From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Operation Gareth


The power of redemption


Nick B. Possum, Private Investigator
Werrong Lane, Sydney 2000

Tuesday 1 December 1998

Dear Old Possum,

By the time you get this letter I will have flown out of the country and I may never return. I am leaving you this so that somebody knows what has happened. This is not a nice story. Apart from Joadja and I, you are the only one who knows.

It started on Friday afternoon when a bloke I know only as Roger and who claims to be from the Department of Foreign Affairs came into the cafe.

He said he had something to talk over so we went for a walk across town. The radical cyclists had blocked the bridge again and the streets were crammed with hysterical currency dealers in BMWs. Roger chattered on about Indonesia. It was like he was backgrounding me, but there was nothing I hadn't read in the Herald. Then we came to a lonely spot on Hickson Road.

Suddenly I became aware of a parked car inhabited by four young men in dark glasses reading newspapers for no good reason. Roger stopped walking as though he were pausing to admire the view.

Just then a figure stepped out of the shadows. It was a pudgy transvestite with short frizzy hair, fishnet stockings and a poncy manner. I recognised her immediately. Roger introduced her as Alexandra.

She told me that the government wanted me to take part in a hazardous operation to Indonesia. I said I wanted no part of it.

She said: "Wait till you hear what it is. You've been on the Balibo Massacre case for years now. We now know who was really behind it. It wasn't that guy the Herald says it was. He was a small fish. The same general was behind Balibo and the Dili massacre and the disappearances in Java. We're going to lift this jerk and bring him to trial here for human rights abuses."

I was astounded. I said: "My God. Paddy McGuinness will have apoplexy. Why us? why now?"

She said: "Bugger Paddy! It's a way of making amends. Our credibility is shot and we've got to recover it. Habibie's Indonesia is crumbling. People are starving, the streets are burning and we supported the bastards who looted the place. We trained their army for years. With this one act we can redeem our credibility. The Yanks are going to help us, but they can't put him on trial. They'd be accused of imperialism. We're a middle-sized regional power. We can bring this bloke to justice. The world will cheer. But we need you on this mission. You're the expert on Balibo."

I asked: "Why not just leave it to the Indons to settle with him?"

She said: "That could take months. He has a network of loyalists. They'll spirit him away. He has funds hidden all over the world. He has aircraft standing by."

It all sounded like crap. I said: "Sound's like a worthy cause, but count me out. I'm getting too old for that sort of thing. Why don't you call ASIO, or SAS -- they were very helpful to Patrick Stevedores. I can give you a number".

Alexandra leaning forward menacingly. Her perfume had the cloying sweetness of tropical orchids. She said: "Look, that's not an option. You live your life in a grey area, Possum. How would you like my people to have a little chat with the Wildlife Service about your status? Or they could talk to Fred Nile about your relationship with Joadja? There are laws about that sort of thing."

My tail stiffened with anger. I said: "Leave Jo out of this, you sleazy frump". A couple of the young men got out of their car and walked towards us.

Alexandra said: "Sorry, possum, she's in on it. It's all cleanskins on this operation. Nobody from the regular agencies ... but a crack team. She's a bright girl. She can run the base station. That'll be cosy. You can chat to each other." I said nothing.

Roger said: "We knew we could rely on you to do your bit for Australia. Leave the weekend free. I'll be in touch tomorrow morning about the arrangements. You'll like the team".

I said: "So what are you calling your little adventure?"

Alexandra giggled and said: "Operation Gareth". Then she turned and walked back into the shadows.

That is what happened. I'd better not tell you the operational details. Please drop in on Jo. She'll be doing the usual shifts at the cafe.

Your friend,

Tuak in the weeds


TIME: Monday 7.12.1998; 21:35 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: Sorry I haven't transmitted till now. Only arrived at Safehouse Kylie early Friday morning. Non-stop flight. Nearly ran into a 747 passing Brisbane. Remind me if I make it back to take out a contract on Dick Smith or whoever is currently in charge at CASA.

Low-level parachute drop in the dark. Landed in rice paddy. Pouring rain. I twisted my tail and ripped off a hunk of fur but it was great to be on the ground again. I was busting for a piss. Shane and Nathan landed a few hundred metres away but they homed in on my radio beacon OK and we waited in a patch of scrub at the edge of the road. The RV group was an hour late. They arrived in a big new Toyota troopie. Two boys from the CIA and one local who took us to the safehouse. They gave us new clothes and we burned the overalls and parachutes. There was something wrong with the satellite transceiver but it seems to be working OK now. Is it? What's happening at home? Are you OK? ENDS.


TIME: Monday 7.12.1998; 22:05 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: Your transmission fine. I am OK. Old Possum called. Miss you.

That Ross Gittins was back in the cafe today. Honestly, he's driving the customers nuts. He was trying to get everybody to gather around the piano to sing 'Happy Days are Here Again'. Nobody would be in it until the mob from the merchant bank obliged. They put a good face on it but they looked embarrassed and nervous. Then he tried to get them to sing 'The Bear Went Over the Mountain', but they said they couldn't remember the words.

Did you know Australian firms are standing by to evacuate expats again? Big marches by the students in Jakarta. There has been more fighting in E Timor and the Feds are trying to restart the Balibo investigation but with visible reluctance. Which reminds me: Gough Whitlam endorsed Vic Smith for South Sydney. The 'Left' seem to have blown their run. Only Clover is laughing. Ho. Ho. ENDS.


TIME: Monday 7.12.1998; 22:15 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: Ah well, that's the ALP. Keep me up to date with anything new on Balibo. What is Keating up to? It is critical I know if he flies back up here to see his old friend Soeharto.

The rain is coming down so hard on the tin roof that you can't hear yourself think. The CIA boys are drinking Bintang and arguing over the Nintendo. They are in their late twenties and both are called Wayne. Bible Wayne and Internet Wayne. They are supposed to be scientists but neither are, as they say, rocket scientists. Our cover is that we are an international geological survey unit working for the World Bank. I'm not sure if the World Bank bit is a good idea.

Neither Wayne speaks the lingo and they seem to rely heavily on "Captain Ordu" who is from an ABRI military-civilian liaison outfit. He is a very smooth Javanese who claims to have been educated at Stanford. No doubt he has been promised a Green Card and a new life in America. Then there is another young Indonesian who's just called Tommy and who is supposed to be our field hand. His English is OK but he doesn't say much.

Nathan is a morose young bastard and it's difficult to understand why Shane is in the team. I gather in real life he's an accountant. He spends his time playing with a spreadsheet on the other laptop and giggling to himself. This waiting is killing me. Cider is unavailable out here in the weeds. I'm going to have another tuak and turn in.

Miss you. ENDS

Shadows on the screen


TIME: Tuesday 15.12.98; 20:08 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: No doubt you are hearing of the questioning of Soeharto about the family's hidden billions. Here, there were ads in Saturday's papers calling for submissions to the Senate's East Timor Inquiry. Also, Kerry Chikarovski has tossed Peter Collins. All show and no substance is the goss down in the cafe.

Roger came around today. He said the final operational plan for the snatch will be sent when you reach Safehouse Paddy. But this makes me nervous: By this time the Feds should be feeding the media with a line about getting tough on human rights abusers -- to soften them up for the snatch. But so far nothing, even after the Pinochet decision.

God, I hope you will be out and back by Christmas. The nights are very long. ENDS.



TIME: Tuesday 15.12.98; 20:39 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: Miss you, gorgeous. The nights stretch out, the days are filled with pretence, and tuak is starting to taste like petrol.

I would have thought that all that commando training and naval intelligence work would have prepared Collins better for the Chika assault. Maybe he was just tired of politics.

We are now at Safehouse Gough. It's a small cheap backpackers place up in the hills. We booked the whole hostel. At night logging trucks rumble past till late. We can see their lights through the trees. They are working long hours pulling teak out of the forests. Young Tommy (who, I have discovered, is an ecologist) is incensed by this looting. He says the forests are mostly owned by Soeharto or the cronies.

We have been driving around in the Toyotas setting up our equipment and taking geological samples a couple of hours drive from the target. This is to establish our alibi. Very expensive backpackers with guns.
Whenever we stop to buy fuel there are hungry kids begging. Bible Wayne has taken a shine to them. He hands out packets of jellybeans and little Christian tracts with cartoons, printed on cheap paper. I told him I didn't think this was a great idea in the light of the recent troubles here but be said it was his duty to spread "The wun troo fayeth". If there is a God, and if he's on our side, we will lose Bible Wayne somewhere.

Tommy says little or nothing when Captain Ordu is around, but yesterday I was working with him while the captain was a few yards away talking to some village people, farmers. The conversation went like this ...
Me: I would like to see your famous shadow puppet theatre if we get a chance.

Tommy: You speak of wayang kulit, Tuan Possum. All you see are the shadows of highly stylised puppets. But shadows are flat ... I think you say 'two dimensional'.

Me: It lacks substance?

Tommy: We are asked to judge the characters in the drama by their devotion to their caste. It is a very stylised art which glorifies fatalism. Noble gestures count for more than common sense. Above all the role of each character is predetermined. I think the form is too narrow and ritualised to express new possibilities. But I am partisan. I do not enjoy wayang. Perhaps it is an art form you would be attracted to?

Me: I have read that all the heroes in wayang are flawed. That is an honest thing.

Tommy: Soeharto and the cronies looted billions from our country and they have hidden the money, yet I do not think they have a bad conscience. That is more than a human frailty. That is devotion to their caste.

Me: The inquiry will trace the assets, surely.

Just then the captain left the locals and walked towards us.

Tommy: You are seeing a wayang show. Remember, Tuan Possum, the role of each character is predetermined.

Tommy busied himself packing the truck. The captain said the locals had come to ask if the government would confiscate their land if we found what we were looking for.

Captain Ordu: I told them they should not worry over these things in the reformed Indonesia; that this was a scientific expedition.

Me: Perhaps they are right to worry, there are no reforms yet.

Captain Ordu: The process towards the necessary democratic change has been put in place. It is important that tranquillity and national order is maintained during the process.

The captain mutters ritual incantations that I could have heard from the government TV here and Tommy talks in riddles. ENDS.

The Christmas of living nervously


TIME: Wednesday 23.12.98; 20:12 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: Roger instructs that the Warne-Waugh incident and Clinton's attack on Iraq make any move on the target inadvisable until further notice. No sense running the risk of further outraging the Moslem nations during Ramadan, he says.

So you won't be home for Christmas. My darling, I lie awake cuddling the pillow, trying to remember the feel of your fur against me and the musky smell of your chest.

Old Possum called in. He has been wonderful. ENDS.



TIME: Wednesday 23.12.98; 20:27 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: Have understood and will comply. God I miss you too. You are the only human who makes sense to me. I wish I was lying with you now, running the tip of my tail up the inside of your leg and drawing my claws lightly over your breasts.

The weather is incredibly muggy and huge storm clouds build up in the sky in the afternoon. The walls of the room sweat. If I could sweat, I'd be sweating buckets.

There was a nasty incident in the local town on Monday night. It started after an arson attempt at a small mosque. The fire was put out but it was followed by riots and a couple of churches and some shops owned by ethnic Chinese were burned down and half a dozen people were killed before "order was restored".

We heard the story from Shane the Accountant and Captain Ordu who had taken the troopie to town that day to buy supplies. The mysterious "Ninjas" were said to be behind the attempt to burn the mosque.

Captain Ordu places some credence in the Ninja stuff. He says they are agents of the old Communist Party of Indonesia, striking back at the Moslem clerics who fingered them to the military in 1965. But for heaven's sake, that was 33 years ago! I often wonder why the captain is involved in this caper. He seems to believe the official line on everything, but I suppose he is just in it for the big money and a soft life in America.

According to Tommy and some of the locals we spoke to, the Ninjas are just ABRI agents spreading fear and confusion so that the army has an excuse to extend its hold on the ground and perpetuate its influence in politics.

Everybody is jumpy. Government radio and TVRI lost no time in using the incident to promote the paramilitary militia ABRI are setting up in the towns to help "maintain order".

Shane the Accountant doesn't like me much. He is a rabid market fundamentalist from Lane Cove.

Fortunately he spends most of his time with Internet Wayne who spends most of his time with his laptop writing code and muttering to himself about chaos and vengence. when I asked him what he was working on he just said "the Millenium bug", then he looked at Shane and Shane giggled. ENDS.



TIME: Wednesday 23.12.98; 22:56 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: Possum, I really have a bad feeling about this operation. I know the argument about restoring Australia's credibility, but kidnapping an Indonesian general is something else again. How will we explain it to the world? What will he say in court? You know every conservative commentator in the world, from the mainstream to the populist, lined up against the Pinochet extradition. Gerard Henderson stood shoulder to shoulder with Paddy McGuinness on that one -- it was quite a sight.

The General will be guilty as hell, but he'll make every Australian government since Whitlam look like a bunch of grubby and treacherous opportunists. The Indonesian masses might cheer, but then again they might not. They might buy the line that it's an imperialist affront to the nation.

Why does Alexandra think it will work? Explaining this operation will be a hell of a spin job. It just isn't like the Israelis lifting Adolf Eichmann.

I have been talking to Old Possum about this. He is also very worried. ENDS.



TIME: Wednesday 23.12.98; 23:08 hrs. MISSION: Operation Gareth. ENCRYPTATION: Maximum. AGENCIES CC: Bypass all. GEOPOSITION: Suppressed.

MESSAGE: I know, lover, but what the hell can I do? Merry Christmas, my Darling. And to Old Possum. ENDS.

Click here for Operation Gareth, Part 2