Saturday, December 31, 2011
Friday, December 30, 2011
Little Darwin will never stoop to P3 girls, cheesecake, tit and bum shots or rude Willie Nelson poems to attract readers, unlike some unGodly sections of the uncouth press. Wholesome horseflesh will , however , get a run-like this appealing snap of the first time the Gurindji stock brand -GDT (Gurindji Daguragu Territory) -was applied. (Photo by Rob Wesley-Smith.)
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
TERRITORY POLITICS : It will be the year of living dangerously for a number of politicians.***The sale of scones, lamingtons, and yiros will plummet when a current sitting MP decides not to butter fairy cakes and cut the mustard at the next election. *** Shane Warne , if not on an extended honeymoon, will receive an urgent call to help a person who is looking more like the Last of the Mohicans, his hair receding ,taking on the appearance of a bit player in Mad Max movie. *** A former beaming polly will appear in a Colgate ring of confidence advertisement and then undergo plastic surgery to remove his perpetual hail- fellow-well-met grin , which terrifies children and causes dogs to bark hysterically. *** Plovers continue attacks on re-rerouted minister and a police spokesman . *** The Chinese candidate, Kon Vatskalis , will offer to teach Kevin Rudd advanced Cantonese .
TOURISM : Smelly , free-loading backpackers overrun the Territory due to Lonely Planet recommending a visit to Darwin a must ; Drug Squad and OH&S will raid Lonely Planet editorial office where snip and paste production of so many guides exposes staff to dangerous glue vapours and hallucinations. *** OPRAH proudly boasts her visit to Uluru attracted a record number of blowfies. ***While Centralian tourist trade continues to dive , Austria overrun by Yank tourists, ignorant of geography , who mistakenly believe OPRAH did the Aussie Wave in that Germanic country. *** Austrian made boomerangs and leather stubbies selling like hot cakes, thanks to NT mix up . *** Big Game butterfly shooting safaris revive Batchelor economy.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
As part of the much acclaimed, Bulldust Diaries, our roving litterateur, Peter Burleigh, with more literary decorations than the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree has fairy lights , in his inimitable philosophical style, penned this article , below, while in the dusty north. It raises questions about the hordes of Grey Nomads touring the country and mirages encountered along the way.
CALL ME A SILVER ITINERANT, NOT A GREY NOMAD
Grey Nomads, fearlessly pioneering in their portable suburbs , will next year drink our grog and eat all the Christmas cake for nix.( Illustration drawn by Peter Burleigh while furtively roasting a squatter's jumbuck during his outback tour. After writing this brave article,acting on our advice, Burleigh joined the French Foreign Legion to avoid angry Grey Nomads, daggers drawn, foaming at the mouth, screaming for his blood . Already he and an imported NT racing camel from the Finke have won leading parts in a desert reshoot of Lawrence of Arabia.)
Don’t get me wrong – it is ugly out here, but it gets its hooks into you. Australian desolation has shrugged off most of the efforts of men to convert it into something else. It won’t be converted. The roadside tells a story of a thousand ideas gone bad: citrus in Bourke, irrigation for berries, failed dams, big prawns and big oysters and other farcical tourism magnets...the list goes on.
The land reverberates with their crumbling echoes; the errors and the foundered dreams were repeated over and over again along this road and I guess many other roads. Images stay with you, as if the land wears its skeleton on the outside. An abandoned railway line, symbolic of an earlier prosperity, catches my eye. A wooden bridge has rotted away completely, leaving only the unsupported steel rails to span a dry creekbed. Only the ghost of an earlier time remains. From midday onward scudding cloud turns day into a matinee of twilight, and an inappropriate feverish yellow light suffuses the land.
And so to the demands of reality. Choosing a site in a caravan park is fraught with problems. People are watching you. Your rig and your camping skills are being evaluated. Your credentials, and by this I mean your manhood, is on the line. To make maximum money each site is as small as possible. If you drive a Matchbox toy you’ll fit OK. I learned to ask not for “a site” but for a “drive-through site”. If I can drive my camper-trailer rig through it I don’t have to reverse the damn thing. My insurance company’s bottom line is very healthy, solely due to my lousy reversing skills. Earlier today I stopped to help a guy who’d got himself into trouble by ploughing into the mud on the wrong side of the road. My tow strap pulled him out without much effort.
“How’d you get on this side of the road, mate?”
“Because that’s the way I’m goin’. Lost me concentration for a moment.”
“But…” What business is it of mine if he is facing the wrong way and on the wrong side of the road? He climbs into his ute and starts off in reverse, passing me. He stops; he thinks he owes me an explanation. He knows reversing along the road might raise the eyebrow of a city slicker like me.
“Thanks,” he says. “Me gearbox is rooted. All I got is reverse gear.”
“The mechanics’s up the road.” He detects my disbelief. “No problem,” he says. “It’s only fifteen K’s.” That’s reversing.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
*In this dramatic reenactment of the murder of journalist Roger East by invading Indonesian soldiers in the East Timor capital, Dili,December 1975, Wesley-Smith plays the part of East. (Photograph by Darwin photo-journalist David Hancock.) *** ''Robert Wesley-Smith is an exemplar of perseverance and moral commitment. He played a leading part in the attempt to break the Indonesian blockade in 1976 and was a constant advocate, jeopardising his career as a Darwin agronomist and sacrificing his material resources for the cause of East Timor."- Statement by David Scott, OA, in his book, LAST FLIGHT OUT OF DILI, Pluto Press , Australia, 2005
While constantly fighting the good fight, during nearly 50 years residence in the Territory, Wesley-Smith has also been involved in numerous community sporting and social activities. That widespread involvement and commitment continues unabated today-despite an accident which saw him in Royal Darwin Hospital in an induced coma.
[ So impressed was he by the layout of Frunze he later urged Whitlam Government minister for cities and urban development , Tom Uren ,to visit the city for inspiration on how to beautify Australian cities , kindly offering to go along as his advisor and guide, at the same time availing himself of the opportunity to down some more kumus .]
At the end of the visit ,there was an elaborate dinner in Tashkent which included girls in national dress dancing and serving . A large jug of kumus was sent to Wes and everyone laughed. He responded by taking the jug back to the top table and told his hosts he did not want to deprive them of such a fine drop and told them to have a swig themselves.
Minister Malik went on to say that whoever governed Timor after independence could be "assured" that the Indonesian government would always strive to have good relations, friendship and cooperation for the benefit of both countries. The letter ended:"With my best wishes and warm regards to you and to all the people in Timor."
Roger East , arrowed, at Darwin Reconstruction Commission media conference.On his right is his longtime friend, reporter Peter Blake, now in New York. The woman is social and travel writer, the late Joy Collins. Another journalist,Bruce Brammall, from Canberra , also known as Warty J. Warthog, is far right.
Once the invasion took place, Wes, shocked and appalled, threw himself into the cause and fought long and hard for the beleaguered country. Wes became involved in a problem associated with the sale in Darwin of East Timor coffee,worth $38,000. It had been sold on behalf of the Timorese by Cypriot Sydney jeweller, Jim Zantis. The money was lodged in the Commonwealth Bank and one of the two signatories required for its release was killed during the Indonesian invasion. When the bank refused to hand over the money, Fretilin was desperately in need of the money. Wes suggested forging the signature; Horta , was not amenable to his audacious solution. The money remained frozen in the bank until after Timor-Leste voted for independence in 1999. NEXT: Wes and others take on the moral turpitude of the world’s political elite who turned a blind eye to the slaughter in East Timor, our nextdoor neighbour.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
When vice -chancellor of Queensland University, Zelman Cowen had dealings with author Xavier Herbert , a staunch republican , who wrote the Territory based books Capricornia and Poor Fellow my Country. When Cowen was knighted in 1976, Herbert sent him a “fearsome letter”of denunciation , saying he had done a terrible thing.
Herbert sent Sir Zelman the typescript section dealing with the bombing of Darwin in Poor Fellow My Country for comment; he replied saying it was just as he had seen it- " from the deepest dugout in town."
In 1978 , Sir Zelman again came " under fire " in Darwin - outrageous verbal abuse and even flying eggs. The extraordinary event involved the ceremonial opening of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Part of the action took part in the street outside the Assembly. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and daughter sat on a dais; some people expressed political displeasure- catcalling, waving placards, one against Pancontinental, and jeering. When Chief Minister Paul Everingham arrived there was some hearty booing. He responded with a distinctive hand motion, which caused louder shouting. Intelligence came through that there were several dozen eggs "out there ". Some suddenly grew wings and flew through the air . The Governor- General bravely drove up and inspected a naval guard of honour - see photo at top of post . Police were anxiously standing by ready to deflect an egg with a lightning hand movement like a ninja turtle or grab anyone who looked like chucking one .
Sir Zelman, flanked by ramrod-straight personal secretary and aide-de-camp, looking somewhat apprehensive at the official opening of the Northern Territory Assembly after the hijnks that went on outside the building. Following the entertainment and refreshments after the opening, Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, held an impromptu media conference outside the toilets and warned "the chooks" that Aboriginal land rights would be a disaster for the NT ; Doug Anthony , in effect , told Joh to put a sock in his gob , as it was a special Territory occasion.---By Peter Simon
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Large tracts of vegetation along the coast were badly damaged by the cyclonic winds and tidal surge . With tops torn from many trees , vines have grown up trunks, stifling regrowth and reducing feed for pigeons and other birds. Each year large numbers of pigeons from the NT , New Guinea and parts of Cape York descend on Hinchinbrook . Torres Strait Pigeons can be seen nesting in Darwin now. Recent cyclonic weather reduced the amount of nuts available for Cassowaries resulting in them invading settled areas and being run down by vehicles. Silt laden run off along the coast has killed seagrass beds leading to the death of many turtles and dugongs
Thursday, December 1, 2011
The choir gathered three quarters of an hour before the service to practice what they would sing, which did not leave much time for rehearsal. The college was run by Dick Udy ,one of three brothers who had worked as Methodist missionaries in Fiji, and who later headed the NT Uniting Church. One day Wes was asked to participate in a debate WHY I AM A CHRISTIAN,in the affirmative.The choir master, who had supposedly debunked Einstein’s famous theory, surprisingly, took an opposing view,justifying his stance by saying that while he was not a Christian, he liked participating in music.
Faced with the choice of becoming an agronomist in New Guinea or the Northern Territory, Wes chose the NT. During the college holiday at the end of 1962, he came to Darwin and had a quick look about the place during two months here. Accommodated at the Mitchell Street Mess, he shared a room with a meteorologist who wrote the weather forecasts. Intrigued by such a job, Wes asked his roommate if he could write the forecast , did so, and his prediction, which went out over the radio, was for afternoon monsoonal showers- about 4.21, when public servants knocked off -spot on. The weather was more predictable in those days, he said, blaming global warming for the current apparent uncertain variations.
A keen Australian Rules player, he went along to some matches and was not impressed.The Territory Rice Humpty Doo project, into which American and Australian money had been invested, supposed to turn the Territory into a food bowl for Asia, was on its last legs. Wes went out and inspected the venture.
Three years later, he lobbed back in Darwin with his rural science degree, the first NT Commonwealth cadet agronomist to graduate ; after only one day in town, hardly any time for his feet to touch the ground, he was sent to be the sole scientist at the agricultural research farm/station at Tortilla Flats, named after the Steinbeck novel,on the Adelaide River. It had the reputation of being a place where no scientist lasted long. Nobody informed him that at the nearby Beatrice Hill rice project,some years previously,a 21 year old man had shot himself dead with a.303 rifle inserted in his mouth ,seconds after his friends, thinking he was joking, dared him to do so during a late night drinking session.
Tortilla Flats became the support base for three adjacent pilot farms , rice being one of the crops . Rice paddies were fed by water pumped from the river. Wes, the Christian chorister, came armed with a “weapon”-a trumpet-on which he tootled at night from the edge of the rice paddies, disturbing the Magpie Geese, frogs,mossies and crocodiles. With his background,his trumpeting could be seen as emulating that biblical event outside the walls of Jericho. Field days were organised at which Wes spread the agricultural gospel to the Steinbeckian sod busters.
A carpenter who worked next to Tortilla Flats, Brian Manning ,from Mt Isa,also musically inclined, played the saxophone. Manning came into Darwin at weekends to play in a band at the RSL Club and enjoyed the good meals there, the tucker situation at Tortilla Flats being rough and ready. Manning, who became an airport fireman, a leading Darwin Communist and waterside worker, would have many dealings with Wes in struggles for social justice and freedom , ranging from Aboriginal rights to the East Timor struggle. Manning particularly recalls that he had been most impressed by the way Wes explained technical matters to farmers at Tortilla Flats.
As a result of bucking the system and pointing out absurdities , Wes was inevitably branded a “trouble maker.”A person so regarded by many in government, right wingers, public servants and others- left wing author,Frank Hardy,then influenced Wes. After reading Hardy’s 1968 book,The Unlucky Australians, about the Gurindji and their struggles at Wattie Creek,Wes and his partner, Jan Marie Ridgeway, an art schoolteacher, decided to visit the settlement during the Christmas holidays.[ Wes only met Frank Hardy once, probably after a May Day March in Darwin,and was not overly impressed as Frank seemed more interested in other matters.]
A striking painting , on bark, by Jan.
As a result of that first visit to Wattie Creek,Jan and Wes became involved in the cause , bringing them into frequent contact with Brian Manning and Moira and George Gibbs,the last two also union activists. Jan taught at Nightcliff High ,was employed in the Darwin High library and then went into head office in the curriculum development section. After making each trip to Wattie Creek, Wes would call in at the Northern Territory News and discuss the situation with crusading editor, Jim Bowditch, making suggestions for improving conditions.
Girls from Kormilda College posing with Jan-in her frocks.
Bowditch,personally involved in the Gurindji struggle and a close friend of Frank Hardy, at times ran Wes’s observations and letters as news stories, describing him as a human rights activist. The relationship with Bowditch grew ,Wes saying he was inspired by the editor, describing him as a great human being, a fearless and enlightened crusader. Jim invited Wes, a non drinker at the time, to drop in for a snort late at night when the paper was being put to bed. The newspaper stories quoting Wes kept the issue alive , got improvements in services for Aborigines and helped inform the general community about numerous issues.
Printed comments attributed to him at times contained criticism of government which raised eyebrows as he was a public servant. Nevertheless, he refused to be gagged. His involvement with the Gurindjis and the anti- Vietnam War movement resulted in him being watched by ASIO. ASIO even checked to see if Wesley-Smith had been absent from Darwin to get married in Adelaide.[ Yes, he did tie the knot, in the grounds of the property of his cousin who became the NT Supreme Court Chief Justice.]
Wes played a little known- very important part-in a major event in the history of Aboriginal land rights when PM, Gough Whitlam, handed over Wattie Creek to the Gurindji and symbolically poured soil into the hand of Vincent Lingiari. Involved in the planning for the function, Wes provided a bottle of champagne for the occasion,and gave it to the PM. Gough first offered the champagne to Vincent–probably the first time he had tasted champers. Then Whitlam had a swig , but some of the media rushed over and asked the PM to hold it there so that photographs could be taken.
As the fluid cascaded down the PM’s ample throat, Wes shouted," Fair go,Gough,you’ll drink the bloody lot!" The PM responded,"Keep your hair on,Wesley."[ Wes attended this year's anniversary at Daguragu/Kalkarinji and was ignored by the media, yet he was warmly welcomed by the Gurindji. Frank Hardy's son, a lawyer, was there, and Wes told him how the book The Unlucky Australians had impacted on his life. ] NEXT: Championing many other causes,the arrival of Vietnamese refugees, an unusual Russian drinking session and the long fight for East Timor. *** Lingiari/Whitlam photos from Peter Simon Collection;others Robert Wesley-Smith Archives .