Woolly Days media person of the year 2013 – Edward Snowden

snowdenI read the other day an article in Nieman Journalism Lab that pronounced the death of the blog in 2013. It had been overtaken, the article said, by social media, aggregators, micro-blogs and meme police (think Reddit) in setting agendas and influencing other media. That may be so, but I think the death of blogging is exaggerated. The article that reported the death was itself a blog post and there are hundreds of millions of blogs still active. I’ve been blogging for over eight years and don’t see myself stopping soon. I enjoy writing them, I like the way they force me to marshall my ideas and I enjoy my work in the public domain, no matter how uninfluential. Millions of others will continue their blogs for a million other reason. One of my many million reasons is that I can get to name a Woolly Days media person (or personality) of the year award, something I’ve done for the last five years.

My winner wouldn’t be aware of the award but that doesn’t stop me from having fun and naming someone I saw making a difference to the world of the media. The year I started the award – 2009 – was around the time Australia was grappling seriously with the end of analog and the idea of paywalls for internet content. ABC boss Mark Scott was in the fortunate position of being able to deal with both issues without the need to turn a profit. He was emerging as a thoughtful contributor to where the digital world was taking us. As boss of the national broadcaster he straddled the political divide as a former Liberal staffer appointed by John Howard yet who seemed ready-made Labor-lite and someone not afraid to put the boot into Rupert Murdoch. It is difficult to see how Scott will survive into an Abbott Government but he has put ABC in a strong position as an independent cultural institution, albeit very safe and conservative in its Sydney values.

I didn’t give thought as to whether it was a one-off award or not in 2009. As it happened, one person dominated world media headlines in 2010 and he was Julian Assange. Assange was Australian but his actions had huge international ramifications. Wikileaks transformed the dangerous act of whistleblowing by providing a safe place to blow the whistle. Wikileaks’ best work was tackling corporate crime such as Trafigura and Bank Julius Baer but like Icarus, Assange got too close to the sun. The astonishing horde of documentation Assange got from Bradley Manning made Assange a public enemy to western powers. Assange was a brilliant operator who changed the rules of information dissemination but he had massive personality flaws. Assange has a case to answer under Swedish law and needs to face that justice system, otherwise the current Mexican stand-off will last only until a more American-friendly Ecuadorian government tosses him out to the streets of London.

While Assange languished in legal no-man’s land in 2011, a massive new media story was developing. What initially was regarded as ‘a few bad apples’, turned out to be an organisation rotten to the core showing it wasn’t just our intelligence services that spied on us. Guardian journalist Nick Davies with the fierce support of his editor Alan Rusbridger courageously overcame a smear campaign to reveal malfeasance by Rupert Murdoch’s News International with the assistance of the Metropolitan Police. The Guardian’s work was the best media on media story in years and Davies and Rusbridger fully deserved my 2011 award.

In 2012 I gave my award to the British judge Brian Leveson who took on the Inquiry that bears his name from the Guardian hacking revelations. Leveson is a thoughtful jurist and his findings were admirable – though I have serious misgivings the British government’s new regulator will actually carry out his wishes. Nonetheless he deserved the award for running the best daily entertainment that year. Testimony after testimony was spectacular and it bordered on soap opera at times – especially when any of the Murdochs were giving evidence.

When it came to this year’s award I became aware of an anomaly – there was a serious gender imbalance, all my winners were men and White Anglo Saxon Protestantish at that. This said more about the stereotypical way I think about media than a lack of suitable women candidates. Indeed, I found a magnificent contender in the very last week of the year. I had not heard of Ukrainian journalist Tetyana Chornovil before she was beaten up for investigating the Interior Minister but she is everything good about a journalist: single-minded, honest, fearless and determined to tell the story in the face of intense intimidation. She is already the favourite to win my award in 2014.

Yet I cannot give Chornovil, or any other journalist, my 2013 media person award. That has to go to Edward Joseph Snowden, the American computer specialist who leaked top secret National Security Agency documents to world media. The thousands of documents show the extent of surveillance nationally and internationally, against friend or foe. Pentagon Paper leaker Daniel Ellsberg (who was assiduously courted by Julian Assange as he set up Wikileaks) described Snowden’s revelations as the most significant in US history and it lays bare the US’s intelligence framework, not to mention causing political headaches across the globe.

Snowden became the story after his dramatic flight from the US to Russia via Hong Kong and he now remains stranded like Assange in legal limbo (of the unholy trio of leakers, only Bradley Manning has ended up in an American jail so far and even he has ‘escaped’ by changing his identity to Chelsea Manning). The idea that Russia, with its own repression, gives Snowden immunity is a sick Putin joke. However the laugh has been on the Obama administration left flat-footed as it attempts to deal with the scale of the leaks without being able to press charges.

There are times when we become a little cynical of the way government works and we look the other way when they get involved in sausage-making. There is the sense in many of our obsessive rules and regulations that it won’t affect us if we don’t do anything wrong. But there are times when someone holds up the mirror and we must look. We know we won’t like what we find and Snowden’s material shows government at its most paranoid and Orwellian. What the leaks showed was government surveillance is not about protecting people from terrorism but about protecting power. The US and allies spied for political, economic and social reasons, and while this was something we all suspected, here was the proof. Media commentator Jay Rosen said Snowden exposed threats to our freedom and his going public was a decisive moment.

Snowden says he did it to inform the public what was done in their name and what was done against them. One NSA documents he leaked admitted they wanted mastery of the intelligence medium. To find the pin the haystack, they would collect the whole haystack. What they wanted was the ability to spy on anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Snowden left authorities and their lackies flailing for answers and blaming the messenger. The craven editors at News Ltd and the Washington Post claimed publishing the articles breached national security but the leaks showed it was national security that was on trial.

What happens next to Snowden is anyone’s guess, but I cannot imagine it will end happily. He is too far outside the pale for the US to forgive and forget and sooner or later, Putin will cash in his chip. Snowden will likely rot in prison like Manning. Whether it is enough to deter other would-be leakers, remains to be seen. In the meantime we must do all in our power to read what he has risked so much for. Not a woman, like Chornovil or Manning, but a worthy winner of the Woolly Days media person of the year 2013.

Remembering Coranderrk 150 years on

A group of men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville (image: Culture Victoria)
A group of men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville (image: Culture Victoria)

One hundred and fifty years on from the founding of Victoria’s most famous Aboriginal settlement, the indigenous administrators of Coranderrk want to turn the Healesville site into an attraction as famous as the nearby Sanctuary. Now a stage play showing in Sydney, Coranderrk hopes to have a museum of its story up and running in 2014.

Coranderrk shows the problems Aborigines faced at every turn as whites took their lands. From the time Batman and Pascoe launched settlements from Tasmania in 1835, Victorian black numbers plummeted from 10,000 to 2000 by 1863. The Kulin people were dispossessed by pastoral invasion and their culture torn asunder. Pushed to the fringe, they survived on small reserves like Coranderrk.

Coranderrk was founded on Woiworung lands in 1863 by John Green, a Scottish Presbyterian lay preacher. In 1843 Billibellary, Woiworung headman and signatory to Batman’s Treaty of 1835, approached William Thomas, assistant protector of Aborigines for Port Phillip district. “If Yarra blackfellows had a country on the Yarra…they would stop and cultivate the ground,” Billibellary told him. The Kulin made several requests until 1849 when Thomas told Kulin tribes they might get land due to “Earl Grey’s despatch”.

In 1847 Secretary of State for British Colonies Grey was considering the land question. He said land should be reserved “sufficient to allow of the natives being maintained upon it”. NSW Governor Fitzroy ignored the directive but Thomas persisted and in 1859 met Billibellary’s son Simon Wonga. Wonga and others formed a deputation to meet Commissioner of Lands Charles Gavan Duffy and presented Woiworong and Taungerong demands for land at Acheron River north-west of Melbourne. Duffy was sympathetic and ordered land to be surveyed.

Wonga, Barak, Thomas and Green met the secretary of newly formed Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines in 1860 to request Woiworung land at Yering in the Yarra Ranges. Sympathetic whites assumed the onward march of British civilisation was inevitable but acknowledged original possessors whose land was shamelessly stolen. To “smooth the dying pillow”, missionaries wanted Aborigines on reserves segregated from whites where they could be “christianised and civilised”. The Central Board supported several stations including Coranderrk where Kulins would work land “like white men”. Pastoralists moved the Acheron River settlement to the Mohican Run and similar reserves were revoked because they were improperly gazetted or affected by settlers incursions or protests.

In 1862 Kulins secured land at the Yarra River – Badger Creek junction. It was a traditional site for ceremonial assemblies and part of a pastoral lease at Yering. Despite white claims, Green, his wife and 40 Kulins trekked to an area adjoining the reserve in March 1863 and named it Coranderrk after the indigenous flowering Christmas bush in the area. The Woiworong and Taungerong were determined to farm in European fashion. They wanted self-government and saw the Greens as helpers rather than masters.

Despite a lack of capital and labour, they made considerable progress. More Kulins moved in and children were born. Green was an outsider, young, idealistic and obstinate who identified with the downtrodden. The Kulins saw him as a blackfella and a guardian to protect them from white settlers. Despite success, Coranderrk was threatened after 10 years by the Board for the Protection of Aborigines. Protective legislation in 1869 gave the Board authority over blacks’ place of residence, as well as overseeing labour contracts, controlling property and assuming custody of children. It was several years before they took advantage of their sweeping powers, but the Kulin were uncertain of their tenure.

In the 1870s board secretary Brough Smyth recommended hop-farming to supplement Board revenue. It led to major changes at Coranderrk with serious governance consequences and demands of resources of land and labour. Previously men worked independently and were rewarded for individual effort. Now they had to work for little or no wages on an enterprise controlled by whites. Conflict between Smyth and Green led to Green’s resignation in 1874 much to Kulin resentment. The new board members were Melbourne establishment figures critical of segregated homelands. They were assisted by Smyth’s successor AWA Page, who was vain, authoritarian and vindictive. They claimed to know the blacks but were ignorant of Kulin culture.

It led to a decade long battle to break up Coranderrk. Kulins saw themselves as Aborigines despite adopting parts of British culture. They asserted Queen Victoria, the highest authority in the British state, had granted them the land. During the opening ceremony in May 1863 Aborigines had presented gifts to the Governor to give to the Queen and her children. These gifts, including possum rugs, spears, woomera, shield and waddy, were a traditional ceremony of reciprocity. The Kulins recalled this in 1878 when they told parliamentarians the land was given to them by Governor Henry Barkly “in the name of the Queen”. They made similar demands to pastoralists asserting they could work the land and make it pay. Green was worthy because he was their protector and also fulfilled obligations – a relationship no other whites fulfilled when he left. In 1875 they petitioned to have him back.

They rebutted the paternal attitude of the Board. “We are not children for the board to do as they like with us any longer,” headman William Barak said. Barak led a sophisticated campaign of lobbying. He kept up with government news and allies with word of mouth and delegations, often walking to Melbourne. Because Coranderrk was only 70 miles away, there were many accounts from Melbourne journalists, photographers, artists, writers, anthropologists, missionaries and officials interested in their plight. Coranderrk loomed large in public discussion and allies like journalist George Syme and humanitarians Anne Bon and Thomas Embling were important in the propaganda war.

Opponents attributed the protests to outside influences, unable to accept the Kulins could organise themselves. Their tactics included playing government authorities off each other. Their effective campaign led to two major inquiries, the 1877 Royal Commission into government policy on Aborigines and the 1881 investigation into management of Coranderrk. It seemed the Kulins had won the fight after it was recommended land be permanently reserved and the Board relieved of management.

However they came up against the 1880s policy of assimilating Aborigines and forcing them off their land. In 1881 the Argus wrote “the race is dying out” and “in time the Aborigines will wholly disappear from Victoria as they have disappeared from Tasmania”. Part of this policy was distinguishing “full bloods” deemed “untameable” from “half castes” to be Europeanised. They began to remove half castes, the majority, from Coranderrk. To Kulins this was a disaster, what mattered to them was group membership. Kinship was reckoned socially not biologically. But even supporters like Bon and Embling accepted the distinction over long held fears of racial minorities like Chinese, who whites thought couldn’t be absorbed into settler society.

The new policy did not became law until December 1886 but was put into practice from 1882. Many left the reservation after government endorsement of Board proposals in 1884. In September 1886 those remaining protested against punitive clauses in the half-caste policy, which gave the Board power to remove Aborigines and stop rations and allowances. The Kulins petitioned the government over the racially discriminatory policy asserting the right to “feel free like the white population”. Premier Deakin removed illiberal clauses from the policy but the underlying principles were unquestioned as it represented the “unanimous wish of the country with regard to the half-castes”.

The following year the Board declared the Act marking the beginning of the end and leaving only a few older purebloods at the reservation. Most moved to Maloga on the NSW border, to traditional Yorta Yorta ceremonial ground near the Murray River where they kept up a strong memory of Coranderrk.

Coranderrk was eventually broken up and sold but remains the first example of sustained indigenous protest in Australia. In his Australia Day communication of 1972, vice-chair of NSW’s Aboriginal Land Board Kevin Gilbert remembered Coranderrk’s historical tradition to sound a battle cry for land rights. “Where detribalisation has occurred, we want all existing reserve and mission lands, which have a strong emotional tie for the people, to be restored and deeded to the Aboriginal people in perpetuity,” Gilbert said.

News Ltd and the ABC

There are good questions about why Australia needs a taxpayer funded national broadcaster in the 21st century, it’s just that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia is not asking them. Murdoch’s minions declared open season on Auntie after the election in a sustained campaign based on the boss’s self-interest and the political motivations of his editors.

One after another, we saw pompous editorials in the Australian which parodied themselves as they listed the ABC’s heinous crimes while lauding their own dubious journalistic talents. The editorial campaign was backed up by a barrage from News “trollumnists”.

That bastion of fairness Andrew Bolt suggested the timing of the leak was deliberate to embarrass Tony Abbott, while we had the shrill demands from Janet Albrechtsen, herself a former Howard-appointed board member, for the ABC managing director to step down. Greg Sheridan weighed in with his usual confused ideological claptrap, while Fairfax-convert Gerard Henderson toed the new party line with unflagging earnestness. The gold medal for propaganda went to News warhorse Piers Akerman for his suggestion the British children’s program Peppa Pig was a feminist fanzine.

Piers’ Peppa problems stemmed from the fact News Ltd confused two aspects of the problem, ABC’s role in public culture and the journalism practiced by its news division. Murdoch wants ABC out of the way so he can make profits from the vast space in television/radio/internet the broadcaster currently inhabits. His minions rail about the fact Auntie had fallen into the hands of “40-something announcers obsessed with their inner-city leftie lifestyles”.

The public broadcast funding model is an accident of its history. The growth of radio after the First World War and then television after the second, convinced government they needed control of these new media. This was unthinkable for newspapers as in many case they pre-dated the parliaments that would prescribe them.

The conundrum in public broadcasting that the only way to keep institutions genuinely independent is to fund them from the public purse. But the politicians that fund them detest the unfettered reporting and analysis of their activities while the columnists that denounce the ABC for being elitist never mention that even a modest rating ABC program is seen by three or four times as many people as those who see their anti-ABC rants in a newspaper.

Media commentator David Salter in Crikey was critical of the ABC conversational news style and lack of studio debates but defending it against News’s charges. Salter was the executive producer of Media Watch during its early years and saw the worst excesses of the Australian media at close quarters. His 2007 book The Media We Deserve is still relevant seven years on from its publication.

The ABC comes in for a fair deal of criticism in his book for complacency, poor governance, occasional cowardice and self-backslapping. But he admits they need defending too. No other group of public servants is so regularly defamed in parliament by the people who allocate their funding.

The real decision makers at the ABC are its cadre of managers and executives, who are much like the ABC’s audience: upper-middle class, suburban, political inactive and family-oriented.

The ABC is governed by an act of parliament and a charter and it has obligations to standards in areas of quality and community service. Where its opponents do have a point is the ABC’s monoculture. Its factual programming, says Salter, has a common stance of “assumed progressivism.” There is a core of passionate people at the ABC dedicated to its continuing success. The real question is whether program makers can put that aside when producing content.

The ABC can only continue as a credible public broadcaster, says Salter if it is prepared to “allow, and even encourage, the odd angry passages of self-inflicted damage at the hands of its own staff.”

The self-inflicted damage of News Ltd hacks can only be wondered at.

Queensland’s Three Crooked Kings

kingsI’m a latecomer to the work of Matthew Condon but I was converted after reading his personal and personable brief portrait of Brisbane recently. I was aware of his latest book Three Crooked Kings when it was released earlier this year and it gradually filtered to the top of my conscience wherever investigations of modern Queensland took me. Three Crooked Kings is the first of two Condon books on the sordid history of Queensland’s Police (now softened as a Service rather than a Force). It is about a cabal of crooked cops in cahoots with corrupt politicians from 1940 to 1990 that ended with the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Condon’s monumental investigation takes its spine from voluminous interviews he did with disgraced former police commissioner Terry Lewis as well as access to his copious diaries. Lewis’s story weaves in and out of a cast of coppers, politicians, prostitutes, club owners and gangland murderers. They got away with murder with the explicit approval of the powers that be, because they were the real powers that were.

Lewis joined the force in 1949 aged 20. A US army messenger boy during the war, he was looking for direction in life since leaving school at 12 and he thought the structured administration of the police would suit him. Lewis started on the beat and moved to traffic duty and became a police motorcyclist. He made the papers after three months when he was almost run off the road by three youths in a utility who threw milk bottles at him. After a citation, his attention was drawn to a vacancy at the CIB, Brisbane’s glamour detective squad. He got the job and was paired with the up-and-coming Tony Murphy. Lewis was a hard worker who put in long hours and he learned fast from senior detectives such as Francis Bischof.

One night he heard a woman’s scream while on patrol in South Brisbane. He chased a man running away who eventually raised his hands and said “Don’t shoot. I just kill my girl.” The man was Josef Dvorac but his girlfriend survived thanks to Lewis’s quick thinking of hailing a taxi to take her to hospital.

Lewis’s diaries also showed a great interest in brothels which he visited on a regular basis. The police unwritten rule for the sex trade was containment and control. Prostitutes paid protection to Bischof, though he would occasionally order his detectives to raid the brothels and arrest them all. Lewis and Murphy were among the favoured detectives who carried out Bischof’s dirty work.

When Labor’s long regime in Queensland came to an end in 1957, Bischof was sworn in as police commissioner. Lewis and Murphy continued to rise under him as did the third crooked king: Glen Hallahan. Together they were known as the Rat Pack. Hallahan started his police career in the tough mining town of Mount Isa and was transferred to the CIB after cracking a murder case. The trio regularly partnered together. Their HQ was the National Hotel at the corner of Queen and Adelaide St near the Custom House. The National was a busy bar which ran a call girl service.

Lewis and Hallahan won commendations when they faced down a crazed gunman who Hallahan knew from Mount Isa and whose wife was a prostitute. Hallahan wrested the gun from the man and they were nominated for a medal.

However the pair got into trouble when Bischof was on holidays and a prostitute complained to his temporary replacement about detectives demanding a rise in protection money. Lewis and Hallahan were placed under investigation and narrowly avoided being booted out of the CIB, thanks to patron Bischof who undid the damage when he returned from holidays.

Bischof was a compulsive gambler who hid SP bets under false names. Another bent copper, Jack Herbert, was the bagman for officers in the Licencing Branch who offered protection to SP bookmakers in a scheme the coppers called “the Joke”. The annual fee was $80,000 for Brisbane and less for smaller towns. In return the police left the bookmakers alone. No one in the force was sure who was on the take and Herbert ran the Joke with quiet efficiency. When politician Tom Hiley found out about Bischof’s betting, he confronted the commissioner who temporarily ordered a crackdown. But he was never charged and it was soon business as usual.

Lewis’s career took a different turn in 1963 when he became the founding officer of the Juvenile Aid Bureau located in a room next to the commissioner’s office. The JAB was Bischof’s baby and part of his public image as ‘father’ of the state’s children (Bischof was named Queensland’s father of the year in 1959 despite being childless). The new bureau put Lewis off the radar for 10 years. Another politician Colin Bennett accused Bischof and his acolytes in parliament of encouraging the call-girl service at the National. Premier Frank Nicklin ordered a royal commission with narrow terms of inquiry. Bischof’s men easily defeated the charges by undermining the witnesses. Murphy, Hallahan and Bischof all gave testimony and Justice Gibbs found no evidence of a call-girl service at the hotel, nor any suggestion the officers drank there after hours. Bischof held a victory party for his men that night at the National.

An emboldened Hallahan forged relationships with equally corrupt detectives in NSW. Sydney criminals coming to Queensland had to pay ‘rent’ to Hallahan of a thousand dollars a week while the reverse applied to Queensland criminals in Sydney.

Bischof’s health collapsed in 1968 and he retired just as a new politician was coming to the fore: Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Queensland’s accidental leader after premier Jack Pizzey died of a heart attack. Bischof’s replacement Norm Bauer was 65 and a stop-gap commissioner till Bjelke-Petersen could find a long term replacement. He chose career cop Ray Whitrod, an intellectual pivotal in founding the Federal Police and had served in Adelaide, Victoria and PNG. But to Lewis and the others, Whitrod was an outsider with radical notions like education qualifications and promotion on merit.

Bischof’s open door policy which saw Lewis, Murphy and Hallahan visiting twice a week, was swiftly ended and the Rat Pack were on the outer. Mattered worsened when Lewis publicly insulted his boss at a barbecue and Whitrod stormed off. When they next bumped into each other in a lift Lewis called the new commissioner a ‘fat pig’.

In 1970 former Brisbane-based prostitute Shirley Brifman went on Sydney television to make allegations against NSW detectives. She was also close to the Rat Pack (she had an affair with Hallahan) who had reason to be worried. She admitted she perjured herself in the National Hotel Inquiry in fear of her life and her children. After her revelations, Murphy convinced her to come back to Brisbane where Whitrod ordered her to be questioned.

Whitrod was under the glare in mid-1971 when the Springboks came to town. Bjelke-Petersen ordered a state of emergency and gave police wide powers of control and arrest. Whitrod was uneasy at being used as an arm of government but the powerful police union gave enthusiastic support. Bjelke-Petersen made a secret deal with them to go hard on the protesters in return for a massive pay rise. Two nights before the game, there was a protest outside the team’s motel. Whitrod lost control of his forces who deliberately attacked protesters.

Hallahan was also sailing close to the wind. Whitrod put him under surveillance and eventually had him charged with corruption. Murphy too was charged with perjury over the 1964 Inquiry. But the case against him collapsed when Brifman committed suicide. Murphy was banished to Toowoomba. Eventually Hallahan had his charges dropped but at a big cost – he resigned from the force.

Whitrod also had Lewis in his sights but he was harder to dislodge. Lewis was banished to Charleville but he patiently withstood his boss’s white-anting before finding a powerful friend. Whitrod turned his attention to bagman Herbert and the Joke in the Licencing Branch. Despite an epic Southport Betting Case, Whitrod couldn’t lay a hand on him.

His failures were noticed by Bjelke-Petersen. On a grand tour of Queensland, many senior police complained about Whitrod. One inspector told the Premier Whitrod had arrest quotas recorded on ‘kill sheets’. Whitrod denied the charge and this lie sealed his fate. While on his tour, Bjelke-Petersen asked senior officers who they would want to replace Whitrod. Lewis’s name kept coming up. Bjelke-Petersen met Lewis and accepted him into the Premier’s inner circle of trusted advisers. Within months two scandals gave Bjelke-Petersen the chance to move against Whitrod.

The story of Three Crooked Kings ends in mid-1976. Condon takes up the story in All Fall Down due ‘late 2013’ which would make the release any day now. It promises to be a gripping read and important history for the state of Queensland.

Bye Bye madiba: Legacy of a troublemaker

Madiba is gone. Hardly a surprise as he was fading in front of our eyes for three years and on the verge of death a few months ago. Yet the wave of universal grief did surprise imandelan its depth and intensity; perhaps because it was increasingly unheralded in our fractious world. Tributes came from everywhere. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had many enemies in life but none in death. The man was an inspiration, deeply revered and loved. Those that lived through his imprisonment, rallied around this massive injustice as a central shibboleth for their own causes. FW Klerk was the first Dutch South African who understood their time in power was unsustainable due to the international pressure that Mandela put on his oppressors.

There were others equally important to the cause of defeating apartheid, and some like Steve Biko famous as a martyr in his own right. But Mandela’s quiet dignity in prison shines through. The photographs from Robben Island did not lie. Here was a man his enemies had not beaten. Mandela spent 27 years locked up from the age of 44 to over 70 and he spent the first 10 in a state of perpetual anger against his captors. Mandela knew this was unsustainable and retreated into himself. He dropped the burden of martyrdom and learned the Zen of incarceration, inspiring others. Fellow prisoners would say that whenever they felt demoralised, one look at Mandela walking tall would revive them.

Mandela and the African National Congress he led from prison were dubbed communist terrorists by the regime, a charge picked up by many in Europe (which may or may not have included David Cameron) who painted South African politics over the left/right divide of their own lives. The ANC wanted to redistribute the wealth, but it had to be that way when 15% of the population held all of South Africa’s vast mineral riches because of their skin colour.

By being the most public victim of discredited racial superiority theories, Mandela said more with photos and silence from inside than he could ever do outside with his voice. By being quiet, he was, as Ban ki-Moon eulogised, a giant for justice.

His ideas filtered out through osmosis. His strength was his nobility and a refusal to copy his enemies’ ways. To get away from confused notions of black versus white he conjured up the rainbow nation and when he finally became president in 1994, he ordered a Truth and Reconciliation Commission instead of a witch hunt.

In retirement, he was South Africa’s “security blanket” so they could sleep with good conscience. His successor Thabo Mbeki’s problems with recognising AIDS and Jacob Zuma’s corruption could almost be forgiven while the not-white knight of the ANC was still alive.

Mandela was a clever politician who knew how to reach across the aisle. His deftest touch was to wear the Springbok jersey as South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in 1995 on home soil. Every leader likes to be associated with a good news sports story and there were few as good as the plucky Boks plundering the title at their first tilt from the indomitable All Blacks. Mandela presented the trophy to Francois Pienaar, both wearing green and both smiling broadly, transcending sport into a defining moment for the transformation of South Africa. The Springboks had been the poster boys of the apartheid regime, and a lightning rod for protest wherever they played abroad.

This wasn’t Madiba’s only astuteness. Before the election a year earlier, South Africa seemed likely to tear itself apart with conservative Boers unwilling to accept the handover of power. He visited Betsie Vorwaerd whose late husband Henrik invented apartheid in 1948 to solve the white republic’s problem of growing anti-colonialism. Mandela told Betsie the Dutch had nothing to fear from his leadership. He would go softly on the handover, but the legacy was tough for those that followed him.

In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize in one of Norway’s better decisions. Like Gorbachev, de Klerk took on a difficult mission to deliberately give away power when so many around him called for him to harden his stance against “the terrorists”. Through the Nixon and Reagan eras, the US cosied up to the South Africans as a bulwark against their bete noire of communism. When the Cold War ended Mandela was released and the regime unravelled.

Mandela had breeding for greatness. He was born in 1918 as a Xhosa tribal chief in Qunu in the Eastern Cape. Mandela (usually called by his Xhosa clan name Madiba or given name Rolihlahla which appropriately means “troublemaker” but never the European Nelson, given to him by a teacher at college) grew up in mudwalled huts but he eventually became a Thembu chief when his father died.

Mandela had human frailties and it showed in his family life. He was married three times, divorced twice and he abandoned long-time second wife Winnie despite her standing behind him during his prison years. Eldest son Thembi died in a car crash, another son Makgatho died of AIDS (something he was later powerless to stop the state from becoming paranoid over). He left an extended clan of grandchildren and great-grandchildren squabbling over his legacy.

Mandela studied arts and law at the University of Fort Hare. There he met Oliver Tambo and the pair later set up a black legal practice in Johannesburg. They were also politically active and with Walter Sisulu, founded the ANC youth league.

The Smuts regime had no love of the blacks but the even more extremist Nationalists came to power in 1948 and institutionalised common practices of discrimination. Mandela’s first arrest came in 1952 when he served nine months for “statutory communism”. It removed lingering doubt Mandela had about the justice of his cause. He gained his law degree in 1952 and although banned from meetings and from leaving Johannesburg, he was a thorn in the government’s side. He was arrested again in 1956 for treason, as was the entire ANC executive and the trial dragged on without resolution for several years.

The ANC were such a threat to the regime they were eventually outlawed in 1960. It was a fatal moment for Mandela because it put him permanently outside the law.

He left the country and trained up a military wing in Algeria and Ethiopia known as Umkhonto we Sizme. Shortened as MK, it meant Spear of the Nation, appealing to the black wars of the past against Europeans in South Africa. With Mandela in hiding, Tambo went to London and became the public face of the ANC and a flea in the hair of European governments.

Mandela was on the run leading MK military operations to sabotage the economy, it was only a matter of time before his luck ran out. In 1964 he was caught sneaking back into the country and sentenced to five years for illegally leaving South Africa. While in prison, authorities found more evidence about his involvement and leadership of the ANC. He was charged with treason. Expecting the death sentence, Mandela’s speech from the dock still resonates. The regime didn’t want to make a martyr of him and sentenced him to life at the republic’s toughest prison Robben Island off Cape Town.

The conditions he faced, especially in those early years can barely be imagined. Between punishments there were many years of soul destroying rock crushing. Yet his movement grew in strength through the violence of the 1960s and 1970s spurred on by Sharpeville and other massacres. Mandela spent 20 years at Robben. As his fame grew, the regime bartered with him. He could have his freedom if he accepted banishment to Transkei or if he renounced violence. Mandela rejected all deals.

In the UK, the band the Special AKA put the issue into public consciousness in 1984 with their hit Free Nelson Mandela. He wasn’t freed but his conditions got easier. That year, he moved back to the mainland on Pollsmoor prison and then in 1988 – now 70 years old – to Victor Verster model prison at Paarl. Mandela was a leader-in-waiting and he visited Premier PW Botha a year later. Botha was sick and replacement FW de Klerk moved quickly to release all the ANC leaders including Mandela.

He emerged to the world on February 11, 1990 aged 71. There was a triumphant world tour and calls for peace with whites. De Klerk held a whites-only referendum which supported multi-race elections by a two to one margin (69-31). Re-installed as ANC president, Mandela led the party to victory in its first legal elections in 1994. Once in power, he was laissez-faire economically preferring to spend political capital on truth and reconciliation. He spent one term as president and decided not to re-contest in 1999. Mandela still had plenty of energy and cachet as an elder statesman, becoming an international ambassador to resolve conflicts in Burundi and elsewhere in Africa.

He retired from public life in 2004, aged 85, and retreated to become a living saint. He was frail in his brief appearance at the 2010 World Cup and the world knew there was not much time left. He drove his battered body on for another three years before finally dying this week.

Maybe now released from his shadow, black South Africa will reach the standards he wanted from it. The country also needs the death of the ANC, a war-time behemoth unsuitable for peacetime needs. Its entrenchment of power is now the country’s biggest danger. Only when it succumbs to its own decrepitude will South Africa have a chance to meet the goals of the ANC’s greatest leader.

Contact: When the Dutch met the First Australians

Willem Janszoon's 1606 voyage to Australia and New Guinea (from Mutch, T.D., (1942) “The First Discovery of Australia - With an account of the Voyage of the Duyfken and the Career of Captain Willem Jansz
Willem Janszoon’s 1606 voyage to Australia and New Guinea (from Mutch, T.D., (1942) “The First Discovery of Australia – With an account of the Voyage of the Duyfken and the Career of Captain Willem Jansz”)

The first Europeans to have contact with Aboriginal Australia were the Dutch.

Between 1606 and 1756 Dutch explorers mapped and named many parts of the Australian coast. Captain Willem Janszoon (c1570-1630) made the first landfall in 1606 on the western side of Cape York in Queensland. He and those who followed were “dienaren” (servants) of the United East India Co, and their vessels had instructions to further company interests. In Dutch it was the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie and the VOC was the largest of the European trading companies in Asia, providing a successful model for the English East India Co. Between 1602 and 1795 the VOC sent 4785 ships to Asia bringing back 2.5 million tons of trade goods.

The Australian voyages were a small chapter of VOC’s story though Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand were mentioned in the founding charter of the trade zone which stretched from the Cape of Good Hope to the Straits of Magellan. The Dutch focused on the sea route from the Cape to Japan, but Australia and New Guinea were in their sphere of influence and several New Holland trips were responses to English voyages.

The year 1602 was a time of great change for the Dutch. The United Provinces of the Netherlands was fighting for independence from Spain, establishing itself as a major political and economic power. The VOC was a uniquely politico-commercial institution impossible elsewhere because the United Provinces was the world’s only federal republic. It was a collective of town governments committed to trade, industry and navigation and wielded great military and naval power. Its origins were in the complex relationship of towns, feudal states and bishoprics of Nederlanden (Low Countries). Part of the Habsburg Empire, the Low Countries were divided by language and religion with Protestantism gaining support in lower classes, lesser nobility and town leaders.

When Habsburg king Charles V abdicated in 1555, his son Philip became king of Spain and inherited Nederlanden’s 17 provinces. Philip’s determination to stamp out Protestantism led to the Dutch revolt in 1568 followed by the 80 Years War. Seven Dutch speaking Protestant northern provinces formed the United Provinces. Their Calvinistic religion put a positive spin on the pursuit of economic gain and gave worldly activities spiritual and moral meaning. The Dutch Reformed Church followed its sailors across the world.

In 1594 the Dutch began Asian trade. Cornelis de Houtman brought back a cargo of pepper and a treaty with the Sultan of Banten. Over the next six years, eight Dutch trading companies sailed 65 ships in 15 fleets to Asia. In 1602 they merged into a combined VOC, whose charter granted monopoly of all Dutch trade in Asia, turning it into a hybrid-state. Supreme command was with the admiral of the outgoing fleet but in 1609 the Dutch moved to the Portuguese model of central authority. VOC headquarters were in Ambon and in 1619 moved to Batavia (Jakarta). The VOC contributed to the Dutch Golden Age and benefited from scientific and technological advancements in astronomy and cartography while their dockyards were the most efficient in Europe.

For 150 years the VOC led European knowledge about the great south land. Nineteen vessels were sent to Australia on eight expeditions of discovery. They mapped the northern, western and southern coasts but never saw the east coast or Bass Strait. The Roaring Forties was the quickest route from Africa to Asia and brought Dutch sailors to the west coast. Dutch journals had the first brief descriptions of Aboriginal food, body painting, fire sticks, huts, canoes and weapons and corroborees.

In 1606 rumours of gold in New Guinea brought Willem Janszoon (Jansz) to Australia. His ship Duyfken (Little Dove) landed at north west Cape York peninsula. Sailor John Saris noted “nine men killed by heathens, which are man eaters” but never made it clear if the deaths were in Australia or New Guinea. In 1922 Queensland government geologist Robert Logan Jack said the Duyfken crew members were killed at Cape Kerweer in Queensland. However there is no record of the Dutch landing at Kerweer which was the southernmost point mapped by Janszoon’s men.

The first point of contact was at Pennefather River 160km north of Kerweer. There was an incident at Wenlock River north of Pennefather where one Dutchman was killed. In 1623 Carstenszoon said his ships Pera and Aernem passed a river the Duyfken went up in 1606 and “lost a man by the throwing of the savages”. The name Cape Kerweer (cape turnaround) represents not European domination but a defeat. It was more likely lack of water and provisions that ended their Australian voyage of discovery not the death of crew. The nine men more likely died in New Guinea. Jan Carstenszoon also lost nine men in New Guinea in 1623. Carstenszoon landed at Cape York between the Holroyd and Coleman Rivers but suffered no casualties. Subsequent histories talked about meetings with “wild, cruel, black savages”, often combining the 1606 and 1623 incidents and placing them in Australia not New Guinea based on the Logan Jack account.

Carstenszoon said the people he met in southern Cape York were less hostile than those in the north. This may be due to the northerners’ familiarity with foreigners at the meeting point with Melanesia and also the likelihood they were familiar with musket fire from Janszoon’s trip.

Locals quickly learned to be cautious of European weapons although their spears were a match for flintlock and matchlock firearms, especially in the rain. Muskets were heavy and fired from a rest position. Muzzle-loading was time consuming while light spears could be reloaded instantly. Carstenszoon said 100 blacks with weapons were on the beach preventing his landing. “(We) fired a shot to frighten them with a musket, upon which the blacks fled…and retired into the wood and from there they tried every means and evil practice to surprise and attack our men.”

Further south, curious blacks (some armed) came up to them “so bold that they grasped the muskets of our men and even tried to take the same off the shoulders and they wanted to have all they saw.” Demand sharing was common between kinfolk in traditional Aboriginal society to obtain objects and establish and reinforce claims of kinship, mutual dependency and amity.

The whites showed they could not be trusted. Carstenszoon enticed blacks with gifts and then seized one and took him on board as a source of information. The kidnap was one of his voyage instructions. They hoped natives would give information about precious commodities in New Holland. He kidnapped at least two more men though one died on board. Carstenszoon said the others ‘raised an outcry and made much noise’ in grief and rage.

The Aborigines may have though they were being spirited away to the land of the dead. It was unlikely the Aborigines thought the Dutch were human. In Cape languages like Anggamuthi, Thaynakwith, Wik, Kuuk-Thaayore, Yir Yoront and Oykangand the term meaning European originally meant ghost or devil. On western Cape York corpses were traditionally smoked and carried for a year before being cremated. The ashen-faced Dutch looked eerily like deceased relatives.

Ritual custodians maintained power by explaining these mysterious visitors within their cosmology. Metaphysical doubt was the enemy. The existence of Europeans called the Dreaming into question so visitors must be dead relatives. In time, the natives saw the visitors as all too human.

The day after the first kidnapping, the Dutch went ashore again to cut wood and fired twice to repel 200 surprise attackers. Other early sailors noted indifference to their presence. At the Staaten River in southern Cape York, Carstenszoon said seven or eight natives they met wouldn’t talk to them nor the people they met in following days. Aborigines dealt with danger by studiously ignoring it.

Whatever information the Dutch got from captives, they never found gold and lost interest in New Holland. The VOC was guilty of overreach when it attacked Chinese interests. The Dutch, exhausted by endless wars with the French, Spanish, Portuguese and English eventually lost their influence. England shared a similar heritage and trajectory towards industrial liberal democracy and similar notions of racial superiority when it came to the Aborigines. It is unlikely Australian history would have changed much for the original inhabitants had the Dutch been the colonisers.