Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident

CaptureBruce Pascoe is one of the most confronting Aboriginal writers active. I support his cause of re-evaluating the legacy of pre-invasion Australia but I was a little annoyed by a previous book Convincing Ground (2007), which was mainly about the way the land was stolen in Victoria. I have no arguments with his history (Convincing Ground is a massacre site near Portland) but the frequent editorialising and sarcastic anger (however understandable) got in way of his important message and diluted its impact. So while I’d heard a lot about his later book Dark Emu (2014), I’d resisted it until this year.

While the tendency is still there in Dark Emu, Pascoe has kept his anger, sarcasm and moralising mostly in check and instead compiles a well-researched and persuasive account about the little known building activities of humans in Australia before 1788. This account is important because a subtle (and sometimes blatant) racism still exists in Australia predicated on the notion there was no civilisation or agriculture on the continent before Europeans arrived and the land was “there for the taking”, terra nullius or not.

Dark Emu looks at the evidence that proves this was nonsense. Pascoe is inspired by two books written since he published Convincing Ground: Rupert Gerritsen’s Australia and Origins of Agriculture (2008) and Bill Gamadge’s The Biggest Estate (2011).  Both works challenge the stereotype Indigenous Australians were all nomadic hunter-gatherers, Gerritsen through his study of food production and Gamadge through his study of fire management regimes.

Pascoe explored the journals of explorers and early colonists who invariably believed in British superiority and the right to occupy supposedly empty lands. They downplayed the significance of what they saw. But the evidence from their journals seeps out in repeated references to dam and well building, the planting, irrigating and harvesting of seed, storing surpluses, and building warehouses, homes and even cemeteries, none of which fit the stereotype of the hunter-gatherer.

Settlers were at pains to disguise the war by which they took possession of a land and it suited them to deny the existence of a prior economy, so it has been written out of the Australian story.  But it remains in explorer Thomas Mitchell’s diaries. While travelling in the Darling Basin in the 1835 he saw how the Bagundji people harvested native millet: “the grass had been pulled and piled in hayricks, so that the aspect of the desert was softened into the agreeable semblance of a hayfield … we found the rick, or hay-cocks, extending for miles.” Nearby, Mitchell saw large village huts “made of straight rods meeting at an upright pole in the centre” which housed a thousand people.

Similarly in Western Australia explorer George Grey found a village on the Gascoyne River “built of large-sized logs”. Grey found huts which were plastered over with clay and turf, as well as deep wells and land planted with yams. He described it as the result of hard manual labour “I could not believe it in the power of uncivilised man to accomplish”. Yam daisy or murnong farming was spread across Australia with First Fleet captain John Hunter saying people in Sydney were dependent on them and “Protector” GA Robinson seeing women digging for them in Victoria.

But their techniques of good soil management were ended by war and occupation and yam farming disappeared in a generation. Settler Isaac Batey noted “another factor of destruction in the soil becoming hardened with the continuous trampling of sheep, cattle or horses”. Ethnobiologists have found pre-colonisation yam farming techniques included a systematic tilling process which aerated the soil, loosening it for seed germination and incorporated ash and compost material.

Grains were also a crucial staple. White bushie Walter Smith noted how Central Australians would carefully spread grains by hand, then spread dirt and wait for the rains to come. Domesticated grains were a precious commodity traded with others in sealed parcels. There is evidence at Cuddie Springs near Walgett of seed grindstones 30,000 years old which Pascoe says makes “these people the world’s oldest bakers by almost 15,000 years”.

Another native plant used for food was nardoo. Burke and Wills died because they did not know how to use it but nardoo was crucial in inhospitable areas because it could grow on the beds of shallow lakes. Aboriginal people swept the seeds in stockpiles and processed it into flour stored in vermin-proof vessels. The bush tomato became dependent on Central Desert people for its propagation and spread, promoted by selective burning near campsites. Surplus was ground to a paste and rolled into balls and could last a year or more. For thousands of years Aboriginal people have harvested rice known for its drought-surviving qualities and its ability to be planted in brackish water.

Irrigation is another Australian staple. Walter Smith remembers seeing Aboriginal people build a dam and irrigation trenches. People would dig in a line and scoop out the earth to form a bank, before trampling the clay base and using ant nest material to firm it up further. One dam on the Bulloo River in Western Queensland was 100 metres long capable of holding 700,000 litres of water. Explorer Ernest Giles found a 1.5m high dam in the Nullabor capable of watering seven men and 22 camels for a week.

Aboriginal people also targeted kangaroos sometimes with 2000 people driving game 30kms to a dispatch point using netting and kilometres of fences and walls. They were herded into holding pens with narrow apertures which could direct the males to be slaughtered and others to escape. Firing techniques were also used to herd roos.

Pascoe also looks at two large-scale aquaculture projects at Brewarrina in NSW and Lake Condah in Victoria. The Brewarrina fish traps may be the oldest human structures on earth, possibly up to 40,000 years old. Witnesses who saw it in operation in the 1800s were astounded by the efficiency of the trap, the number of people involved and the enormous harvest. The rocks were arranged into patterns and fish were herded in through small openings. The stone locking system with arch and keystones was engineered to fix the trap to the stream bed. Breeding stock was allowed to pass through and families managed each pond in an integrated and sustainable way.

At Lake Condah, the main catch was eels. The fish traps there are 8000 years old. The systems comprises of hundreds of metres of excavated channels and dozens of basalt block dam walls. Nets and weirs were used to impound fish for a largely sedentary population. At Condah there is evidence of eel smoke houses. Condah and Brewarrina both supported large populations, but similar smaller scale fishing systems existed across Australia, even in parched areas like the Strzlecki Desert.

Adroit use of fire is another underestimated trait of Indigenous Australians. Early pre-historians assumed the firing of the bush was a simple method of providing green pick to attract game but more recently it is being seen as wholesale land management. Low-level burns were done in mosaic patterns with better soils used for production while inferior soils were left for forest. Aboriginal people burned land in a rotating mosaic at a time of year dependent on the weather, the type of country and its condition. They avoided certain plant growing seasons and advised neighbouring clans of planned burns.

Gammadge wrote fire shaped the land and note the park-like conditions early settlers observed. But when Aboriginal people were prevented from their usual practices the countryside was overwhelmed with understorey species and what had been productive agricultural land became scrub in a decade. Pascoe says infrastructure like buildings, fences and power lines complicate the adoption of similar methods today “but does not prevent it”.

Pascoe says Aboriginal architecture, agriculture and aquaculture remains stubbornly outside Australian folklore. The determination of colonial Australia to discount Aboriginal achievements has passed into contemporary society.  It suits too many people to claims that they were “nomads” who had no concept of land ownership. But they did own the land, using the natural conditions – no matter how harsh – and developing endemic grains and tubers. They farmed, they lived in villages and built houses, they harvested cereals, managed complex fisheries and led sedentary agricultural lives most Australians still imagine was not possible before 1788. As we descend further into climate emergency, we need to cast aside this structural racism. We must proudly embrace this startlingly ingenious ancient culture and learn what it has to offer about how to survive in this land for millennia.




Moving to prosperity without growth

downloadThe idea that growth is essential to prosperity is almost holy writ in modern market economies. Growth leads to higher incomes and increased choices and an improved quality of life. This is measured globally by Gross Domestic Product per capita, where GDP is a crude measure of economic activity. Increasing GDP still makes some sense for the three billion people in the very poorest countries (though even then only if GDP growth outstrips the population growth) but is it still relevant for rich countries where more consumer goods add little to material comfort?

That’s the question posed by Tim Jackson’s book Prosperity Without Growth (written in 2008 and updated in 2017). Jackson challenges the assumption that consumption growth without equity and sustainability can deliver global prosperity. Our society is hooked on growth but it places us in a dilemma between economic stability and the need to remain within ecological limits.

Introducing the 2008 edition of the book, former UN commissioner for human rights and president of Ireland Mary Robinson refers to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which set a “common standard of achievement” to measure the progress of nations. Our world has failed to meet that standard in economic and social rights with the number of people in chronic poverty and daily insecurity as high as ever, women and children suffering disproportionately.

Jackson begins with a definition of prosperity, things going well “in accordance with our hopes and expectations”. This is a hope things get (and stay) better not just for individuals but for all around them. But he says our technologies, economy and social aspirations do not align with that fundamental expression of prosperity. The continual expansion of material wants is untenable and Jackson’s book seeks to find other ways of flourishing within ecological limits.

Jackson says we tend to think of limits as inconvenient or even illusory. Ronald Reagan once said “there are no great limits on growth because there are no limits on the human capacity for intelligence, imagination and wonder.” These things inside us may well be limitless but the idea we can overcome all external material limits is foolhardy. Reagan’s quote was in response to the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth (1972) which looked at how affluence was curbed by the physical limits of the planet. As resources decline, it becomes more costly to extract them and the “energy return on energy invested” equation becomes untenable. Much of this thesis was dismissed as scaremongering, or wished away like Reagan did, but it has never been seriously undermined. Peak oil may have been delayed by the discovery of unconventional resources but still exists as a concept and so far our intelligence, imagination and wonder does not seem to want to push us far enough away from fossil fuels fast enough.

As Bill McKibben says we will run out of planet before we run out of oil. The accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is accelerated by human activities and the ability of the climate to assimilate these emissions within temperature rise limits tolerable to human existence is fading, as each IPCC report after report shows.

With these problems in mind, Jackson redefines prosperity to include greater well-being and social cohesion and also reduce the material impact on the planet. Jackson borrowed from Amartya Sen’s three concepts of prosperity: opulence (the quantity of material satisfaction), utility (the quality of material satisfaction) and capability for flourishing (how well we can flourish in any context).

He also questions whether economic growth is a necessary condition for lasting prosperity. He notes the importance of income (opulence) which is played out through relative effects. We compare our income to those around us to establish our social standing. Being at or near the top helps individual health and prosperity but does not add well-being to the nation. He quotes the book The Spirit Level which shows inequality has damaging impacts across the nation as a whole, though he acknowledges social logic locks people into positional competition. He also acknowledges de-growth is unstable and can lead to rising unemployment, falling competitiveness and a spiral of recession.

Writing ten years ago, Jackson spruiked the Green New Deal, an idea that foundered for a while but is now getting a second run with some Democratic candidates in the 2020 US presidential election. If that the public sector is spending money to invigorate the economy it should be on technologies to address 21st century resource and environmental challenges. This could be in labour-intensive industries investing in energy efficient buildings, the electricity grid, renewable energy and public transportation.

The idea foundered after the GFC with governments preferring other stimulus measures aimed at high-street spending with few low-carbon outcomes. Jackson suggested green bonds linked to low-carbon investments to pay for the stimulus rather than increasing national debt. This would need to be supported by governments investing in energy assets and what he called “ecological tax reform”.

Stabilisation of the economy could be achieved by working less hours and sharing jobs or introducing universal basic income. As well as lowering growth and reducing it would reduce unemployment and poverty without compromising economic stability or climate change targets.

But to end the cleavage between the economy and the environment, the social logic of consumerism also needs to be addressed. This will not be easy given how material goods are woven into the fabric of our lives. There are never enough material things to make us satisfied and the need to avoid social shame, the “keeping up with the Joneses” drives demand forward ceaselessly. Jackson says two structural changes are needed to shift values and behaviours. The first is to dismantle perverse incentives to constantly improve social status and the second is to establish new structures to allow people to flourish in less materialistic ways. The latter will need more policy attention to what flourishing means and must address social alienation and anomie. That involves reducing social inequality – which is on the rise in most western societies.

Jackson doesn’t pretend that introducing an ecologically-literate macroeconomics and changing the logic of consumerism are easy challenges. Together they are possibly the biggest ever faced by human society. Writing after the GFC he was right to say the current model has failed us, but memories are short and 10 years on, it’s business as usual at the bourses and banks. Jackson says the transition to a sustainable economy must begin by establishing the resource and environmental limits.  That means identifying greenhouse gas emission caps and reduction targets and taxing carbon. He sees the need to shift the burden of taxation from economic goods like incomes to ecological “bads” such as pollution. There needs to be funding mechanisms so that poorer countries can still grow which still investing in renewables, low-carbon infrastructure and the protection of carbon sinks such as forests. Jackson also says financial markets need to be reined in by outlawing short-selling, reducing executive remuneration packages, protecting against consumer debt and incentives for savings.

How all these things happen in a runaway executive salary market with almost negative interest rates and with Trump and other populists rampant, Jackson probably could not foresee. But he offers a useful economic perspective on the problems of capitalism. He understands the dangers of novelty and how it drives consumption while undermining our sense of common endeavour. A better and fairer social logic lies within our grasp, he says. “Neither ecological limits nor human nature constrain the possibilities…only our capacity to believe in and work for change”.












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 a connection to County Waterford which lasts to this day.

Hearn (1850-1904) was born on the Greek island of Lefcada, who 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). 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 forces of occupation 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 in 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.

Meanwhile Rosa’s health began to falter, 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 that woman.

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 and 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 back to Lafcadio, but eventually dropped out of his life.

Sarah became his permanent guardian and she divided her time between Dublin, Bangor in north Wales, and her late husband’s estate at Tramore in County Waterford. The closest thing he had to a mother was a nanny, Catherine Costello, who took him on summer days to the big beach at Tramore (from the Irish Trá Mhór, meaning “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” it was on Tramore’s wide sands Hearn learned to love the sea “with a broad sky full of clouds and winds”. Here too 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. There he drifted for two years 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 eventually found a job at the Cincinatti Enquirer.

Hearn established a reputation as a teller of lurid stories 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 the excuse. He went to work for 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 the circulations of his papers and his reputation grew within the industry, though his name remained 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 newspaper 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. 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, the 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 was a mostly unknown concept to the west at this time but its styles and aesthetics became popular around the turn of the century, particularly in Paris, and more so again 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 some of its first descriptions of pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan.   

Hearn’s 20th century reputation initially 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 had changed romantic views of Japan and Hearn fell into disfavour.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the first museum in Europe for Lafcadio Hearn was inaugurated in 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 Japanese-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 (the 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. Up until his final years Hearn always remembered his 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.”



Brexit in endless stasis

Anti-Brexit protesters at Downing St. Photo:AP

On the night of the stunning Brexit vote in 2016 I was talking to an English friend who could not believe the outcome. I told him not to worry, I reckoned there and then it would never happen. It’s not that I thought Britain would go to the polls a second time to reverse the vote – I believed it more likely Britain would never admit to the mistake. All I saw was interminable period where, like the testy relationship between the two Chinas, it would remain forever stalemate with no satisfactory conclusion.

Nothing that has happening in the near three years since the people’s shock vote of 52-48 for Britain to leave the European Union, has caused me to change my mind. Neither the UK nor the EU can come to agreeable terms on the divorce. It’s in Europe’s interest for Britain to stay, so it can play hard. The bluff is that Europe would come out of a no-deal Brexit with a “very bloody nose” (to use a British expression) but would be far less worse off than Britain which would bleed from head to toe.

That bleeding could be more actual than metaphorical in Northern Ireland, Britain’s only land border which was barely discussed in the 2016 vote. Now the Irish backstop is at the heart of all trade discussion in Brussels. And it is more existential than just trade.

The extremists on both sides in Northern Ireland are already ratcheting up the tension with journalist Lyra McKee a sad casualty this week. A no-deal Brexit is the instinctive default position of “no surrender” hardline Unionists while it may also be the best recruiting tool yet for the nonsensical but dangerous minds that inhabit splinter groups like the New IRA and Continuity IRA (the latter so-called because it claims continuity with the Rebels that never accepted British rule or the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ratified separation of the island).

History lessons die hard on both sides but rhe vast majority of residents Catholic, Protestant and otherwise know their lives have been improved immeasurably since the artificial six country boundary was removed. In the 2016 referendum Northern Ireland voted 56-44 to remain – Belfast was one thing, Brussels was something else again.

But Dublin is a bridge too far for the DUP,  who Theresa May relies on for power. Britain could have left the EU by now if it had agreed to keep the Irish border open. But the DUP could not tolerate any difference from Scotland and Wales (ignoring the fact they share an island with another country). T he DUP will hobble any attempt to wean Westminster off this crisis. The likelihood is they could be just as important in the next general election given the likelihood of another hung parliament and the inability of the major parties to turn it into a proper EU referendum (they already had a chance in the 2017 election and failed).

Britain, meanwhile, is tearing itself apart. Apart from at election time, politics is no longer Labor versus Tory but remainer versus brexiteer, as if Alexander Dumas had stormed Westminster. The fundamental belief of the 48 percent that voted remain in 2016 is that leaving the EU is madness, and they feel robbed as some of the 52 percent were duped by false advertising by the leave vote.

The 52 percent (17.4 million compared to the leave’s 16.1 million) had many different different reasons for leaving. It is not clear a sufficient number of them have changed their mind since 2016 to enable a different result today. The UKIP is on the rise again as their followers fear the Tories will sell them down the river. Libertarian purists insist the will of the people be carried out, though are less clear on what Brexit Britain would actually look like.

For many the referendum vote was not about what was, but what could be. The fear of immigration was real, the poll was almost a year to the day of the Tunisian terrorist attacks at Sousse beach in June 2015 where terrorists killed 38 people, most of them British (30), an attack that must have hit hard. Churchill was prepared to fight them on the beaches, but is today’s tourists preference to lie on them, and feel threatened by Muslims from Cairo to Calais – and across the channel.

The British Muslim population is around 2.5 million now (4.4 percent of the whole)  but between 2001 and 2009 the Muslim population increased almost 10 times faster than the non-Muslim population. They worry Britain could become Islamic, albeit at some distant time – even by 2050 it will be 13 million, still less than a quarter of the population. But by 2050 many of those who voted for Brexit will be dead – 62% of men over 65 and 66% of women over 65 voted leave.

In any case planning to 2050 seems silly when parliament is utterly unwilling to give any option a try. Every “meaningful vote” has been struck down. Even the Theresa May option without Theresa May won’t get past the Unionists. But they still won’t give her a vote of no confidence. Britain is stuck in a Kafaesque mess of its leaders’ making hanging by the thread of the ever-changing date of the latest deadline (now October 31).

They don’t even control the deadline.  That’s purely within the EU with the likes of EU president Donald Tusk wanting to give Britain 12 months to French president Emmanuel Macron who wants it to end soon, deal or no deal. Macron has a point, the European elections next month will include Britain – a lot of money on an election that could be wasted if Britain does leave. The compromise of six months possibly turns the euro elections into a de facto Brexit second referendum. But that to have legitimacy would require an enormous change of behaviour on British electors’ part to treat seriously – barely one in three British voters typically vote in the European elections (35.6 percent in 2014).

In any case neither of the two major parties has a coherent position on Brexit, reflecting the schism of the nation itself. Part of me thinks Britain should respect the 2016 vote and leave. The Irish part of me vindictively thinks they may need the cold, hard reality of economic shock in order to repent at leisure and reapply to join. But that same part also worries about the collateral and calamitous damage to Ireland in a no-deal Brexit. This is not just about the economy but about peace itself. The only way to avoid the sword of Damocles is to pretend it doesn’t exist. The British public may be reacting to this faster than the politicians with latest economic data showing heavy consumer spending in March. A stalemate you say? Okay, keep calm and carry on.



The British public does not seem too perturbed by the prospect of neither quite out or quite in indefinitely with latest retail sales still strong. Maybe it’s Brexit fatigue but such optimism cannot be sustained long term. According to a new report by S&P Global Ratings, Brexit has already cost the British economy £66bn in just under three years – about £1000 lost for every per person and UK has missed out on £550m of economic growth per week. The 17th century Brexiteers have brandished their swords but have no coherent arguments where they are going to staunch the presumably greater losses if they actually leave. But neither they cannot bring themselves to accept Britain is a “vassal state” (like all other 27 members). Like the Chinas it’s all about not losing face. So it’s easier to do nothing.






Warren Mundine: a life in black and white

warren-mundine-in-black-and-whiteWarren Mundine has lived an adventurous and complicated life. The former ALP president is now a Liberal candidate in the next election for the seat of Gilmore on the New South Wales south coast, parachuted in by prime minister Scott Morrison over local objections. A proud Bundjalung-Gumbaynggirr man from Grafton Mundine has never been afraid of controversy. His autobiography Warren Mundine: in Black and White was written in 2017 before he stood for election as Liberal but after his departure from Labor and charts his political journey and his Aboriginal heritage. The book is also painfully honest about his personal life and his relationship with three wives and his wider family.

Mundine was born in 1956 in a separate wing of Grafton Hospital for Aboriginal mothers and babies. Segregation was commonplace in regional Australia before 1967 and Mundine begins with how his ancestors went from being masters of their country to slaves in under a century. When their land was stolen survivors were removed to reservations and missions, and their lives were controlled by police and Protection and Welfare Boards who removed children to institutions and white families.

Mundine carried Irish heritage on his mother’s side through Corkman William Donovan who married Yuin woman Catherine Marshall in 1870 and moved to Kempsey. The Mundines called the Donovans the Black Irish as they too lost their land to the British. The Donovans left another characteristic, they were Catholic, a trait passed down to Warren’s mother Dolly who married father Roy in Bowraville Catholic Church. Roy laboured at Naryugil near an asbestos mine which employed – and later killed from mesothelioma – Warren’s uncles.

With his union’s help Roy got equal wages with whites and the family bought a house in Grafton where they raised 11 children. Roy had the infamous “dog tag”, a certificate of exemption which allowed him assimilate in white society, but Dolly scratched out the photo, believing her husband shouldn’t need the tag to do what others took for granted. The couple passed on this determination not to be treated like second-class citizens to their children though Warren darkly remembers being with his father when two policemen strip-searched him beside his car for no apparent reason. “You might own a house, but to us you’re still an abo,” they told Roy.

When older siblings got scholarships to Sydney, the family moved there in 1963. Warren was seven. They lived in Auburn which he called “an exemplar of multiculturalism – long before any politician dreamed up the name”. Racism was rife against all minorities but they were no longer under the stultifying control of the welfare boards. Warren was introduced to football and players would not believe he came from Grafton until he told them of his Bundjalung heritage. “Ah! So you’re a real Aussie, an original!” they replied.

Through his older sisters, Warren became politically aware and watched the 1967 referendum at home on television. They cheered each result and Warren was proud of his siblings who worked in the campaign. Despite his own growing interest, Warren’s grades were poor and he ended up in a trade not in university like his sisters. He became an apprentice fitter and turner and studied at TAFE. When he was cycling home one day he was hit by a truck and suffered a spinal injury which laid him off work for a year. In that time Warren moved into a rental house and discovered drugs and women.

Aged 19 he met Jenny Ross, 17 and she fell pregnant after a couple of months. They married, Jenny gave birth to “Little Warren” and Nicole was born three years later. Warren was a labourer with the Water Board, more focused on his future as a dad. He completed his HSC, sat the public service exams and got a job at the tax office. The couple bought a house in St Mary’s and Warren took a second job bartending at Bankstown town hall. With two of his sisters he returned to Baryulgil on weekends and joined a board that managed Aboriginal land rights in the region.

The tax office offered Warren a university scholarship in Adelaide and with his parents’ support who offered to look after the children, he left alone and the marriage disintegrated. At SAIT in 1982 Warren became politically active, describing himself as “radical and left wing”. He was also exposed to the free market ideas of Milton Friedman, though he still believed solutions should be driven by communities and governments not individuals. He was helped by Don Dunstan’s programs to train Aboriginal students and studied everything from leadership to negotiation. In 1982 he was part of the Aboriginal protests against the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and met other emerging leaders from Aboriginal communities such as Marcia Langton, Gary Foley, Charlie Perkins and Michael Mansell.

He also met Kevin Cook who headed up Tranby Aboriginal college in Sydney. Cook taught him business and enterprise in a cooperative model was the key to moving people out of poverty. Warren learned about the worldwide movement of indigenous and black activism and worked with Cook on land rights. He was influenced by New Caledonian Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tijbaou who wanted to embrace the best of the modern world. Modernisation was not a threat to independence and culture but essential to its survival.

Mundine’s second wife Lynette Riley was a friend of his sister Olive who was working on an Aboriginal teachers’ program with NSW Education. They met again at an education conference and it developed into a relationship. They worked together at Tranby and travelled the state promoting land rights and the Aboriginal Land Rights Act passed by NSW’s Labor government in 1983. They got married and had children of their own and moved to Armidale where she worked for the university and he for the land council. His political vision crystallised about the need for commerce, private ownership, jobs and education to improve the lot of poor people. “I realised government could only do so much,” he said.

Back in regional NSW he saw that segregation was gone but Aboriginal kids were not going to school and people were surviving on handouts. Welfare dependency and “sit down money” had replaced low-wage jobs and land rights alone would not solve the problem. Inexperienced land councillors were not up to running businesses and managing land as an economic resource. Mundine felt activists were no help blaming problems on the past and looking to governments for assistance.

In Canberra, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were enacting economic and structural reforms which “resonated” with Mundine. He ran unsuccessfully as an independent for Armidale City Council in 1991 but was elected as an independent in 1995. He called council a “hothouse learning in the art of politics” and learned the importance of authenticity and “speaking with the right people through the media”.

He ran for the state seat of Dubbo in 1998, a notionally safe Nationals seat. But Mundine polled high for Labor, and independent mayor Tony McGrane won the seat by 14 votes in a three-way split. Mundine’s strong performance brought the attention of party bosses like Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib. Mundine was named number three on the Labor Senate ticket for New South Wales for the 2001 federal election.

Labor usually won three seats in a half-Senate election but this was not a normal election. After the Tampa crisis and the events of 9/11 Prime Minister Howard increased his majority, the Labor vote collapsed in NSW and they only won two seats in the Senate. Mundine looked elsewhere for a career and returned to Aboriginal roots.

For him “Mabo changed everything”. The High Court judgement handed down in 1992 eventually led to PM Keating’s native title legislation a year later. Ten years later Mundine moved to Sydney to take a job as NSW Native Title Services Ltd’s CEO representing holders and claimants across the state. He was also selected as the Labor right candidate for national president and finished third which meant he served two years as vice president and became national president in 2006.

His term as president brought him a national profile, notably with his interview with ABC’s Kerry O’Brien where he spoke out against party disunity memorably peppered with several uses of the word “bloody”. By this time the tide was finally turning against Howard and Labor looked likely to win in 2007.

Mundine’s career took a new turn under the influence of Bob Carr’s advisor Walt Secord. Secord grew up on a Canadian reservation and believed Aboriginal land should become economic assets. Mundine developed the idea to move away from communal land ownership and non-profit community businesses and take up home ownership, economic land development and profiting businesses. It was an incendiary idea and it made him “one of the most loathed people in Indigenous Affairs, a puppet of white establishment and a conservative government, wanting to stop land rights”.

Mundine said he didn’t believe land rights or native title should be abandoned but could be leased out with the head title staying with traditional owners. He saw this as a way of removing dependency on handouts and becoming “full participants in all that Australian society had to offer.” That was not music to the ears of the National Native Title Conference in 2005 where he was heckled and booed. But the Howard government was interested in his ideas of individual rights and home ownership.

Around this time he had an affair and his marriage to Lynette broke up. Professionally things went awry as his hopes of being preselected for the Sydney seat of Fowler for the 2007 election fell apart without explanation gradually leading to his falling out with Labor. Howard had already appointed him on the National Indigenous Council and while Mundine was critical of his handling of the Apology he supported Howard’s policies to remove disadvantage and poverty. Mundine said for true reconciliation Aboriginal people also needed to forgive, draw a line in history and “feel a part of Australia as a nation, in addition to their own first nations”.

Mundine supported Howard’s Intervention in the Northern Territory. He thought it would enable people to own homes and Aboriginal communities could operate like towns with small businesses and commercial activities. He also supported the needs of Aboriginal women and children victims of violence and the objective of getting Aboriginal children back to school. The reason the intervention failed, said Mundine, was it was an “invasion of bureaucrats”.

Mundine was initially excited about Kevin Rudd coming to power in 2007 and worked well with his Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin. He supported the 2008 Closing The Gap initiative as a scorecard to show if programs were working. Though he believed the way to close the gap was through economic participation and “governments don’t create jobs”.

He supported the Rudd-Gillard era work to shift Indigenous mindsets from welfare dependency to jobs and education. But on other matters he was disappointed in Labor. He said the carbon tax, the mining tax and increased workplace regulation put the brakes on growth and productivity. He made one final attempt to secure a Labor seat in 2012 when Mark Arbib left the Senate but the casual vacancy went to Bob Carr instead despite numerous denials, further damaging his trust in the Labor machine. He resigned his Labor membership that year.

Mundine’s drift to the right continued when he met Elizabeth Henderson at an event organised by the Sydney Institute – run by Elizabeth’s parents, Gerard and Anne Henderson. They worked together and developed a relationship. Mundine also developed a professional relationship with opposition leader Tony Abbott and his chief of staff Peta Credlin accompanying them on a three-day working bee to renovate Aurukun’s library. Aurukun was a tough community with 120 times more murders than the Queensland average. Mundine saw a communal-run town with no commerce, agriculture or tourism and a community “locked in some kind of social and cultural museum”.

In 2012 Mundine had major heart surgery, a “brush with death” the media painted as leading to his departure from Labor. Mundine used his new platform of CEO of Generation One, an Indigenous jobs finding organisation funded by Twiggy Forrest, to frame arguments on home ownership and Aboriginal land. When Abbott was elected in 2013 Mundine chaired a new Indigenous advisory group and pushed his ideas that special governance was only needed for use of traditional lands, native title rights. community assets and heritage but not for regular municipal services.

Mundine spoke weekly with Abbott and they were both focused on practical outcomes in schooling, jobs, business and community safety. An early initiative was Remote School Attendance Strategy which employed attendance officers to work with families to reach the crucial 90% attendance threshold for effective education. But Mundine was frustrated state governments would not provide the information. Mundine also supported cashless welfare. He called encouraging people via welfare payments into long-term poverty “cruel” and authorities needed to stop payments if people refused to participate in job programs.

Abbott went the way of the two previous prime ministers and Mundine found it harder to connect with his replacement Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull was uninterested in Indigenous affairs. When Turnbull called a Royal Commission into the Don Dale detention centre following an ABC report but did nothing over the 75,000 cases of domestic violence in the NT in three years, Mundine said whichever “dickhead” came up with the idea was wasting taxpayers money. Turnbull warned him to back off. In the end Mundine offered his resignation from the Indigenous Advisory Committee, which Turnbull accepted.

Mundine’s book came out before Turnbull went the way of Abbott, Gillard and Rudd. But it was clear Mundine’s ideas were increasingly in tune with the Liberals despite his lack of rapport with Turnbull. Scott Morrison did not merit a mention in the book but it is not hard to believe they saw eye to eye on economic development. It’s also not hard to believe Morrison liked the cut of Mundine’s jib. “I like to talk in a way people understand, say sensible things and inject common sensse into a political debate that has become too focused on vested interests and not focused enough on regular people,” he wrote. The people of Gilmore will now have a chance to judge for themselves.





Raymond Chandler and Waterford

Raymond Chandler

This year, 2019, marks the sixtieth anniversary of the death of the great American crime writer Raymond Chandler, creator of the fictional detective Philip Marlowe. Chandler had a close association with Waterford as his mother came from the Irish city and both the mother and her only son spend many summers in the city at the turn of the 20th century.

In his book “Brief Encounters: Meetings with remarkable People”, Waterford-born author and radio documentary maker Bill Long (who also wrote a history of Irish lighthouses) wrote about his meetings with Chandler in London in the summer of 1958. The pair were neighbours; they met several times that summer and became friends largely due to the Waterford connection. On their first meeting, Chandler correctly picked Long’s Waterford brogue which pleased the American greatly as he deemed himself a “great judge of accents”.

Chandler’s mother Florence Thornton was from an old established Waterford Quaker legal family. The Thorntons had offices in Waterford and Raymond inherited Thornton as his middle name. He told Long his mother was one of the Thorntons of Cathedral Square. According to Long he was grinning at the time “with the shadow of a cynical smile and the slightest edge of mockery in his tone”. Chandler enjoyed describing the family with mock pomposity: “I. Thornton and sons, solicitors and notaries public,” he intoned.

Chandler first went to Waterford with his mother after his father deserted the family when Ray was just seven. Maurice Chandler was a railway engineer, a lapsed Quaker and an alcoholic. Like the Thorntons, the Chandlers were one of many Quaker families to flee England for Ireland during Oliver Cromwell’s persecutions in the 1650s. They lived in Waterford until they moved to America with the Quaker leader William Penn in 1682.

Maurice worked the prairie lines as a railway engineer. Aged 28 he was working in Omaha, Nebraska, when he met and married Irish girl Florence Thornton. Ray was born a year later. The marriage disintegrated quickly. Maurice drank aggressively, the atmosphere became bitter and the couple had no more children. In 1895 they divorced and Maurice Chandler disappeared from his son’s life entirely. Florence refused ever to speak of him again. With no money of her own, she decided to return to Ireland with her seven-year-old son.

After a short period in Waterford with the Thornton family, they settled in London with a grandmother and aunt. For many of his pre-teen and teenage years, Chandler and his mother spent every summer in Waterford. “Uncle Ernest – my mother’s brother that is – was the head of the family then, and of the legal practice. Ruled both with an iron hand in an iron glove,” Chandler told Long. “A regular old tyrant was uncle Ernest! Upper middle class Protestants the Thorntons and god-awful snobs! Not just Uncle Ernest but the whole family were god-awful snobs. Full of bloody righteousness. Tension in the house all the time. And every goddamn thing had to be Protestant. The maids, the cook, even the man who worked in the garden.”

Since the early death of Florence’s father, the head of the family had been Chandler’s “arrogant and stupid grandmother” guided by his uncle Ernest Thornton. The family law firm had offices in Waterford, Cork and Dublin. As Tom Hiney wrote, it was a rarefied Anglo-Irish world of servants and quasi-gentility; quite removed from late-nineteenth-century Nebraska. It was also a world preoccupied with religious and social snobbery. Hiney quoted Chandler, “My grandmother was the daughter of an Irish solicitor. Her son, very wealthy later on, was also a solicitor and had a housekeeper named Mrs Groome who sneered at him behind his back because he wasn’t a barrister. The Church, the Navy, the Army, the Bar. There was nothing else. Outside Waterford in a big house with gardens … lived a Miss Paul who occasionally, very occasionally, invited Mrs Groome to tea on account of her father had been a canon.”

Ireland was ruled from London in 1895 but the Irish Home Rule movement was making life uncomfortable for the Anglo-Irish like the Thorntons in Waterford. This exacerbated anti-Catholic feeling, an atmosphere Chandler remembered, “An amazing people the Anglo-Irish. They never mixed with Catholics socially. I remember playing on a cricket team with some of the local snobs and one of the players was a Catholic boy who came to the game in an elaborate chariot with grooms in livery; but he was not asked to have tea with the rest after the game. He wouldn’t have accepted of course.”

Chandler admitted the Thornton snobbery had rubbed off on him. He hated to be called an Irish American because in his estimation that usually mean “Catholic and working class”. The Thorntons, he said, “saw to it that I grew up with a ferocious contempt for Catholics and to this day, I have a problem with that”. He continued, “the only Irish patriots with any brains came from the professional classes”. To Chandler, this meant being Protestant, but Long thought the real issue was not religion but class and education. Chandler thought it was more important where people came from rather than where they were going.

Despite the snobbery, Chandler was happy on his holidays. “I always had a good time in Waterford,” he told Long. Chandler loved to reminisce about the upper-class Waterford families. There was the Dawneys, the Grubbs, the Carews and the Congreves, mostly Quaker or Protestants at whose homes he played tennis and croquet. Long noted Chandler’s childhood experiences in Waterford made an indelible impression. Summers with the Thorntons gave him an appreciation of social distinctions in a society which Long described as “neither urban nor rural but county”.

During his holidays, he enjoyed walking around the Mount Congreve estate a few miles outside Waterford on the banks of the River Suir. The Congreves were fellow upper-class Protestants and clients of the Thorntons. Chandler preferred some of the homelier aspects of the estate. “What I remember best,” said Chandler, “is the smell of the tobacco the old bothy-man smoked in his enormous bent-shank pipe. I remember resolving when I was ten or eleven at Mount Congreve to smoke a pipe when I grew up. And by God, I did and still do!”

The city also left an indelible imprint on the writer. He and Long swapped childhood memories of a long-gone bookshop in Cathedral Square. The shop was called Stickyback Power’s. Power is a common Waterford name but neither Chandler nor Long could remember why this Power gained his unusual nickname. Chandler loved the bookshop and told Long about the germ of an idea to set a Philip Marlowe novel using Waterford and the bookshop as locales. The storyline had Marlowe on holidays in Ireland and in a pub on the quays in Waterford. There he witnesses a sailors’ brawl. Later he hears one of the sailors has been murdered in the brawl and his body has been found slumped in the corner of a bookshop. Marlowe agrees to the captain of the ship’s request to investigate the murder which leads him into the low life of the city and he discovers a vicious prostitution racket.

Having given Long an outline of the plot, he asked him whether there was ever much prostitution along the quays. Long said Chandler wasn’t really interested in the answer and the project never came to fruition. Chandler’s health was poor in 1958 and his workrate was low. Long never met him again after that summer and he found out that Chandler died a year later of pneumonia at his villa in La Jolla, California. Chandler never returned to the city of his childhood but never forgot it. “You know of all the places – and I mean all the places – I’ve lived in,” he told Long, “Waterford is the place, that in the mind, draws me back all the time.”