The Other Side of the Frontier

frontierAnother Australia Day has passed with the clamour growing for a change of date because of its pejorative connections for Indigenous Australians. I’ve written about this in the past. My view is simple: always make Australia Day the fourth Monday of January. It keeps the holiday at the end of summer and it removes the stigma of the connection with the British landing in Sydney in 1788, though it means that Australia Day will still fall on January 26 once every seven years or so.

But the calls to remove the direct link are justified and those that cannot see that, are blind to Australia’s history. History may not be a popular subject in schools, but its resonance affects our lives in many ways and Australia’s continued failure to reach an accord with its Indigenous people remains the nation’s blackest stain.

I thought Australia Day was a good opportunity to revisit Henry Reynolds’ ground-breaking 1981 work The Other Side of the Frontier. The book was the first to systematically explore life on the other side of the frontier after the British arrived in Australia with the intention as Reynolds put it “to turn Australian history, not upside down, but inside out.” A lack of written evidence had always been used never to use this approach to Australian history but Reynolds pored through official documents, first-hand accounts and oral testimony to examine the evidence.

The book is “inescapably political” with profound conclusions still not fully accepted 35 years later. Reynolds destroyed the notion that the Aboriginal people of Australia were passive in the face of the newcomers. It begins with the first contact with white explorers, ghostly figures who came on to country, usually carefully watched as they moved. They were often provided with local guides – as a courtesy, and also to ensure they moved on quickly. Trade routes criss-crossed Australia bringing news as quickly as it brought goods and explorers often found that European artefacts and animals had preceded them into indigenous lands. Knowledge of the mysterious and dangerous power of firearms was particularly quick to cross the continent. The invaders were greeted with a mix of curiosity and fear.

The biggest problem was how to include these newcomers in Indigenous cosmology. Many thought they were the pale ghosts of reincarnated ancestors so they could be absorbed into kinship networks, but the younger ones could see their behaviour made them all too human. Many white communities had their “foundations cemented in blood” as one Victorian protector of Aborigines put it. Violence led to resistance, which began in the early years of Sydney and fanned out through the continent as settlers moved in.  The period of warfare depended on the number of settlers and whether the local geography allowed the native population to hide easily and conduct guerrilla tactics.

Aboriginal people had sophisticated concepts of land ownership with strict laws on trespass, particularly related to sacred sites. Land use was complex with intermingling on territory and temporary hospitality based on the principle the visitors would eventually leave. The settlers, however, had no such intention. They ruthlessly asserted exclusive occupation from day one, occupying the flat, open land and monopolising the water. Private property allowed for no reciprocity. They also desecrated sacred sites and there was further conflict over the lonely white men taking access to Aboriginal women. And when Aboriginal men took revenge, they were denounced and attacked as villainous murderers. Conflict was driven by tension and misunderstanding, European possessive over land, competition for women and contrary concepts of personal property. Group punishment was common as was an ominous settler desire to end conflict “once and for all”.

The end of Aboriginal civilisation was a death by a thousand cuts. Frontier conflict was “ragged, sporadic and uneven”. Indigenous people were courageous in the face of attack but there were only a handful of massed battles. Most large gatherings dispersed by use of armed police or arsenic poisoning such as at Kilcoy. When there was open confrontation such as in central Victoria in the 1840s, Aboriginal shields were useless against 16 armed and mounted whites. By the time the frontier reached Cooktown, the natives were more cautious using the knowledge of their scrubby hinterland to keep the invaders at arm’s length. Native Police (usually with clansmen from other parts of Australia under the direction of a white sergeant) used traditional bushcraft and knowledge of horses and guns to undermine resistance to great effect in Queensland.

With most of their land taken from them and on the verge of destitution, many Indigenous people came into the settlements. There they ended up as cheap or slave labour or beggars living in fringe camps subject to disease, malnutrition, alcoholism and social disintegration. While disease was a major killer, Reynolds calculated the Aboriginal death toll in conflict as 20,000 across the continent. Queensland had the highest death toll as its conquest coincided with developments in weaponry, use of the Native Police and a new colonial leadership that had a vested interest in the development of pastoral property on Aboriginal lands.

Reynolds said the evidence contradicted the widespread view in the early 20th century that Aboriginal society was “pathetically helpless” in the face of the European onslaught. Indigenous people were not passive objects of European charity or brutality. The white explorers depended on them, early settlers feared them and it was only the weight of superior firepower and disease that eventually overcame them across the continent.

Reynolds asks when their dead will be accorded the same respect as the white Australian dead in overseas wars. Australian frontier violence was political violence and cannot be ignored because of its time and distance. It is something – as the Australia Day debate testifies – the nation has yet to come to terms with. “If we are unable to incorporate the black experience into our national heritage,” says Reynolds, “we will stand exposed as a people still emotionally chained to our 19th century British origins, ever the transplanted Europeans.”

A helicopter flight over Mount Isa

Today was the highlight of my three weeks in Mount Isa so far. I was a guest of Nautilus Aviation to try out their new joy helicopter flights. The 20-30 minute flight would take me out to Lake Moondarra – Mount Isa’s water source and then over the town and the mine that dominates it.

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The flight path follows the Leichhardt River, named for German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt. Leichhardt named many rivers as he crossed the Gulf of Carpentaria in his first south-north expedition in 1844-1845 from Sydney to Port Essington. According to explorer tradition he did not name any rivers after himself. However he missed this river which was later named in his honour. The river rises in the Selwyn Ranges south of Isa and meanders north emptying into the Gulf near Burketown.

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About 15km north of Mount Isa is the manmade Lake Moondarra which dams the Leichhardt River. It provides water to the city and the mines. The lake is a beautiful spot with great birdwatching and is home to many water sports and fishing.

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In 1956 the growing Mount Isa Mines was desperate for water to feed its growing copper and lead plants. They selected a dam site and started building but summer floods smashed the uncompleted wall. It was eventually completed in 1958 as was a 10km bitumen road from the city. It was the largest water scheme in Australia financed by private enterprise.  On July 11, 1961 the dam officially became Lake Moondarra.

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Lake Moondarra has a surface area of 23.75 km², a maximum depth of 11m and when full it can store 107,000 megalitres. It’s currently around 65% full after the cyclone that hit the Gulf late last year but has been under 20% full. It has also exceeded capacity on occasion with water spectacularly cascading over the spillway – which fortunately faces away from the city.

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Mount Isa is Kalkadoon country. Kalkadoons lived across this rugged landscape of the Selwyn Ranges for thousands of years. They offered fierce resistance to white settlers until finally defeated by force of numbers and ammunition at Battle Mountain in 1884, The hills of their country are rich in minerals and the first white settlers noticed the telltale specks of green that denoted the presence of copper. Lead is also extensively mined as is silver and zinc.

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The earliest mines in the region were at Cloncurry. But in 1923 John Campbell Miles stumbled across lodes of copper, silver and zinc on a trip to the Northern Territory. Miles named the area Mount Isa in honour of Mount Ida gold mine in WA. A town slowly grew around Mount Isa Mines (MIM) which started by mining lead, and later copper. In MIM’s heyday in the 1960s, it employed up to 5000 workers in its factories and pits which scarred the landscape. Low copper prices almost forced the closure of the copper mine last year but it has had a reprieve to 2022. MIM is now owned by embattled Anglo-Swiss multinational Glencore and it remains the town’s biggest employer.

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The distinctive smoke stacks dominate Mount Isa’s skyline. The lead smelter stack stands 270m tall, built in the 1970s and used to be Australia’s largest manmade structure.

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The city lies on the opposite side of the Leichhardt River to the mine. The population is now around 22,000 which although down on what it was in the 1960s-1970s, is still easily the biggest Queensland city west of Townsville and north of Toowoomba. Mount Isa is the commercial hub of north-west Queensland.

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The Flinders Highway cuts through town and ends at the river junction to the mines. To the east it goes 900km to Townsville, linking with the Landsborough Highway near Cloncurry which goes all the way to Brisbane. The state capital is some 2000km away, a two day drive or a two-and-a-half-hour expensive flight away. Mount Isa is nearer to Darwin than Brisbane, and probably has more in common with the tropical capital than the Queensland capital. North of Mount Isa is the Barkly Highway which links the city with the Northern Territory. On the right of the picture below is the city’s look-out towards the mines and also north (not pictured) to Buchanan Park, home of Australia’s largest rodeo, Mount Isa’s biggest event, which takes place every August.

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David Bowie Was

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Photo of hoarding from David Bowie Is exhibition: Chicago Tribune

It’s almost a week on from David Bowie’s death and I’m still getting over it. In that, I’m no different from millions of fans across the world, all coming to terms with the shock announcement on Monday of his death from cancer, aged 69. I shouldn’t be surprised he died at 69 (another great English creative artist of similar background Alan Rickman passed away at the same age later in the week), but it seemed David Bowie always had an ageless quality about him that seemed to defy the ravages of time.

Despite having cancer for 18 months (a fact miraculously held from the media, increasing the shock of his eventual death), he kept busy to the last. His 25th and final studio album Black Star was released only a couple of days before his death. The title song has got under my skin and I’m playing it on background as I write these words. The Pitchfork review is particularly poignant. “David Bowie has died many deaths yet he is still with us,” it begins, talking about him as a Lazarus (the title of one of the songs on the album) who constantly rises in different guises.

The timing of the album is sure to make it one of his best-ever selling and certainly it’s the most intriguing of his 21st century work, the best since Heathen in 2002. It’s also the only one not to feature a cover photo of Bowie himself. In astronomy a black star is the last phase of the life of a star while it may also refer to a cancer lesionWhatever the meaning, it is a fitting farewell for a great artist.

Bowie was (and still is) my favourite musical artist and has been a part of my life for almost 40 years. In 2012 I used the occasion of Bowie’s 65th birthday to write about how he entered my life, through the musical influence of older cousins. Of course, it is the astonishing body of work from the 1970s that entranced me then and still does to this day. I was less interested in the personae of Ziggy Stardust or the Thin White Duke (and his acting career left me cold) than I was by his wonderful diverse songs with their dense and sometimes incomprehensible lyrics. Though I didn’t understand them, I knew every song he wrote from 1969 to 1983 and they constantly jostled for attention in my head.

Those songs have been amplified since his death and I find myself singing them on repeat, often close to tears, all too aware of my own mortality as well as his. In the days after Bowie’s death, a video was doing the rounds of his 1999 interview with Jeremy Paxman of the BBC, now widely hailed as predicting the impact of the Internet on music. However for me, what was most striking was when Bowie was talking about growing up and how difficult it was to find music to listen to. This seems odd today where the entire discography of the world is barely a click away but it was true for Bowie in the early 1960s and it was true for me growing up a decade and a half later. Bowie was one of those geniuses that changed all that and he adapted to the MTV age with aplomb.

I saw him live twice, and both on the same tour within four days of each other. It was after his best – the 1987 Glass Slipper tour, which critics deride as being over-produced. I was living in England at the time but got tickets to his concert at Slane Castle outside Dublin. I loved that gig and looking back on the set list I can see why. It was full of great songs from the 1970s and 80s. No wonder when I went back to England after the weekend, I jumped at the offer of a ticket to see him again the following day at a wet Maine Road in Manchester. He played exactly the same set as Slane, but I didn’t care. Singing in the rain, Bowie’s magnetic presence lit up the stage like no other.

I’m so glad I saw him live and my one regret is that I didn’t see the David Bowie Is exhibition when it came to Melbourne last year. But unlike the man himself, that can – and probably will – return.

Goodbye Lazarus, the black star man, you were a musical genius that lit up many lives.

Standing tall in the dark

Oh and we were gone.

 

A Yule Tour to Tasmania

1 flight in When looking for something to do over the festive season, the idea of having a Hobart Christmas proved attractive. My only previous visit to Tasmania was over 20 years ago and was a wet and cold week in the middle of winter. I was expecting better things this time round – and apart from a rainy Boxing Day – I was not disappointed. Flying in, I could see the Derwent river valley in all its glory with the majestic Mt Wellington in the background. Just about the only concern was the fact the plane seemed to be landing well  away from Hobart. On a small island it was a surprise to find the airport so far from the city though for just $18 a friendly bus driver took me almost to the front door of my apartment in the hills of West Hobart. 2 con docks Having dropped my bags off and got some vital supplies for the week it was straight into town and down to the docks. Constitution Dock would be the landing place of the Sydney to Hobart race and I hoped to see some of the earliest arrivals before I left a week later. It’s a bustling area full of yachts, fishing boats and pleasure crafts, all glistening in the sunshine. I settled in for a beer and later some fresh fish and chips straight out of one of the crafts in the dock (the serving counter is low in the water and I wonder whether anyone has fallen in while bending over to make the transaction). 3 hunter st

Next to the Docks is imposing Hunter St. Unlike Brisbane which has ruthlessly razed its past, Hobart is full of streets that still speak to older times. At the turn of the 20th century, Hunter St would have been bristling with factories, pubs, chandlers, offices and warehouses. There was also the jam factory, home of Henry Jones and Co IXL makers of fine jams and conserves, established in 1891. The IXL brand – “I excel in everything I do” was Henry Jones’s personal motto. 4 salamanca place Salamanca Place is at the other end of Sullivans Cove from Constitution Dock, nestled in behind Battery Point. But it too was the home of wharfside warehouses and it too has escaped the ravages of time. It was named after the Duke of Wellington’s victory in the 1812 Iberian campaign in the Battle of Salamanca. Salamanca boomed during the whaling days of the early 1800s and many laneways were built to cope with the milling crowds. Every Saturday the Place become alive with a market. The Saturday I was there was Boxing Day and non-stop rain kept me away. 5 museum Tasmania has a sea-faring culture a lot older than 200 years. At the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery near the docks, the restored ningina tunapri Tasmanian Aboriginal gallery is a rich, enlightening and inspiring experience. Ningina tunapri means “to give knowledge and understanding”. The exhibition explores the journey of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and is a celebration of all Tasmanian Aboriginal generations. The centrepiece is a reconstructed canoe which would have been used to cross the D’Entrecasteaux Passage for generations. 6 walk The highlight of the second day was a 12.5km walk to the suburb of Berriedale, home of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). MONA didn’t exist when I was last in Hobart so I was excited about the visit, though determined to take my time about it. You can get to MONA by a superfast ferry from the centre of town taking just half an hour up the Derwent (indeed this was the pleasurable way I got back) but with plenty of time on a beautiful Christmas Eve I was in the mood for a two hour walk. The walk has great views of the Derwent estuary for for first half (with its two majestic bridges) before following the old railway line a little inland through the suburbs of Moonah and Glenorchy. 7 mona Finally the impressive property which holds MONA comes into view. MONA is the brainchild of wealthy gambler David Walsh. MONA was opened in 2011 in the middle of winery. Walsh has said it’s not altruistic or his attempt at immortality but a “theatre of curious enchantments”. Certainly there is plenty for the eyes to feast on in a deceptively large building over several floors..8 gilbert and george The highlight of my visit to MONA was the art exhibition of Gilbert and George. I didn’t know a great deal about these distinctively well dressed British artists and I had assumed they were stuffy upper-class toffs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They certainly enjoy putting themselves in their work but their themes are political, sexual and confronting. I loved their canvasses based on media headlines and their bright colours were also enchanting. 9 walk to mountain

Speaking of enchanting that’s a great description for kunanyi Mt Wellington, standing 1627m high 15km west of the city. Having walked 12.5km on Christmas Eve, I was in the mood for an even bigger walk on Christmas Day, though I didn’t take into account Hobart’s incredible weather. It was 30 degrees. possibly the hottest Christmas day ever. I was well stocked with water as I started along the Hobart Rivulet path but my hopes of getting to the summit in three hours proved hopelessly optimistic. I’d heard someone did walk to the summit that day – but took five and a half hours. I turned back after two hard hours and I was nowhere near the summit climb.10 cascades But the day provided one outstanding sight. Struggling in the 30 degree heat, I was still awestruck by the beauty of the Cascades Brewery with the mountain in the background. The Cascades estate was originally a saw mill beginning operation in 1825 and the brewery started six years later taking advantage of the clean water of the Hobart Rivulet. It remains the oldest continuing operating brewery in Australia with tours – though not surprisingly was closed on Christmas Day when only mad dogs and Irishmen were out in the noon day sun.11 kettering I tried to book myself onto a Bruny Island tour before Christmas but they were all booked out. I knew the Boxing Day weather forecast was dismal so I booked myself in for the day on Sunday, December 27. First stop is Kettering, 30km south of Hobart, where the ferry leaves for Bruny. Traffic was heavy for the ferry and we had a chance to hop off the bus and explore this pretty port.12 adventure bay

After the ferry ride (which takes only 15 minutes across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel) there is a 40 minute drive along narrow and winding roads to Bruny’s settlement: Adventure Bay. A small beach is mostly deserted but there is a cafe for morning tea (and lunch later) nestled next to Captain Bligh Creek. Bligh and Cook had both anchored here on their voyages to Tasmania.13 iron pots Then it’s on for a three hour roller-coaster ride down Bruny Island’s eastern seaboard. I was with Pennicott’s yellow boat tours. The boats hold 45-50 people and I was told that if you want a smooth ride you go to the back of the boat. I sat right at the front and experienced the belly flop of every breaker. But it was fabulous with magnificent sea stacks, rock formations and blow holes wherever you looked.14 seals Finally at the bottom of Bruny Island was what we all came to see Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, the Australian fur seal. Seals! The highlight of the day (though the albatrosses gliding in the breeze were special too). There were hundreds of them sunning on the rocks. The Australian fur seal can be seen around the islands of Bass Strait, parts of Tasmania and southern Victoria and occasionally drift up to the islands of NSW and South Australia. There is a huge colony of a thousand seals who live in the rocky outcrops and craggy islands off the southern end of Bruny. The seals are agile swimmers who can dive up to 200m to catch bony fish, squid and octopus. Despite a cumbersome appearance they showed they could be mobile out of water on on rocky terrain using all four limbs to get around (that, their external ears and two layers of fur differentiate them from true seals). Fully protected now, their numbers are rising after being hunted to near extinction in the 19th century for their coat.16 top of mt w Monday was my last full day in Hobart and with the help of friends with a car I finally got to the top of Mt Wellington. The view was amazing in every direction. I saw most of where I went the day before to Bruny and out east towards the Tasman Peninsula. I couldn’t see the Sydney to Hobart fleet who were just a bit too slow for me and I missed them by one day. It can get cool up at the top. On rainy Boxing Day when it was 13 in the city it was minus six up on kunanyi. A bit warmer today.17 taste Down at the bottom of the mountain it was time to indulge in some taste of Tasmania. On my last day it was a good excuse to relax with friends and enjoy the Taste of Tasmania festival on the dockside. On now for over 20 years to coincide with the Sydney to Hobart, the Taste of Tasmania closes off the roads and brings Hobart’s gorgeous waterfront alive with great smells, sights, sounds and of course, tastes in abundance. Entry was free and once inside you spoiled for choice of great Tasmanian food and drink. There was seafood, great cheeses, berries, boutique beers and ciders but I plumped for a cool fruity Tasmanian chardonnay which slid wonderfully down the throat. It was a great island at its best. Tasmania, I’ll be back. 15 lous One final photo and proof that although the word is recent, the concept of a selfie is nothing new. Louis Bernacchi was the first Australian to spend a winter in Antarctica. Bernacchi was born in Belgium but grew up in Hobart. At the turn of the 20th century he joined the London Southern Cross expedition to the Antartic and wrote a book about it called “To the South Polar Regions”. Family responsibilities later saved his life when they forced him to turn down a spot on Scott’s ill-fated expedition. But he kept a lifelong interest in polar matters. The dockside monument commemorates a photo he took of himself and his dog Joe in the Antarctic. Just one of the many reasons to spend time by the water in lovely Hobart.

Media person of the year 2015: Clementine Ford

clem fordWoolly Day’s 2015 media person of the year is Australian writer Clementine Ford. Ford is an experienced columnist who has written about identity politics and feminist issues for many years at Fairfax, Murdoch and elsewhere. However this year she has gained wide attention for her uncompromising stance in publicly outing misogynist behaviour, bravery attracting praise and hatred in almost equal measure. The title of her forthcoming book Fight Like A Girl speaks to her battling qualities and an entry in her companion blog, describes why many men are so intimidated by Ford’s actions. “Women can’t go around pointing out sexism and RUINING SEXIST MEN’S LIVES with it,” she wrote.

Some makers of sexist remarks have lost their jobs after Ford called out their behaviour. Ford has also done a superb job calling out institutional sexism in the media, often to withering effect making many enemies. How she has dealt with them has made her an inspirational figure in the fight for women’s equality in public and private life.

Clementine Ford has long been a forthright media defender of women’s rights in Australia, never afraid to back it up with the honesty of her own experience. When almost 10 years ago, Tony Abbott pushed an anti-abortion pregnancy hotline as Health Minister in the Howard administration, Ford attracted condemnation and praise for her revelation that she had undergone two abortions without shame. Her only feeling was one of “intense relief”.

In 2013 Ford told her story to Mamamia as a “lifetime struggle to accept her body.” She said her body had endured 18 years of “punishing self-hatred.” Ford identified her struggle as dysmorphia. “Society drowns women in an ocean of narcissistic self-loathing, until eventually the only thing they can see is themselves and how incomplete they are, and they’re oblivious to the thousands of other bodies being sucked under the waves around them,” she said.

Ford’s solution was to articulate the problems her female body posed, in a way that was eloquent, honest, political, and fiercely critical of cant. As her media profile grew, so did the critics. In 2014, right-wing Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair included Ford alongside Marieke Hardy, Catherine Deveny, Vanessa Badham, Margo Kingston and others in his poll to find “Australia’s craziest left-wing frightbat”. “Frightbat” was Blair’s own invention and these were the women, he said, “whose psychosocial behavioural disorders are becoming ever more dramatic following Tony Abbott’s election.” Instead of being outraged Ford took the challenge head on, pleading with people to vote for her. In the end she attracted 5438 votes narrowly losing out the “frightbat” title to Badham by six votes.

Despite the humour, Ford, Badham and the others were all too aware of the institutional sexism that dominates Australia’s public life, especially in the media. Sydney shock jock Alan Jones spoke of how women were “destroying the joint” while Kerry-Anne Walsh’s book The Stalking of Julia Gillard was a forensic examination about the media’s merciless role in the downfall of Australia’s first female prime minister. Yet the “frightbat” and the “destroying the joint” campaigns also showed how feminists were using the language of their enemies to win their battles. Ford in particular fought hard against the practice of victim blaming, the archetype of the woman who invites rape by dressing too sexily.

In June 2015 Ford entered the limelight over a stand against a now deleted Channel Seven Facebook post. Seven were talking about an American revenge porn website which had posted illegally obtained naked photos of 400 South Australian women. However instead of attacking the website for its behaviour, Channel Seven blamed the women. “What’s it going to take for women to get the message about taking and sending nude photos?” they posted. A furious Ford saw this as making it the responsibility of women to stop others from exploiting them. She posted a nude photo of herself on her public Facebook profile. The photo showed text on her chest that read “Hey #Sunrise, get fucked”. Her reasons were twofold. “I wanted to oppose the message of victim blaming that forms so much of our social narratives about crimes against women’s bodies,” she said. “But secondly, I wanted to show solidarity to every woman who has been made to feel afraid or ashamed for engaging in a form of intimacy that should be bound by trust and respect but instead was marked by betrayal.”

The photo went viral. It was shared 45,000 times and liked by over 200,000 people. It also attracted thousands of comments, many supportive but many others rude and misogynistic. She shared screen grabs of some of the viler private messages she’d received which included requests for nude photos, explicit photographs of naked men, and many insults. Facebook banned Ford from accessing her account for 30 days because her messages violated their community standards. Ford launched a community protest and the ban was rescinded. “No one should be punished for speaking out against abuse, especially not the kind of cowardly abuse sent under the banner of ‘private correspondence’,” she said. “Private correspondence is a conversation mutually entered into by more than one party and defined by respect and sometimes discretion. It is not someone sending you unsolicited emails calling you a filthy whore.”

In August, Ford drew fire again from the Murdoch Empire. This time it was page one criticism in The Australian from Sherri Markson. Markson complained that a “foul” Ford freely used profanities in her Twitter stream but celebrated Mark Latham’s sacking as a Fairfax columnist over his misogynistic comments. Markson also noted Ford had attacked The Australian’s columnists Rita Panahi and Miranda Devine. Markson sought comment from Ford’s employers Fairfax, who declined to say if she had breached their social media policy. The coded message was News Ltd was watching what Ford was saying and if she does slip up she could lose her job. Mike Carlton (sacked by Fairfax after News called out offending comments he made on Twitter) said it was part of a News Corp campaign to shut down dissenting views and journalists should not have a responsibility to act with professional objectivity on Twitter.

If it was a warning to Ford, she ignored it. In November she launched a stinging attack on the hypocrisy of White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. While Ford applauded how the day brought better dialogue around the impacts of men’s violence, she said not enough people called out the links between violence and casual misogyny. Ford castigated the campaign as a way “of reassuring every man listening that this isn’t really about him and therefore he doesn’t really have to do anything about it.”

Once again her post attracted the ire and abuse of many men. As she did after the Sunrise affair, Ford shamed her sexual harassers by screenshotting messages of abuse, unsolicited dickpics and requests for nude photos, and then publishing them. When one abuser lost his job over it, the vitriol against Ford increased but so did her support. Fellow “frightbat” Badham said the man deserved it. “The belittling and bullying, threats and harassment, cyberstalking and outright hate speech directed to women on the internet every day is real-world behaviour with real-world consequence and it should oblige real-world punishments,” Badham said.

The chatter around Ford hit her US namesake, the actress Clementine Ford who had received some of the abuse intended for the Australian.  The American Ford reached across the Pacific in support. “I have the pleasure of sharing a name with a strong brave journalist who pissed of (sic) some mysognists,” she tweeted. When the Australian Ford apologised to her for being caught in the crossfire, the American told her not to be sorry. “Fuck them,” she responded, “I’m proud to be mistaken for you.”

By the end of the year Ford was a major figure in the world of feminism and not to be messed with easily. It was probably not the right time for independent left-wing publication New Matilda to get its hands dirty publishing a piece by a naive young man critical of Ford’s methods. Jack Kilbride defended Ford as “courageous” but said her strategy of outing sexist offenders may be doing more harm than good. When that post was attacked as risible, New Matilda editor Chris Graham (who has many runs on the board for attacking racism) openly admitted it was a test in the interest of seeing “how much abuse he (Kilbride) cops”.

Graham found out Ford’s supporters did not enjoy being trolled in the name of a subscriptions drive. Her support is massive because her readers respond to her unflinching honesty and bravery under massive provocation. For all of these reasons Ford is a deserving winner of my media person of the year. I have given this award since 2009 and Ford would not be impressed – though not surprised – to find she is my first female winner, which says more about my male-dominated media interests than the work of outstanding women in the field. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya would have won in 2006, the year of her assassination, had I done it then. Of those who have won it, three were fighting the Murdoch Empire (two with the Guardian, and one a judge), two (Assange and Snowden) were fighting for freedom of information (and are still in legal limbo) and last year’s winners the Al Jazeera journalists Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed – all jailed on trumped up charges when doing their job – were the good news story of 2015 when Egypt finally released them without charges.

My first award in 2009 went to ABC managing director Mark Scott for his defence of strong public broadcasting and it is fitting that as he stands down this year, Michelle Guthrie becomes the first woman to head the organisation. Depending on how she tackles her job, she will be one of main candidates for my award next year. In the meantime, happy new year and congratulations to Clementine Ford.

Woolly Days media person of the year

2009: Mark Scott

2010: Julian Assange

2011: Alan Rusbridger and Nick Davies

2012: Brian Leveson

2013: Edward Snowden

2014: Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. 

2015: Clementine Ford

The history of oil: Past, present and future

oil wellOf all the oligopolies that controlled the oil price, the reign of OPEC was the shortest and most anarchic. At peak production OPEC controlled over half the market but by 1975 it was a shrinking market with a surplus of world oil. Only predictions of coming shortages stopped a total price collapse and there was a small but growing spot market where buyers would pay over the OPEC odds to guarantee supply.  Every time the spot market went up, hawkish producers like Iran, Iraq and Libya demanded OPEC hike up its prices. A second oil shock was coming.

The catalyst was the 1978 revolt against the Iranian Shah. Pahlavi’s brutal regime imposed martial law against protesters but that only brought 17 million people out on the street. The dying Shah was convinced his time was up and he left the country in January 1979, sending the oil world into panic over the future of the world’s fourth largest producer. The Three Mile Island nuclear disaster of that year also helped inflate oil prices as Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime inspired Islamic radicals everywhere.

World tensions climaxed with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of 1979 causing the US president to issue the Carter Doctrine: “Any attempt by outside forces to gain control of the Persian Gulf would be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the US”. The US would use military force to defend those interests. Yet Carter was powerless to end the US embassy siege in Tehran as scientists predicted peak oil was coming.

Not for the first or last time, they were wrong. In 1980 world demand dropped abruptly as oil finally proved to be price sensitive. The previous high prices had enabled profitable investment in otherwise hard to reach areas such as the North Sea and Alaska while the USSR also upped its production to become the largest in the world. Saudi Arabia decided to become a swing producer as OPEC slashed production to keep its prices high but Iran, engulfed in war with Iraq, refused to throttle its output. The first West Texas Intermediate oil future market at New York’s Nymex, launched in 1983, served as an objective frame of reference for all oil pricing and unchained from distortive psychology, spot transactions drove prices down.

By 1986 a tidal wave of oil hit the market causing prices to collapse. Free market economics had far-reaching effects on the seven sisters. Thatcher’s public floating of BP saw the Kuwaiti Investment Office buy one fifth of the company while Gulf was taken over by Chevron. Oil became just another commodity, subject to the vagaries of world demand and the iron laws of economics. Saddam Hussein further destroyed OPEC’s credibility with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. After defeat by a US-led coalition in 1991 , Iraq’s production went down to one fifth of its pre-war total until Saddam finally accepted a UN Oil for Food program.

Even the end of the Soviet Union had no effect on oil prices as demand stayed sluggish. It took renewed discipline by OPEC at the end of the 20th century to stabilise supply and finally increase prices. The problems of the Middle East were brought home to Americans with the 9/11 attacks and the failures of the Israel-Palestine peace process. The hawkish Bush administration used 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq, though it made the politics of the region – and oil supply – more unpredictable. With no new exploration finds, the price soared after 2003. Once again the prophets of doom spoke of the end of the oil era. Once again they were wrong. Russia and Venezuela stepped up production to meet increased demand.

Outside the Gulf, the story of the 21st century has been the growth of third world consumption, led by China. The price which stayed below $25 a barrel from the 1980s to 2003, began to skyrocket reaching $147 in 2008, with record profits for the oil majors. It took a decision by President Bush to lift the ban on oil drilling to end the rises and the GFC that struck later that year sent prices plummeting again. It rose steadily again as the Arab Spring affected output in the Middle East and a faltering US economy kept the dollar low.

By 2015, the barrel price was one third what it was in 2008 and by the end of the year had slipped from $50 to $38. The low price has acted as a dampener on exploration of shale oil and gas but predictions of peak oil seem as far fetched as ever they were in the last 50 years. The concept of peak oil is based on the scientific model of Marion King Hubbert dating from 1956 (and not invented by the “green left” as ludicrously claimed in today’s Australian by Judith Sloan) from his observations of the production bell curve of known oil provinces. Hubbert correctly predicted peak oil in US fields (which were the most well-researched) around 1970.

Recoverable oil supplies are finite and demand is high. However Hubbert’s models don’t take into account scientific innovations such as fracking, limited knowledge of geology and hydrocarbon exploration or political motivations. When Hubbert tried to apply his model to world supply he predicted peak in the mid 1980s with a massive drop off by the end of the century. Of course that proved hopelessly wrong with over twice as much oil drilled in 2000 as Hubbert predicted. The International Energy Agency says production has ratcheted up from 75 mbd (million barrels a day) then to 97 mbd by end 2015 and a forecast average demand of 96 mbd next year. Indeed Hubbert failed to foresee that the US itself would contribute most of the increases through its shale oil supply which came online in 2008.

Certainly continued low prices will act as a dampener on investment in new oil and LNG fields and the world climate agreement will further reduce incentives. But long term the iron laws of supply and demand will govern the price of crude and China will continue to drive demand. Sometime in the next 10 to 20 years solar and wind power will become cheaper alternatives but until that time oil will remain the black gold driving the world’s ongoing obsession with energy as it has done for the last 150 years.

The history of oil: From Seven Sisters to OPEC: 1946-1974

Mr Robert Garrott, cashier at Hopfields Service station on the O
Petrol shortages were common in the 1973 oil shock.

America’s growing involvement in Middle East affairs after the Second World War came to a head with the establishment of Israel in 1948, much to the distaste of the US’s new oil partners Saudi Arabia. President Harry Truman fought against his own administration and the oil companies to recognise the new country as American policy in the region would remain mired in contradiction for decades to come. Meanwhile the British overthrow of Reza Shah in Iran (as Persia renamed itself 1935), set in motion more nationalism and hatred of BP’s dominance of their economy and their refusal to accept the “fifty fifty” arrangements of other world oil producers.

Veteran politician Mohammed Mossadegh led the opposition to foreign manoeuvring and in 1951 the Iranian parliament approved his proposal to nationalise BP’s assets. Labour prime minister Clement Attlee labelled the Iranians “thieves” and “paranoics” though they were doing exactly what Attlee was doing in Britain: nationalising major institutions. Britain led a world oil blockade of Iran which lurched towards economic collapse. Britain’s position hardened further when Churchill was returned as prime minister in 1951. His hopes of a coup d’etat were raised after Eisenhower won the US presidential election a year later and Iran began to be seen as a potential Soviet pawn, threatening the oil reserves of the entire Persian Gulf. The successful coup was engineered in 1953 but Britain did not get the result it wanted. An international consortium replaced BP’s monopoly with British and American interests getting 40% each. The oil companies would be at the forefront of American foreign policy and strategic objectives.

The time between the Marshall Plan of 1948 and the first oil shock of 1973 was the golden age of oil, with world consumption growing sixfold and the number of cars growing fivefold. Europe and Japan led the way with car production, while aeroplanes became mass transportation. Petrochemical plants also had an inexhaustible demand for oil to make plastics and the Gulf countries rose to the challenge. The combined production of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq and the Emirates went from 1.7 mbd in 1950 to 13.3 mdb in 1970, skyrocketing to 20.5 mbd by 1973. Cheap oil underpinned the postwar economic miracle, with Europe able to tap into growing Soviet reserves, whenever the seven sisters became too demanding.

Other countries too began to looking at how they could best utilise their oil. In September 1960 ministers from Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait met in Baghdad to form the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. OPEC would be an instrument for collective bargaining and self-defence. Change was coming, presaged by an Iraqi coup in 1958 that swept away the pro-British administration. In 1961 Iraq nationalised its oil industry as it looked to the appealing pan-Arab vision of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. The days of “fifty fifty” were numbered.

Nasser’s approach was to use oil as a weapon to end western domination. In his Philosophy of a Revolution Nasser called oil one of the three fundamental pillars of Arab power (unity and socialism were the other two). From 1955 a series of Arab nationalist strikes hit oilfields across the region and the fearful Americans decided not to finance Nasser’s Aswan Dam. In retaliation Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, which provided half of Europe’s oil needs (1.3 million barrels of oil a day) and a lucrative income to its owners Britain and France.

Britain and France worked out a secret plan to reclaim the canal, with Israel set to gain the Sinai Peninsula. The plan fell apart when the US refused to support it and the USSR threatened to intervene. It was Nasser’s biggest triumph and it was followed by more ructions in the short-lived merger with Syria and the more profound rise of the Baathists in Iraq. Even Saudi king Faud was forced to consider an alliance with the seemingly unstoppable Nasser, despite Egyptian propaganda portraying the Saudis as corrupt servants of the Americans.  An alarmed Washington began to look at ways to reduce its dependence on Arab oil but they were helped by Nasser’s overreach in a long and bloody war in Yemen and a surprise attack by Israel in 1967 which routed Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces and set today’s Middle Eastern borders.

In response, Arab oil producers placed a total embargo on the US, Europe and Japan. Despite supplying 80% of Europe and Japan’s oil, the embargo was unsuccessful. The US ramped up domestic production to meet the shortfall as did Iran and Venezuela and the embargo ended in a damp squib after a couple of months. Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970 and his pan-Arab mantle passed to new Libyan dictator Muhammad al-Qaddafi. Qaddafi immediately overturned the “fifty fifty” formula to a new 55-45 arrangement in favour of Libya and a 30% increase in its posted price for oil. It set the scene for a world oil shock in 1971.

Decades of overproduction and low prices came to a shattering end amid a perfect storm of adverse circumstances. The world was now totally reliant on Middle East oil with the US at full capacity by 1971 (effectively ending the Texas Railroad Commission’s role as swing producer). At the same time, the Nixon administration unlinked the dollar from the gold standard to devalue the currency while trying to introduce price controls to tame inflation caused by trying to finance the Vietnam war without raising taxes. The artificially low oil price discouraged any further investment.

A freezing cold 1969-1970 US winter brought about energy shortages while other countries such as Iran and Algeria began to emulate Libya’s new oil pricing arrangements. Despite rising prices western demand went from 46 mbd in 1970 to 58 mpd in 1973. The final straw was Nasser’s successor in Egypt Anwar el-Sadat who received Saudi blessing for his 1973 attack on Israel, backed with a huge OPEC price rise from $2.90 to $5.11 a barrel, with production cuts for each month Israel failed to withdraw from its 1967 territories. While the Saudi embargo was a failure and the Israelis won the Yom Kippur war, the perception of a crisis sent prices wild, almost ten times the price of 1970. By June 1974 Saudi Arabia was in a position to acquire 60 percent of Armaco as the era of the Seven Sisters came to an end. But the fundamental oligopolistic command of the oil market remained unchanged. The power the Seven Sisters inherited from John D. Rockefeller was now in the hands of OPEC.