER or what it became known as: ‘the Intervention’). I do admit though that on occasions Q&A is interesting and worth watching (not because of, but despite Tony Jones). When there are politicians on the panel who seize the opportunity to score lengthy political points, the programme is exceedingly boring, but on the rare occasions that the panel is devoid of politicians or the politicians are overshadowed by guests who are great intellects with a social conscience, even Tony Jones cannot prevent intelligent and fascinating Q&A exchanges.

It was thus, in anticipation, that I tuned in to Q&A to see what Joan Baez had to say for herself. Alas her appearance was overshadowed by the night of the long knives. In the second half of the programme she did manage to get in a few words, enough to show that she has stayed true to her peace and social justice beliefs we so admired in the 60’s. She condemned the bombing in Iraq and Syria. Those that stuck to the end of the show, got to hear her singing a beautiful song. Another such beautiful song (that she wrote herself) is ‘Diamonds and Rust’. If you can spare the time, you could do a lot worse than to pause and listen to it…

Tim Costello agreed with Joan Baez. He concluded a long erudite answer to a question on the Syrian situation with: “I don’t know the answers, but bombing isn’t one of them”.

Recently, Yuendumu’s Warlukurlangu Artists celebrated its 30th Anniversary and the re-opening of the Men’s Museum. Some may say the event was overshadowed by Yuendumu playing in the Footie Final in Alice Springs. I see the two events as complementing each other. Yuendumu had two wins that Sunday.

In several Dispatches I’ve pondered whether Tony Abbott’s undertaking to spend a week each year in an Aboriginal community whilst he was Prime Minister was a promise or a threat. He actually went beyond this by declaring himself the ‘Prime Minister for Indigenous Australia’, and shifting all Indigenous affairs to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, all under the stewardship of the Northern Territory’s own Senator Nigel Scullion.

Jakamarra and Japanangka asked me why Tony Abbott was no longer the Prime Minister, so I googled TA’s last speech as PM. When it came to: “…I was the first Prime Minister to spend a week a year in remote Indigenous Australia…” Jakamarra exclaimed “Well! I suppose he wants a medal for that”

When I try to explain the inadequately labelled ‘skin name’ system to kardiya (non Aboriginal people), I tell them “Nungarrayi’s daughter is Nampijimpa whose daughter is Napanangka. Thus Nungarrayi is Napananga’s grandmother”; “Furthermore Napanangka’s daughter is Nakamarra whose daughter is Nungarrayi. Thus Nungarrayi is Napanagka’s granddaughter”, “HOLD IT! I thought you said Nungarrayi is Napanangka’s grandmother” “Yes”.

To try and get your head around this think of the seasons. Now it is Spring, two seasons from now it will be Autumn. So what was it two seasons ago?… Indeed: Autumn. You go into the past and you go to the future and you end up in the same place. Those mathematically inclined will discern the circular nature of what I’ve just told you. And the seasons they go round and round…

I overheard Jakamarra on the phone. At one point he said: “have you heard the latest rumour? Mal Brough may again become the Minister for Indigenous Affairs!”

For those who don’t know or can’t remember, Mal Brough was John Howard’s Minister for Indigenous Affairs. He was the architect of the Intervention (apologies to the noble profession of architects). I asked Jakamarra who had told him that rumour, with a grin he told me he’d made it up (just then).

The circle game…. Mal Brough, Jenny Macklin, Nigel Scullion, Mal Brough … full circle, ha, ha, ha ! When I told Nangala this she said that it was no laughing matter, it could easily happen.

Yuendumu’s recently constructed $7+M Police Complex has been overshadowed. A Media release tells me an almost $24M contract has been let for the construction of a Police Station (yes, they’ve switched back from “Complex” to “Station”) at Wadeye. Oh dear, we have been saddled with an inferior Police Complex. I guess we’ll just have to grin and bear it.

Often I’m asked what are the answers to the “Aboriginal Problem” (I much prefer to think of it as the “Aboriginal Opportunity”). I usually answer with hard to define and/or explain concepts such as re-empower societies, stop treating Aborigines as clients, celebrate and respect diversity (cultural/linguistic) etc. etc.

It may be simpler to paraphrase Tim Costello: “I don’t know the answers, but building obscenely expensive Police facilities isn’t one of them”

….how many times can a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see?…

The answer my friend is Blowing in the Wind…

Pinne kanam,