Julia Creek Dirt N Dust Festival

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Julia Creek is a small town of about 300 people situated 650km inland from Townsville. It’s normally a fairly quiet place except for one weekend in April when it swells to ten times its population for the Dirt N Dust Festival.

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Dirt N Dust Festival is centred around one of the toughest triathlons in Australia and also has a music festival, a rodeo and races that brings people from all corners to pack the town. The festival started in the 1990s as locals looked for ways to put the town on the map. The triathlon began with a handful of competitors but gained traction when organisers hit on the idea of coming it with the other events on the same weekend. It’s now one of the highest funded Tourism Queensland projects outside Brisbane.

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The fun started on Friday afternoon with some celebrity bog snorkeling. Bog snorkeling is an ancient Irish dark art, inexplicably omitted from the annals of Ulster and other early chronicles. The Dirt N Dust version brought together Cairns Ironman champion Liz Blatchford (who was favourite to win the women’s tri) and Andrew “Reidy” Reid, apparently a star of Bondi Rescue, for those that know their TV. I hadn’t heard of either but they were both lovely people and up for a laugh.

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Also on Friday afternoon, the kids did their mini-triathlon which was still tough in plus 35 degree heat.

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On Saturday morning the big event started. The swim leg and start of the bike leg were 30km out of town so all 250 plus bikes had to be put on cattle trucks to take to the transition area.

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They came from everywhere to compete in Dirt N Dust including this trio from Canada.

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Pictured is Amanda Gowing, last year’s female winner, at Eastern Creek. Swimmers have to do 800m in the syrupy creek with visibility down to 30cm. The guy in the canoe, Steve Carson, is the guide for Tristan Bowen, a blind 16-year-old (not pictured) from Mount Isa who is doing his first Dirt N Dust.dnd92.jpg

This is Liz Blatchford showing why she was the favourite, well clear of the pack in the 25km bike leg. She even managed a smile despite battling head winds all the way back to Julia Creek. Only three men crossed the finish line ahead of her.

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This is eventual men’s winner Connor McKay, 18, of Townsville on the run leg of 5km which does three circuits of Julia Creek’s main street. He did the combined event in a time of 1hr 9mins and 1sec.

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Steve Carson leads blind Tristan Bowen on a tandem in the bike leg.

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Steve and Tristan also did the run leg tied together by a rope. But Steve let Tristan free to cross the finish line by himself in a time of 2:36:57.

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Two of the oldest competitors compare notes at the end of the race. Dale Rackham who competed in the 70-74 age group and the oldest competitor Fred Schneider aged 80.

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Afterwards everyone frocked up for a day at the races. With everyone still on a high from the tri, the party really started there and moved on to the bullride that night in the centre of town.IMG_3419.JPG

Sadly for me I had to drive back to Mount Isa on Saturday afternoon so couldn’t kick on with the party. But Dirt N Dust was great fun and I’ll be back.

Pomona’s King of the Mountain race

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Cooroora Mountain, Pomona.

In Roman mythology Pomona was goddess of fruit and nut trees and was associated with abundance. In Queensland geography, Pomona is a small town 150km north of Brisbane. It takes its name from the principal island of the Scottish Orkneys and also shares its name with a small suburb of Los Angeles where Hollywood producers used to trial new films. The theory was if the film flopped in Pomona, it would flop nationally. Thus California’s Pomona was the testing ground for Middle America.

Queensland’s Pomona also has a connection with the movies. It is home to the Majestic Theatre, possibly the world’s only silent movie theatre. Every Thursday night for 30 years, now-retired proprietor Ron West provided an organ accompaniment to Rudolf Valentino’s The Sheik.

The Majestic is one of two things Pomona is famous for. The other is the King of the Mountain race which happens every year on the fourth Sunday in July. It began in 1959 as a pub bet as to whether it could be done in under an hour and although the length of the run is barely 4km, what makes it unique is the course goes up the 400 metre precipice of nearby Mount Cooroora. Cooroora is an extinct volcanic plug that overlooks the town and dominates the local landscape.

I’ve  done the King of the Mountain race once. That was in 2001 and it was a horrible mistake, though it worked out well in the end. I was familiar with the region especially nearby Kin Kin where some close friends live. As a runner, I was often encouraged to take part in KOTM but had never agreed. Then one foolish night in the Kin Kin Country Life Hotel after one or two too many schooners of VB, I finally said yes and entered the race that year. Before I could sober up and retract, the entry forms were thrust in front of my face and I had to hand over the $65 entry fee. The steep cost of entry alone should have been a warning. This was well in excess of normal “fun run” prices. In fact it is deliberately priced to scare away the occasional runner.

I had only four weeks to prepare. I was reasonably fit having done many a 5 or 10 kilometre race but had no practice running up hills. Living in Brisbane I didn’t have easy access to Pomona’s mountain so my training regime involved running up the side of the small but steep hill on Ivory Street next to the Medina Hotel at the Story Bridge. I started with five circuits and by the time my training was finished I was up to 15 circuits of the hill.

I went up to Kin Kin on the Friday night of race weekend. As I drove through Pomona, the bunting was up and the grassy square of Stan Topper Park was transformed into a fairground. It was too dark to see the mountain looming ominously above. My stomach churned and I quickly put the town behind me. I met my Kin Kin friends and we made a bee-line to the Country Life Hotel. Most conversation that night was about the race and how I was going to do. Some had unreasonable expectations of my winning; I was more concerned about finishing and if possible avoid finishing last. The party moved on from the pub to someone’s house in nearby bushland. In the spirit of Pomona, the goddess of abundance, I got very drunk as well as consuming a large amount of herbal jolliness. This was later to become a worry when someone asked the throwaway question “was there drug testing in the race?”

I was genuinely concerned even if I could only be accused of having taken performance distracting drugs. The other question I was asked was equally important: “have you been to the top of the mountain yet?” I had to admit that no, I hadn’t. I immediately decided a Saturday morning recce was in order. I found a moment of brief sense enough to call a halt to proceedings and cleared my head with a 1 kilometre walk back to where I was staying.

On Saturday morning I drove down to Pomona after breakfast. The festival was hotting up, there were lots of visitors milling around and I could hear people directing events with megaphones. I ignored all this and drove to the start of the walking path that led to the mountain. I parked the car and walked about 800 metres to the base of the mountain. I seemed to be going down as much as up in the early stages. This would be an uphill climb on the way back tomorrow and I would need to make sure I had some energy left for this exertion. Then I got to the mountain. It looked more like a cliff and almost immediately it got difficult. There were concrete steps drilled into the rocks as well as a chain. Then the steps disappeared and then the chain disappeared too. I was scrabbling up bare rocks. Half way up I had to stop. I was sweating profusely and dog-tired. I scrambled up another 100 metres but my legs were turning to jelly. I had to stop again. At last, the chain reappeared to help me climb these monstrous rocks. After several more fitful efforts, I finally got to the top. I felt a mixture of elation and utter fear for the day after.

The view was extraordinary up here, south towards Eumundi, east towards Noosa and the long beach on the North Shore, north towards Gympie and west into the rugged endless interior. But what effort it took me to get there. I was spooked. Tomorrow was going to be a very long day. After a lengthy rest, I was finally ready for the descent. This was difficult in its own way. Gravity was working against me, and determined to get me down faster than I wanted. I gingerly inched my way down and was deeply glad to be on “terra firmer” at the base of the mountain. I was not surprised I didn’t see a single soul going up or down. No-one in their right mind would attempt this willingly. On the bright side, a check of the watch showed me that like the pub bet, I could do the run in under an hour.

The rest of the day passed without incident. Unlike the previous night’s shenanigans, I kept a low profile on the Saturday night and went to bed relatively early. I didn’t have a great night’s sleep, the memories of the climb up that dreaded hill kept coming back to haunt me.

Sunday arrived and I was a bundle of nerves. I pushed and prodded at my breakfast plate without making an impression. The race time was 3pm but entrants had to be there at 2pm to register. A friend gave me a lift to Pomona after midday and I left the property to cheers of good luck. The rest of the crew would come down later to watch the race. I was dropped off in a town which suddenly had ten times its usual population of a thousand people. The central streets were roped off. The fun run, the real fun run, had already taken place and it was sensible enough to skirt but not actually tackle the mountain. I registered and found out there was only 60 entrants. I got a sheet which told me the terrifying 439 metre height of the mountain. The start and finish were at Stan Topper Park and the run to and from the mountain would take a different route to the one I took yesterday. At least there was no drug testing.

Butterflies increased as the start time approached. Kids played in the bouncy castles and took donkey rides without concern. The racers gathered around the start point and then came an unexpected and unwelcome development. Each racer was introduced by name and had to run a little catwalk of 20 metres or so while the announcer introduced them. Thus I found out the calibre of my competitors. “Here’s (name forgotten), a New Zealand commonwealth games hopeful”…”here’s (name equally forgotten), a Champion British fell runner” “here’s (name etc) an Australian under 17s 5000 metres record holder” and then near the end “here’s Derek Barry, er, we don’t know a lot about Derek…he could be a dark horse.”

Loud applause rang in my ears but I wanted the ground to rise up and swallow me. As I warmed up, I saw another “dark horse” that looked equally out of his class. This was a guy dressed up in a half-cat half-kangaroo costume who was introduced to the crowd as “Feral Foulpuss”. He may have looked silly but he had done the run before. I asked him how he got to the top of the mountain in that gear. He said a mate at the edge of town minded the costume while he does the climb in more traditional running attire.

Finally the starter’s gun rang and we were off. For the first time in 48 hours I relaxed and concentrated on my running. To my surprise I was well able to handle the early pace and was tucked in halfway up the field. We left the town behind and cheers gradually died out as we moved into the forest. It was still noisy as an overhead helicopter circled the route and marshals barked instructions into walkie-talkies. We got to the start of the mountain and to my pleasant surprise no-one was running. Some were walking, some were scrabbling but everyone was taking this lump of rock seriously. Around the same point as I had my crisis yesterday I needed to take a break again. I kept going until about 150 metres short of the summit, I had a severe breakdown. I stopped for at least a minute and saw most of the field hurtle past me. As I started up again, I had to stop and admire the leaders going past me on their descent, graceful as gazelles, sure-footedly picking their path and defying gravity with death-defying leaps down the treacherous rocks. I made it to the top and allowed a moment’s elation grip me. No time to admire the view today, it was a quick turnaround for the descent.

It was on the way down where the veterans made up the time. While us newbies carefully picked a path down they seemed to know exactly where to land on each step and most bounded past me. By the time I got back to the bottom, I was alone. But I was not last. As I shepherded my resources for the last kilometre run, I could hear the heavy breathing behind me. That person had a tail! It was Feral Foulpuss. I was determined not to be beaten by a stock cartoon character that was half mammal, half marsupial and totally ridiculous. I redoubled my efforts but could feel he was making ground. But then he had to stop and put on the rest of his costume and I knew I had him beaten. I came out of the forest and into the crowded town. I was cheered by name by people I did not know “Well done Derek,  not long to go”. And sure enough I turned into the straight and saw the clock over the finish line. It was ticking towards 40 minutes. I found some unknown reserve of energy to sprint across the line in 39 minutes and 40 seconds to great applause amid the promptings of a frenzied MC.

A friend immediately thrust a can of VB into my hand. I turned and saw Feral in all his glory hopping over the finish line. He wasn’t last either. There were another 10 or 11 stragglers. The last (and oldest) competitor crossed the line in 55 minutes. I found out that the winner, a New Zealander winning for the fourth time, had clocked a sensational time of around 24 minutes. The effect of my achievement and that single beer sent me spiralling into la-la-land. After a quick change and a medal ceremony I wandered into the packed Pomona pub where I wore my ceremonial t-shirt and my finisher’s medal with great pride. It was one of the best feelings of my life. I told anyone willing to listen I would be back next year. I wasn’t and still haven’t been back. But some day I will return to Stan Topper Park on the fourth Sunday of July and celebrate the monarchs of the mountain with the goddess of fruit and nuts in the town of the oldest silent cinema in the world.

This story was originally posted on the old Woolly Days blog in 2006.

A trip to John Flynn Place, Cloncurry

curry1Cloncurry is my newspaper’s catchment, about 120km east of Mount Isa on the Barkly Hwy. I’ve driven there a few times and that drive through the Selwyn Ranges is one of the most beautiful and rugged I’ve seen anywhere in Australia. On Friday I was invited down to the John Flynn Place museum for the opening of a new exhibit and the launch of a book about Flynn’s life.

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The Selwyn Ranges are comprised of ancient eroded proterozoic (an era that stretches from 2.5 billion to 541 million years ago) rocks which, except for a few small outcrops, are concealed beneath the plains.

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This is not a northern Australia variation of the dreaded drop bears; there are no car-munching cattle on the Barkly Hwy. But cattle are a concern in these parts, freely roaming the unfenced roads. They are especially difficult to see at night and they do a lot of damage to cars on collision. It is recommended you keep off the highway after dark for this reason.

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The Leichhardt, named for German explorer Ludwig Leichhardt has two branches. The west branch flows through Mount Isa, the east flows 30km to the east. The two branches meet up to the north and drain into the Gulf of Carpentaria near Burketown. Leichhardt passed through this country on his first trip from Moreton Bay to Port Essington (in what now the Northern Territory). He may also have come this way on his third trip from Moreton Bay to Swan River in WA to avoid the inland deserts. He and his party disappeared with little trace in 1848.

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This monument, halfway between Isa and Cloncurry is to the Kalkadoon people, whose country this is. The Kalkadoons offered fierce resistance to white settlers to the region until they were eventually defeated by an armed force of 200 native police, officers and settlers at Battle Mountain in 1884.curry6.jpg

Barely 500m down the road from the Kalkadoon Monument is another monument which partly explains why the Kalkadoons lost their land. The monument recognises the spot the expedition of Robert O’Hara Burke and William Wills passed on January 22, 1861 as they headed north from Cooper’s Creek to the Gulf of Carpentaria. As is well documented Burke and Wills died on the way back. However the many recovery missions quickly increased the European knowledge of the region and opened it up to white settlers.curry7.jpg

This is normally very arid country but the rolling hills are surprisingly lush and green after summer rains.

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A couple of blocks back from the highway in Cloncurry is John Flynn Place museum and art gallery, opened in 1988. As the museum website says, John Flynn Place honours an Australian visionary and those who joined his campaign for better living conditions in remote Australia: “The museum recounts an era of technological advance, when aviation and radio overcame the isolation of vast tracts of the continent.” Cloncurry plays an important role in the story. This was where Flynn began his Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1928 and pioneered outback radio communication. Flynn was a long term campaigner for an aerial medical service to provide a “mantle of safety” for the people of the bush, and his vision became a reality when his supporter, H V McKay, left a large bequest for “an aerial experiment”.

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In 1927, QANTAS and the Aerial Medical Service signed an agreement to operate an aerial ambulance from Cloncurry. The first pilot took off from Cloncurry on 17 May 1928 flying this single engine, timber and fabric bi-plane named Victory. Victory was leased by QANTAS for two shillings per mile flown. The last piece of Flynn’s jigsaw was the invention of a pedal-operated generator to power a radio receiver. By 1929 people living in isolation were able to call on the Flying Doctor to assist them in an emergency. The School of the Air was established in Alice Springs in 1951, the year of Flynn’s death.

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Everald Compton (seen here in front of a portrait of Flynn) was a teenager when Flynn died and he never met him, but he still considers Flynn a major influence on his own eventful life. The seniors’ rights campaigner has written a book about Flynn called The Man on the Twenty Dollar Notes and he was in Cloncurry to launch the book. “I’ve been a fan of John Flynn since I was a little boy in Sunday School and I’ve always been fascinated about what he did,” he said.  “He invented the pedal radio, founded the Flying Doctors, founded the School of the Air, built 25 hospitals around the bush, and was involved with John Bradfield in trying to water the whole of Australia.”

Forget News Corp, remember the truth of Indigenous history

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Aborigines cooking and eating beached whales, Newcastle, NSW c1817 (Joseph Lycett). NLA

The troglodytes that make news placement decisions at News Corp tabloids accidentally stumbled on a good thing this week: they opened up an honest discourse on Australian history. That certainly wasn’t the intention when the Daily Telegraph and others decided on Wednesday it was time to party like it was 1999 and re-open the culture wars. As Waleed Aly said the Tele’s front page was a longstanding part of the lies Australia tells itself about its history.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the grubby paper (later humorously renamed the Tele Nullius) and its story. The Whitewash headline, picture of Captain James Cook and its contention that the University of New South Wales rewrites the history books to state Cook “invaded” Australia has been widely deconstructed and destroyed elsewhere. The story featured quotes from a right-wing historian, a right-wing lobby group and a right-wing politician. Needless Indigenous people were not represented. It was simply foolish fodder which the paper believes reflects its audience’s view.

There was a similar if more half-hearted effort I saw in the Courier-Mail aimed at Queensland universities and I would imagine the other capital city tabloids also joined in the dog-whistle exposing “political correctness gone mad.” But once the usual suspects of shock jocks, right-wing columnists and radio has-beens finished fulminating at “liberal” universities imposing their dogma, the story brought up many lively considered responses – including Aly’s, which accepted the obvious conclusion that Australia was, indeed, invaded. Even politicians stood up to the nonsense, for once. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the dispossession and massacre of Aboriginal Australians was part of our history. “It must be taught and appreciated by all Australians,” she said.

Ignorance of that knowledge might have been acceptable 50 years ago when the Indigenous experience was still written out of Australian history. For almost a century, the established story had been of a peaceful settlement of an empty continent. The original settler stories were bowdlerised of all their resistance, violence and guns leaving heroic settlers whose only enemy was the land itself which they “tamed”. Anthropologist Bill Stanner was among the first to question this narrative in his 1968 Boyer Lectures where he questioned the Great Australian Silence about its Indigenous history. It was a structural matter, according to Stanner. “A view from a window which has been carefully placed to exclude a whole quadrant of the landscape,” he said. “What may have begun as a simple forgetting of other possible views turned under habit and over time into something like a cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale.”

His talk was backed up by a sociologist, Charles Rowley, whose trilogy The Destruction of Aboriginal Society (1970), Outcasts in White Australia (1971) and The Remote Aborigines (1971) was a game changer in a presenting a new view of Aboriginal Australia. Historians were stung into action, led by Henry Reynolds who delved into the Queensland records and looked at first hand testimony in books and newspapers to show how the colony with the largest Indigenous population was invaded and eventually taken over, thanks to a political squatter class who directly benefitted from the takeover with the help of a native police force. Lyndell Ryan did a similar job for Tasmania, as did Heather Goodall in NSW, and gradually a picture built up across Australia of a land violently taken over.

Yet this picture was slow to infiltrate the mainstream and when it did it was fiercely resisted. The cult of forgetfulness was strong. A cosy image of a settler society was comforting and this new history was too confronting. Because it had been outside the official history for so long, many suspected this new narrative and questioned the motivations of the historians. In 1996 new Prime Minister John Howard tapped into those feelings saying (white) Australians deserved to feel “relaxed and comfortable” about their history. But the only way they could do that was to attack the new history (ignoring it was no longer an option). Howard was enthusiastically supported in this culture war by the stormtroopers in the Murdoch empire and for the next decade there was an exhausting and unsatisfying battle of tit-for-tat. But the effect was tangible as the new history was pushed to the sidelines with a preference on glorifying white military history at Gallipoli and elsewhere.

Just as in the “climate science wars” which followed a similar trajectory, few professional historians disputed the new narrative. The main one was the curmudgeonly Keith Windschuttle – the only historian News Corp bothered to contact in this week’s kerfuffle. The title of Windschuttle’s book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History said more about his research than the historians of Tasmanian history he was attempting to debunk. His counter-history of a land of little violence was soundly and rigorously rebuffed many times.

The political history wars gradually disappeared with the exit of Howard in 2007. Kevin Rudd was no Keating and his famous 2008 apology steered clear of an outright admission of invasion and war. But he gave no momentum to the culture war. Even with the return of Tony Abbott in 2013 it never re-gained traction. Abbott had a muddled view of history, his love of British culture occasionally getting him in trouble when it clashed with his obvious interest and empathy in Indigenous affairs. But politically it has not been an issue. Quietly in the background, historians go on with their research gathering overwhelming evidence. The university guidelines so derided by the Murdoch papers are merely an attempt to bring the language up to date. Murdoch will be dead sometime in the next 20 years and the influence of his rags will die with him. But the story of Indigenous Australia is only getting stronger. Like a stone in a shoe it will continue to nag Australia until it deals with the problem as an adult nation: with a foundation treaty between the federal government and its Indigenous people acknowledging 130 years of invasion and war, and another century of dealing with its painful aftermath.

Diarmuid Lynch: Memories of the 1916 Easter Rising

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Diarmuid Lynch (1878-1950)

A HUNDRED years ago on Easter Monday began a short, futile and unpopular insurrection in Dublin against British rule. Though it ended in inevitable failure within a week, British over-reaction would sow crucial seeds that eventually led to a partial Irish Free State, just five years later. This is why the commemorations in Dublin this week are so big and why as a schoolboy many years ago I was taught to revere the Proclamation of Independence read out on the steps of the Dublin General Post Office in 1916.

But the teaching of Irish history was not a cool, dispassionate thing at least not the version I got from the blinkered Christian Brothers. I have previously written how the Black and Tans which featured prominently in the War of Independence that followed in 1920-1921 were not evil as their reputation would suggest. So with the help of the wonderful Bureau of Military History, I decided to check out eye-witness testimony of 1916. Most of the leaders were executed before they could leave their memories but a search of “GPO” brought me quickly to the testimony of Diarmuid Lynch, who is little known, but a key participant during the rising in Dublin.

Lynch was a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republication Brotherhood and a later member of Dail Eireann. Born in Ireland in 1878, he emigrated to America as a young man where he became an influential member of the Gaelic League promoting the Irish language. When he returned home in 1907, he was immediately contacted by the IRB and took on a leadership role in Cork. As the Irish Volunteers rose to face the threat of the Ulster Volunteers in 1913, he went back to the US on a fundraising mission and was away during the “split” where more radical members of the council decided on military action against England during the First World War.

When he returned in 1915, Lynch allied himself with the insurgents and was aware of secret plans for the uprising under the leadership of Patrick Pearse. As an American citizen he had to register as a “Friendly Alien”. His job was to secure a port, initially Ventry Harbour and later Fenit in Kerry for an arms landing. In early 1916 planning for an Easter rising was well advanced. Pearce gave Lynch his orders “to hold the (Cork) County to the south of the Boggeragh mountains – left flank contacting the Kerry Brigade which was to extend eastwards from Tralee; Limerick was to contact the Kerry men on the south and those of Limerick – Clare – Galway to the north. Limerick, Clara and Galway were to hold the line of the Shannon to Athlone”.

However events would throw Lynch directly into the action in Dublin during Easter Week. In the paranoia leading up to the Rising, none of the leaders would confirm a rising was happening. From his appearances at the delightfully named “Committee for Manholes” during April led by Sean McDermott, Lynch was convinced a Rising was planned for Easter Sunday. On Good Friday he lunched with McDermott who gave him the sketches for the planned attack on the South Dublin Union, Four Courts, and Jacobs and Bolands factories. Lynch in turn notified three other revolutionary leaders, Eamonn Ceannt, Thomas MacDonagh and fellow American Eamon De Valera.

On Easter Monday, Lynch and Jim O’Neill put together a “necklace of gelignite” in Liberty Hall to be used on the manhole in front of the Dame Street entrance to Dublin Castle. He then went off to report for service at the GPO which had been commandeered by Volunteers. Lynch’s first job was to help smash the door and glass partition which separated the Public Office from the Primary Sorting Office. Then it was down to business, leading a group which manned and barricaded the front and side windows.

At 12.45pm the following day (Tuesday), Lynch was ordered out as part of a bodyguard for Pearse to the centre of O’Connell Street opposite the main entrance to the GPO. Standing on an improvised elevation, Pearse read the “Manifesto to the assembled citizens of Dublin”.  Within a half hour a regiment of British Lancers arrived, forcing the rebels back inside the GPO. There they looked through official communications from RIC headquarters which spied on Volunteer activities, but failed to predict the Rising.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lawrence’s shop diagonally across from the GPO was set ablaze by looters and a large crowd assembled in O’Connell Street. Lynch told James Connolly about the fire danger that threatened their position at the corner of Earl Street. Connolly ordered Lynch and George Plunkett to take a squad to stop the fire from spreading and compel the looters to cease. The Fire Brigade arrived and Volunteers raised the wires strung across O’Connell St that morning to enable the fire engines to get close to the burning building. A man and woman on the top of the building seemed intent on jumping to the street to avoid the flames, the Volunteers fired their pistols to force the crowd back and enable the firemen get to work.

On Wednesday morning Connolly ordered Lynch to take men and bore through the south wall of the GPO at the Henry Street end and then continue through the adjacent buildings until they met Frank Henderson’s men operating from the Coliseum. The contact was soon made. Returning to General Connolly he joked “We captured three English Generals” and after a moment’s pause added: “We got them in the waxworks”. Lynch said there was flicker of a smile across Connolly’s face.

On Wednesday night Lynch was sent to inspect the position held by men under Liam Cullen on the second floor overlooking Henry Street. “They were quietly alert at their posts and especially watchful lest some of the enemy might have come over the roofs from Parnell Street from which they could have enfiladed our positions,” Lynch reported. His men shot out the glaring electric amps that still overhung Henry Street about 1am.

On Friday MacDermott ordered Lynch to get a few men and transfer any surplus bombs and explosive materials from the upper building into the basement.  About daybreak

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The ruined GPO after the fighting.

MacDermott asked him to carry word to the outposts in O’Neill’s (corner of Liffey and Henry Streets), Lucas’s shop and the old Independent House on Middle Abbey Street, ordering retirement to the GPO. Proceeding through Williams Lane and Abbey Street he knocked at Independent House but the men not knowing who was there did not answer. “Those in Lucas’s, directly opposite, saw me: I crossed and gave them the order, Regressing to Independent House I was admitted,”he said.

He advanced on the south side of Liffey Street where he was spotted by a British garrison. He sped away back to the GPO via Abbey Street where all the recalled men lined up in the GPO yards and roll call showed only one missing – Sean Milroy. “But as Sean was said to have known every nook and cranny in the neighbourhood it was felt he would return in due course; he did,” Lynch said. MacDermott and Clarke congratulated Lynch on his work and for the next three hours he enjoyed his first sleep of the week, on a mattress in the hospital section. Lynch became conscious of cannons booming knowing a shell would bring instant death but he somehow slept on. The booming increased but no shell struck the rear of the GPO.

Before resuming duty, Lynch permitted himself the luxury of a shave. British gunners soon had their range and the roof caught fire. To stop a frontal attack Lynch ordered his men to fill sacks with coal and build an L-shaped barricade midway on the floor. The flames ate their way through the glass roof of the cupola. While the garrison assembled in the General Sorting Room pending final evacuation, the fires spread along the Henry Street side of the roof. Sparks were coming down the open air-shaft to the basement near the explosives storeroom which had no door. MacDermott despatched men to fetch a fire hose. When this arrived The O’Rahilly temporarily put the fire out.

Lynch ordered 30 men to stack their arms and transfer the munitions to the Princes Street side to avoid an explosion. The O’Rahilly noted their prisoners (a British officer, privates and some DMP men) were in a room at the other side of the underground corridor and endangered by the fire. Lynch reported the matter to Connolly who told him to shift them to the rear of the General Sorting Room under guard.

At the subsequent court martial the British Officer testified he and his fellow prisoners had been “left to die like rats in a trap”. Lynch said their detention in the basement was temporary pending evacuation of the GPO and they were quickly moved once the explosives were removed. Lynch had his men soak mail bags in water and spread them over the explosive materials with the help of Harry Boland.  While that was going on the evacuation had been completed so Lynch may well have been the last man to leave the GPO “which was a matter of no consequence as I view it,” he said. On reaching Henry street and crossing into Henry Place he saw rebel forces near a dead volunteer, killed by friendly fire (he had been shot by the discharge of a comrade’s gun during an attempt to break the door with its butt).

Then he met Pearse who ordered him to take half a dozen men, break into O’Brien’s and cross the roofs to Moore Street to avoid running the gauntlet of machine-gun fire down Moore Lane.  From O’Brien’s roof they stepped across an open air-shaft and into the next building. They were blocked by an intervening laneway and exited through a window on the groundfloor into Henry Place and proceeded to Moore Street where they entered a corner building. They bored through the walls with pieces of iron to make slow progress to Henry street. The men were exhausted from lack of sleep but took turns to bore the walls and barricade the windows.

The flames from the GPO spread across Henry street pushing towards the men.  At daybreak on Saturday Lynch reported to GHQ his situation and got orders to join the main body at Moore Street. There Connolly was badly wounded and the only enemy force they could fire on was the barricade at Parnell and Moore Streets while they were pinned down with fire. Lynch saw one desperate chance to escape, via “a bayonet charge from the yard abutting Sackville Lane against the enemy sand bag barricade located 50 yards away”. Lynch passed word to officers to line 50 men up in the yard with rifles and bayonets.

Lynch told Pearse his plan but the commandant refused. Pearse told him negotiations had been opened with the British Command. Lynch could not go back to the yard to tell the men the decision, instead he went to talk with MacDermott. He informed Lynch Connolly was being taken on a stretcher to meet the British commander. MacDermott told Lynch to discard his Sam Brown and pistol and accompany the Connolly stretcher party.

Lynch unhesitatingly stepped out to the sidewalk and two British officers in Riddall’s beckoned him to advance. The party was searched, which Lynch protested on the ground they were under a flag of truce and “the search was a reflection on our honour as Irish soldiers”. In Lynch’s pocket tunic they found loose pistol ammunition which he had overlooked. Then, surrounded by a heavy armed guard the party advanced to the Parnell Monument before being ordered to Dublin Castle.

In the Upper Castle Yard Lynch asked Connolly if he had any message to send thinking they would be sent back to Moore St. He said no and the party were marched off to Ship Street Barracks. They never saw Connolly again. Lynch protested their detention as prisoners but they were kept there overnight. Next morning his request to be returned was denied and on Sunday afternoon around 25-30 prisoners were marched off to Kilmainham. There a warder unceremoniously cuffed and pushed them through the doorway. Lynch’s protest against such treatment of “prisoners of war” was answered by a baton on the jaw.

The jailers vented their spleen against the new prisoners with sneers, threats and provocation. One stole Lynch’s pig-skin gaiters. An inquisition was afoot in an adjoining room where British officers demanded the name of each prisoner, his rank, position during the fight and the name of his commanding officer. Lynch insisted his men not answer the questions.  The inquisition soon ceased and they were marched off to the disused rooms of the old prison infirmary. Early on Wednesday morning they were awakened by peculiar noises which Lynch wondered if they were the sound of volleys. Later they found out three leaders had been executed. Three more followed Thursday morning. That day all prisoners in the hospital were transferred to Richmond Barracks, several hundred prisoners (including many from country districts who had not participated in the Rising) were lined up in the barrack square for deportation to England, the rumour ran.

Lynch found himself with de Valera, Count Plunkett, John O’Mahony, Laurence O’Neill, and others. Do Valera was taken and did not return. Lynch asked a guard to request his sister-to-law bring along a suit of ordinary clothes next day. “This he delivered to me and the following day took out a parcel which contained my uniform coat, breeches, shirt and tie. These mementos of Easter Week I still possess,” Lynch said. He dispatched a note to the American Consul requesting he be present at a courtmartial.

On Thursday May 18, the court decision was announced to Lynch at Kilmainham. He was sentenced to be shot – and then the further information that this was commuted to 10 years penal servitude. Lynch was sent to Pentonville prison in England and released on June 16, 1917. Back in Ireland he helped fellow rebel Michael Collins reorganise the IRB, and he was arrested again in 1918 for seizing pigs in Dublin that were bound for Britain. A balled “The Pig Push” was named in his honour. He was deported to America and became a TD in absentia for Cork South East in the first Dail.

Lynch fell out with De Valera over strategy in America and resigned his seat in 1920. He stayed away during the War of Independence and subsequent Civil War. In 1933 he returned to County Cork. He contributed greatly to the work of the Bureau of Military History in the late 1940s not just with his own detailed testimony but in collecting witness statements from those who had taken part in the War of Independence and in reviewing historical publications. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1944 and died in 1950 aged 78. As he said about one of his accusers “thank God he and his ilk have passed into the limbo of forgotten things.” Alas the same may have happened to Lynch, but his testimony at the BMH shines on.

A drive from Mount Isa to Bedourie and back

With a few days off at Easter, I decided to head 500km down the road (considered a short hike in these parts) and spend a couple of days with friends in Bedourie. It was an excuse to check out the races in Boulia on the way back.

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The “highway” is the Diamantina Development Road which is bitumen almost the entire way (apart from a few small stretches) between Boulia and Bedourie but mostly single lane for the 300km stint to Boulia. There isn’t much traffic but both drivers need to have the passenger-side wheels on the gravel while passing (apart from one truck which refused to move aside forcing me to get completely onto the gravel).

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Termite mounds are everywhere in the north of Australia, littering the side of the road.

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Here’s a close-up of one. According to Wikipedia, the structure can be very complicated. “Inside the mound is an extensive system of tunnels and conduits that serves as a ventilation system for the underground nest. In order to get good ventilation, the termites will construct several shafts leading down to the cellar located beneath the nest. The mound is built above the subterranean nest. The nest itself is a spheroidal structure consisting of numerous gallery chambers.”

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The land is mostly flat on my Easter Thursday drive, though green after recent rains.

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Though there is plenty of brown to go round. Remnants of the Selwyn Ranges dot the landscape.

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As I said, traffic was sparse. Though amazingly I saw one 4WD stopped by police for a ticket (not photographed). It’s very difficult to resist the temptation to speed on these apparently not-so-lonely roads.

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The further south you go the most desert-like the landscape becomes. The Simpson Desert is not far away.

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Halfway between Mount Isa and Boulia is the tiny township of Dajarra. A former cattle railhead, it is still the home of 429 people though not one was visible when I passed through. With 350km still to drive, I resisted the temptation to pop inside the pub.IMG_2945.JPG

Bedourie is not mentioned on this sign but is halfway between Boulia and Birdsville. Alice Springs would be a temptation but the Donohue Hwy is a 4WD only track.IMG_2949.JPG

Trees like this one on the outskirts of Dajarra were rare on my journey.

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Cattle were rare too but with no fences on the road, you had to slow down whenever they were nearby.

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Desolate landscape south of Dajarra. This is hard country to make a living from.

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Just north of Boulia is the turnoff to the Donohue Hwy. Alice Springs is a mere bone-jarring 800km journey that-a-way.

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Boulia is the home of the Min Min Light, a mythical and unexpected light with no apparent local source. Whatever it’s dubiousness, it is good for attracting the tourists who have detoured 365km west of Winton.IMG_2973.JPG

Next to the Min Min Encounter is the Boulia Shire Hall, a beautiful building which shimmers in the hot sun. It was about 38 degrees as I came through around 1pm.IMG_2974.JPG

Onto the road to Bedourie and we are truly in scrubby Simpson Desert country.

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Sand and dust dominate the landscape.IMG_2977.JPG

But there is water too. The Georgina River is still rising north at Camooweal and the creeks are full.IMG_2979.JPG

All this water will eventually end up in Lake Eyre, one of the world’s largest endorheic basins, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s a closed system that doesn’t go out to a sea or an ocean.IMG_2983.JPG

We pass the marker for the Tropic of Capricorn, so leave the tropics for the sub-tropics as we drive south.

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Cattle enjoy the greenery in the desert.

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The view from the top of the Vaughan Johnson Lookout east towards the Channel Country is immense. They have recently put bitumen on the drive to the lookout which is a gem near the Boulia-Diamantina shire border.IMG_2995.JPG

Big sky seen from the lookout.IMG_2999.JPG

The view south from the lookout.IMG_3005.JPGAmusingly named creek in Diamantina Shire. Thankfully this was not an omen for me.

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Tree in the desert.

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The landscape and colours change again as I approach Bedourie.IMG_3022.JPG

View from a hilltop looking west into the surprisingly green Simpson Desert.IMG_3025.JPG

An oasis at Bedourie.

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Bedourie Community Centre: Where the Simpson Desert meets the Channel Country. IMG_3030.JPG

Bedourie pub. Was closed on Good Friday so I had to quench my thirst elsewhere.

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“Sand, dust and gibbers” Indigenous sculpture at Bedourie.IMG_3037.JPG

Simpson Desert Oasis: Stop for a Coldie! Though again, not on Good Friday.

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Time to head north on Saturday, though Darwin will have to wait another time.

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Flat desolate country north of Bedourie.

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Welcome to Boulia races.

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Horses scatter the dust.

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Back on the road and it’s tempting to detour through “Australia’s Longest Shortcut” linking Cairns and Perth.

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Rocky plains south of Mount Isa.

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You gotta take those opportunities when they come.

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Almost home again to Mount Isa.

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Diamantina Power Station on the outskirts of Mount Isa. Home after a 1000kms in three days.

Dial M for Murdoch

imageThe book Dial M For Murdoch by British politician Tom Watson and journalist Martin Hickman is a frightening read. It is frightening not only because it described a state of affairs where politicians, media and police colluded to hide criminal activity but because the crimes it describes have been almost completely forgotten and the criminals still act as if nothing has changed and they are still in charge.

As the authors say in the introduction, the book describes how a global news company exerted a poisonous and secretive influence on British public life and when exposed, it used its power to bully, intimidate and cover up with help from its allies at the highest levels of politics and the police. Yet the authors’ hope the scandal would force the perpetrators to clean up their act hasn’t eventuated. While the scandal ended with public inquiries, the humbling of Rupert Murdoch and the death of the News of the World (NotW), it hasn’t fundamentally changed the government or Murdoch’s behaviour nor has it chastened the rest of the tabloid pack in Britain who remain a mostly unaccountable right-wing rabble.

Tom Watson is a Labour Party MP who attracted the ire of Murdoch’s empire. His mistake was to plot against Murdoch favourite Tony Blair, an action that earned him the lasting enmity of Rupert’s powerful attack dog Rebekah Wade, who rose from a secretary to editor of the NotW in a decade. The Sun called him a “treacherous lump of lard” and a “mad dog trained to maul”. The NotW went further and raided his message bank as they did with many others.

It was the fierce level of competition Murdoch inspired that encouraged this behaviour, even pitting their own reporters against each other for the perfect tabloid scoop. The NotW had deep links into the police with Wade even admitting to a 2004 parliamentary inquiry they routinely bribed the force. But it was a successful model with the Murdoch tabloids making money and the NotW having a reputation as a muckraking award winning bastion of investigative journalism.

But its methods were vile. Some like chequebook journalism were well known, others like “blagging” confidential records or paying corrupt officials for private data were less well understood and there was no appetite to expose it by police forces anxious to have cordial relations with Fleet St. It took the involvement of the royal family to start the unravelling.

In 2005 Prince Charles’ staffers were alarmed when they saw very detailed gossip about his sons appear in NotW. They came to the conclusion the tabloid could only have got their information from phone hacking. They contacted Scotland Yard who began Operation Caryatid. The Royal revelations were appearing in NotW column Blackadder written by Royal editor Clive Goodman. Scotland Yard compared Goodman’s columns against the phone numbers they knew were being hacked and built a case against him. At the same time senior police officers were wining and dining with then NotW editor Andy Coulson.

Operation Caryatid made a breakthrough when O2 told them about a blagger wanting to change royal phone codes. He was private investigator Glenn Mulcaire, who Goodman kept on a weekly retainer to hack voicemails on an industrial scale – not just the royals. Yet police made the decision to restrict the case to “less sensitive” witnesses. In 2006 Goodman and Mulcaire were arrested with no effort made to widen the inquiry to other journalists despite circumstantial evidence. Instead police gave Wade a full briefing on what they found because she was mentioned in Mulcaire’s files. Unsurprisingly Wade did not wish to make a complaint against her employers. They didn’t tell the many victims named in Mulcaire’s files and neither did the phone companies (except O2) for many years.

In 2007 Goodman was jailed for four months and Mulcaire got six for illegal invasion of privacy. NotW editor Coulson had to stand down in the scandal but the paper hid behind the “bad apple” defence. Goodman was sacked but was furious as he believed he was just a scapegoat and threatened to appeal publicly. Mulcaire admitted in court hacking football union leader Gordon Taylor and now Taylor was threatening to sue. His lawyers had gained police evidence including a Mulcaire email “for Neville” believed to be for NotW journalist Neville Thurlbeck.

Yet Murdoch had bigger fish to fry setting his sights on Dow Jones Wall St Journal and British pay TV and throwing his support behind the Tories under sympathetic new leader David Cameron – and his new press secretary Andy Coulson, formerly of NotW. Taylor was paid off for almost half a million pounds, a record, on condition of silence.

In 2008. Guardian journalist Nick Davies became aware of the scale of the illegality at News through a police contact. He scoured NotW for stories that might have used intercepts as a source.  In 2009 he broke his story saying Murdoch had paid a million pounds to settle legal cases like Taylor’s that threatened to reveal evidence of criminality. He had found the For Neville email and quoted a police source saying thousands of phones were hacked. Labour was outraged saying Cameron should sack Coulson but police refused to reopen the case. Murdoch himself denied it, saying if they had paid out Taylor he would have known about it. The Times counterattacked rebutting the Guardian allegations and calling Davies dysfunctional. News lawyers admitted to Watson at a parliamentary inquiry James Murdoch had approved the Taylor payout.

But at the end of 2008 the Press Complaints Commission exonerated NotW saying no new evidence had emerged. The Guardian’s stories had not lived up to their “dramatic billing” the PCC decided. Scotland Yard urged the paper to drop its hostile coverage as “over-egged”. But the Guardian persisted and discovered Mulcaire had accessed the inbox of 100 customers of Orange, O2 and Vodaphone. They were supported by Watson’s parliamentary culture committee which accused News of hindering their inquiries. NotW accused Watson of shamefully hijacking the committee.

After the May 2010 election Cameron became PM and Coulson his press secretary despite Coalition partner LibDem reservations. Just as he did in the Blair years, Murdoch had a private audience in Downing St with a plan to take sole ownership of BSkyB. But the storm clouds were gathering. People who appeared in Mulcaire’s files like Sienna Miller and Steve Coogan began legal action though could not prove they were hacked. The Guardian shared their files with the New York Times which quoted a disgruntled News journalist saying Coulson knew of the hacking which spread well beyond one reporter. News claimed the Times was carrying out a vendetta because of its rivalry with their Wall St Journal. Coulson “emphatically” denied wrongdoing.

Watson raised the matter in parliament, especially on the news Scotland Yard had deliberately ended the investigation despite extensive evidence. Watson was warned by News they would target him if he didn’t back off but with media refusing to publish his allegations he put them on the blog Labour Uncut. When LibDem minister Vince Cable threatened to refer the News takeover of BSkyB he was undone by a sting from undercover Telegraph reporters and resigned. New Tory minister Jeremy Hunt was more compliant to Murdoch.

Four years after the arrest of Goodman, Met Police finally interviewed his boss Andy Coulson. They announced there was no new evidence but didnt reveal the key evidence they had all along. Miller took her case to court revealing News editor Ian Edmondson knew of the hacking and he was immediately suspended by his employers. Coulson resigned in January 2011 despite claiming he had been punished twice. The Met launched a new inquiry into hacking. A senior Met officer admitted to Watson they never looked at all the Mulcaire files. With evidence growing, the BBC finally started to take an interest. Yet Hunt continued to back the BSkyB bid despite growing reservations.

News set aside 20m quid for payouts to settle with a growing list of victims as they tried to pick off civil claimants before their day in court. The pressure was building on what Rebekah Brooks knew, despite her closeness to Murdoch. But the tables turned on July 4, 2011 when Davies revealed a new hacking victim: murdered school girl Milly Dowler. Davies overreached by claiming NotW deleted messages from her phone to make room for others, giving false hope to her parents she was alive. But the impact was devastating and News had to admit it was a “great concern”. Social media went berserk and even the PCC admitted it was misled. Advertisers threatened to leave NotW and News’ share price plummeted.

With news emerging of Murdoch papers’ corruption of police, the noose tightened. On July 7 NotW called an all staff meeting which read out a James Murdoch email admitting they had misled parliament. At the end was a bombshell: the paper would close down after that weekend. Coulson was arrested and it was open season on Murdoch in parliament. With BSkyB shares in freefall Murdoch finally got the message and withdrew his offer. A week later Wade resigned and Rupert and James were summoned to give evidence to the Culture Committee.

Murdoch’s memorable phrase was about his most humble day of his life but his evidence was accurately satirised by Private Eye as “we are sorry we have been caught”.  His feeble defence was they had only recently found out the problem and would only admit they had been “lax”. By then Wade had been arrested and the Met Police chief was forced to resign. Wade also fronted parliament but claimed she couldn’t remember authorising payments for hacking. Cameron claimed not to have discussed BSkyB with Murdoch, but Labour couldn’t press too hard. After all, they had been in bed with the Dirty Digger too in the Blair years.

At the end of that summer News announced profits of $982m mainly from television and Murdoch was awarded a $12.5m bonus. As they hived off their troublesome newspaper business, it was back to business as usual, the Murdochs holding on to power against rebellious shareholders thanks to their powerful voting shares. While the PM distanced himself, his education minister Michael Gove still had stars in his eyes. “Murdoch is a force of nature and a phenomenon,” he said. “I think he is a great man.” The Sun on Sunday would soon fill the NotW gap and while the Leveson Inquiry brought many embarrassing revelations, they were soon forgotten in the relentless 24 hour news cycle. It did not take long for Murdoch papers to resume their role as kingmakers. As Watson ruefully concluded, the empire stood shaken and ostensibly apologetic for a while,  but it is still there and Rupert Murdoch is still in charge. British – and Australian – media remain in his thrall.