My interview with Bob Katter

bob katterLast week I posted a live Facebook feed of my sometimes heated interview with Bob Katter. We sat down on the steps outside the steps of the Mount Isa pre-poll centre and chatted for 25 minutes. Thanks to issues with my technical skills and a dodgy selfie stick, the feed came out in Facebook on its wrong side, first 90 degrees to the screen and then in portrait mode instead of landscape. Nonetheless there was a lot of interesting material in the interview and 4000 words spoken, mostly by Bob, so here it is for posterity.

DB: Hi I’m talking with Bob Katter. Bob thanks for talking to the North West Star. Bob, we’re here live outside the Mount Isa pre-poll centre. Bob, we’re about a week out from the election, what’s your take on it so far.

BK: Well you said, it’s the first time we’ve seen you in Mount Isa for the election campaign and that is right. In traditional electioneering you leave the biggest centres till last and you do the smaller centres first and that’s exactly what we’ve done in this election –

DB: Bob I –

BK – so that’s two days I’m here now in what is still the biggest voting area in the electorate. The biggest booths are in Cairns, very sadly, you know their population, but it’s still the biggest voting area so you leave that till last so here I am.

DB: Fair enough and I understand it is a big electorate, I guess what prompted my question before we started taping about was this your first visit was I accused you of snubbing the north west and you hit back at me saying that wasn’t true, and as far as I know you haven’t done a campaign launch in this part of the world.

BK In actual fact I haven’t done a campaign launch at all, and I have to say that’s just incompetence on our part, but then again we’ve been so busy attacking and fighting to try and get the leverage we need. When you say, I must perform and I must deliver or you should boot me out. That’s the way it should be always. Now, I could spend my time, I love electioneering, a big elongated pub crawl. And no one can criticise me because I’m electioneering. Sometimes in the Overlander (Hotel in Mount Isa) where I was last night in the bloody bar. It’s the one time I can justify it and I enjoy myself. But you must deliver. Now the Prime Minister Scott Morrison would not come out to North West Queensland with the disastrous suffering that we had and endured with the death of all these cattle –

DB Hang on surely he would have come out –

BK Stop, stop,

DB Anyway –

BK Stop, Stop Stop. He had the floods on in Townsville. And these weren’t cattle dying these were people dying from disease caused by the flooding. And one of the people related to our staff was in very serious trouble. I know a number of people in Townsville that got these desperate diseases. He also had two other situations with the fires down south so we had people hit by this, a very small number of people, might be 400 or 500 people, you know, the floods and fires, there’s 200,000 people living in Townsville. But when I went down and spoke to him, I pulled some heartstrings, and I suppose said some things that would not have been entirely proper, and I convinced him to come out here. Now the difference between him coming out here and not coming out here, if he doesn’t come out here we get two hundred million, if he does come out here –

DB – So you said Bob,

BK: Stop, stop

DB – No I think I am going to interrupt you at this point.

BK – Right

DB – You said you were instrumental in getting $2 billion, surely that’s not (true), How –

BK – I’m explaining that to you. I’m explaining it. I’m saying 200 –

DB – All you are saying is you met him.

BK No, please let me complete what I’m saying. What I said is that if I could get him to come out, it was my belief we’d get a thousand million, and if I couldn’t get him to come out here we’d get two hundred million and I reminded him his family, the Gilmores part came from out here, Dame Mary Gilmore is the great-aunt and he worked out here as a young bloke . But he sees these people with their suffering and the massive numbers of cattle dead. It will be of enormous benefit. That’s what we want from our Prime Minister-

DB Nobody’s arguing –

BK – That they care about people –

DB – The Mayors of the area have done as much as you have

BK Absolute rubbish. Absolute rubbish. They had absolutely nothing to do with it. I walked in to see him, demanding to see him, because I was in a position I could demand and he said no he couldn’t go. And he didn’t have to explain to me. He’s got mobs of Liberals trying to stab him in the back, he is trying to pull the party together to go into an election, he’s got the ALP savaging him from across there, he’s got the fires down there where hundreds of thousands live, up in Townsville there’s 200,000 people with this dreadful flooding and people dying in the aftermath. Half a million cattle compared to those things, probably not so serious. So I pulled the heartstrings and in 25 minutes I convinced him to go there. The mayors had absolutely nothing to do with it. Two of them hate me with a pathological hatred, they’re entitled to, because my figures shamed their figures.and they’re entitled to hate me and they hate me.

DB Bob –

BK They had nothing to do with him going up there.

DB You say there was no-one else involved. Nonetheless this was the cattle industry which was extremely important to North West Queensland which was on its last legs because we had half a million cattle dead, he understood, and everyone understood, that you had to do something, and something large and whether you were there or not he was going to do that.

BK Derek, you know nothing about politics and the way that it works, absolutely nothing, my friend. And you can rave on to your heart’s content and be the mouthpiece for a couple of mayors, and we’ll judge them upon their performance. We had a flood in which we lost half a million cattle. The southern two-thirds of Queensland have had a drought in which they have lost almost similar figures. They have got nothing and my area has got two thousand million. Now what is the difference, they’ve got a dozen mayors down there  who make two mayors up here look like idiots. Complete non-performing monkeys compared with what you’ve got down there. Well not many of them are monkeys but compared to them they do not rate. Now, there were 12-15 mayors fighting the battle down there, they got nothing so how come we got it? I’ll tell you how we got it because my personal friendship and support and good rapport I have with the Prime Minister and because, infinitely more importantly I had the leverage.I had the power. I had the balance of power.

DB Well –

BK And I used it ruthlessly. I expected to get two hundred million. The minute I knew he was going, Derek, I thought I’d get a thousand million and we got two thousand million. And if I wasn’t there, you wouldn’t have got it. And you can say what you bloody well like but I’ve got 50 years of experience standing behind my statements you’ve got no experience at all standing behind yours.

DB – Okay…

BK Except as a journalist.

DB Okay well we’ll move on. I’m not on the ballot paper, Bob, but, you know, the locals mayors, I’m talking about the six north west mayors (Editors note 1: nine actually) who put one a six point plan that (shows) we’ve been shamefully neglected now you’ve been the MP in this area for over 20 years, haven’t you been asleep at the wheel if that’s the problem? The fact we’ve got no services, bad infrastructure, poor transport, poor telecommunications –

BK – Does this area include Hughenden?

DB It doesn’t (editor’s note 2, it does, and I later apologised for my mistake to Mr Katter)

BK It doesn’t include Hughenden alright, The Hann hwy got the first federal government special allocation for a special road to my knowledge in Australian history. I did not believe I had a tinker’s chance in hell of getting that highway but we got it. Now, I got two thousand million in assistance, I’m the member of parliament for the area, even if I had nothing to do with it but I’m the MP when it came so my good luck. But it was not good luck. My chief of staff was at the meeting and she’ll give you a statutory declaration that when we went to the PM, he said he couldn’t do that and I knew he’d say that because I knew his situation and I didn’t think it was unreasonable and we sat down and discussed what would convince him.

Derek – Bob,with all due respect the Hann Hwy is not part of this area (editor’s note 3, it is. See note 2).

BK The Hann Hwy is Georgetown –

DB – I’m talking about Mount Isa, about Cloncurry, I am talking about Normanton, Burketown, Julia Creek.

BK – Right-o, let’s go further west. You of all people Derek know the delicate situation that we had here concerning one of the mines and I have to choose my words very carefully. CopperString is worth $45m benefit to just one mining operation in this area.

DB – That’s if it comes off Bob

BK – And

DB – It hasn’t been delivered yet

BK And

DB I’m talking about what you you done in 26 –

BK and. And –

DB – years you’ve been an MP?

BK Will you shut up and listen to me for a minute

DB I have been listening to you all along

BK I’m losing my cool here, right? I’m not allowed to complete a sentence. You cut me short when I was talking about Scott Morrison and getting two thousand million

DB Bob –

BK And that’s nothing for the area

DB Bob, that’s one of the issues that people have with you, you go on –

BK It’s a very simple proposition. You said to me, what had I done for the area?

DB Okay

BK Well I got the Prime Minister to come out here and he gave us two thousand million

DB He didn’t come out to Mount Isa.

BK Aw, well. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. He didn’t come out to Mount Isa? Well, I didn’t know Mount Isa had any dead cattle

DB Mount Isa is the heart of this area. With 20,000 people. It’s gone from 30,000 to 20,000 in the last 20 years under your watch, Bob.

BK Who’s fault is that? No, no I’m asking you whose fault? I’m asking you the question you can answer it or say no I’m not going to answer it. Who’s fault is it?

DB – I guess its, I’m not on the ballot paper Bob, you know, it doesn’t matter what I think whose fault it is. I’m asking you whose fault it is.

BK I can tell you exactly whose fault it is.

DB Tell me then

BK It was Tony McGrady, the Mines Minister

DB – So you are blaming the state –

BK Who abolished, stop interrupting, who abolished the ban on fly in mining.I was the minister in 1990 (Editor’s note 4 Katter was mines minister until December 1989 when Labor won the state election). The town has 32,000 people then, the minute we lost the battle – there were huge meetings held there – 300 and 400 people at the meetings. We lost the battle, the state government had the power to allow fly in mining and the state government allowed fly in mining. It’s very simple. Now have we been able to get it back? No we haven’t and I feel and I think the criticism is valid that I as the federal member should have found some way to beat McGrady but his popularity here was twice mine so I have little chance of beating him here in Mount Isa. So he won, I lost, And this town lost. We lost (to) fly in mining. You are well aware of the letter I wrote to the paper when McGrady, one of his spokesmen, attacked Robbie Katter for removing one job in Cloncurry and I’d pointed out the jobs that he’d lost here. Well I’m sorry he won, I lost. But it wasn’t for the want of fighting. But you think you should vote for the bloke that took all the jobs away, or you should vote for the bloke that wants all the jobs here, that’s your choice.

DB Can we move on to another issue. People would say –

BK I want to answer your question. You asked me a question what have I done for this area. I don’t know because there is no specifics in the budget yet on how much money we have got in the greater Mount Isa Cloncurry area for the highway coming out from the coast, onto Tennant Creek, a couple of hundred million, I don’t know but I don’t know where they intend to spend it and I can’t get it out of them. I’ve had a number of meetings with Scott Buchholz the minister to plead the cause for all of these roads but I’ll be honest and said to you Chillagoe two three thousand people along that road, it’s still a dirt road, in our area they get 40-50 inch rainfall. That’s an appalling reflection upon me so I’ve got to fight for that and also the Flinders Hwy in my opinion is not bad between here and Cloncurry but the rest of it is falling to pieces and I’ve got to try and get some money in it but then I’ve got a one lane highway going to Normanton. You say the North West, well Normanton is the north west. And people are getting killed, one of my closest friends the mayor of Georgetown, not Georgetown the neighbouring shire got killed on it. (Editor’s note 5 he meant former Croydon mayor Jack Pickering) I was with him two weeks before he was killed. Obviously it is a very high priority for me. And I’ve got to go where I can get things to happen. But remember this, Hughenden irrigation is the prototype. It is the template. I would have never got Hughenden except in the context of getting Cloncurry, Normanton and Julia Creek. And Richmond has done a lot of good hard work. And getting all of those projects going which had to start somewhere. But Hughenden irrigation is as much about Cloncurry and Richmond as it is about Hughenden. It is a program for the development of the water resources of North West Queensland, if you like, I like to say the Far West, the Mid West and the Gulf.

DB One of the issues raised and it came really up at the top of the list when it came to election issues of our readers was the high cost of flights. You don’t seem to have done anything in that regard, Bob?

BK: I have had seven meetings called with the AWU in Townsville. Now, he wouldn’t give me the meeting.

DB Who wouldn’t?

BK, the AWU boss. I cannot do this without the power of the unions behind me and the AWU is the major union whether I like it or not, and I’m a member of the CFMEU so they are not particularly friendly towards me but I have to work with them, he comes from Mount Isa the senior boss. But I eventually got a meeting the sixth meeting that we called but he wouldn’t go to the meetings. The sixth one we agreed to go to the attend and he didnt attend so I went around twice to AWU HQ and they said he wasn’t there. So there was a seventh attempt. Now Robbie Katter believes he’s got a way of doing things differently – that is not the way I want to do it – he believes we can get another operator in here at a reasonable price. I believe we have to call for tenders and it cannot be done without the cooperation, and I had some initial discussion with the mayor (of Mount Isa) a fair while ago now but I don’t want to be going to her every 10 minutes about it because principally it’s my headache, I agree with you on that and I can tell you it’s not for the want of doing work on it. I have met with recently, and they did not disagree they could do the job for $400, there and back $500 to Townsville and also Robbie leans a bit more heavily on flights to Brisbane. But last time I spoke to him he said, ‘I’m beginning to think we are going to have to look at your approach’, so all I can say to you is that I agree with your criticism of myself, it hasn’t been done. It’s my fault and I accept that responsibility but I’ve got to say it is my belief, and I want to say this bluntly that I cannot do this unless I get the state government agreement, because most flights in and out are state government, unless I can get agreement of the major mining operations there because we’ve got to guarantee 72 percent uplift so you’ve got to be able to say that every flight on average has 72 percent of seats taken. I can’t do that without getting the mines and the state government to come in. It is my belief that that at the state election at the end of next year Robbie Katter and his team, the KAP will get the balance of power and he will be able to deliver the state government and if he’s able to deliver the state government I’m certain – not certain – I’m guardedly confident the mining companies will come in on it and I’m guardedly confident that we can get in under $600 return to Townsville. Now, I hope I don’t have to eat my words this time next year if I’m reelected but your criticism in this case is quite valid and I take it. You don’t get paid in my game for trying, you get paid for accomplishments. I’ve not accomplished it and I want to say bluntly unless I get the cooperation of the unions I will not be able to fulfill this. I do not have sufficient leverage to do that.

DB Bob, you’ve made a big deal out of your relationship with the prime minister Scott Morrison but all the polls seem to suggest Labor are going to win this election, you may lose that leverage?

BK I enjoy very good relationships with a number of senior ministers in the current government. I have a very good relationship, he’s still a very good friend of mine, with Kevin Rudd and also John Howard. I helped these people at various times. A person like myself in the position I’m in can be very helpful indeed.They can’t do things within their own party but I can do things for them from outside. Now I want to say I probably don’t enjoy good relationships with Bill Shorten comparable with my relationships with previous Labor PMs but I’ve got a lot of friends in the Labor party, a lot of friends, remember I’ve got a very close relationship with the CFMEU as I should have, I represent miners, people that work in the mines, and I should be, every MP should be close to their unions, they are good unions that represent their people and represent them properly, so I have a good relationship them and they are very powerful within the Labor Party so I’m not without teeth in the Labor party, so it’s a good question and a good criticism as well.

DB: Bob you don’t think you are too old for the job?

BK:: You know I’ve got the press ringing me saying you are the most energetic person running for parliament, where do you get the energy from. I don’t want –

DB Where do you get the energy from?

BK I dont want to put Robbie Katter down but he didnt get the best player for North Queensland and signed for the Cowboys and I 40 years older than him beat him over 25m a few weeks ago and he reckons I cheated so we had a rerun and I beat him again so I’m not doing too bad for 74 (Editors note 6, Bob turns 74 May 22 six days after the election) and an 80 hour week and a sinus condition and a breakdown of health, three days (indistinguishable) but obviously I’ve done it. But if you’ve worked an 80 hour week on average since Christmas you are going alright. And if you want to know where I am I am in Mount Isa today, I’m in Mareeba tomorrow and you know it gives me no joy to say this but Mareeba is now over 24,000 people and we are down below 20,000 here and this is my homeland and I take full responsibility but if the people of Australia vote for people that want to destroy us all I can do is fight like a tiger and threaten and my threats are not idle, not idle at all. I don’t want to tell you how I brought down a deputy prime minister or a premier or the most powerful person in the Labor Party or a prime minister, I’m not going to dwell on that but people know that is what I have done and fear is a very powerful weapon that I have, but that doesn’t mean I win all the time. My task has been to keep the mines open here and you might make very small beer of Copper String and you might say it’s never going to happen, well, people said that about Burdekin Falls Dam, people saying that even after Bjelke-Petersen announced it and they started work. All I can tell you the money has been budgeted in the budget for the amount of money that the planners and initiators and owners of the project have advised is all they need to move forward with the project. The project stands on its own merits. They just need the five million to complete the engineering work. That’s all they need. They get that, the project is going ahead.Now the mining companies involved have also informed that the project is going ahead. That’s the best I can do for you but I can tell you in this case I had to have I think four meetings with the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who I enjoy a very good relationship, but you know I like to think Tony Burke, I enjoy a very good relationship, Albanese I enjoy a very good relationship, there’s half a dozen on the Labor side. We don’t all like each other down there but you know there are people that like me on that side and on the other side and there are people that hate on both sides. Yeah all right.

DB: Bob, thank you very much for talking to the North West Star.

BK: Good call on your part

The Lafcadio Hearn Japanese gardens of Tramore

The Lafcadio Hearn Gardens, Tramore Co Waterford.

Lafcadio Hearn is little known these days but he was one of the 19th century’s most colourful literary figures. His writing on Japan and New Orleans reflect a wide background and he was known as the “interpreter of two worlds“. Hearn’s story has a strong Irish element and an enduring connection to County Waterford.

Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was born on the Greek island of Lefcada, which accounts for his unusual first name. His mother Rosa Antoniou Kassimatis was a Greek noblewoman who married Surgeon-Major Charles Bush Hearn in a Greek Orthodox ceremony. Hearn senior was a doctor in the British 76th Foot Regiment stationed in Corfu in 1848 (where Queensland’s first governor George Bowen also met his Greek wife Lady Diamantina Roma a few years later). Hearn was an Irishman though sources differ on whether he came from Offaly or Armagh. Either way, his wife’s family did not approve of the match.

In 1851 England withdraw part of its occupation force from Corfu and Charles was assigned to duty in the West Indies. His new post in Grenada provided no accommodation for his wife and child, and with Rosa still estranged from her family he sent them to his aunt Sarah Brenane, a rich widow, of Rathmines, Dublin. Charles was her favourite nephew and she wished to make Lafcadio, whom she called Patrick, heir to her fortune if she could take charge of his training and educate him in the best Roman Catholic schools.

Rosa’s health faltered and in 1853 Charles was sent home to Dublin to recuperate after contracting Yellow Fever. A fellow officer told him his first lover Alicia was now a widow, and still living in Dublin. Charles and Alicia had wished to marry seven years earlier, but Alicia’s family felt Charles social status was not suitable. Charles took Lafcadio to visit Alicia, but Sarah discovered the reunion and ordered the child never again to be taken near Alicia.

In 1854 Rosa was pregnant with Lafcadio’s brother James, before Charles was ordered to the Crimean War. James was taken into the Hearn family and Lafcadio only ever saw his younger brother once. When Charles returned 18 months later, he and Rosa split. She moved to Malta never to see her husband or children again. Charles married Alicia in 1857 and was transferred to India taking her children – but not his children – with him. He sent letters to Lafcadio, but eventually dropped out of his life.

Sarah became permanent guardian and divided her time between Dublin, Bangor in north Wales, and her late husband’s estate at Tramore in County Waterford. The closest he had to a mother was a nanny, Catherine Costello, who took him on summer days to the big beach at Tramore (from Trá Mhór, “great strand”). Like fellow American writer Raymond Chandler, pleasant memories of boyhood days in county Waterford remained though his life. According to Elizabeth Stevenson’s “The Grass Lark: A Study of Lafcadio Hearn” Hearn learned to love the sea on Tramore’s wide sands “with a broad sky full of clouds and winds”. Here he listened to local fishermen and their stories of shipwreck and adventure. It was also the last place he met his father.

Sarah educated Hearn in France and Durham but when she went bankrupt in 1867 due to the misdealings of financial adviser Henry Molyneux, the 17-year-old was cut loose in London. He drifted spending days at the British Museum. Two years later Molyneux had recovered enough to send Hearn a one way ticket to the US with instructions to seek Molyneux’s sister and husband in Cincinatti. They had little to offer but he found a job at the Cincinatti Enquirer.

Hearn established a reputation as a lurid storyteller covering murders in Cincinatti and became the paper’s top journalist. In 1874, aged 23, he married Mattie Foley, a 20-year-old African American, in violation of Ohio’s anti-miscegenation law. Local clergymen complained about his anti-religious views while politicians were embarrassed by his satirical writing forcing the Enquirer to fire him, citing his illegal marriage as excuse. He moved to rival newspaper The Cincinnati Commercial. Hearn and Foley divorced in 1877 and he moved to New Orleans where he lived for almost 10 years.

In the deep south his vivid writing boosted circulations of his papers and his reputation grew within the industry, though his name was unknown to wider audiences. He helped create the reputation of New Orleans as a culture more like Europe and the Caribbean than America. Hearn also published in Harper’s Weekly, who sent him to the West Indies and he lived in Martinique for two years.

In 1890, Hearn was sent to Japan as a correspondent. Though his contract quickly ended, he found a new home in Japan and his greatest inspiration. British Japanologist and professor of Japanese at Tokyo Imperial University Basil Hall Chamberlain helped Hearn get a teaching position in Matsue, in western Japan. The Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his old residence are still two of Matsue’s most popular tourist attractions. He married Koizumi Setsu, daughter of a local samurai family, and they had four children. He became a Buddhist and a naturalised Japanese, assuming the name Koizumi Yakumo. In 1894, he became a journalist with the English-language Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo Imperial University and later was a professor at Waseda University, where he died of heart failure aged 54.

Hearn and his wife Koizumi Setsu.

Japan’s mysterious styles and aesthetics became popular around the turn of the 20th century, particularly in Paris, and more so after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. As the world flocked to writings on Japanese culture, Hearn’s 15 books about Japan were rediscovered, offering the West its first descriptions of pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan.  

Hearn’s 20th century reputation waxed before waning. His works stimulated the imagination of Albert Einstein who visited Japan in 1922 and Charlie Chaplin a decade later. In his 1964 autobiography Chaplin wrote, “I had read a book about Japan by Lafcadio Hearn, and what he wrote about Japanese culture and their theatre aroused my desire to go there.” But the Second World War changed romantic views of Japan and Hearn fell into disfavour.

In 2014 the first museum in Europe for Lafcadio Hearn was inaugurated in his Lefkada birthplace. The Lefcadio Hearn Historical Centre contains early editions, rare books and Japanese collectibles. A year later the Lafcadio Hearn Gardens opened in Tramore in a ceremony attended by Hearn’s great-grandson Bon Koizum and the Japanese ambassador to Ireland. Inspiration for the garden came from a visit by Koizum to Tramore in 2012 and the project was spearheaded by the Tramore Development Trust. The one-hectare garden’s theme reflect Hearn’s journey from west to east.

The gardens follow Hearn’s life, first through the Victorian Garden, then to the American and Greek gardens, ending in the Japanese gardens with its bridges, porticos and azumayas (gazebos).

The facility is as an educational garden of Teagasc (Irish Agricultural Authority), Kildalton Agricultural College and the Waterford Institute of Technology. The development is also aimed at deepening cultural relations between Ireland and Japan, after Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Ireland in June 2013 and a return visit by Taoiseach Enda Kenny six months later.

Tramore was a fitting location for the memorial. Until his final years Hearn remembered Tramore summers. “I found myself thinking of the vague terror with which I had listened, when a child, to the voice of the sea,” he wrote. “And I remembered that in after years, in different coasts in different parts of the world the sound of the surf had always revived the childish emotion.”