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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A tsunami of memory

14 Sept 2010

As private investigation work goes, there was nothing glamorous about the job. I’d been waiting a little way down the road when the subject left his shop. I slipped out of the car and followed him up Glebe Point Road. He didn’t see me and I hung well back to ensure it stayed that way. No sense in letting the subject set eyes on you unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.

Of course, I was wearing nothing memorable. If he did happen to notice me, I’d drop out of sight and put on a hard hat and a lurid safety vest I was carrying in my backpack and become a different possum altogether.

On a beautiful spring morning Glebe has an infectious nostalgia. The memories didn’t just come flooding back, as the cliché goes, they swept me up the road like a tsunami, past the spot where the old timber yard used to be, and grey bush rabbits hung out, up past St John’s Church and the Different Drummer, where there was once a hole-in-the-wall wine bar full of little old alcoholics, and Galluzzo’s fruit market, which has been there longer than anyone can remember.  

The subject crossed the road, walked into the Dr Foley Rest Park, and sat down on a seat.  I strolled past, on the other side of the lawn, and disappeared behind the little old brick shed they call the ‘wireless house’.  And then the strangest thing happened. I heard the fruity, very BBC, voice of the narrator of ‘The Golden Boomerang’ an old time radio serial for kids and I was transported more than half a century back, to the years when I first knew Glebe.

Intrigued, I peered inside the wireless house and there was an ancient valve radio on a little table.  There was also an electronic box thingy on the floor that was, no doubt, pumping out the old audio.  And I remembered, as a young possum, hanging around in the Rest Park and listening to serials on the wireless house radio.

Mum brought me to Sydney in 1951 after dad was killed in a greyhound training ‘accident’ at the Nelligan racetrack.  She got a small flat in an old terrace house in Glebe. Back then, I imagined that every park in the world must have a wireless house, but they say it was unique.

In every direction I looked, there was a memory or ten. Across Pyrmont Bridge Road, I had had my first office with my long-lost, very crooked, business partner, Bruce Possum, when we stumbled into the private investigations game back in the late 60s. Downstairs, there’d been a milk bar, but it was now a trendy Indian eatery. The seedy old Ancient Briton hotel , across the road, had become the upmarket AB. Around the corner, the Laundromat, where Bruce used to pick up girls, was still the laundromat, but the cake shop, where famously, if you asked for a sultana slice, they gave you raison d’etre, had morphed into something else.

It’s been nine years since the events of 11 September 2001 and the US invasion of Afghanistan, nine years since I last encountered Bruce Possum.

Bruce was on the run from Laurie Connell’s enforcers when he slipped out of Australia in 1988. He left me his 9mm Browning automatic in an old tin box, carefully wrapped in a tie-dyed teeshirt he bought in 1970 at the Surry Hills Arts Factory. It was there with his ‘It’s Time’ badge from the ’72 election, ticket stubs from Hair, and a snapshot of himself with Bob Dylan at the disastrous Showground concert of April ’78. His last communication was taped to the lid: “So long partner. Have gone to Afghanistan. Sorry. Will make it up to you. Keep the gat”.

I saw him – or thought I did – in Kabul, in October 2001, but I can’t be absolutely sure, because he was wearing a black burqa. 

That was after I’d slipped into Afghanistan on the last aid convoy out of Tajikistan, just before the invasion. I’d gone to The Great Crusade against Osama bin Laden as an accredited war correspondent for The Chaser, which was, in those far-off days, a newspaper, but while I was in Kabul the callow teenage editors withdrew my credentials and abandoned me. It was probably the most treacherous betrayal of a working journalist in a war zone since Jan Wenner stranded Hunter S. Thompson in Saigon in April ’75 and I ended up being arrested by British soldiers, threatened with Guantanamo Bay and bundled onto a plane to Pakistan.

Yes,  I thought, the years are passing quicker than Keneally Government ministers. The war in Afghanistan has lasted three years longer than World War II and we’re no nearer a resolution. President Obama now says bin Laden is “deep underground”. Is he trying to tell us what the cynics have been saying all along – that the man has been something like two metres underground all along?

• Download Rumours of Bruce, the story of Nick’s search for his long-lost business partner.