Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Not  unexpectedly, Australia’s number one reluctant lover boy of yesteryear -Alvin Purple- is showing severe signs of wear and tear . Romping about with all those lusty girls in the l970s has taken a heavy toll on his body and gudgeon pins . Little Darwin’s rambling Roue Roundsman reports that Alvin is often seen in the safe harbour parking area on Magnetic Island ... it is not a pretty sight.

None of the nubile packpackers coming ashore from the Townsville ferry take any notice of him – this waterbed salesman once one of the great, shy playboys of the western world. Some of the girls coming off the ferries make for a stretched Jeep for a good time ...apparently a bigger Yank is more attractive than an aged,  fading, weedy Australian . However, some do like hopping into midget  Mini Mokes .

 Now geriatric Purple can’t even spell his name properly, going under the moniker ALVI , sounding  like an  Italian organ grinder with a capering monkey which could  have  been  fathered  by Berlusconi. At one stage Alvin Purple was as popular as Skippy the  bush kangaroo, the envy of  many red-blooded Aussie males , his  films making lotsa boodle . The first Alvin Purple comedy film starred Graeme Blundell who now pens interesting columns in The Australian newspaper . Written by Alan Hopgood , the movie was directed by Tim Burstall and was an instant hit , despite being panned by critics . The basic storyline was that , for some strange reason , girls galore just wanted to throw themselves at mild mannered Alvin.

Gals of note who appeared in the films included Jackie Weaver and steamy Abigail. Weathered , sporting some body rust , Alvi(n)  is a purple Holden Barina,  with   worn  flower power car seats . If  it dared venture onto the mainland and went interstate , officers of the NSW Highway Patrol , with guns drawn , would   surely  pull it over , suspecting the occupants to be those fiends , Cheech and Chong .

Full  frontal  view  of   Alvin   Purple , now    well  and  truly  beyond  his  prime ,  soaking  up  the sun  ,  while  dreaming  about  those   days  when  he  drove  women  mad  .

Monday, April 29, 2013


( Intrepid Bulldust Diary explorer , Peter Burleigh , his  plucky  Pajero  not yet  reduced to a bucket of nuts and bolts due to atrocious  outback roads,  continues the  relentless hunt  for  barramundi, dodges Grey Nomads  and  hits  another  brick  wall.)

The Gulf Country of the Northern Territory and Queensland has stimulated the Australian imagination for two centuries. Settlers, speculators, explorers, exploiters, dreamers and more lately the bloody Grey Nomads have all been infected by romantic notions generated by the Gulf Country, none of which seem to apply in reality. But Karumba is a town with personality. It has virtually no history, and in this region that is an attraction.

Karumba’s a neat little joint. The Sunset Tavern is perched on the edge of the beach, Broome style, and looks west into the spectacular setting sun. It has shutters instead of doors. Tonight they’re all open and a warm breeze wafts under the wide eaves and into the bar. Nirvana.

Many of Karumba’s sprinkling of houses and units are for rent. Most houses are made from metal, this being Termite Central. Right now every one of them is occupied, air-conditioners roaring. This town of around 150 permanent residents has three large van parks, each packed to overflowing. We arrive at sunset on Friday night. A short tour reveals two interesting phenomena: the town is split in half and to get from one part to the other you have to go back to the highway, and each of the van parks is closed off to people wanting a site for the night. “No booking, no admittance” snarl the signs. People are being turned away. With luck I have made a prior booking at one of the Parks, but less luckily for two nights later in the week.

We thought  you might be here early,” says Brenda the manager, “so your sites are ready.”Hah. God does exist. We ignore the desperate appeals of other homeless refugees and drive through the checkpoint into the Karumba Sunset Tourist & Van Park. Karumba had about 10,000 visitors a year for decades, Brenda tells us. Now in the Naughties it has over 100,000. Word has got around about the fishing. It’s the only town on the Gulf with ‘beach access’ (for ‘beach’, read ‘mud’); the rest of the coast is choked with croc-infested mangroves.

This morning the tide is out, almost to the horizon, showing the vast flatness of the floor of the Gulf. The Barramundi Discovery Centre is a local hatchery and is a key attraction but is closed because of the town’s Seafood Festival at the Recreation Club (Barra & Chips, $8.00). Karumba used to be a big prawn processing town with over 70 trawlers, but the moment the trawlers started to process and freeze their catch on board the Karumba prawn processing business rolled over and died. It’s gone.

Apart from tourism, the export of lead and  zinc ore is the only commercial activity left. A 5000-ton shallow-draft freighter ferries its load several kilometres offshore to a deep-water loading point and transfers its loads to foreign freighters. Seems a clumsy system to me.

There are three charter fishing boats in town. Lance Edwards is the Barramundi expert, “the best in the top end” we’re told. We drive around looking for him up every lane and in every carpark. No one is catching Barra locally – the same old story – only Lance knows where they are.

They seek ‘em here, they seek ‘em there, they seek the buggers everywhere.” Seek as much as you like; if the Barra don’t want to be found they won’t be found. Either the water’s too cold, it’s too windy, the season’s wrong or you have the wrong bait or lure, so the Barra remain aloof. Sure, every town up here claims to be the Barra Capital of the Top End but no one except Lance is catching any or even trying. Even the Barra on menus is suspectHarry’s menu in a Darwin hotel said that his Barra was frozen and imported. Barramundi is a Perch and is found all through Asia. The so-called Nile Perch you see in Coles and Woolies is Barramundi – they’re just not allowed to call it that.

We find Lance at the back of the motel. He is cleaning his mean-looking black boat and its 150h.p outboard while his clients clean their fish. Damn. These guys have caught Barramundi. They’ve booked Lance for four days and tomorrow’s their last day.

“Hey, Lance,” says our guide, “these fellers want to see you.”Lance is a coffee-coloured Aboriginal with sponsor’s stickers sewn onto his overalls.

“Lance, I’m Harry, this is Boonie and Peter.”


Any chance getting out with you and the Barra?” ..."Nup.”

No cancellations?”


Well, maybe...”

Booked out.”

Could we...”

Nup. Goin’ back home after termorrer.”

Lance has finally made his position clear. It is “Nup.” Later we hear he takes his clients about 60km up the coast to find the elusive Scarlett Pimperburra. He charges his two clients  $1000 per head per day. People say he deserves his reputation because he delivers the goodsNEXT:  Gulf attractions and finally going  fishing  after  those  damned  elusive  barramundi .

Sunday, April 28, 2013


The  Northern Territory  flag at the Mindil Beach  Casino in Darwin   is  frequently   flown upside down , according  to  an informant  who  regularly  visits  the  premises.  He has  informed  reception  of  this  sin  against  vexillology ,   but  returns   from  time to time  to  find   the    flag   wrong way up.   A flag flown upside down indicates a  vessel in distress  , which aptly   describes the  present  CLP  government. The  former  Chief Minister , Terry Mills ,  was  forced  to  walk  the  plank  when there  was a  mutiny in the ranks ; salty  sailor  oaths  have  been  heard within  the  Wedding  Cake .

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


In 1891 a grand banquet was held in Palmerston–the early name of Darwin- for the visiting South Australian governor , Lord Kintore.

The menu included tasty gravy soup, giblet pie, roast goose, ox tongue , Swiss rolls, cheese and olives , with champagne, sherry, port, Spanish reisling , ale and porter. Lord Kintore said he could see a great future for exports of NT horses to India , that just about any tropical product could be grown in the NT with the "right labour" and that he understood why North Queensland wanted to break away from the remote control and decisions of Brisbane. Some days later, the Chinese held another, probably more lavish, banquet for the governor at which he discussed Australia's racial discrimination against Chinese. In his reported speech , he said agitation for enactment of legislation restricting Chinese in Australia had "practically commenced in Palmerston. "

This must have resulted in unavoidable and considerable hardship for the local Chinese . For this, he offered his sympathy. He revealed that he and his Irish wife had visited China soon after they married 18 years ago, they having read much about the country, recalling with delight their time there .

Chinese , he said, could pride themselves at having made the greatest contribution to the development of the NT - 3000 of them having built the Palmerston to Pine Creek railway . Furthermore, Palmerston would have had few Europeans but for the industrious Chinese who ran shops and cafes . Despite declaring he could not criticise the actions of Australian colonial governments or had any control over local affairs, he did voice some concerns. These were that a Chinese person in one Australian colony was not allowed entry into other colonies and some shipping agents refused to bring back to Australia Chinese after a visit home, though they were able to produce certificates of residence. " Let us hope that these things will soon be of the past," he told his hosts. ***  Photo taken in 1971  shows Darwin  Chinese  temple, ransacked during WW11which  was  destroyed  by   Cyclone Tracy in 1974 . Darwin  now has  a  temple  and  a Chinese  Museum.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

APPLE PUREE & TAR HIT THE FAN IN PARLIAMENT : The Pete Steedman Chronicles, #9

[ Clean cut Pete Steedman , left, eager to do battle , entered a new phase in his varied and hectic life in l983 as the Labor MHR for Casey, one of the largest suburban seats in Victoria, 80,000 voters , covering six cities and shires .]

When he contested the election he was described as aged 40- at times jocularly claiming to be 28- married, with two children, a former journalist , marketing consultant and advisor to the  ALP Senate Leader, John Button, and recently a research officer with the Municipal Employees’ Union.

The Melbourne Herald, like other papers, made a point of the fact that Steedman , out to change the structure of Australian society, had adopted three-piece suit conservatism as his public image for the Federal election. Steedman said the media was the reason why he was not campaigning in a T-shirt. It[media] always portrayed politicians as wearing suits and it confused people if you were not so attired. He was also critical of the simplistic approach the media adopted reporting politics , presenting it as a gladiatorial clash , without much coverage of policies and the reason behind them.

A National Times lengthy article about Steedman said the seat of Casey could be the pad from which an Evel Knievel ( the American death- defying stuntman ) may launch himself into national prominence. It said Steedman was not a conventional Labor candidate ; for the election campaign he had bought a three piece grey suit and had garaged his 1962 push-button convertible red Ford Galaxie until after the poll. This “enfant terrible of Monash and Melbourne universities” had trimmed his sideburns, shelved his shades , got about the electorate in a tweed jacket, moleskin and boots.

It mentioned his involvement in Darwin after Cyclone Tracy [ previously covered in depth in Little Darwin] , as did the many local papers in the electorate which repeatedly called the disaster Cyclone Tracey .

Near the end of the article it speculated about how Steedman would perform in parliament if he were elected ... Many believe he has within him the dedication, outreach and gravitas to make him an astute parliamentarian who may yet astonish the nation . Steedman was quoted as saying : "All my life I’ve walked a tightrope. It gets my adrenalin going . I either succeed brilliantly or bomb out with a bang."This was to prove a prophetic statement in respect of his political career.

During his campaign Steedman backed the NO DAMS on the Franklin River in Tasmania , there being a rally in the electorate. The Dutch community , numbering 4000 , supported him after the Federal Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Minister , John Hodges, cut off funds shortly before the election. Steedman promised to lobby for the Dutch  if elected.[Three months later, after "ruffling bureaucratic feathers ," Steedman was able to keep his promise and not be "a liar, " money allocated to the Dutch community. ]


Canberra braced itself for the arrival of this person , the subject of many dinner party stories, variously described as a lefty , a larrikin , the Black Knight, a cross between James Dean and Elvis , a rowdy , of the Socialist Left. Steedman said the many publications in the Leader Group of papers in the electorate made a Socialist Left member sound like a "child molester." A woman who had worked with Steedman in his boisterious university days had predicted that, if he kept out of gaol, he would go into politics and become Leader of the Opposition

When he had been editor of the national publication , Broadside, it lampooned Australian politics , Canberra in particular, through a saucy and controversial comic strip , drawn by Gerald Carr , in which Fabula, a curvy, skimpily clad , patriotic gal , repeatedly put her body on the line to save the nation or unscramble government cock ups . The story line was inspired by inside information Steedman received from political contacts about goings on in the capital . Whip wielding Fabula , see below , had been plucked out of the typists pool, and became the personal secretary to Sir John Grey , Prime Minister of a great southern country which sounded suspiciously like Australia... soon after , the strong influence of Ainsley Gotto ,  the  highly intelligent, principal private secretary of PM John Gorton , became a major story. When Minister for Air , Dudley Erwin , was left out of Gorton’s second ministry, he blamed his dismissal thus : "It wiggles, it’s shapely and its name is Ainsley Gotto."

In any case , avid readers and the nervous Melbourne Age proprietors of Broadside felt they could identify the key characters in the comic strip , two editions pulped, one because of Fabula , the other for supporting Labor in an election ; the US president , Tricky Dicky Nixon, received a metaphorical lashing from Fabula. During Steedman’s editorship of Broadside all shades of politics in Federal politics were given a chance to air their views through regular columns - the then ALP leader, Arthur “Cocky” Calwell, the Liberal " Colt from Kooyong " Andrew Peacock , who turned in bland copy, and Don "Keep the bastards honest" Chipp of the Democrats.



Because there were so many new faces elected to parliament in l983 , 23 , in the Bob Hawke landslide, it took a long time , six months , before Steedman got the nod to make his maiden speech. This did not stop him from being written up by the Canberra press gallery and he had other outlets through regular, forthright columns he wrote for the Victorian Labor Star , which he had edited for years, his contributions run under the heading PETE’S PARLIAMENT, and in the Municipal Employees' Union  publication The Counsellor , which he also  had edited .

In his Star article about the opening of parliament he deplored the pomp and ceremony, the wigs , which he said had no function or purpose in modern day government. He spoke of being sworn in with an oath of allegiance to Betty Windsor , called the former Liberal Speaker , Billie Mackie Snedden, a supreme hypocrite , said "the bods " from Tasmania did their best to gain national headlines by being thrown out of the House. Speaker, Harry Jenkins, he said, had kept his cool under the stream of abuse of the Tasmanians , and although it may have been tactically wrong, he should have "given the bastards what they wanted." The Opposition were still "arrogant bullies", and the born to rule syndrome was reflected in their every word. It would not accept the legitimacy of the Hawke Government , and once again they were doing their best to destabilise in any way they could. [Nothing  had changed , he said recently, commenting  on the present Opposition  stance in Canberra  .] 

In a July piece he wrote he did not pull any punches about the early performance of the Labor Government. MEU members who read the newspapers , he wrote, could be forgiven for thinking that the government was going in all directions at all times. Mistakes made by some senior Ministers, from the Prime Minister down , had allowed the media to put the boot into Labor good and proper. He attributed this to a lack of consultation with the Caucus. He had fought for the MEU in respect of superannuation for lower paid blue collar workers.

When Parliament sat again in August and Caucus met again, he believed the government would have to reconsider its superannuation policies to make sure that Labor supporters and workers were not disadvantaged.

Later on, he touched on the fact that people had become very cynical of politicians ; he shared the cynicism. "It is quite remarkable up there in Parliament House, Canberra, to see the way a lot of our great Labor stalwarts can quite easily succumb to the surroundings and the gravy train that they are now part of . Those of you that know me during my time with the MEU will know that I am not a person to spend a lot of time on bullshit ."


Even though waiting in line to make his maiden speech , it did not stop him from making his presence very evident within the house and precincts , his interjections and verbal jousts caused conservatives , especially Nationals , seated near him in the chamber , to fume .

When the National Party Member for Maranoa, Ian Cameron, strongly attacked PM Hawke , Steedman suddenly shouted : “Heel!”- as if addressing a sheepdog, and Cameron, a farmer, immediately sat down, causing laughter. Back from a trip to Africa, Cameron presented Steedman with a necklace made from beads which he had bought in Kenya for $2. In doing so he said the necklace had magical powers , and within six months Mr Steedman would join the National Party . Cameron was not a bad fellow , said Steedman, but the act of presenting the necklace reflected his understanding of society. “Ever since Ian heard about the deal Batman did for Melbourne, and the purchases some early missionaries made in Africa, he considers anybody can be bought for a bundle of beads.”

Parliament never quite knew what to expect when Steedman interjected or responded to hecklers within and without the chamber . Representatives of rural seats liked to scoff at Steedman, this" city slicker" who lived in a two storey house on a 10 acre property which had formerly belonged to Australian playwright David Williamson. He responded to their raucous comments about the Hawke Government by telling them that they should not be so critical of the Labor government as it was going to bring in retrospective legislation making it okay  for them having had sex with their sheep. Uproar ensued, none of which seemed to make it into Hansard.

In July, before he was able to make his maiden speech, Steedman launched a book DOWN UNDERGROUND COMIX , for Penguin, compiled by Phil Pinder, featuring the works of about 25 cartoonists , at the Last Laugh Restaurant, Collingwood. In covering the event , the Age said Mr Steedman modestly credited himself with discovering or fostering most of the cartoonists-Martin Sharp, Michael LeunigJenny Cooper,Rick Amor and others - during his earlier career as perpetual enfant terrible of the university and underground Press. Covering the same launch, Ron Saw in the Sydney Bulletin magazine , near an item about Dallas star Larry Hagman, said Steedman , revolutionary , editor, contributor and all purpose stirrer of more publications than "the stiffbacks liked to think existed," had become the Member for Casey in the " March cataclysm", almost certainly qualifying for a phone–tap with a complimentary autographed picture of Harvey Barnett, the ASIO Director-General. [ Broadside had run a two-page Leunig cartoon headed WHO WATCHES ASIO WHILE ASIO WATCHES YOU... which showed agents reporting to the head spy, Scorpion, the telegraphic address for ASIO . In it a spy who used his initiative to have a look at Pine Gap and North West Cape was shot by Scorpion, working for the CIA. ]

In his maiden speech, Steedman highlighted the part played by unions in obtaining better conditions for Australian workers. It was the union movement which had obtained annual holidays, wage loadings, pay increases and health and safety provisions. Considering the short time Labor had been in government in this country, the unions had effectively been the Opposition to conservative governments.

A major concern of his was unemployment, especially youth unemployment . At the time , he said, the economy was being continually squeezed by monetarist policies and unemployment was spiralling upwards while business got worse. Children had to be given greater skills and this meant keeping them at school, teaching them things which would enable them to cope with modern times, which he had stressed when his expertise and drive made the Caulfield Institute for Technology the leading education centre in Victoria. Management, he told parliament , was lacking in many basic skills , leading to businesses closing down and job losses. Much industrial disputation was due to plain bad management, he declared.


During a grievance debate on October 20,l983, Tasmanian Liberal, Bruce Goodluck , criticised people who regarded the Vietnam War and uranium as " dirty" words  and also objected to American ships visiting Australian ports. He had addressed a peace rally which had objected to an American ship entering Hobart, and had received " a bit of boo and a bit of a hoo." This opposition to Americans doing anything in Australia was sheer hypocrisy as the United States had saved us on many occasions .

He predicted that Joh Bjelke-Petersen would get back into power in Queensland and there would be other right wing wins in other states , resulting in free enterprise governments . Free people would be ruling in Australia , and it would be a better place in which to live. As an aside, Goodluck then mentioned that "my friend "- the Honourable Member for Casey-Steedman- had entered the chamber.

Goodluck went on to say Tasmania had lost "the wonderful hook" of being known as the Apple Isle because NSW now produced more . Hansard recorded, Mr Steedman: " The last time I saw a mouth like yours it was on a hook.”

As the grievance debate continued, Steedman rose to highlight poor occupation and safety in the nation . Typically, he had thoroughly researched the subject, and presented facts and figures . In Australia under the rule of Liberal and Nationals there had been a lack of concern about the safety of workers, he charged. If you wanted to stop high workers compensation premiums, to help small business , steps should be taken to stop workers being run over, crushed , killed or made work in dangerous environments .

The union for which he worked up until the election consisted of blue collar workers who , he said , were constantly put under threat and into hazardous situations by local councils, especially rural councils. The "cockies" felt that they were a superior type of being and the workers " were serfs," put into contact with carcinogenic substances , conditions leading to sun cancer , working with tar. Opposition members objected , one facetiously wanting to know how you grew tar. Steedman asked the interjector to explain himself. Andrew Peacock, who once described Steedman as a loquacious socialist , responded thus : "He wants to know where you grow tar."

Steedman said the comment showed the level of intelligence of the interjector, and went on to say that the Hawke Government would bring in legislation to make the workplace safer in Australia, workers compensation premiums would go down and workers would not be crippled . In doing so, he made a provocative statement about "mental cripples " like the parliamentary members from Tasmania.  Bruce Goodluck took a point of order and, in the absence of  fellow Tasmanians , asked for Steedman to retract the remark. Steedman said he was happy to retract because he realised that inbreeding caused that sort of thing. Goodluck again protested , but the Deputy Speaker said there was no point of order.


In an adjournment debate the next month , Steedman raised the plight of Filipino people under the Marcos regime following representations to him from The Philippines Action Support Group , an organisation supported by the Australian Catholic Relief , the Australian Council of Churches , the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace , Community Aid Abroad and Action for World Development. Filipino people were living in desperate and growing poverty , while a small elite lived lives of  extravagance .

He said that since President Marcos had declared martial law in 1972 the living standard of the poorest 80 per cent had been slashed. As the poverty increased , so did dissent. This dissent had not been met by much needed social and economic reforms. It had been met by increased militarisation and increased repression. Armed forces had increased from 60,000 to more than 300,000 regulars. If reserves and paramilitary forces were included , the figure rose to more than 900,000, two per cent of the population. Steedman detailed the large number of political prisoners, torture, extrajudicial killings by the military, death squads , people forced off their land to make way for palm oil plantations , limited freedom of the Press, corruption of the legal system, the high rate of malnutrition.

Describing the grim picture as a "very brief summary" of the human rights abuses taking place in the Philippines, Steedman ended by saying : "I believe that Australia’s defence and security should not be built on the oppression of others. In the long term, we should be more secure were we to support the majority who seek justice, rather than the minority who rule by force."

Intent on changing things , Steedman wanted to examine the nuts and bolts of government and so became a member of a wide range of government and Caucus committees dealing with defence support, economic policy , employment, industrial relations and foreign affairs.


Giving a written account of his involvement in the Economic Policy Committee,Steedman  said  he felt that in the upcoming Budget the government should be a bit more creative with it policies because of its obligations to the Australian people , more particularly the unemployed. Using the Keynesian approach , he could see no reason why the deficit could not be increased. This view did not accord with that of the Treasurer, Paul Keating , who was at pains on several occasions at a recent meeting to say he was "not being snowed by John Stone"-the head of Treasury .

To illustrate that parliament is theatre, Tasmanian Liberal members were reported  as wearing  "mourning armbands" to protest about government treatment of the island state. A reporter described Goodluck as " not the least xenophobic of the ultra xenophobic Tasmanian members. "

NEXT : Spy stories , James Bond imitators , President Reagan calls Steedman’s office, Henry Kissinger giggles and Pete works hard for his electorate , pausing at times to  tinker  with  the restoration of a 1942 Chevrolet (which he still has) and a Vincent Rapide motorbike, which he would dearly like to still possess as they are worth a king’s ransome .

Sunday, April 14, 2013


The above photograph of an Aboriginal school in Australia , circa 1897, appeared in QUEEN VICTORIA’S EMPIRE series, by Cassell & Company. Captioned THE LOWEST STEP ON THE LADDER OF KNOWLEDGE , it read : The remarkable picture shows us the interior of a Queensland School. The pupils are Australian aborigines ; the members of that race which inhabited the great island of Australia before the white man set foot on it. [ What, no terra nullius ?] Small in numbers , of low intellectual capacity, the race with difficulty survives the pressure of civilisation. But the British schoolmaster has come to the rescue with his A B C, the key which unlocks the treasury of knowledge and may yet perhaps be in time to save the remnant from absolute destruction.

 ( The present  backward, slow-learning and reactionary L-NP Queensland Government is complaining about the Federal Government  proposing to give it more money than anticipated  for  Queensland schools - Queen Victoria would  not  be  amused ... see  meaning of  drongos  below.)

Thursday, April 11, 2013


A noted  wildlife  carer  has reported  the first sighting of  a  Spangled  Drongo - a sign that "winter" has  arrived  on Magnetic Island . It  came as  islanders  were rugged up in  a  cold  and wet  spell. While walking along a beach this morning , this  jumper  wearing   writer spotted  a  Spangled  Drongo  sitting on a powerline  and  managed to get  home only slightly  damp as more rain swept in. For those who do not know, drongo  is  an expressive  Australian  slang  word  for  an  idiot.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The old willow pattern on crockery must surely be updated now that PM Julia Gillard has forged a close relationship between Australia and China. Those two immortal doves , sometimes at the top of a dinner plate or on a gravy ladle , said to be the runaway, ill-fated lovers Koong-se and Chang [ incidently , he seems to have been a better swimmer than Chairman Mao ] , could now represent our home grown Iron Lady getting lovey  dovey with the new Chinese leader, President  Xi  Jinping.

Over the years, the meaning of that odd Chinese scene has merely been described as willow pattern because it contains Willow Trees . If there is any Australian china manufacturing firm  still standing which has not been forced to close due to overseas imports , it could cash in by making Wattle Pattern plates to mark our new closeness with China. The great British china maker, Spode, established 1770, is said to have been the first to put the willow pattern on dinner services and other kitchen items. The prominent   essayist, Charles Lamb, admitted to an almost feminine impartiality for old china .Whenever he visited a great house , he first asked to see the china closet , not the awesome  picture gallery. With delight, he described the various scenes he saw on china – horses, trees, pagodas , a cow and rabbit couchant and co-extensive ... the latter appropriate diplomatic jargon to describe the new relationship between Australia and China?

The borders of some early plates contained artistic geometric shapes and even renditions of mosquitoes, gnats and flowers. Our distinctive Wattle Pattern could include Canberra’s Bogong Moths , gum nuts , white pointers and snakes . Also inserted could be a vignette showing Rupert Murdoch refusing to sign a chit presented to him by a Chinese waiter charging him the equivalent of $120 for a six dollar bottle of South Australian Jacob’s Creek wine in the Emperor’s penthouse suite during a business trip to the Celestial Kingdom .

The story behind the willow pattern , popular throughout the world, has never been properly explained. There are also variants in the designs, one known as Mandarin and other Canton, upon which Kevin Rudd insists his morning crumpet is served . One of the pattern segments depicts an odd oarsman in a boat, without any paddles. Does this sound like the political situation here as revealed by Gallup polls? Three Oriental gentlemen trotting over a bridge , one carrying  a strange parcel,  could now be interpreted as Tony Abbott , Chrisopher Pyne and trimmed down  Joe Hockey running  to  a meeting , trying  to get the Independents to change sides with the promise of  a   mess  of  steaming  dim sims - so that the Mad Monk can become  Emperor  and inflict water torture on the workers.

While researching this post, Little Darwin took from its files a slim volume , carrying the trade sticker of Adelaide bookseller F.W. Preece, THE STORY OF THE WILLOW PATTERN PLATE ,at the head of this story, published by Alexander Moring ,the De La More Press, London . It contains an intriguing handwritten inscription linked with a story just as tragic as that of Koong-se and Chang. It reads : "Sweet Alice [,] Ben Bolt " with much love from Con . Dec.1923. The poem of that name ,written by Dr Thomas Dunn English in 1842, turned into sheet music, was the most loved song in England and America for many years. The maudlin poem reminds Ben Bolt of sweet Alice with whom he was very close, she now covered by a slab in a cemetery. Over the years, comedians and others played with the poem and songs, Ben Bolt given the same treatment as poor Alice .

 LEFTOVER SCRAPS : A comic opera-WILLOW PATTERN PLATE- was produced at the Savoy Theatre, London, in 1901, but was not everybody’s cup of tea , as it had a short run. To mark our PM’s great leap into bed with the Chinese, Little Darwin took three of its willow pattern plates from the canteen , none made in China , one even produced in Australia , and photographed them against a bedsheet, above . The  plates, naturally , were  washed before being placed back in the kitchen cupboard so that we  could  show them to Charles lamb should he drop in to see our etchings and French postcards .

Monday, April 8, 2013


An  important moment in the annals of Australian journalism is captured here - crusading editor ,the late James Frederick Bowditch, a war hero and Walkley Award winner, is seen pressing his distinctive nose into wet concrete in l980 at Tyalgum, northern NSW. He had been present when a friend , Peter Hood, a former Darwin fireman , assisted by a nearby farmer with no fingers , put down the slab for what was intended to be a workshed , but later became the house . It was thirsty work for all concerned , they all imbibed , and at some stage it was suggested Bowditch should leave something to permanently commemorate the occasion. Just as Hollywood film stars leave their mark at Graumans Chinese Theatre , usually a handprint , Big Jim Bowditch applied his beak. It appears there may have been a problem getting Jim’s nose to make an impression in concrete. Recalling the event this week , Hood said a handkerchief had been place on the fast drying wet concrete and Jim , assisted by Peter , several times heartily pushing on the back of his skull, achieved success.

During his lifetime the Bowditch nose attracted many blows and comments- as far away as the jungles of South East Asia. A former British Army boxing champion, his father insisted he take up fisticuffs and had him matched against older , more skilled boys to give him inner strength and courage. Soon after arriving in Australia , Bowditch made representations to a police sergeant on behalf of unemployed men on sustenance and was punched in the mouth by the officer. A commando during WW11, he had further punch ups with civil and military police , and was involved in a court case in which it was claimed he assaulted an American soldier with a brick. During dangerous behind the lines operations against the Japanese in Borneo ,for which he was decorated, his comrades renamed  Proboscis Monkeys, below, Bowditch Monkeys, a gross exaggeration ; villagers joined in the fun and pointed  at  the  monkeys and  Jim’s nose .
After the war, Bowditch became editor of the Centralian Advocate, Alice Springs, and the Northern Territory News in Darwin . In all fairness, it must be said it really was not a huge nose, a bit sharpish, perhaps , said to have been like his mother’s . After a road accident in Darwin his battered nose was put in a kind of mask which made him look like Scaramouche , causing an outbreak of laughter when he walked into pubs .

After Cyclone Tracy, famous Sydney newspaper caricaturist , Tony Rafty , a war correspondent who became a close friend of President Soekarno during the fight for Indonesia’s freedom, asked after his mate Jim Bowditch . Rafty , a keen golfer, made a drawing which showed Bowditch lining up a golfball with his NOSE at the 19th hole.

While Bowditch was at Peter Hood’s leafy retreat, in the Mount Warning caldera , a smelly ,stray billy goat , with the nasty habit of urinating on people, refused to budge from the driveway. Bowditch was photographed below wrestling with the obstinate animal, no doubt fearful that he might get a spray.
 With the passage of time and expansion of the house, the Bowditch indentation was filled in and covered with lino . Pete did, however , scratch a message for future archeologists so that  they could excavate the site and find the famous conk .
Another photograph , above , shows Hood (left) and Bowditch hamming it up in Darwin before Pete donned a white sports coat, with a pink carnation in the lapel, and put on one thong only so that he looked a bit odd as he shuffled along , bearing a placard saying that a certain firm of lawyers SUX. It was a protest over a dodgy land deal that cost him money . He stood outside the front of the legal firm , and they closed their blinds . Bowditch watched over him so that he was not lumbered by police. His protest got a run in two papers , but the sign was censored.

After several representations by this writer and journalist , author Barbara James , Darwin finally named a street after Jim , a revered and unique journalist . Peter Hood, who says he once honeymooned on Magnetic Island living off nuts and berries in the bush , makes trips to the Territory from time to time , likes working with wood and uses it to make fine furniture and sculptures. A figure he carved for the widow of Jim Bowditch, Betty, sits at the entrance to the Darwin house in which she lives . It has  become  known as  Black Betty , the popular song of the same  name played at a  large birthday party for Betty last year, which Peter attended , along  with well wishers from the NT, South Australia, Sydney and New York .


The centre item in this  Little Darwin  nautical display  contains part of the sails from the  victorious yacht  Australia 11, the  subject of  the current two-part  ABC  TV series about  how Australia won the America's Cup.  Lifebuoys like the  Oriana  one  used  to  be  made by crewmembers on  various vessels  who sold  them to passengers  as  souvenirs. The  painted  pearlshell  dated   Darwin,  Christmas  1941 may have been one of the vessels  sunk  by the Japanese  on  February  19,1942.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


The  closure of The Bulletin magazine on January 24, 2008 after 128 years of publication came as a shock. For much of its early life it was a kind of Aussie larrikin, unabashedly rooting for the workers, sticking it up the gentry , trumpeting strident nationalism which supported the White Australia policy, belittled Chinese and Aborigines. In l915 it came up against The Triad, not a secret Chinese gang, but a sophisticated monthly magazine from New Zealand which covered music, science, literature and art .

By Peter Simon

Its founding editor, the energetic, cigar chomping , Charles Nalder Baeyertz, a music aficionado , launched the magazine in Dunedin in l893 . A review of the first edition said a  leader on ancient music showed the editor had an intimate knowledge of everything in the divine art from the time of Jubal to that of Mark Twain. The only omission detected had been mention of “Mercury and his dried up tortoise .” In Dunedin, he adjudicated at what equated to an eisteddfod , and his cutting comments ruffled many feathers.

A newspaper report said that Baeyertz , in the refined seclusion of the Triad, was devoted to the correction of “our sins ” and the “exposure of our faults ” . It went on to say his adjudication of local talent had caused “ many naughty words ” to be uttered around the domestic hearths of Dunedin . His reviews often verged on the brutal and he became the scourge of amateur and professional performers. Over the years the magazine became well known-even feared- on both sides of the Tasman.

The magazine took on a new dimension when the much travelled bon vivant , English–born journalist and author Frank Morton came aboard as assistant editor. Morton had led a colourful and varied life . Brought from Kent to Australia with his parents when he was l6, he was apprenticed to an engineer in Sydney , but caught wanderlust. He went to Hong Kong aboard the sailing ship Conqueror, journeyed to Singapore where he taught at a Methodist mission school and later joined the Straits Times as a journalist .


While in Singapore he married a woman born in Calcutta and moved with her to India where he worked on several publications. It being the time of the Raj, he accompanied the British theosophist and author Annie Besant , a supporter of Indian independence , on her travels. Morton also went with the British India Foreign Secretary, Sir Mortimer Durand, on his special mission to Afghanistan . As a result of that trip the Durand Line , the contentious boundary between India and Afghanistan , was drawn up in l893.

Morton returned to Sydney in l894, contributed to the Bulletin magazine, went to Queensland and then Tasmania. New Zealand beckoned and by 1905 he was on the Otago Daily Times in Dunedin, did a stint in Wellington , then was hired by Baeyertz to help produce the 60 page monthly Triad. Under his influence, Triad expanded its literary content and he wrote columns under a variety of pseudonyms. Like Baeyertz, who wore  pince-nez, Morton seemed to enjoy making people squirm. In a review attributed to him , the magazine pilloried the soon to die author of a book of verse who hoped the proceeds from its sale would help his family ; it also mercilessly flayed a woman poet who wrote an introduction to the book .

While in NZ , Morton, a prolific writer, produced a book of poetry Laughter and Tears : Verses of a Journalist and two novels ,The Angel of the Earthquake and The Yacht of Dreams. He moved back to Sydney about l914 . Baeyertz came to Sydney the same year intending to start the Australian edition , probably due to the fact that the bulk of its readers -3000- were here .These plans were delayed because of the outbreak of war. The first edition , produced in October l915 , declared : New Zealand volume 23, No.7 , Australian Volume 1, No.1. Morton teamed up with Baeyertz once more and Triad went into competition with the lively, well- established Bulletin.


Baeyertz sued the Theatre Magazine for a paragraph about him which inferred he was German ( he was Belgian ) and referred to him as Herr Baeyertz. The offending item had also called him “ that unconscious comedian of culture .” It was said the more cultured and better written Triad broke down the parochialism of a false Australian sentiment espoused in the Bulletin . It gave the Australian public a greater understanding of what was going on overseas in literary circles , even covering French writers , a field in which Morton was knowledgeable . An array of talent contributed to the Triad including John Galsworthy , Anatole France and many leading Australian writers and artists . As mentioned recently in Little Darwin , poet Kenneth Slessor , helping edit a school magazine in Sydney, submitted items to Triad and the Bulletin , but they did not get a run . In l917, however, he was published in both publications ; he and Morton were said to be alike in many ways, both described by author  Geoffrey Dutton as dandys .

A feature of Triad was that it never accepted free tickets to performances , buying tickets for every show it reviewed. Baeyertz formed a close association in Sydney with James Brunton-Gibb , a prominent eisteddfod adjudicator in the areas of speech and drama on both sides of the Tasman . I bought a number of items, eisteddfod programmes, and letters from Baeyert(s) to Brunton-Gibb in a Melbourne bookshop.

By l924 , Baeyertz was still running the magazine as well as a large correspondence course in public speaking, elocution and voice production. Morton had died in December l923 and a fire in the office  had added to his workload . The artist Pixie O’Harris, Rolf Harris’s aunt, renowned for her illustration of children’s books and the decoration of children’s hospitals , schools and day nurseries was a Triad caricaturist. Editorship of the Triad passed to L.L. Woolacott , a journalist and playwright well known in Sydney theatrical circles , who once  wrote to Townsville accountant , song writer , John Ashe ,  asking him if he would consider leaving the north to work on a new publication. Baeyertz concentrated on other business interests, but lost control of the magazine , which had a circulation of more than 23,000 , and left after a dispute to edit a new Sydney newspaper .

The magazine changed hands several times , was modernised and renamed the New Triad ; poetry written by Pamela Travers , author of the Mary Poppins books, appeared in Triad before she left Australia to further her writing career. A three act play , Deliverance , written under Woolacott’s pseudonym , Errol Travers , was published in the magazine in two parts in l927. It dealt with family relations, moral degeneration and suicide . The magazine was delivered into oblivion when it folded in  l928.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


What seemed to be a replica of the Sydney Opera House , above, suddenly appeared on the Townsville waterfront  , and  a roving correspondent sent us  a snap. However , a short time later , this  bright white structure, possibly part of a new cruise ship terminal, turned into something like the Black Hole of Calcutta, see below.
It seems other ports   want to get  in  on the cruise  ship gravy boat  and you have to wonder if it will lead to  an over supply situation. Still, cruising is undoubtedly popular, and the 1936 postcard from our files shows what was on offer in the Pacific.

Monday, April 1, 2013


IN BREAKING SHOCK NEWS for Queensland LNP Senator Barnaby Joyce, he will be challenged for pre-selection in the seat of New England by a well known local- Peter Piper , above, who picked a peck of pickled pumpkins in record time and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records. Piper is shown here with his mother who is helping him cross the road in Tamworth as he carries one of his famous pumpkins to the Country Women’s Association trade table to swap for a plate of curried lamingtons. Apart from being obsessed with pumpkins , Peter, a true blue/green National , is often seen chasing sheep around the family property , Green Acres. And at night he goes to sleep , clutching his Mr Bean  teddy bear , counting sheep and then dreaming about cuddly Lamb Chop . Piper’s favourite TV show is Swamp People.

The independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, one of the few reasonable members of parliament , is expected to resign and join a travelling circus as a blindfolded lion tamer for some well - deserved R & R when he hears that Peter Piper is almost certain to get pre-selection . Thwarted by Peter Piper , Barnaby can resume imitating Bob Katter and speaking in algorithms when it comes to matters economic. Barnaby has a tasty recipe for Queensland red emperor pumpkins and is expected to make a guest appearance on Channel 10’s new Dancing with the Red Dwarf.

As everybody knows, the original intended conservative candidate for New England slipped on a banana skin and, sadly, now in plaster from fibula to mortarboard , had to withdraw. He is expecting a touching get well card sometime soon from Tony Abbott, delivered by a Young Liberal on a Malvern Star with a flat tyre. Not everybody in New England is happy about Barnaby being parachuted in from the Sunshine State. Said one disgruntled voter : “ In Bananaland , they moan about southerners moving into their state; now they want to thrust a northerner into NSW to advance Barnaby’s and the National  Party’s grandiose plans to take over the political pumpkin patch.” PREDICTION : An anonymous Townsville psephologist (not Malcolm Mackerras), who rides a motorbike and has no visible tattoos , emphatically states  that Barnaby Joyce will  win  the New England lower house seat- if  selected.