Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Talk of a Territory town is an episode in which a woman bopped a man on the head with a bottle of wine at a popular eatery renowned for serving up steak. Guffawing workmates have described the event as the romantic night Meathead met tasty Cab Sav . He has gone on four months’ long service leave from his responsible government job during which time it is expected that a respected phrenologist will read the bumps on his head to see what the future has in store for him.


Due to its strategic position, Darwin, with medical and military resources, has and will be involved in further disasters, both natural and man-made. The Bali bombings, Aceh, the attempted assassination of Jose Ramos Horta in Timor Leste are examples of events which have involved the Territory. The plight of so many people after earthquakes, cyclones and the tsunami in places like Samoa , American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Manila , Vietnam and Sumatra may well see Darwin involved in relief and medical roles.

Almost unnoticed on our doorstep is Papua New Guinea ,exhibiting the signs of a potential failed state. There were riots there at the recent Australian Prime Minister’s X111 match against the locals. Many government services are stretched to the limit. The recent crash of a plane on the Kokoda run again revealed that the PNG aviation crash investigation office is run on a shoestring . Medical facilities are sorely lacking, as revealed by the current cholera /swine flu outbreak.

An academic who made the call for Australia to draw up contingency plans to deal with a failed state in PNG , population 5,000,000 , received death threats and was forced to leave the country. He came to Darwin for a time . Disenchanted with the Darwin academic scene, he departed . If his fears for PNG eventuate, the NT could find itself involved in a mammoth task .

On the home front , Chief Minister Paul Henderson recently flew to Canberra to learn about the new national emergency warning system (NEWS) , designed to deliver warnings to landlines and mobile phones. As they say, we live in interesting and tough times for so many.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


The name of controversial journalist, publisher and “ spy “ -Maxwell Newton- was unexpectedly raised during a Little Darwin trip down memory lane with a visiting female scribe in a top position. She surprised by revealing that she had once worked for the late Newton, a powerful person in political and financial circles in the l960s .

An unusual interview helped her secure the job with the brilliant and influential publisher who was both a workaholic and an alcoholic. He was stretched out , flat on his back on a table . It was no Hollywood casting couch situation, he was just resting after putting to bed one of his publications, and needed to take a break. She was not hired on the spot , but several people informed her that they had heard she was going to work for Maxwell Newton, he probably having let it slip in places where journos gathered to slake their thirst. And so it came to pass . Working for the Newton dynamo was always lively and interesting . Early in his career he published several profitable country weeklies in Canberra . Well written newsletters with strong political and economic news were another source of income .

As the tireless managing editor of the Fairfax owned Australian Financial Review he built up its circulation, turned it into a daily, and attracted top writers, one being Max Walsh . When the conservative Sydney Morning Herald fell out with Prime Minister Robert Menzies over the l961 credit squeeze it directed Newton, who had written speeches for Dr Evatt, to help the ALP leader Arthur “ Cocky ”“ Calwell in his election campaign. With the SMH backing Labor , the government scraped home with a two seat majority.

Fed up with the Fairfax camp, where he said company policies , made by men not competent, after non- rational consideration , were handed down , like tablets, from one man, he quit. The departure of Newton caused some deep soul searching within the upper echelons of Fairfax and a power struggle. Newton became Murdoch’s founding editor of The Australian , the paper launched on July 15,l964,when it was produced in Canberra to challenge the Fairfax hold on the national capital.

During that demanding period , Murdoch was sometimes seen at Canberra airport in his pyjamas at night trying to get the paper’s matrices on a plane to Sydney and Melbourne , despite fog threatening to close the drome. Newton usually did not get to bed until 2.30am and was reportedly woken at 8.30am by Murdoch telling him what was wrong with the paper. Newton resigned in March l965 because of Murdoch’s complete direction of every aspect of the paper.

Newton obviously knew how to pick women with talent and potential. Apart from our friend who saw him stretched out like a talking cadaver in a morgue, another of his staff , nicknamed Miss Moneypenny of James Bond fame, went on to be on the right hand of PM Billy McMahon and media mogul Kerry Packer.

After some health and financial setbacks, Newton, who joined Alcoholics Anonymous , left the country under a cloud, said to owe taxes , and ended up writing on matters financial for Rupert Murdoch in America as well as running a consultancy. He was refused entry back into Australia because of taxes he owed , and died an exile at the age of 60.

A documentary covering the disappearance of PM Harold Holt in l967 and the resultant jostling for power behind the scenes, stated that Billy McMahon had been blocked from becoming the replacement PM because of strong opposition to him from John “Black Jack “ McEwen , leader of the Country Party. There was talk of McMahon, watched by ASIO, making frequent visits to the residence of Maxwell Newton , branded a spy for Japanese business interests.

NOTE: Anyone interested in wanting to learn more about Newton should read his biography by his daughter, Sarah Newton, published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press, l993.

Monday, September 28, 2009


The latest letter from gynaecological oncologist Professor Margaret Davy to her NT private patients speaks of reports from inquiries into NT obstetrics and gynaecology sitting on shelves “ gathering dust. " She says that for almost a decade , none of the specialist jobs in obstetrics and gynaecology had been advertised and made available to Australian trained specialists. While saying she had nothing against overseas trained doctors , the problem was that the selection process was not transparent. This situation impacted on the wife of Darwin Hospital oncologist , Dr Mathew George , who wanted to complete training in obstetrics and gynaecology, but has been denied that opportunity in Darwin. Professor Davy tells her patients that many of them would undoubtedly be “dismayed” to learn that Dr Mathew George will be leaving on November 1.

“I most definitely did not want to make this issue a political slanging match , as I was hoping that common fair play would prevail , but there continues to be an ongoing problem at RDH (Royal Darwin Hospital) with governance and accountability to give people of (the) NT access to the best trained doctors who are appointed on an open process.”

In the letter , dated September 17, Professor Davy says she has been humbled by various responses to bring into the open various decisions affecting women’s health in the NT. Then she sets out a “ factual record” of events experienced since her previous letter in early August.

In the company of Dr Jenny Mitchell , she had called on Health Minister Kon Vatskalis and his adviser to discuss various aspects of his reply to Alison Anderson’s question in parliament about her “dismissal” by RDH. The minister had told her she had not been “sacked”. In reply, “ I then showed a letter signed by Charles Kilburn, Maternal and Child Health, Len Notaras ,General Manager , Henry Cho, Obstetrics and Gynaecology , stating that my services were no longer required.”

The matter of culturally appropriate provision of services to indigenous women had been raised and the minister had agreed this was important. Dr Mitchell raised the issue that the male gynaecologists who were coming from Brisbane under the new contract were not going to provide a service for private patients.

Professor Davy also pointed out the exceptionally high incidence of vulva cancer in East Arnhem women , at a much younger age. Reference had been made to several scientific papers .”We had also set up a national collaboration with Menzies, Royal Women’s, Melbourne, and Professor Margaret Stanley, from Cambridge, UK, the world authority , to try to elicit answers to questions about causality.” The minister had been given copies of these papers , and he was asked for extra resources to screen these young and vulnerable women .

She said a Queensland group was offering “academic and clinical services “ in respect of this matter . "NT Health are aware of the collaborative research we have been doing , but have not taken consequence of the results published in peer reviewed journals to direct resources to fill a demonstrated need for extra surveillance for East Arnhem women,where we have demonstrated an exceptionally high incidence of vulvar cancer at the young age 20-30.”

At the end of the discussion with the minister he had assured her he would make contact in the near future to organise further visits by her this year. Since her return to Adelaide on August 25 , there had been no communication. However , she had received notification from the NT Medical Board saying her registration was due for renewal. The minister had been faxed asking for information from his department about her future arrangements , as there was no point renewing registration she might not need. At the time of writing her letter, there had been no response.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Former US president Bill Clinton is the centre of a security alert involving cigars. The FBI says it has received strong advice that a fanatical Australian political organisation is planning to send him a box of exploding cigars because he said Prime Minister Rudd is the reincarnation of Albert Einstein , a highly intelligent dude , with the IQ of a herd of elephants.

The comment caused members of the shadowy Ranting Coalition Brotherhood to issue a jihad against Clinton. A wild-eyed member of the born to rule squad ,one of the few women in the Brotherhood allowed to wear lipstick, carry a handbag and abuse the infidel lefty media, said she wished Clinton would zip up his , um, mouth and stop praising Rudd. Little Darwin understands Clinton has been warned not to talk to any Australian interns and to dodge a large man claiming to be the new Australian ambassador to America who sports a cigar and looks like one of the Marx Brothers . There is an ASIO file on this man back in Australia which says his alias is "Bomber" and close friends call him the Mad Monk because of his odd collection of Russion religious icons.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


In a brilliant deal worked out in a cone of silence at Royal Darwin Hospital , Boosh , the notorious , battle- scarred boxing kangaroo , has been given a lucrative contract to rub out the wallabies at the Tindal RAAF base. Boosh, fresh from appearing as a ruthless enforcer in the latest Channel 9 Underbelly series, will be flown to Katherine in an executive jet and immediately begin bouncing the bothersome bounders.

Boosh has had so many fights he is terrible to behold , with cauliflower ears, a squashed nose like a Pekinese , paws as big as Xmas hams and a rock hard tail which he uses like a Maori club in a brutal , one-sided clash between the All Blacks and the Wallabies .

Little Darwin can reveal that the NT Minister for Marsupial Birth Control , the Honourable , Ron Scissorfingers , VC and Scar , ordered the department to bring in Boosh to rub out the horde of Tindal wallabies which have disrupted aero medical flights. The sensitive minister insisted that Boosh be instructed to only bash the wallabies according to the Marquis of Queensbury rules, no punching below the pouch. At first, standover kanga Boosh was reluctant to abide by this injunction. He favours a quick smack in the chops followed by a ritual disembowelment with his sharp claws.

Not only would this decimate the wallabies , their fur could then be used to start a new Katherine cottage industry making toy koala bear souvenirs for unsuspecting tourists . Any RAAF officers who have heads on them like wallabies have been warned to stay indoors when Boosh is going the knuckle on the base.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Sunken treasure and priceless politicians were among topics discussed when Little Darwin supped one evening with a visiting octogenarian from New Zealand . In discussing his family’s involvement with boatbuilding , he revealed that he knew a diver who helped retrieve 8 tons of gold bullion from RMS Niagara which sank after hitting a German mine off NZ in WW11.

On the subject of NZ prime ministers , we swapped anecdotes. He recalled the eloquent David Longe, in early days, corpulent, scruffy, with long hair . During branch meetings Lange would seeming fall asleep, his arms folded on his stomach, eyes closed. Then when the debate seemed to have ended , he would “wake up ”and comment on every point raised during his supposed snooze. Weight was always a problem for him and at one stage he weighed 165 kilos. A stomach reduction operation reduced his bulk . During his time as Labor PM he banned nuclear powered or nuclear armed vessels from entering NZ, which out him offside with America. A lawyer who represented people for a small fee , he had toiled in meatworks as a young man . Possessed of a quick wit and a great debater , he told a pro-nuclear interjector, " I can smell the uranium on your breath." The French bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland when he was the PM because of the campaign against nuclear tests being carried out on Mururoa Atoll. Lange quipped that NZ was run like a Polish shipyard.

This Little Darwin writer attended a conference in the l960s when National PM , Sir Keith Holyoake , a former hops farmer, with a “plummy” voice, addressed the gathering . He went into great, almost orgasmic, detail about the impressive surroundings, even the heavy damask drapes, in a swank London venue where visiting colonial leaders were duchessed. Sir Keith complained that a nasty element had crept into NZ politics when “ offensive matter ”was deposited, not once but several times, in the drive- way of his Wellington home. It was not made clear if this offending matter came from some of the many sheep that are found in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Little Darwin happens to know that Sir Keith gave a glowing reference to an Australian journalist who used it to get a job on a Pacific island, but was asked to leave after he became a bit too friendly with the female locals.

The visitor from NZ with whom we had the entertaining evening asked if there was a “bump ” in the Darwin Airport tarmac because his Qantas flight had come down with a thump . We told him a Qantas plane had sustained a damaged undercarriage after it “ bounced “ when landing on March 28, 2008.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Sorry to hear longtime Darwin rugby league supporter , Frank McPherson , is not in the best of health. Frank wrote a book about his first 50 years associated with the code in Darwin . Back in the l950s , this Little Darwin scribe used to both play and write up rugby league for the NT News and had many discussions with Frank . Fitter and sillier than a March hare , I actually ran up and down the sideline following play , taking notes for my reports. In the process , fruity comments were flung at me by fans ,with an impressive vocabularly similar to that of our current worthy PM, who did not agree with my write ups. One year I foolishly tipped Navy to beat the agile Wallabies in the grand final. To atone for my failure to pick the Wallabies , I later wrote a reference under an ALP letterhead for one of their star players in his bid to obtain a job driving a bulkdozer for the UN in Africa.

Another person who disported himself on the playing field at the time, in the Brothers side, for which I also played, was the spherically shaped George "Cannonball” Cridland , then judge Kriewaldt‘’s associate, now a big gun in a prominent legal firm. Another rugby league stalwart ,Frank Geddes , will no doubt be saddened to hear that Frank is unwell.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is certain to have his mouth washed out with Sunlight soap if he uses any uncouth language when dealing with Darwin ALP officials. This follows the shock revelation that he used the f-word several times when talking to colleagues in Canberra who were bleating about having their printing perk reduced.

His Kevin" Bloody" Wilson outburst caused maiden aunts throughout the nation to faint on reading about his foul- mouthed tirade. Then he brought on a renewed outbreak of the vapours when he strongly supported his use of such gutter language . Furthermore, he said strong language was not uncommon in robust Labor Party discussions.

Not here in the staid Territory ALP , naughty Kevin. This Little Darwin scribbler , though young at heart and still in possession of most of his marbles, is slightly past his use by date and had a full and frank star chamber exchange with the NT ALP secretary, Mark Whittaker. Whittaker is an import from the Qld ALP, where even a deaf member of the party would know that a salty oath is often heard at party meetings . In a strange previous episode , Whittaker took me to task for having once, through a slip of the tongue, called one of Chief Minister Henderson's advisers Gavin instead of Gareth , which had apparently caused an international incident with the warlike Welsh nation . I have to admit that forgetting names is a sign of senile decay . Anyway, at our jolly get together, Mark informed me that a man of my age should be expected to speak in a more gentlemanly fashion. Really ?

My response to this odd reprimand was incredibly restrained for me , probably because my wife had seen flames emitting from my nostrils before I set out for the tete- a -tete ( this is a delightful French expression for head butting , I think) , and she requested me , using strong diplomatic language , to be kind to dumb animals and not to swear .

Golly, gosh, I am sorry , I told Mark, the campaigner for a new age of genteel NT political debate . Chastened , I departed the scene, without upending him in a nearby flower pot or pouring my café latte over him. Obviously , I am going soft in a growing number of vital parts of my body.

In Queensland , where I had some involvement in the ALP, attending branch meetings at which strong language was often used to describe individuals and groups damaging the Labor Party , I asked a friend who was on the personal staff of a minister what his opinion was of a certain other minister . “He’s a f***ing log ,” was his reply, which accorded with my assessment, having winced at his public pronouncements and the ham- fisted and aggressive manner in which he - a former unionist- addressed workers with justified complaints. That log is now confined in an establishment where his every move is regulated.
UPDATE: No sooner had we posted the above item than we received a phone call from a regular reader of Little Darwin who keeps a forensic watch on Territory politics and has a fabulous data bank. This person suggested the reason why Mark Whittaker chided me for wrongly calling one of the CM's advisers Gavin instead of Gareth is because the local media gets his (Whittaker's) surname wrong from time to time. He pointed to an NT News story in March this year , written by Ben Langford, headed TAXPAYERS COUGH UP FOR HENDO'S MAN , which announced that in a move to avoid a factional fight in the ALP ( hopefully, no bad language was used in this fracas ) , former MLA ,James Burke , of the Left , would get a job in the CM's Palmerston office on a salary of more than $163,000 , opening the way for Mark Whitaker (sic) , of the Right, to become the ALP secretary. Wonder if Mark rang up reporter Langford and reprimanded him for getting his moniker incorrect ?

Monday, September 21, 2009


When former Darwin ABC journalist Matt Peacock recently launched his book , Killer Company –James Hardie Exposed , about the dire impact of the asbestos industry on Australia, we expected the Darwin media to do a follow up. After all , figuratively speaking , the city was knee deep in asbestos after Cyclone Tracy tore the place apart. Teams of Servicemen , wearing no protective gear, systematically worked through the shattered city cleaning up blocks. Indeed , this writer and his wife prepared jugs of lime juice for sweaty naval men who cleared our Nightcliff block . Asbestos sheeting was hanging from the remnants of the house . Many people lived in the shattered remains of houses which contained asbestos lining .

Photographs from the cyclone aftermath show clean up teams ,often only wearing shorts, working in the rubble. As there was no local media response to Peacock’s well researched expose, we fired off an email to him through the ABC’s 7.30 Report . Peacock said he recently had contact with a person in Perth,WA, who seemed to have developed asbestosis from the Cyclone Tracy cleanup . A doctor also felt his mother may have developed mesothelioma from asbestos louvres . A James Hardie marketing kit , using Aboriginal colours, had also been spotted at the Milikupati Council office about l981. (There was a report on Territory TV some months ago that asbestos was scattered about the remains of a building at an Aboriginal settlement.)

At the present moment , Little Darwin is aware that there is much shuffling of correspondence , including legal opinions , between the Darwin City Council , the NT government and the Federal government over a Cyclone Tracy dump containing asbestos at the Nightcliff waterfront. Nearby residents with children are naturally deeply concerned. A major series could be produced about asbestos in the NT.

UPDATE -No sooner had the above item been posted than the ABC ran reports on radio and TV about the Nightcliff asbestos dump . Somehow the assurance that there was no danger to the public was garbled. One report said the fibre level from the dump was low , while the DCC seemed to imply no fibres were escaping. Little Darwin believes some old fashioned investigative reporting into the subject of asbestos, past and present, in the Territory would unearth a disturbing picture.

Last month a call went out for two asbestos surveyors for a company which has secured large projects around Darwin and the NT . What is this all about ? Applicants from the UK were invited to apply .When fire raged through the old Phoenix Motel and nearby seafood cafe at Nightcliff in March this year there were fears that firefighters and police may have been exposed to asbestos. Smoke from the blaze spread across a large area. WorkSafe was to carry out an inspection before a report on the suspicious fire could by compiled for the coroner . So far there has been no public statement about the WorkSafe finding and progress on the police investigation for the coronial inquiry .
Asbestos was recently removed from a nearby run down building which was an early Nightcliff Woolworths store. Google and you find a Darwin asbestos lawyer and a statement by the Asbestos Information Support Service that estimated 13,000 Austalians would die in the period 2003-2020 from mesothelioma ,a further 40,000 likely to develop asbestosis with a 90 percent chance of developing full blown mesothelioma .


The real reason for the Royal Darwin Hospital rudely and abruptly terminating its 20 year dealings with gynaecological oncologist , Professor Margaret Davy, may well be because she spoke out about other matters at the hospital. During her on air interview with Julia Christensen in the Darwin ABC breakfast radio show, she was asked what the “motivation “ was for ending her services. “I do tend to be outspoken , and I am concerned about governance and openness in some other areas of the hospital,” the highly respected doctor replied. “ It was easier to get rid of me than address the issues.”

In particular, she had been concerned about the way obstetricians and gynaecologists were appointed at Royal Darwin Hospital . All these specialists at RDH were overseas trained. Australian trained specialists had not been able to fill such positions. Indeed , over the years, many Australian doctors in this field had rung up to see if any jobs were vacant and were told there were none. A few weeks later, they found out an overseas person had been appointed. Professor Davy said her concern was that there was no openness in advertising the positions Australia wide so that Australian trained doctors could apply .

Since her last visit to Darwin in August, there had been two more specialists , both overseas trained, added to the general pool at Royal Darwin. Ms Christensen asked if overseas doctors were appointed because they were “ cheaper,” to which Professor Davy said she did not know. Later on, Professor Davy said Dr Len Notaras of RDH had made statements about her which were not correct. He had said she would be able to tender for a contract to provide her services , yet this work had already been let to the Get Well group in Brisbane. Dr Notaras had also said she would be coming up from Adelaide three more times this year , yet the hospital had not been in contact with her to arrange details of the supposed visits.

Professor Davy felt there was a likelihood that the health of indigenous women would suffer under the new arrangement which would see male doctors brought to the Territory on a rotation basis. It was not culturally appropriate for indigenous women to be examined by a male. Professor Davy’s work has shown that there is a higher incidence of cervix and vulva cancer in the Territory than in the south but a lower incidence of ovarian cancer. (See previous post on this subject below .)

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Did Health Minister Kon Vatskalis mislead the Legislative Assembly when he was asked by Alison Anderson to explain why Adelaide based visiting gynaecological oncologist, Professor Margaret Davy, had been unceremoniously informed her services were no longer required at the Royal Darwin Hospital after serving the Territory for 20 years? The minister’s statement was called into question when ABC morning radio presenter Julia Christensen interviewed Professor Davy and her explanation of the episode was at variance with that given by the minister and the Health Department. Professor Davy said she had " visited" the minister after his erroneous statement to the Assembly to put him right . In her words, he had "seemed surprised ". She had informed him that nobody from RDH contacted her verbally, there had been a letter of termination and no arrangement had been made for her to make further trips to the Territory this year.
Ms Christensen twice asked if the Health Minister had misled parliament . Responding, Professor Davy said it was probably more a case of the minister being misled by his bureaucrats. (On the other hand, Little Darwin knows for fact that he was handed a copy of Professor Davy's, polite but indignant letter to patients ,explaining the situation. As well,he received calls from angry patients and family members. If he did not realise that the subsequent statement he made in the Assembly did not accord with the facts , dare we say the product of mindless spin, then he and his advisers would appear not to have a grip on the important portfolio )
In the September Country Liberals newsletter stronger language is being used to describe the performance of the Health Minister and the Department of Health over the treatment of Professor Davy. It refers to the “usual secrecy and incompetence “ of the two.

The odds are that there will be a move for a vote of no confidence in the Health Minister at the next sitting of the Legislative Assembly over the Professor Davy issue and other shortcomings in the health system . The failure to solve the Wallaby problem at Tindal RAAF base to clear the way for the aerial medical service has Canberra , the Australian Defence Force , medicos and Katherine residents up in arms .

Minister Vatskalis seems to be threatening prompt and drastic action to solve the deadly serious problem at Tindal . And just this morning , kingmaker Gerry Wood was on the ABC expressing concern about the way the new radiation oncology unit will be run at RDH, which may have made members of the Henderson Government feel unwell, longing for an opiate to ease the pain . Health could bring down the shaky ALP government unless somebody really gets on top of the department . With respect, Minister Vatskalis is not the man for the health portfolio.

The NT News on September l8 raised the fact that RDH had not advertised for a new general manager to replace Dr Len Notaras ,despite announcing he was stepping down six months ago. Now the advertisement for his position is not expected to be placed until next year. On April 17, Minister Vatskalis said Dr Notaras and Health Department Chief David Ashbridge -two of the "three kings "- would be moved . The process for recruiting a new general manager would "begin immediately", he said at the time. Now there is a different story, a different timeline . Incidently , Minister Vatskalis was not available to be interviewed by Julia Christensen nor could anybody front for a Stateline interview about the aero medical trouble at Tindal .


In America, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author , Alex Jones, who once covered the press for the New York Times , has written a book , Losing the News , in which he says turmoil in the news business has resulted in the loss of “ the iron core” of news. He defines this as the core of professionally reported news that determines what a country is as a society .

Now director of Shorenstein Centre on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University ,he was interviewed on Jim Lehrer’s News Hour . Jones said , because of the digital revolution and the economic crisis , the iron core had been eroded from within. High quality reporters who had done great work were simply now not employed by news organizations During the interview , he was asked where was the claimed great journalism . Some critics pointed out the media exhibited a lack of digging in respect of the run- up to the Iraq war and in other matters.

While agreeing with claims that journalism was flawed was absolutely correct, Jones said he was not there to defend journalism as perfect. The structure of professional journalism had, however, produced the most serious public education mechanism in the country . What America knew about its history had, in the most part, come from its news organizations.

“My concern is that what’s happening is that news is being transformed from that hard core to something much more like public relations and spin and advocacy and subjective news , because what we’re losing along with the professional news and the professional journalism is the standard of objectivity in many cases,’ he said. Losing quality reporters in "wholesale “ numbers was something the US could not stand.

Many newspapers, he added , were in real trouble. This point is abundantly clear in Australia in relation to the once mighty Fairfax organisation –Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age - where there have been wholesale staff reductions , its boardroom is involved in an internal brawl and shares today were down to $1.71 . The flim-flam, spin , public relations influence and other shabby aspects of American “ news ” author Jones spoke of are evident Down Under.

UPDATE: Paul Keating has denied that he has been asked to join the Fairfax board. He felt the " great days of Fairfax" and the print media were over. Meanwhile Crikey founder Stephen Mayne announced he will seek a position on the board and called for other board members with real newspaper experience to be appointed . Most of the board members are said to be over 65 .

Saturday, September 19, 2009


In Darwin and on Q and A , the ABC TV panel show, actor Anthony LaPaglia , who played the part of reporter Roger East in the film Balibo , said that during the George W. Bush presidency the only news programme worth watching was the Daily Show with Jon Stewart .

The Daily Show specialises in what it terms “fake news”, spoof, satire , video clips , slick dialogue, slapstick to reveal the truth as distinct from the inexorable spin, celebrity mush and infotainment that has enfeebled America. In particular, the Daily Show takes the mickey out of right wing media ranters , enjoys ribbing Fox News , one outrageous quip by Stewart being that a comment by a Fox presenter seemed to indicate the channel was turning liberal. In the current disturbing and vicious political debate in the US , one of the worst things sanctimonious right wingers can do to demonise a person is to describe him or her as a liberal.Readers of little Darwin will undertand that apart from serious commentary and pungent pars, we also use so-called " fake news" to reveal the truth.

Friday, September 18, 2009


It may be hyperbole, but little Darwin has been told by a close observer of Territory politics that proposed controversial changes to the NT Planning Scheme -changing the CBD from the so- called pyramid design to an overall uniform 90 metre maximum height- has the capacity to bring down the government. So insensed , he says , are influential members of the community over the proposed changes that they are “gunning “ for the government. It was claimed that come election time , some people, who formerly kicked in money to help the government, would either withhold funds, back the opposition or even field a sympathetic independent or two.

Intrigued by this statement, Little Darwin applied an elephantine ear to the ground to pick up the rumbles in the concrete jungle. Under the existing pyramid scheme , multi storey buildings were constructed in the centre with lower ones on the outskirts up to a maximum of 36 metres. The proposed uniform 90 metre blanket has many ramifications. For instance, building sites will soar in value because of the higher towers that can be constructed. More money for developers, architects, lobbyists, council rates. etc. While some can see megabucks , others are alarmed at the possible detrimental impact on the CBD . A meeting of developers to discuss the proposed amendments showed that there were mixed feelings. Hans Vos,of the think big school, said he did not think there should be any height restrictions. He likened the Darwin peninsula to New York’s Manhattan island, a part of the Big Apple which Rupert Murdoch laughingly describes as an Australian slum because of all the Aussie journalists who live there .

Another developer said Darwin was not ready for a vast area of high rise buildings. Well known developer and crocodile talent scout, Doug Gamble , said he feared the new code would result in high rises mainly being built along the coast which would turn Darwin into something like the Gold Coast, a mediaeval city with a wall around the outside and a dead centre.

In discussions Little Darwin had with various interested parties , a concerned person injected an exciting Hawaii Five-O note into the debate when he said the proposal would probably lead to the Hawaiian situation which saw taller and taller beachfront towers whacked up , stealing the amenity of the buildings behind them. Public submissions on the proposed building closed July 10 and the outcome will undoubtedly spark further lively debate.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


It is only hearsay at this stage, but there is talk of a 30 -storey plus tower planned for the site where the Hotel Darwin once stood. This talk comes after the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the grand old building in an act reminiscent of Joh Bjelke- Petersen . The site was mooted for a conference centre but this did not eventuate.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Information from Queensland tells of schoolchildren on Magnetic Island coming down with whooping cough . There has been an upsurge in whooping cough in Australia of late. In Queensland during the period January 1 to August 13 , 3404 cases of the infectious respiratory disease were reported, 902 in the same span last year. It to be hoped that this distressing condition does not take hold in Territory children, especially in distant Aboriginal communities. In June 2008 the NT Health Department urged vaccination of children after many cases in Darwin . There were 477 cases of whooping cough in the NT in 2008 , up from 27 the previous year.


Little Darwin has a vested interest in Darwin’s popular wave pool. Way back in the l980s , this writer worked for the ALP as a press secretary. After seeing TV coverage of what was said to be the first wave pool , in Phoenix, Arizona, I was struck by the idea that this would be great for Darwin , especially during the Wet when people go troppo , unable to swim in the sea . I rang up the Big Surf outfit in Arizona and obtained details , including the cost , of such a novel pool .

It was election time here and the clique that ran the ALP had decided , without much discussion , to go in strong on a subsidy for freight charged on fruit and vegetables trucked into the Territory. My belated suggestion of a wave pool was dismissed out of hand . In moments of what if , I wonder what the election result would have been had the ALP had the time to develop and float my wave pool brainwave (notice how modest I am ?)

Recently , with grandchildren, I subjected my wrinkled body to the pounding of the wave pool- and loved it, despite the fact that the skin peeled off my right big toe, with which I braced myself. What a brilliant asset for the city . Needs more shelter from the sun about the pool and perhaps the wave strength could be reduced slightly as it seems very strong for this old body surfer.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Ten years after the night-time demolition of the oustanding building known as both the Grand Old Duchess and the Raffles of Darwin-the Hotel Darwin-and the NT Government still has no well defined heritage protection . The late journalist /author/ historian , Barbara James , an ALP stalwart , would not be impressed by this inexplicable dithering. Little Darwin provided Barbara with information when she was researching the history of the hotel , which she fought hard to save .

Nowadays there seems to be delight in concreting over or removing anything of interest in Darwin than saving it and putting it on a heritage list. The Gold Coast syndrome is rampant. Recently it was revealed that there is a plan to bulldoze the remains of a building used by the Z-Force at East Point during WW11 . The late Centralian Advocate and NT News crusading editor , James Frederick Bowditch , who first employed Barbara James , an American , in Darwin , was a decorated member of Z-Force. How Darwin , with its tragic WW 11 history, could contemplate removal of Z-Force ruins defies belief , but then this is now-time Darwin .
Few people would know that a prominent Indonesian businessman , a former member of Z-Force , with a wartime link with the Territory , came back here on a visit and arranged for his autobiography to be presented to Bowditch.

Bowditch came to the aid of a paralysed pearl diver, Ali bin Salleh , who had been with him in a highly dangerous Z-Force reconnaissance mission to Tarakan, teeming with Japanese, before the invasion . Bowditch arranged for Ali to be flown back to Darwin from a nursing home in Adelaide . Here he was looked after by Sallum bin Sallik and his wife, another grand lady, Biddy . Sallum had also been in the Z Force, but had not been on operation with Bowditch.

Townsville’s Maritime Museum has a memorial plaque to the Z Force , members of which shocked the wartime city by paddling in during the night and attaching mock mines to vessels, showing how vulnerable the port was to attack . Another building used by the Z-Force near Cairns has been preserved. Here in the Territory ?


Several of Darwin’s famous talking cats have been approached to stand as candidates at the next NT election. The ALP has been going to the dogs ever since the last election and has now decided to go catty . In a bid to claw back power, ALP talent scouts , Syd Suet and Bob Bumbles, have spoken to two Cheshire cats on a hot tin roof. These celebrity cats regularly appear on the front page of the NT News and are prolific writers of erudite letters to the editor on a wide range of subjects.

They therefore have a great public image, enhanced by their lucrative pet food endorsements. One of them will soon star in a new Channel 7 TV show , Dancing With the Mau Mau,in which jiving cats tear up the expensive studio carpet to the throbbing beat of African tom-toms. Each week, one of the hepcats will be voted out, skinned and turned into headgear worn by Texan politician , Davy Crockett, who was plugged at the Alamo .

Darwin’s best known ear- bashing cat, Mischief, has been promised the important portfolios of education , health and mouse control. In addition, the top cat will be given a top hat and be entitled to a special container of perfumed kitty litter in his ministerial washroom on the fifth floor of the Wedding Cake. His spin doctor will be a famous real doctor,Dr Zeus .

Any animal which can put a sentence together without the help of a spin doctor will improve the image of the party, which is in a catatonic state ever since being caught like a rat in a trap by the ringmaster of a rural flea circus.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


GOLD COAST : Police are called to a noisy party twice in one night . First off, police request lowering of noise , which results in some reduction, but some yobs later crank up the volume. Police return and issued a $200 on the spot fine. Decibels plummet, neighbours breathe sigh of relief, hit the pillow .

DARWIN : Two tired looking police officers, possibly due to long shift and or coping with weekend madness in the CBD, are called twice in one night to the home of a serial offender who , on his lonesome, has been blasting the neighbourhood for years with super woofer. On each occasion they have to clamber over a locked , high gate. Person warned. Numerous other complaints to police , NT Government , local member of parliament , no REAL action, no move to change legislation giving police power to issue on the spot fines, leaving it up to the law abiding citizen to seek a noise abatement order - costing him lodgement fee, photocopying charges , sorting out conflicting police advice, disruption to his work and family obligations , further stress and an expensive legal fee. To be successful such an application will probably require a police officer or two to attend court and give evidence.

IN QUEENSLAND, ABC radio invites then Police Minister , Judy Spence ,on air to discuss the vexed problem of noisy neighbours . One complaint about a noisy neighbour , who for six or seven years has received many visits from police , resulting in no change ; noise so loud a picture frame vibrates off a coffee table,et ,etc, etc. Ditto Darwin . On air –grab this , REAL ACTION - the Queensland minister announces she will bring in legislative change to enable police to issue on the spot fines on noisy neighbours .

IN THE TERRITORY , it is to be hoped that the Darwin ABC gets Police Minister Paul Henderson in to take calls from residents about noisy neighbours to see if he responds as quickly as his Queensland counterpart. Recently a seemingly solicitious solicitor confided to Little Darwin that he has an unresolved problem with a neighbour and his noisy motorbike . If a lawyer cannot sort out this problem , what hope has the average Joe ? In the past, on a chat line discussion of noise in Darwin, it was suggested by one person that the answer to a noisy neighbour was a .303 . While this may have been a facetious comment , there was an episode in Fannie Bay some moons ago where shots were fired at a man mowing his lawn on the Sabbath.

Individuals and families are driven to distraction by noisy neighbours and contemplation of extreme measures due to the failure of the NT Government to come to grips with this problem. The NT Law Reform Society has not advanced any bright ideas on this subject, but then it might mean less business for their members .

Sunday, September 6, 2009


A person who played a large part in the painful gestation of the Little Darwin blogspot has long campaigned against social injustices in Australia , Indonesia and elsewhere . At university, he ruffled the professorial feathers of the senate by demonstrating against arcane traditions. Instead of jaunting about on sabbaticals and study conferences , he urged the academics to spend more time with undergraduates in classes helping them to become qualified.
After a varied life, he signed up as a mature age medical student and Little Darwin, in the Adelaide junk business at the time (some unkind persons might say we still are ) , was able to furnish him with a sphignometer, bought at auction for the cost of a packet of used band aids , our contribution to the advancement of medicine in Australia . After sailing in the First Fleet re-enactment as a medico, he enjoyed being lashed to the mast and started working on cruise ships in foreign countries.

A gifted, unusual wordsmith , his prose and emails dealing with many subjects have a Leunig like feel, a mixture of humour, despair,outrage and acute insights into the human condition.
Now , like a latter day King Canute, he lives by the seaside in Sydney , strumming discordant tunes on a banjo, muttering about the NSW Government - sure to be served with a noise abatement order .

Saturday, September 5, 2009


At the current meeting of the G20 , Australia , Germany ,France and Britain have strongly urged other nations to continue Keynesian stimulus packages . As this Little Darwin scribbler has spent a sheltered life , mixing with sober fellow journos who regard the Christian Science Monitor as their Bible , he has been shocked by unsavoury revelations about Baron John Maynard Keynes , whose economic views are being enthusiastically followed to save the globe from descending into the financial netherworld.

Recently there have been disturbing statements on air and in print that Keynes was bi-sexual and into SM. In my innocence , I asked a Sydney stockbroker the meaning of SM , thinking it had something to do with manipulating the global market for silver, like good old Texan oilman, Nelson Bunker Hunt, once the world's richest man.

The furtive broker slipped me a business card for Madam Lash , a dominatrix , with branch offices in all states and territories. Weak at the knees and shocked by this revelation , I turned to the arts to soothe my nerves. Pulling out a recent acquisition, an alternative history of the British Arts Council by Richard Witts , Little Brown and Company, London, there was further disturbing content in the very first chapter , the opening paragraph stating that while a leading figure in the British arts world, John Christie, enjoyed the company of Nazis and strutted about in lederhosen, his arty enemy, John Maynard Keynes, preferred the fellowship of boys.

This , and much more , is said of Keynes, the influential economist and writer , involved in the foundation of the World Bank and a major player ( fiscally speaking ) in the Bretton Woods Conference in America at which 28 countries agreed to set up the International Monetary Fund. Chapter 8 –my lucky number –in the book was headed : The twilight of the sods , which is not a misprint . Mary Whitehouse would be aghast at such literature and move to have it thrown on a heap of offending filth, along with bankers, hedge fund sharpies, ratings agencies , Uncle Tom Cobbley
et al, and napalmed.

Friday, September 4, 2009


What a fine Christian gesture it was for those persons holding high office to arrange for a medico setting up in private practice to receive a computer and other equipment out of the public purse . Ran into thousands of dollars . Wonder if the doctor charged his patients a wee bit less due to the largesse ?
Another wondrous medical saga relates to the strange dealings with x-rays. In the first instance , a woman had a breast x-ray at the Royal Darwin Private Hospital , was told it found nothing of concern , and received a letter asking if she wanted the x-ray plate ; yes . The very next day she called at the hospital and after a considerable wait, was informed the x-ray could not be found , that it had probably been thrown away or lost . In any case, she was informed x-rays were normally only kept for 30 days . Why ? Is this due to lack of space ? How does it stack up with the standard practice nationwide? These and other questions need answers.
In the second episode , a GP , discussing pains in the chest of a person who had received a by-pass years ago at an interstate hospital, suggested it might be good if he could go back to the hospital that did the operation because it would have the old x-rays . An x-ray carried out here in Darwin had revealed nothing . How x-rays years old, if still kept at an interstate hospital , could be of any benefit is puzzling.
The third x-ray event involved a visit to the oddly decorated waiting room at the Casuarina Imaging Centre . Waiting to be called, a man leafed through the bundle of dog-eared nondescript magazines in the waiting room and was surprised to find a copy of Gideon’s Bible . An elderly man came to reception and said he had just come from the private hospital where they had tried to charge him $260 for an x-ray , but he was a pensioner and could not pay.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009




The experience of an American tourist who clung to the outside of the Ghan for some 200kms before he was discovered by staff certainly makes rail travel sound exciting. Most people , however, like a less dangerous , more relaxing form of a trip . Little Darwin recently went to East Arm Railway Station to meet a friend who had made the trip north from Adelaide in Red Service , the cheapest .

This person , a mature age woman , has travelled extensively overseas and within Australia. After experiencing the Ghan , she said she would not recommend the trip to anybody . Boarding the Ghan was delayed in Adelaide for half an hour because of internal repairs which were performed on a carriage. A railway employee apologised and said it was due to the fact that the rolling stock is so old , dating from the l950s!, needing frequent repairs.

During the trip, without warning , the wash basin in the woman’s compartment fell open and would not lock back into position. It was reported to staff, but remained in the down position from Alice to Darwin. Why the bloody hell aren’t you tourists over here in the Territory seeing the wonderful outback reflected in a wash basin which could make you see stars if it fell on your noggin? The basic light meals /snacks and service offered did not impress. Our friend is somewhat of a gourmet and likes to sink her reduced number of teeth into fancy food and new dishes. She also has a penchant for Continental pastries ,especially strudel . No fricassee of Alice camel did she find offered aboard the Ghan . Maybe in the Platignum and Gold Service sections ? Questions asked by females of the male railway employee in the carriage resulted in unsatisfactory responses as if they were “ giggly backpackers .”

As the Ghan slowly pulled into Darwin , the lead loco , decorated with its painted logo incorporating a camel (not on the menu) portrayed an air of outback adventure. However, the battered following diesel electric looked as if it had been salvaged from that bombed and burnt out line of vehicles leading from Kuwait to Baghdad in the first Gulf War. Either that, or it had had an encounter with a deaf Territory truck driver at a level crossing.

Luggage from the train was loaded onto trolleys and then, piled high, hauled manually by a young male directed by an older man . This is obviously a reversal of the usual practice of wearing out the old buggers first . No airport prime mover trolley equipment. here . What does Occupational Health and Safety have to say about this ?

A person waiting to meet people on the train pointed out the railway had never been intended to carry passengers , but now it seemed to be the main business .The Darwin railway station was a hopeless situation in the wet , he added, wide open to the elements.

Before the railway was built through to Darwin there was brave talk that the Adelaide car builder Mitsubishi would transport its vehicles to Darwin and they would be put aboard ships for Asia , the Middle East, etc. Mitsubishi, of course, went into reverse and the rest of the Australian car industry , along with component suppliers , is depressed . The massive expansion of mining activities at Olympic Dam in South Australia seems to hold out some hope for the railway which is in deep financial trouble and up for sale.

Meanwhile, the facilities and service for train travellers to and from the Territory needs attention . The recently appointed NT travel/ transport wallah should catch the Ghan to Adelaide , in the Red Service section , and wear a crash helmet to avoid being donged by a wash basin.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


The clear message from the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) review is that the Federal government does not trust the NT Government to handle the matter . Just like the Gulf War, the Feds have decided to embed a senior Commonwealth representative, along with others, to keep a close watch on SIHIP , which nearly brought down the Henderson Government and is seriously embarrassing the Rudd government Minister for Families, Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Ms Jenny Macklin.

In fact, Minister Macklin stated on radio that the NT had four months in which to lift its game . This was a reference to the fact that SIHIP will undergo another review at the end of this period. Under the previous arrangement , the review pointed out, responsibility for day to day delivery was with the NT Government, the Commonwealth having little say. The new structure, however, would see nominated officers accountable and responsible for providing consistent advice to government and "rapid response to critical feedback."

The review also said the Commonwealth should be prepared to take what it termed both unusual and urgent action in the matter to deliver the promise of 750 houses , 230 rebuilds and 2500 refurbishments. It also touched on the Territory disease of departments calling in expensive consultants instead of doing the work they should be carrying out themselves . In brief, the review said so far $45.54 million had been spent by SIHIP ; the average cost would be –houses, $450,000 ( down from $550,000 plus ) ; rebuilds, $ 20,000 to $100,000 and refurbishments, $75,000; SIHIP management levels will be reduced from six to three ; administration costs to be reduced from 11.4 per cent to eight.

The strong Commonwealth intervention in SIHIP vindicates the response of former NT Minister for Indigenous Affairs , Alison Anderson . It also underlines the NT Government's failure- in this and other matters - to respond to critical feedback, regarding criticism as "negative" , preferring spin to real action.