Sunday, January 31, 2010


It is a classic - but puzzling- case of now you see them, now you don’t. Residents of a settlement down Elliott way are scratching their heads over the mysterious disappearance of two brand new demountable houses. Seems the dwellings, said to be part of the troubled $672million SIHIP , were due to be on site by a contracted date.

They were trucked down from Darwin, set up on the sites for inspection, passed muster , and were apparently ticked off as real progress . Soon after , they were unbolted and trucked back to Darwin to be properly fitted out .

Saturday, January 30, 2010


No doubt the Royal Darwin Hospital valiantly attempts to keep golden staph and other super bugs from thriving within its walls. However, just outside the main entrance -at the two Telstra telephone booths- there appears to be an incubator for breeding nasties.

Little Darwin recently had cause to wait outside the hospital for a person visiting a patient and peeked inside the telephone cubicles . Yuk! It was not a pretty sight. There were blobs of black matter and streaks on the wall, which looked as if they had been there for many a day. Handpieces looked greasy, and there was green slime on the ground.

We were reminded of the frightening old ditty on grotty toilet doors which read : It’s no use standing on the toilet seat-our crabs can jump 40 feet! Those phones are used extensively, many people sit on the ground nearby and patients, some barefooted , stroll about .

One elderly man sat nearby wearing a face mask. We don’t know if he was worried about an outbreak of swine flu or protecting himself from possible Telstra contamination. The person responsible for germ warfare at the hospital should don a space suit and,armed with a flame-thrower and disinfectant, inspect the ring alongs and surrounds at the front door.


Little Darwin has the obvious answer to the recurring blackouts infuriating the Top End. It is the brilliant White Hunter solution, dimissed out of hand when first suggested. Following Cyclone Tracy , Darwin was beset with frequent black outs.

During the hearing of charges against people involved in importing a large amount of marijuana from Asia aboard the vessel Marianna the power went on and off. The exasperated judge made some remark suggesting everybody should just sit there glaring at each other in the hope that the power would come back on .

When the former Brisbane ALP Lord Mayor ,Clem Jones, the man who eradicated Brisbane’s dunny cans, became involved in Darwin’s rebuilding , he was puzzled and irritated by the frequency of the power cuts , there being no apparent reason for them. One day, about to enter the lift at the Travelodge, everything went dark as the lights went out. Infuriated, Clem, a man of action , jumped in a car, grabbed the surprised head of the Department of Works , and drove down to the power house , intent on lifting the lid on this sorry state of affairs.

Why has the power gone off ? Clem demanded. The Works and Jerks bod , an old Darwin hand , told him the generators had stopped working. Why? Clem, a trouble making southerner, insisted to know.

Happens every year – it’s the wet - was the answer . This was not good enough for Clem , he came away muttering about the way important utilities were run in Darwin and the attitude of people responsible for the services. Unfortunately, Clem’s power pack died years ago so he cannot come back and help re-boot the Territory’s power supply and its executives.

Therefore, Little Darwin declares the only real course of action to solve the power problem is to invoke the unusual solution proposed by the late Allan Stewart, known as the White Hunter. During the post Cyclone Tracy debate in the NT Legislative Assembly about the vexing power failures , politically minded Allan jumped up in the public gallery and shouted out the debate was hot air. The obvious solution: BRING A SUBMARINE INTO PORT AND RUN AN EXTENSION CORD FROM IT TO THE POWER HOUSE AND KEEP THE CURRENT FLOWING INTO THE CITY.

The Speaker of the House was not impressed by this first example of Territory lateral thinking on a large scale, so Allan limped out and left Darwin groping in the dark.

Seriously, with talk of putting noisy Collins class submarines up on dry land because of many problems, why not bring one overland on the Ghan from Adelaide , stick it in the hard , and use its massive generator to back up our dubious network. Sailors would be assured of a warm welcome as far south as Katherine . Of course, with wash aways along the railway line, care would have to be taken to prevent a submarine from falling off into the water and springing a leak.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Regular readers of Little Darwin will recall our recent post lampooning gullible Americans for their hysteria over the media beat up claiming giant killer bees were heading north of the Mexican border. In our piece we tied in the fact that a web had claimed a “swarm ”( a term normally applied to bees ) of plovers, birds, had attacked Minister Rob Knight near the parliament building.

Well, this writer was travelling on a bus when the biggest bee he has ever seen started angrily bumping up and down the window, trying to escape. Sitting in front of me were two young tourists, possibly Germans, studying a guide to Darwin. From time to time , the steroid stuffed bee came dangerously close to the woman’s bare shoulder, unbeknown to her.

With my claw, I tried to flick the bee away , wanting to prevent a nasty experience for overseas tourists in Darwin town. Luckily, the girl did not see my paw near her neck , otherwise she may have thought I was a furtive, arthritic groper and screamed for the transport police.

With honourable intent, I took the snotty handkerchief from my pocket and grabbed the angry bee, not far from her ear. The passenger behind me who looked glassy eyed when I first sat down,soon after sneezing all over me, started mumbling. I suspect he has things buzzing about in his head and objected to me grabbing one of his pet, errant neurons.

Sitting there with the crazed, Turkish wrestler- sized bee in my hanky, I tried to look nonchalant . When the bus finally came to a stop, I jumped up and violently shook the hanky so the bee could escape. Passengers probably thought I was a grey haired weirdo waving at Old Father Time. Only the Thunderbirds know the things I do for international rescue.


Former Territory politician Roger Steele is writing his memoirs. As a young boy, Roger lobbed in Darwin from Tasmania in l948 with his father who was in the army. After decades working as a cow puncher and stock inspector , Steele sold insurance and got into politics. As Member for Elsey and Ludmilla he held several ministerial posts. With his love of the bush, its ballads and its many characters , some salt of the earth, one in particular an evil old bugger, it should be a great read.
It is to be hoped he includes colourful and humorous insights into Territory politics . Alas, much of what has been written about Territory politics has been dreary, dull and academic , which is unfortunate because there is a rich lode to be mined.

If Roger is looking for graphics for his book, Little Darwin might be able to dig out a scurrilous poster from our mouldy files which sported pics of our then political leaders urging voters to get rid of certain PESTS in the Territory , identified as Perron, Everingham , Steele and Tuxworth , the first letter of each conveniently spelling PEST . It is understood the p erson responsible for the poster , stuck up all over Darwin, later rushed about and pulled them down after receipt of legal advice. It was a fishy situation in more ways than one and could be the subject of a whole chapter in the book .
Incidently, when we Googled Roger Steele up came a person with more than 600,000 listings . It was , however, for a Kiwi book publisher of the same name. If the Territory's Roger Steele sells as many copies of his book as the publisher has listings, he'll be able to buy Elsey Station with the royalties.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Apparently unnoticed by many in the media was the prediction by political commentator , Malcolm Mackerass , in the Weekend Australian of January 16-17 ,of a double dissolution election .

While stomping about the nation last week on his way to Darwin to officially open the Royal Darwin Hospital oncology unit, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave what were seen as election campaign speeches - but then this is the year of living electioneeringly / dangerously throughout the nation and anything the PM says has to be regarded in that context.

In Darwin he deftly flattered the NT News by saying it was the most read newspaper in his office. ( When federal parliament resumes, bet the Opposition says Australia is going to the crocs, not the dogs ,under the Rudd regime). Rudd’s praise for the paper must have made the newspaper management cartwheel about the office in jubilation. The News was so pleased with the PM's unsolicited testimonial they responded by running a special front page picture for him of Miss Piggy being devoured by a large crocodile, thus causing thousands of sensitive kiddies and ET to have nightmares and wet their beds.

Unfortunately, our leader used what could be inappropriate language for an oncology unit to say Solomon MHR Damian Hale had been a pain in the butt , urging the unit be established. Why is that every time there is a photo opportunity involving Darwin medical facilities politicians insist on hamming it up. NT Health Minister Kon Vatskalis has worn Easter Bunny ears , jostled with Hale in one episode and spread himself out in the horizontal at the opening of a new operating theatre.

Not to be outdone, PM Rudd allowed himself to be photographed at the oncology unit with his head in a position like that of a gynaecologist going about his important work. He may have been looking for a member of the official government party who disappeared without trace from most of the opening parade and ceremony, apparently having slipped away to Casuarina for cappuccino, a greasy doughnut and a fag.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Three cars pulled up outside an old tin hut on the outskirts of Alice Springs on Australia Day 1964, the occupants intent on converting part of the hot building into an airconditioned room for its 79 year old resident, the one and only Miss Olive Pink, anthropologist and honorary curator of the Australian Arid Regions Native Flora Reserve. Since 1958 she had lived in the unlined hut which had provided provost guards’ sleeping accommodation in WW11 and measured 20ft by 60ft.

The heat inside the hut exhausted Miss Pink both mentally and physically ; she had been advised by a doctor to go south to a cooler clime.

From those vehicles disgorged four men led by local electrician Reg Harris , his young assistant, surname Mott, master carpenter Sidney Kinsman, and another trademan, Mr Townsend. They ordered Miss Pink outside and in five hours converted part of the hut into an airconditioned room 13ft long by 10ft wide by 7ft high, lined with caneite, into what she dubbed The Harris- Kinsman Iceberg, an iceberg being her idea of heaven.

It came complete with a small picnic electric cooler box , a bright fluorescent light and an entry door for the portiere. The first time she saw the room she said it looked like a beauty parlour. Once the airconditioning was turned on she felt a renewed person. Fiercely independent , she “fought " for a month to at least pay for 11 sheets of caneite and insisted the air conditioner was only on loan. The fluoro light was replaced with a globe because she found it too bright and the cooler box was returned as well .

She wrote that she would always remember Australia Day 1964 because of the two “Dinkum Aussies “ who came to the relief of a third generation Tasmanian “Aussie” when she was at the end of her tether.

About 10 years later , she wrote to Reg Harris saying she was going to return the air conditioner and would replace it with one of her own “ I am more that grateful for the loan of it but feel we all change as we grow older and I feel sure your main interests now are TOURISM and ROTARIANISM . I have no interest in either so, with grateful remembrances – will say farewell .”

The late Reg Harris told this writer he firmly believed Miss Pink brought on her death in 1975 by going into the beauty parlour and turning on the airconditioner during cold weather.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Recently to hand is a July 17, 1991 newspaper advertising feature marking 100 years of the ALP in Townsville, a place similar to Darwin in many ways. From the Townsville Bulletin , it included an 1891 photograph of the camp site of hundreds of men, women and children who took part in the Hughenden shearers’ strike and attracted the attention of the Townsville Mounted Rifles.

One of the key figures in the Townsville union movement in the 1880s was Anthony Ogden, a meatworker and wharf labourer . Ogden became a Queensland politician and a mayor . On his retirement it was decided to rename Flinders Lane, Townsville, Ogden Street , in his honour. While of itself a flattering proposal, he wanted the brothels removed before his name graced the street directory.

Those North Queensland unionists of yesteryear and their colourful and tough officials -canecutters, shearers, wharfies,mine workers – were a different breed to today’s rather tame union officials who often seem more like members of the quaint defunct junior chambers of commerce. Over the years there were rebel laborites like Bundaberg's "Bombshell Barnes " and Labor alderman Tom Aitkens who was expelled for supporting aid to Russia. The dynamic,hard working Communist barrister, Fred Patterson,
who visited the Territory on several occasions in the late 1930s and 40s, was elected in the Queensland seat of Bowen.

This writer spent some memorable evenings drinking with a band of unionists in a pub on the Cairns waterfront area known as the Barbary Coast, during the early 1960s Queerah meatworks dispute. The unfortunate managers at the meatworks were the Pegg brothers, a surname instantly, if not sooner, converted to porkers. During those lively pub gatherings, ribald and outrageous anecdotes were told, the up the workers spirit prevailed and supplies of fillet mignon for the bosses suddenly ran dangerously low, probably because the strikers were dining on the best cuts.

The special newspaper section about the Townsville ALP carried messages of congratulations from various politicians, including one from the NT Senator, Bob Collins, then the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Northern Australia. Also congratulating the Townsville ALP Branch was W.P .Ludwig , secretary of the Queensland branch of the Australian Workers’ Union , whose photograph made him look as if he had just undergone the first stages of a hair transplant. Ludwig and son are powerful political figures in Queensland today.

The important part played by women in the early days of unions and the ALP in Queensland was covered at length . It was interesting to read that Australia’s first female linotype operator ,Phoebe Lewis , began working in the Townsville printing trade in l897. In 1902, a woman jockey , Wilhemena Smith, of Cairns, known only as “Bill” , was riding winners . 1916, Rose Harris, of Clermont, was the first woman saddler in Australia.. Jean Devanny , socialist writer , public speaker and organiser , stirred up the North Queensland scene ( she will figure in a major Little Darwin feature to be posted in the future). Another prominent person was Margaret Reynolds , the first Labor woman Senator and minister in Queensland.

Pictured in the feature were members of Townsville’s longest serving Labor city council, led by the politically ambitious mayor , Tony Mooney. An alderman , Richard Cleal , later became Peter Beattie’s chief of staff.

The council, still headed by Mooney, was annihilated at the forced amalgamation of the two Townsville councils, only one former ALP alderman being elected, a woman . At the last moment, Mooney reportedly did a backflip in his support for a proposed Chinese smelter on the outskirts of the city and lost the vote for the mayoralty of greater Townsville. It is said he tried to sound out a seat in the Brisbane area but was not successful.


One of the great beat up media stories in America, now regarded with some affection in certain quarters , especially by bemused Aussie journalists working in that country, is the one which warned that giant killer bees from across the Mexican border were spreading north. Taken up by other members of the mad media, it caused near hysteria in the US; humble honey bees going about their vital work of pollination were regarded almost as terrorists.

Now , a website which goes under the name of Alan in Darwin , has informed the world that “a swarm” of plovers attacked MLA Rob Knight near the old Supreme Court site near parliament house. This was a reference to an NT News story about plovers dive bombing the minister like Japanese Zero fighters.

Unfortunately, unworldly American readers of Alan , who often gives details of his shopping trips in the CBD , will think a swarm of plovers is a horde of mutated bees , a kind of Aussie vampire bat , its loathsome fangs filled with venom.

Expect a rush of cancelled holiday trips to Darwin by Americans scared stiff by the thought of being attacked by plovers. In fact, plovers are cuddly critters. The reason why they zeroed in on the benighted Knight is that they obviously had eggs or chicks in the area. Despite their screeching , their attack spur and dive bombing , they are wonderful to watch. There is usually one little randy male trying to muscle in on the party.

They hardly, if ever , gather in what was incorrectly described as a swarm . Sadly, they have a tragic habit of nesting next to roads and thundering motorways. As a consequence , their chicks, looking like tiny balls of fluff, are regularly decimated.
In a garden and lawn plot at the intersection of Port Road and North Terrace , in the Adelaide CBD , plovers repeatedly nested in these dangerous surroundings.

On Magnetic Island some residents became stressed trying to save baby plovers which followed their parents back and forth across a road used by a bus which took tourists to see the birdlife, mainly the much larger curlews , the pheasant -like fluttering coucals , sunbirds, kookaburras and currawongs , the last two being murderous blighters in Nature’s pecking order. Each time the tiny plovers had difficulty trying to hop up out of the gutter onto the grass verge. No sooner had they made the giant leap forward for plover kind , than their parents decided to run back across the road. Watching them caused grey hair, apprehension and much gritting of teeth.

The good people of Magnetic Island recently rushed down to Nelly Bay when word came through that turtles, numbering 45 , were surfacing from a nest and made sure all survived the often dangerous journey to the sea , forming a protective guard on both sides at the start of Chas. Darwin’s mystical evolutionary voyage where very often it does not see survival of the tastiest.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Obviously enamoured of lawyers as much as Shakespeare , a longtime Darwin resident we know expressed surprise and issued a warning after viewing the throng of wigs and gowns at the farewell for Mr Justice David Angel in the NT Supreme Court. In attendance were former judges, members of the Bar Association, the NT Law Society et al. Stirring his café latte , our observer said he was not aware that the legal profession had grown to such huge numbers in the Territory.

Possessed of surprising facts and statistics, he pointed out that in 1933 the camel population of the Territory was officially put at 344 and is now a million. There was a time when the NT only sported one judge, less than a handful of lawyers and a clerk of courts, affectionately known as "Fatty", who filled about 30 positions , including sheriff , returning officer , registrar of births , deaths and marriages. He could also be called out in cases of riot and insurrection.
Now, going on the TV coverage of the departing Angel , the Territory had obviously undergone an explosion in the legal profession. If it continued its exponential growth there could be more interlocutors than humping dromedaries in the NT, he predicted , and Darwin would need a Supreme Court as big as Sir Garfield Barwick’s Canberra mausoleum, sans the waterway because cane toads would thrive in it and breed faster than marauding Centralian camels.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


We don’t think the wisdom of Solomon has been exercised by a proposal to move an alleged difficult person to a post in a place with a long record of staff shortages that deals with unfortunate individuals who have many problems. Not fair or good for the mental health of all concerned . It is yet further proof that an obviously dysfunctional outfit needs a major shake up and the departure of a few frequent flyers .

Monday, January 18, 2010


An interesting despatch from experienced nomadic travellers with insights and observations about a region where there are major changes in lifestyle-even involving ethnic fashion - taking place midst increased geo- political manoeuvring .
OUR FIRST THREE months began and are coming to a close in Chiang Mai, Thailand . As a northern base it has worked well for us. We have been in and out several times; first for a month in northern Lao and then later with some friends showing them some of our favourite spots on the Burmese and Lao borders. Chiang Mai is convenient for accommodation, food, and transport links, as well for us, it is excellent for books new and old, anything to do with textiles and, most things Thai. And for the last three months of the year the climate is great. We spent most of November in Lao.
This time we crossed northern Thailand to Chiang Khong and from there crossed over the Mekong to Huay Xai in Lao. The north-western Lao provinces are remote, mountainous, sparsely populated with many extremely diverse ethnic groups. This was our first time in Huay Xai the provincial town for Bokeo province. Huay Xai is directly across the river from Chiang Khong and it takes only 5-10 minutes to cross over in a small boat. We have looked across to it many times from Thailand, this time we could look back from hotel to hotel.

The town meanders in a long strip following the low hills bordering the Mekong. To the north it quickly turns into rural and riverine villages. The centre is denser with the ports, more residential areas, shops and the old market. Further south is the new development with little regard for its beautiful river setting - new roads, construction compounds, transport and logistic facilities, new Chinese export businesses, new Chinese hotels, a new Chinese Market, preparation for the construction of a new bridge across the Mekong and a Chinese financed casino.

Huay Xai is in rapid transition. The other new development is mass Mekong tourism - the Luang Prabang flow-on effect. The old centre of town, about two hundred metres long, is almost totally given over to the arrival and departure of river travellers to and from Luang Prabang. Many don't stay at all or stay one night if they have to - it has the effect of mass queuing at the immigration check-point, a constant churning of disoriented tourists, crowding in the centre of town and making almost no contact with the local people or the town itself.

The other source of tourists is Thai package tourists coming over in groups to travel by bus up to a casino on the Chinese border or in some cases to go on via the new highway into the Sipsongpanna region of southern Yunnan. Already we had a pressing sense of China not being far away. All told we stayed there for nine nights and did our usual things - slow walking around the whole town, repeated visits to the market, sorting out reliable food, visiting temples, talking with local people, watching the river at different times of day and generally trying to make sense of the old and the new. We were strategically located for both the things of this world and the other.

Our hotel overlooked the boat landing and immigration check-point while directly across the street on a steep hill overlooking us was the main temple, with its very steep ornate staircase snaking up the hill. From our room we could see the forty monks descending at six each morning to go out on their morning alms round (well before the tourists started churning). While we were there we experienced four days and nights of a nine day long ceremony. The chanting began at about three am, went for a few hours, and then on and off throughout the day - it included some virtuoso performances, and lots of gongs and bells.

The village headman told us that it was a special nine day ceremony for the monks and that only the monks could enter the temple during that period. We are still not sure exactly what it was about but lying in the dark and listening to it was special. Also special was our meeting with Mr Somkhit. It happened by chance one afternoon while we were wandering around a small village wat. He hesitantly introduced himself to us, apologised for his poor English, told us that he was an itinerant English teacher and asked us awkwardly if we had any time to spare. We did have spare time and he asked us if we could come with him to his next class.

This became the first of several visits to English classes he conducted in different villages. Somkhit's concern was that he had learnt English from Lao teachers and that the children he was teaching had never heard English spoken by native speakers. He said that foreigners are always busy, in a hurry and just pass through Huay Xai - this leaves very little for a point of entry for a gentle Lao. One class was in a concrete and bamboo village meeting hall , where he, his wife and baby lived in a small back room (the amenities were a tap outside for bathing next to a small charcoal burner to cook over). There were more than twenty primary school children aged from seven to eleven, and when we arrived the numbers were swelled by children as young as two or three, parents and grandparents all who came to enjoy the spectacle.

The children were particularly bright and fresh for six o'clock in the evening. They were extraordinarily energetic, responsive and bright. We also discovered, that despite his modesty, Somkhit was a talented and resourceful teacher. Together we quickly worked out ways for the three of us to teach, we enjoyed it and the children (and the village) loved it. We enjoyed our return visits to the class at Ban Nong Sai.
Six days later we travelled three hours to Luang Nam Tha (LNT). This was via the new major road link from southern China to northern Thailand (one of the last links in the proposed grand Bejing to Singapore highway). After less that two years one third of the road has almost collapsed and the surface on another third has largely disintegrated, while the last stretch was very good.
Our expected smooth journey turned out to be a dusty, bumpy one. On arrival we were struck by the extent of change in LNT since our first visit four/five years ago. LNT as we first saw it in its post-war form was a not very attractive town in a very attractive setting. The charm of this place to outsiders was the diverse street life. It is now even less attractive, more sprawling and built-up and the street life has largely gone. There is much more traffic on the main road; heavy transports, big buses and a fleet of mini-vans plying the road from there to China - there are as many Chinese numberplates as Lao.

There appears to be a building boom; very large Lao government offices, a mushrooming of Lao owned guest houses and hotels, and a lot of Chinese commercial and hotel buildings. (We were told that the new provincial office building was raised from four to five stories so that it would be higher than the equally new Chinese Royal Hotel - no one should be above the Governor). As a result the air is smokey, dusty and hazy. The goods in the market are all covered in dust. In the market most traditional handcrafts have disappeared. over nearly two weeks we came away with only a handful of traditional textiles.

The Chinese are becoming commercially and socially well-established in town - there is now a Chinese school but no evidence of a Chinese temple. It is hard to know what all of this means. The remaining "old town", the pre-war town, about five km to the south is still relatively intact with some convenient modernizations - and this in spite of the proximity of the new airport. The residential parts of town along the river remain much the same. But the farmland and traditional housing along the new road north to Boten on the Chinese border are being taken over for industrial and commercial uses.
We moved north up to Muang Sing, 11km south of the Chinese border. Muang Sing is an old and small town in a beautiful and productive valley surrounded by mountains. It has enormous ethnic diversity. Traditionally it was the seat of a Tai Lue warlord, then a French frontier garrison, then a major centre of the opium trade and, a major centre of CIA intrigue in the 1960s. Five years ago we found it as colourful as its history. This time we stayed for a week. We still found it interesting, we enjoyed it but it was hard going, cold, still with limited food options and we had to search for the colour.

Most visitors, except for one highly eccentric Dutchman and one very dedicated Japanese writer, seem to stay for only one or two days. It is a good place for walking, the valley is flat and the rice fields stretch in all directions to the foothills. It was harvest time and we enjoyed the golden colours of the fields and the daily harvest activities. It is relatively easy to walk out to the closer villages, particularly the Tai Lue and the Tai Dam. Occasionally we fell upon a loom and a weaver at work but less frequently than on our last visit.

Change is also occuring here. In the old craft market in the centre of town there used be a reasonable number of Hill Tribe and other minority women working away. Now the place feels quite forlorn. There are only two old Hmong women left - one in her seventies and the other her eighties. Their applique is still good but they are working in polyester. Neither could count nor speak Lao, so to make a purchase we had to produce the exact amount in the right denominations. It was too difficult to make multiple purchases at the one time - the arithmetic was beyond them. We looked forward to our daily visits with correct Kip notes in hand to buy another single item from each of them.

We suspect we were their only customers that week. We both felt sad after we had bought our last pieces. We had the sense that when these two women die this place will be empty. The main activity in town now centres around the new market and bus station about two km west. The ethnic difference is still apparent but most people are now dressed in imported Chinese copies of Indonesian sarongs or Chinese factory made immitations of traditional Lao tube skirts.

A very small number, about six or seven, Tai Dam women are there for a few hours each morning selling garments made of handmade and factory cloth but machine stitched. We enjoyed being among them and bought a few things, but nothing was great. Adjacent to the market a whole new town seems to be emerging - lots of Chinese buildings. Much of Muang Sing is certainly changing but to us it seems to be retaining, so far, a character of its own which sadly Luang Nam Tha seems to have lost. Certainly for some of the people life in Muang Sing is a little easier - there is more electricity than there was and often it is more reliable.

More goods are now available in this remote part of Lao, though many are of pretty inferior quality and dubious durability. The new hospital building looks much better than the old French building, but we were relieved that we didn't have to test its services. Much of the new housing is more solid and permanent, less attractive, but probably offering better protection in this harsher environment. While we were there the weather turned really cold with some cold mountain rain. There was nowhere to retreat to - the few eating places in town were open fronted and it was freezing in the hotel, even in bed.

People in traditional houses would have been more exposed than we were. After a week, the cold got the better of us and we beat a retreat all the way back to the relative warmth of Huay Xai. We are back in Chiang Mai with only a few days to go before we head south. There is still much more to be said about what is happening in northern Lao. We have left northern Lao but it has not left us - we still have a lot of lingering and nagging questions for which we do not have answers. Soon we will be in southern Lao. We feel we need time for our thoughts to settle>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Thursday, January 14, 2010


It seems that a remedial English class is required for staff at the Millner Primary School where the public notice board announces it is now ENROLING ( sic ) for 2010. The same notice board wished people a POSPOROUS (sic ) New Year .


Here is a tip for wide awake journalists: ring the companies which carry out telephone surveys of Territory politics and ask them if their staff is taken aback or shocked by some of the comments made by Top Enders. Little Darwin understands that extremely forthright opinions have been expressed in the latest quiz.Uncouth language, including expletives, is said to have been used to describe various politicians. One despairing Darwin resident in particular is known to have provided instant , earthy comments when a list of names was run by him

The wondrous Malcolm Mackerass pendulum for predicting the outcome of elections would probably rotate wildly – in both directions- if fed the fiery answers supplied during the current mango madness / holiday break period.


The ABC's TV series , the Seven Ages of Rock , next week will deal with punk rockers. In a special feature, we present Australia's own Queen of Punk,the one and only Ruth Rebel , who is known overseas and has a surprising Darwin connection.

IT TOOK a lot of guts –albeit some of it self destructive - for an attractive young girl to be a punk rocker in the North Queensland city of Townsville in the early 1980s . Her Mohawk haircut, tattered clothes , a splash of tartan , and safety pin accessories caused many eyebrows to be raised , as did her pet rat , Woof, which she carried about with her . Known as Ruth Rebel , she drank heavily , lived rough and became the Queen of Punk in the north. She wrote poetry , strutted her stuff on stage, singing in a wild band , Noise. Other members of the group were Ned Kelly, Stew Spew, Dennis T. Menace and Andy Anarchy . The band put out a cassette - Like A Stain On Your Toilet. Ned Kelly hanged himself , police blamed Ruth for his death and she went through an emotional, despairing time.

There was a dramatic change in her chaotic life when she became involved with Townsville’s new community radio station , 4TTT-FM . Prior to that radio connection she had been a loner , lacked confidence and knew little because she had been “ naughty ” at school . The first time she took part in a radio show she froze and became speechless.

From time to time she helped present the late night rock show at the radio station . With the passage of time she became a regular presenter. To some, Ruth Rebel, also known as Rebel Ruth, was the punk scene in Townsville. She presented a Saturday night show called Slash Slamming and Safety Pins , a name she disliked, so renamed it Punk and Disorderly . On air comments and swearing sparked complaints to the Australian Broadcasting Authority .

She freely admitted having been anti-war , anti religion and anti - cops and ran shows on these themes , slipping in some of her poetry on those topics. A zealous man connected with a religious program , Freedom Zone , refused to play rock , saying it was the music of the devil . He frequently complained about and clashed with Ruth . She responded by imitating his voice on air and called his segment the Bondage Zone . In turn, he declared her the devil. Ruth also mimicked and mocked sponsors and the Queen .

Her on air antics inflamed many , one listener phoning in to say he had recently been released from jail and was going to rush in and bash her. Conversely , many people were protective towards Ruth and said she was a beautiful teenager with a troubled background. Some of Ruth’s poems appeared in newspapers and magazines . She regularly contributed poems to an American punk magazine and became known in international punk circles. Photocopies of her poems, stapled at the corner, were put on sale for a $1.50 in a Townsville music shop and whenever there was a sale she was elated to think somebody wanted to read her work. The poems , with associated text , gave an insight into Ruth’s past , her lifestyle and her attitude to modern society .

Her first collection of poems bore the title As Seen Through the Eyes of a Rebel ; her second, Oi ! The Cause is Lost !, dedicated to people who show their tits, have fun and are a general nuisance, carried the message not to give in , be yourself and watch out for McDonalds, even if their chips and burgers are nice.

In an explanatory note she said most of the poems were an outlet for “ my frustrations on wot I see goin on around me ”. She hoped the poems would broaden peoples’ minds- “not as in preaching and shit ” -but to learn about the other side of the coin . Giving brief and bizarre biographical details, she said she had been born in Brisbane in l968 where she had lived in “ a biscuit tin ” until 12. Now she was in Townsville, which she called Clownsville, a “ vast black hole ”, but better than Mareeba . In addition, she wrote that she been unemployed for about six years because her only experience had been with biscuit tins . The unusual biography continued : Ruth hopes to be a novelist and a beauty consultant one day . I also like crocheting ...

The poems dealt with the Clone Employment Service ( Commonwealth Employment Service ), divisions caused by religion, the isolation of the individual, trying to survive on the dole, greedy big business and inner thoughts of despondency in a flea- infested, rented house with a leaky roof. In the cover poem, Oi! The Cause Is Lost!, Ruth took skinheads to task for bashing people, saying they were neo- Nazis , cowards without balls , who went about in gangs . She wrote that the skinheads would probably “kick me to my knees ” for speaking out against them . There was no copyright claim on her poetry, just a request to acknowledge that she was the author and not to just rip her off .

When Ruth left Townsville for “ the south ”, she surmised that some of the “old crones” at the radio station , who strongly objected to her , threw wild parties to celebrate her departure. After two years in Sydney she returned to Townsville . When she went along to 4TTT , under new management , hoping to once more contribute to the air waves , she found the welcome mat had been well and truly withdrawn as far as she was concerned . Furthermore , she was shocked to learn the station broadcasted greyhound racing .

Once more , she departed the Townsville scene , and nothing more was heard of her ; people speculated she had come to a tragic end . However, her name appeared from time to time in contributions to several punk “ zines ” , this being the name for cheap cut and paste magazines . The October 1993 issue of the punk zine APITO , produced in Rockhampton, Queensland, , listed a Ruth Rebel poem dealing with sexism on the cover. That issue also covered the plight of East Timor , whaling and called for independence for Tibet.

I became interested in Ruth Rebel about six years ago when researching the history of 4TTT-FM, an extraordinary community radio station which would make a great TV series or a film . Through its portals passed individuals who became influential in law , politics, music , broadcasting , Aboriginal and Islander advancement , environmental protection , nuclear protests , union activities and other fields of endeavour .

A woman doctor connected with the radio station was even blamed by some northern religious fanatics for Darwin’s Cyclone Tracy because she had promoted birth control and abortion and God had punished the nation as a result . Today 4TTT-FM , operating with limited funds, knocks the socks off many radio stations , parts of networks owned by conglomerates whose content is compiled and dictated from afar.

Extensive inquiries eventually led me to Ruth , with two sons, struggling along in Queensland , still writing poetry and full of fond and unusual memories of her time at the radio station. When I recounted some of the colourful anecdotes I had gathered about her and her rodent at the radio station she branded me Big Ears , addressing me as such in emails. Did I know , she asked , that a manager at the radio station had a coffin and slept in it . My large ears had picked up that titbit. Ruth told me that during her travels she had teamed up with her birth mother , but this reunion had not worked out . Her adoptive mother , a Christian , had died in her sleep before Ruth had a chance to thank her for having persevered with her .

A person from the University of Central Queensland, hearing I had been researching Ruth, contacted me and asked if I knew where she was as somebody was interested in doing a documentary about the punk rock scene and dearly wanted to speak to her. That film , called A Piss In the Ocean , included a male punk rocker, Bollocks, and Ruth Rebel is listed in the credits.

An email Ruth sent me dealt with the plight of women in Papua New Guinea where sexual assault and the spread of aids is rampant . Much to my surprise, Darwin activist , Stuart Highway , who has a stall at the Nightcliff Sunday market , has been in contact with Ruth Rebel in connection with several campaigns over the years. He first became aware of her in punk magazines in the 1980s and says her poems help her cope with the boredom and stresses in her life. More than that, she was able to draw attention to injustices in the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Concern over China’s tightening of finance and a revised downward profit forecast caused shares in a company involved in the three NT SIHIP alliances , Worley Parsons , to drop by almost 12 percent on the ASX today. The company is one of the world’s largest consulting and engineering design firms , providing services to power, hydrocarbon, minerals and metal companies.

The revised profit outlook- $280million to $320million - was attributed to the US economy , the power industry in particular , uncertainty about carbon charges and the increasing value of the Australian dollar . A recent Brazilian acquisition did not contribute to the income stream as expected. The previous forecast had been in the range of $320million to $335million . Shares dropped by $3.36 at one stage , down to $25.99, with predictions they would dip below $25. The market saw traders sell down the entire engineering services sector .

With a global staff of 31,700 as of February last year ,Worley Parsons cut about 30 of its resources and engineering services Australian staff in March.

It is interesting to note that Worley Parsons won a contract to build a nuclear power plant in Armenia, producing 1000 to 1200 megawatts , to replace by 2016 an old Soviet era one which supplies 40 percent of the nation’s electricity.

Involved in many aspects of Territory development , including work for the Darwin City Council, it was responsible for the Bayu Undan gas project ,said to be the world’s largest open water float over installation , for Phillips Petroleum, in the Timor Sea, 500km from Darwin.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


The recently released l979 NT Cabinet documents revealed that conservatives were more sympathetic to refugees arriving in Australia by boat at the time . While the Federal government expected to take in 14,000 refugees during 1979/80, the NT put in place a plan to accommodate four lots of 80, 320. Cabinet here was told that the massive outflow of Indo-Chinese refugees represented an enormous human tragedy and a challenge to these people. As a result, the Australian government had adopted a major settlement program, supported by the Chief Minister, Paul Everingham.

The confidential briefing warned that a “volatile”situation had been reached in Brisbane resulting in an ”altercation.” Dare it be mentioned that Prime Minister Robert Menzies agreed to take in 6000 internees and prisoners from Britain during WW11 . One of the vessels which brought human cargo here was the HMT Dunera, the subject of a book and TV series, with 2542 German and Austrian internees. Most were said to be political or racial refugeees and enemies of Nazism and Fascism. Some had been in concentration camps. Today Rusty
Iron Bar Tuckey can see a threat to the nation's security by a handful of Sri Lankans locked up on Christmas Island .

While the devious and desperate Federal Opposition continues to hammer the refugee issue it massages the nation’s well documented , deep seated zenophobia, for base political reasons. An observer of the US political and economic scene just the other day said the situation there had seen the return of “vicious elements,”long thought to have been in the past. As we reported in a previous post, veteran political journalist /author , Alan Ramsey , said the refugee issue had the power to poison the country right up to the election. Makes you want to ship a growing list of hardline pollies to Devil’s Island .

Monday, January 11, 2010


A lot of things turned to gold when touched by the late Darwin millionaire , Mick Paspalis. One example came to light in 1952 when the Legislative Council was informed that Paspalis had purchased the grand Hotel Darwin for 89,000 pounds ( $178,000) . A report in the Northern Standard said that at this price , even in pre- war days , it would not have been regarded as an excessive figure for such a fine property. It went on to say the new nurses’ quarters then under construction at Darwin Hospital , with accommodation for 44, would cost about 174,000 pounds ($348,000) .

Part of the Hotel Darwin site is now occupied by The Palms , fronting the Esplanade , the subject of ongoing speculation that a multi storey tower will be built there .

Back in 1938 Paspalis gave evidence in an arbitration hearing for a Territory wage in which he said he owned several houses , the weekly rent on two being 32/6 ( $3.25), one at 27/6 ($2.75 ) and another 37/6 ($3.75). One house had cost 1300 pounds ($2600) and another 1600 pounds ($3200). Mrs Paspalis had a restaurant and fruit business. In those days apples sold for up to 25 cents a dozen ,oranges 30 cents and peaches about 20 cents a dozen.

It seems Mick was tight with the farthing. If he served you bacon and eggs, there was usually only one cackleberry on your plate . On the other hand, Mrs Paspalis normally produced Adam and Eve on a raft.

A paperboy who delivered to the Paspalis residence on East Point Road said that when it came to paying the weekly account , Mick paid the exact amount , right down to the last penny. Mrs Chrissie Paspalis, however, would usually include a tip if she settled the bill.

The late NT News editor, James Bowditch , often told of the only known occasion that anybody got the better of Mick over a money matter. Big Jim Bowditch met Mick “crying” outside the Hotel Darwin, complaining that a prominent entrepreneur who had obtained a large sum of money from Mick for a failed joint importing venture from Asia was inside the pub at the very moment entertaining women with his, Mick’s, money.

Two former Darwin journalists were drinking in a Sydney hotel when they saw a dejected looking Mick walking by , head down, as if looking for a lost gold nugget. They hailed him , his face lit up and they called him in for a drink. No one can recall who paid for the libations.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Our attention has been drawn to the fact that two media positions are currently being advertised for the NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services which you think would be worthy of a media release. One is for a Media Manager ($85,139-$88,509 ) to assist the Media and Corporate Communications Unit with PR and day to day release of information.

The second position is for a Media Liaison Officer , ($52,367 -$60,116) , who will assist the Media Manager provide an internal and external media service. The Director Media and Corporate Communications , Katie Fowden, on 8901 0281 is the person to contact for further information .

Is this a major expansion of media activities , if so, why ? How many are employed in the Media and Corporate Communications Unit and what are their duties ? Just a few questions that the average journo would be expected to ask.


While browsing through a large interstate bookshop, Little Darwin recently unearthed a swag of interesting volumes, some out of print . Of particular note is one that would make a riveting TV series , better than Underbelly , and has Northern Territory content .

It is THE ACCIDENTAL GANGSTER The Life And Times of Bela Csidei , as told to Norm Lipson and Adam Walters , Park Street Press, 2006,a great read with sensational revelations. The blurb, in part, reads - Frank Sinatra, Sir Peter Abeles, Jimmy “ The Weasel” Fratianno…big celebrities, big business, big mobsters and big politicians, from the famous to the infamous, the cast of characters almost defies the imagination .

It sure does . In 1978 , Csidei was hot news in Darwin when he appeared in court on charges connected with the growing of a marijuana crop at isolated Wollogorang Station and the alleged bribing of a police officer. This writer was in Darwin at the time and can report that he was the talk of the town and had the media rushing about with excitement . During hearings, the case being aborted on one occasion because of a newspaper comment, it was claimed Csidei wanted the crop grown to pay off a loan to American Mafia hitman , Jimmy Fratianno, who had threatened to kill him. During the hearings, Csidei stayed in the Hotel Darwin and was regarded as something of a celebrity , even attending a party held by an ABC reporter

In sentencing Csidei to 15 months’ gaol, with a non-parole period of nine months, Mr Justice Foster said the accused had been painted as a Godfather of crime and a criminal mastermind. There was ,however, not the slightest evidence to support this. Furthermore , he said if Csidei was a mastermind, he must be the most inept one in history. The NT Crown Prosecutor in the case , Ian Barker QC, would later , in private practice in Sydney, defend Csidei in his battles with Corporate Affairs over matters involving many high flyers .

Csidei’s account of the Territory court hearings and his time in the slammer here often makes amusing reading. Beg, borrow or steal this book for its startling content and claims .

Friday, January 8, 2010


PARIS: Royal documents found in a secret panel at the Palace of Versailles have destroyed a jibe by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that not even the Sun King , Louis XIV, had travelled in the grand fashion that Prime Minister Rudd and his large entourage did flying to Copenhagen in a 747.

The letters, held together by one of Marie Antoinette’s diamond studded garters, reveal that her husband , Louis XVI , actually made repeated flights to Copenhagen in the world’s first aircraft - a gold plated flapping machine built by the genius, Henri Bleriot , in a bid to save his neck .

His spin doctor, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, told him the polls were looking decidedly grim and he would have to do something on a grand scale to save La Belle France from exploding. The anxious king discussed the matter with Marie Antoinette who said the smelly, starving peasants would soon forget their worries if given stale cake.

But Louis had heard about fabulous Danish pastries sold in Copenhagen which were the talk of European aristocracy. To provide each hungry Frenchman with a bag of pastries, Louis commissioned Bleriot to build the world’s first squadron of biscuit bombers . That is why the Palace of Versailles has such long , featureless lawns –they were actually runways for the King’s Copenhagen pastry run .

Unfortunately, the palace courtiers repeatedly got on the booze in Denmark and came back with cheaper pizzas , not dainty pastries . The French peasants took one look at the pizzas and declared they would not eat Italian junk tucker , which they said was even worse than English food that usually tasted like the boiled boot of the Duke of Wellington. Chop,chop. Chinese takeaways then reigned throughout France.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Top End crocodiles are furious with the NT News because the paper now gives more attention to singer Jessica Mauboy than swamp dwellers. The crocs are threatening to black ban the News and demand royalties for past appearances in its pages. Arrangements for a series of massive protests outside the News office are being drawn up by angry crocodiles.

The crocodiles' spokesman, pictured above , an aggressive critter believed responsible for the mysterious disappearance of taxi drivers in Mitchell Street , told Little Darwin News reporters and photographers are not as tasty as cabbies. Jessica was getting a bigger coverage in the Darwin paper than the crocodile super star, Sweetheart , he complained, adding : “She got an ARIA Award , so should leave the NT News front page to lovable crocodiles.”

Ominiously, he advised her not to pose in a swimsuit at the Nightcliff boat ramp for a News photographer. Crocodiles, he revealed, will do anything to appear in publications , one had even arranged to be snapped wearing a bowtie for the next edition of DarwinLife, pretending to be the owner of a handbag , shoe and wallet shop which caters for corporate cowboys.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Is it wishful thinking or wet season dementia which is causing predictions that several people in influential positions in Darwin will be given the boot this year? Word is that one CEO in a government department has been given the hint to mosse along (cowboy jargon) due to government dissatisfaction, despite his political allegiance. On the private enterprise front, there is intriguing scuttlebutt about a power struggle going on between two cliques in an establishment , which, if it results in blood on the wattle , will surprise many and result in the departure of some intense individuals. One prominent character tipped to require the services of interstate furniture removalists during 2010 is renowned for his clever , strutting impersonations of a jelly roll Mussolini, especially after a licorice-flavoured chianti or three. Could he be the man to get SIHIP back on the rails and on time ?


Intelligence from Little Darwin contacts in the media world here and overseas does not paint a glowing picture. Freelancers and casuals are finding it hard to find outlets in Australia as media companies continue to tighten their belts and shed staff.
It is the same situation in New Zealand where some scribes may have to resort to sheep rustling to survive . Over the silly season there, for example, The Dominion newspaper ran boring unpaid for articles by amateurs about their best ever holidays , what their best teachers taught and how they spent Christmas as children. As one top Kiwi journo said, this avoided the need to pay freelancers to write real articles of interest. He predicted that there would be an outbreak of this kind of cheap reporting in Australia.
In America the prospects for journalists is truly grim , unless you fancy ranting like a rabid dog about President Obama on TV or in certain anti Obama papers. Incidently, US President George W. Bush's "brain" and the "turd blossom" of the Bush grey matter , tricky Karl Rove , who escaped justice , got a run in the Weekend Australian in an article critical of President Obama .
One healthy area of a kind of journalism , some of it dodgy , is the blogosphere . There is a beaut Best of Doonesbury strip by Garry Trudeau showing a dejected Washington Post reporter who has just been made redundant being consoled by a workmate who tells him he can start a blog with the "golden credit " that he was formerly of the capital's newspaper . The reporter newly thrown on the scrapheap points out there are 110 million blogs . His friend says : "Exactly-it'll make you stand out."
A longtime observer of Australian media says while it is customary for newspapers to run slim books during the silly season, some major newspapers and their inserts, including magazines, seemed exceptionally thin this time . He has also detected a growing tendency to pander to advertisers by running what were plainly advertorials or gormless PR handouts which would have been spiked or binned in previous years .

Monday, January 4, 2010


No doubt the media – and the Feds- will again place the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) under the microscope once the silly season is well and truly over . Little Darwin can reveal there has been frantic activity on many fronts . As a result, several public servants have gone on stress leave, others in the private sector are departing the Territory to escape the madness and a person who held a high position in the Henderson Government not very long ago is involved in one outfit seeking a piece of the action. An esteemed gent fond of motorcycles and angels is also adding colour to manoeuvres. There is even talk of possible legal action over a potential deal involving millions of dollars. The lifestyle and public exposure of another well known person has undergone a change as a result of SIHIP , we are told.

The latest Territory minister with responsibility for SIHIP, beaming Dr Chris Burns, aka the Pepsodent Kid , made a statement before the end of the Noughties in which he admitted that not one house had yet been built, but other work had been carried out and that in 2010 there would be frantic activity on the home front. In between the usual rehash of crocodiles, UFOs and a G-string eating canine ,the NT News of January 2 carried a report about the difficult past year for the House of Henderson, one of its many problems being the fact that not one new dwelling had yet been built under SIHIP.

Take a peak at the $672 million SIHIP website and it becomes abundantly obvious that there is a lot of moolah to be made. The program is delivered through three alliance major contracts to deliver packages of work ranging from $30million to $50million. The alliances are-

*Earth Connect Alliance - Canstruct Pty Ltd , WorleyParsons Services Pty Ltd, Force 10 International Pty Ltd ,Greene & Associates Pty Ltd ,Ostwald Bros. Pty Ltd. *New Future Alliance- Leighton Pty Ltd, Broad Construction Services Pty Ltd, Opus Pty Ltd, Ngarda Civil & Mining Pty Ltd. *Territory Alliance- Sitzler Pty Ltd , Laing O’Rourke Australia Construction Pty Ltd, McMahon Services Australia Pty Ltd , with a sub alliance participant Compass Group (Australia) Pty Ltd.

Potential Tennant Creek contractors expressed anger about the way contracts for there were let, the successful tenderers unable to be revealed . They mentioned 1000 page tender documents,last minute alterations and endless bureaucratic requirements . It seems little goes right with SIHIP. Little Darwin decided to closely study SIHIP via Google. One listing announced it was damaged and not working properly. Sounds familiar. Soon after, the Little Darwin computer went haywire , resulting in uncouth expressions hitting the cooling system.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


While it may have been flattering- except for the crocodile-to have been mentioned in the NT News list of the 120 most powerful, those named should not take themselves too seriously . In saying this, please do not regard Little Darwin as a power pooper. We merely point out that a really powerful person , Rupert Murdoch , News Corporation chief executive and chairman , owner of the NT News , said that power is fast diminishing in the newspaper world. The Weekend Australian recently quoted him as saying in March 2006 : "Power is moving away from the old elite in our industry –the editors , the chief executives and , let’s face it, the proprietors. "