Modest Expectations – Sciacca

What a crazy world we live in. The former Prime Minister, for no valid reason whatsoever, sequestered all the major portfolios to himself except, it seems, Defence. He presented himself as the Dad of Australia, or thought he did, to propel him to an unlikely win in the 2019 elections over one of the most unelectable men the Labor Party had ever produced. And boy, have the Labor Party produced a number to be bestowed with such a title.

The problem with the Pentecostals is that their religion casts them into an alternative world, and while they may project a façade of easy charm, underneath is their use of the Bible as a weapon – to be accepted literally, or else.

When the dust of the miracle election settled, then the rapture settled in – Morrison, the Instrument of God emerged. Having mingled in my youth with some of these characters, I know their affable countenance quickly changes when you question the validity of their beliefs. My mother was a creationist, and I found out that it was unwise to broach this subject with an otherwise gentle and caring mother.

Hence, I stop pondering on the Morrison condition, because I believe pursuit of its roots will lead me into some dark recesses of the human condition, where to go is only to entangle oneself in a pointless dialectic.

What is clear is that Morrison should leave Parliament as soon as possible. The Elder Howard worries that it will damage the Liberal Party. I would suggest that it is already damaged by the number of fellow religious travellers linked into the party branches and by keeping Morrison there, he will still be able to try and assert influence, the evangelical knee-jerk. Already these antics in social media just emphasise the powerlessness of the Liberal Party leadership and/or its total enmeshment in a form of theological fascism more associated with the European Roman Catholic Church previously.

Morrison in many ways could become the Liberal Party equivalent of the Vicar of Stiffkey (pronounced Stewkey) whose bizarre behaviour, quite different may I add from that of Morrison, ended his life as a fairground exhibit who met his Maker while being mauled by a circus tiger. An unfortunate exit for a figure of fun.

While he is in Parliament, the Labor Party would be loath to go after the current Governor-General, whose behaviour in apparently using his position to solicit funding, presumably by Prime Ministerial fiat, would appear completely beyond acceptable. Those who say that the Governor-General should by necessity be a judge or senior lawyer have short memories. Remember that inglorious tosspot, John Kerr.

While Ninian Stephen and William Deane, both eminent jurists, on the other hand were two superb Governors-General, one should not forget one of the most effective was Bill Hayden, once a Queensland copper and no dullard.

No trunk Route to the top of Mount Elephant

There is one advertisement shown on television which intrigues me.  A young girl is seen driving a motorised billy cart up a grassy track towards a hill with a conical crown.  To me it looks very much like Mount Elephant, which guards the small township of Derrinallum.

Caprine power

The vehicle stalls and there are two other images which remind me very much of the township, which I passed through countless times when we owned a property at Port Fairy in the Western District. The familiar image of the gravel road leading around the conical summit, which hides the old scoria quarry from the highway with the “mother” gesticulating to her “daughter” who by then has teamed up with another billy carter with a more technically advanced cart. The road looks suspiciously like one near Derrinallum, where the highway both runs uphill in a westerly direction and through the township divided by a treed median strip.

It is characteristic that around all these extinct volcanoes in the Victorian Western District there is always a settlement at the base. Some of these volcanos have been disfigured by quarrying for red scoria. Some, like Mount Shadwell which overlooks Mortlake, has yielded semi-precious green stone called olivine which, together with very good meat pies, was always on sale at Mortlake.

The Hamilton Highway is mostly very straight and lined by small townships and hamlets.  It has always been a speedway, because police patrols were rare when I would drive the highway sometimes several times weekly. A former Premier of Victoria, Jeffrey Kennett, was pinged for speeding at a petrol pump called Berribank, so small is this hamlet. Then there was the horrendous crash when “the footie legend” Ron Barassi drove his Mercedes into a tree on the Western outskirts of another township, Lismore. His passenger was another famous Australian Rules footballer who was seriously injured. That accident occurred in the 1970s and the damaged tree stood for years as a survivor of excessive speed and the fact that trees don’t move out of the way.

But this is only background to what is the most significant reminder that Victoria has a convict heritage in that these stone walls at Derrinallum, made from volcanic basalt, were the product of convict labour. They are very observable being along the highway, half hidden in the grass, although there are places where the casual observer may stop and walk unimpeded to see and touch them. Apart from these honeycomb basalt walls just out of Derrinallum, there are 3,000 kilometres of these walls in the Western District, because the ancient lava flows left otherwise arable and grazing land strewn with rocks.

Mount Elephant

Making a drystone wall was a convenient way of using the stone when labour was cheap. The walls incidentally proved a barrier to the rabbits which one of the colonial squires, Tom Austin, helpfully introduced when releasing 13 wild rabbits onto his estate in 1859. Oh, what a legacy these stalwarts of Victorian Victoria unleashed upon our Land. Rabbits reminded him of the Old Country and he introduced foxes also, so he could have a bit of redcoat and jolly tally-ho-ing – the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable, as Oscar Wilde termed fox hunting.

Convict transportation to Victoria ended in 1848 before the Gold Rush, and therefore convicts were not the only source of labour.  The unsuccessful. prospector was another. Given that the Western District abutted the Goldfield area, it is not unsurprising that skilled Celtic wallers who moved South built more of the walls and also taught the landowners how to make them.

Australia’s stone walls are taller, thicker and deeper than elsewhere in the world. Local bluestone and scoria in addition to the honeycomb basalt were used and the walls reflect the desires of the owner, the purpose (varying sizes depending on whether controlling sheep or cattle with not unsurprisingly the tallest for personal glorification), the preferences of the wallers and the availability of rocks littering the paddocks.

Dry stone walls rely on selection and placement of stones, together with a combination of gravity and friction. “There is a place for every stone” – stones are not broken or chipped, although each is tapped with a hammer to make it “settle”.

Walls are best constructed with two men working on opposite sides. Typical freestanding drystone walls are built with “throughstones” crowned with copestones, the centre being filled with smaller stones and rubble, so-called “hearting”.

Much of the walls visible along the Hamilton Highway have fallen, a result of pulling out stones on the chase after rabbits, rubbing by cattle, or pressure from trees. But enough remain for the girls in their “turbo-charged billycart” to drive along – perhaps.

Memories of a Pastoralist

Thomas Alexander Browne (Rolf Boldrewood) on the front steps of ‘Raby’ in Olive St, his Albury home.

One of the most intriguing books I have ever read is “Old Melbourne Memories” written in 1884 by Rolf Boldrewood, the pseudonym of Thomas Alexander Browne, whose initial venture as a pastoralist is described in this book. This was in The Western District in what is now Victoria near Portland. It should be appreciated that although he started from Melbourne, the Portland area whither he was going had already been settled by Edward Henty a year earlier than that of the establishment Melbourne on Port Philip Bay.

Browne settled on Squattlesea Mere, as he described it “about 50,000 acres of ‘wood and wold,’ mere and marshland, hill and dale. It was all my own – after a fashion – that is, I had but to receive my squatting license, under the hand of the Governor of the Australias, for which I paid ten pounds, and no white man could in any way disturb, harass, or dispossess me.

Westward were marshes; northward were what we know as “stony rises” where the cooled remains of lava flow “now matted with sward of kangaroo grass”, but the piles of scoria and rocks were too sharp to ride horses over them. South were green “luxuriant” plains able to sustain two or three thousand head of cattle. Against this mixed picture, he reported on the disputes between whitefella and blackfella. Most of this centred on the indigenous propensity for rustling, both cattle and sheep. After all, the blackfella had no concept of titles. It was not property in the English sense but their ancestral land, and any thing on blackfella land should be shared – simple communism.

This led to what Browne describes as the Eumeralla War, which was essentially a sporadic battle between spear and carbine.  Browne initially built with his “men” a sod hut, and then a three-room split slab hut, probably plastered with mortar into which chopped grass or horse hair was packed. The roof was of stringy bark. A rude chimney enabled a fire to be set in the general living room which also served as the sleeping quarters for his stockmen.

A stockyard was built, enclosed by seven foot high walls, so tightly constructed that “a rat could not get through” – and robust enough that “a stampede of elephants” would be needed to level it.  Browne mentions a number of  property owners, without specific indication that they had built anything resembling his palisade.

As Browne wrote: “among the Rocks there were innumerable caves, depressions, and hiding-places of all kinds, in which the natives had been used to find secure retreat and safe hiding in days gone by. Whether they could not bear to surrender to the white man these cherished solitudes, or whether it was the shortsighted, childish anxiety to possess our goods and chattels, can hardly ever be told. Whatever the motive, it was sufficient, as on all sides at once came tales of wrong-doing and violence, of maimed and slaughtered stock, of homicide or murder.”

Thus, there was mayhem, with nightly incursions of the blackfellas in hit and run, taking stock if they could. The walled stockyards attested to defence in such a hostile environment.

One solution for the white settlers to quell the indigenous people was to use native mounted troopers armed with carbines; they proved a major determinant in the defeat and subjugation of the local blackfellas.

I was reminded of this by a recent episode of ABC’s Backroads, where they wheeled out in Tumut what seems to be the essence of modern Aboriginal elder, with a homely elderly face encircled by grey hair and beard which seamlessly seem to intersect. This vision of the peaceful Aboriginal jars against history which tells that the above troopers were recruited from the NSW border area in the early part of the 19th century, far away from the Aboriginals of the Western district.

So zealous were these troopers that they effectively subjugated the locals. Browne recalls being shown a bullet scar in the chest of an Aboriginal man who asserted that: “Police-blackfella ‘plenty kill him’” during that period, and on recovery immediately offered himself as a shepherd to one of the white landowners. “… being convinced that lawless proceedings were likely to bring him to a bad end.”

The concept of employing native troopers originated in Victoria but was quickly adopted in both NSW and  Queensland; in Queensland in particular it seems an Aboriginal legacy about which there is selective amnesia. It is pity because much Aboriginal heritage implies a warrior class; and it seems that Aboriginals without cultural links to the locals were used as effective enforcement for subjugation of their fellow blackfellas.

I would like to know where this fits in the modern narrative, but are Aboriginal people prepared to discuss this part of blackfella history?

As a footnote, Browne wrote:

“The Aboriginal blacks on and near the western coast of Victoria – near Belfast, Warrnambool and Portland – had always been noted as a breed of savages by no means to be despised. They had been for untold generations accustomed to a dietary scale of exceptional liberality. The climate was temperate; the forest abounded in game; wild fowl at certain seasons were plentiful; while the sea supplied them with fish of all sorts and sizes, from a whale (stranded) to whitebait. No wonder that they were a fine race, physically and otherwise – the men tall and muscular, the women well-shaped and fairly good-looking.”

He respected the local Aboriginals as he went on to write – “grandly-formed specimens of humanity, dignified in manner, and possessing an intelligence by no means to be despised, comprehending a quick sense of humour, as well as a keenness of perception”.

But not a mention of cropping or organised horticulture. Browne was a perspicacious man. I’m sure he would have mentioned them if there had been any.

I believe that if there is an Aboriginal Voice, it should recognise its history, and not place it in some monochromatic rose-tinted light, selectively ignoring that Aboriginals may have been the first inhabitants, but one with many cultural differences, which led to some good and some bad consequences, Otherwise the Voice becomes one of Delusion.

Pooch, Have I got some Chocolate Fudge for You!

In the USA, National Dog Day is coming up Aug. 26, and The Boston Globe has identified some places for cool, sweet treats in Boston for both you, the dog owner(s) and your dog(s) to celebrate.

If you are into dark chocolate studded with macadamia nuts, you may initially allay the sweet tooth of the dog, but you have fed the dog a double whammy in terms of a death warrant. Muscle weakness in the hind legs is a sure sign of the pooch has been nibbling macadamia nuts. But chocolate, particularly cooking and dark chocolate, contains theobromine, which unlike us humans, dogs cannot metabolise and hence it builds to toxic levels.

Read further at your own risk! (Blog master)

“While it may be hard to resist your pet’s sweet, pleading face when he or she stares at your cone”, it is best to avoid lactose. However, here are the further American recommendations your dog (I refuse to use the words “four-legged friend”) can enjoy a cold treat, including specially made doggie ice creams.

That said, we found a few tail-waggers (God, more abhorrence!).

I am indebted to the Boston Globe for this further insight.


Ben & Jerry’s Doggie Dessert Pop Culture Tour winding its way up the East Coast, hitting Gloucester Aug. 20-21. Find the treat truck at the dog-friendly Gloucester Waterfront Festival on Aug. 20 and 21.


You can also snag a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s at some of their brick-and-mortar area shops (Newbury Street, for example, has Doggie Desserts listed on their online menu) or pet stores for home freezing. Doggie Desserts come in two flavours: Rosie’s Batch made with pumpkin and mini cookies and Pontch’s Mix made with peanut butter and pretzel swirls.

  1. JB’S DOGGIE DELIGHTS (No, not me subtly advertising)
No need to walk the dog …

There’s also a local doggie ice cream truck: JB’s Doggie Delights serves Boston area pups. The hand-made treats are made with minimal ingredients, such as peanut butter and honey, and are safe for dogs’ sensitive stomachs. Track truck stops on Facebook or Instagram (sic).


A favourite Boston ice cream shop for humans also offers dairy-free pup-friendly treats. Next time you hit up one of JP Licks’ area locations for a cone of your own, order your dog a dairy-free Cow Paw, “a lightly flavoured peanut butter sorbet with a touch of honey served with a kosher dog bone.”

It sounds like a kids’ book, but The Bear & The Rat is actually a dog ice cream, made from frozen yogurt with prebiotics and digestive enzymes for doggy tummies. Your pet can enjoy flavours like bacon and peanut butter; banana and peanut butter, or pumpkin and cinnamon. In Boston, according to their site, you’ll find them at various Polkadog shops and Whole Foods among other spots.


Lactose-free Puppy Scoops, formulated for doggy digestion, comes in flavours like vanilla, peanut butter, and maple bacon. It’s in powdered form, so you can order online. Just add water, freeze, and let the tail-wagging begin. Ditto with Hoggin’ Dogs in flavours like cheese and banana. Both are made by Puppy Cake, as are Smart Scoops, “created for dogs that have sensitive tummies.” You might pair a scoop with cake to celebrate very good boys and girls on Aug. 26.

Can you imagine such treats being sold at The Annual Kelpie Muster at Casterton. Oh, I forgot, the Muster is in June – weather is a bit cold for JP Licks.

Therefore, one recommendation could be to move the Kelpie Muster to later in the year, so the burghers of The Western District can invest in Puppy Scoops or JP licks. After all, Australia did embrace KFC and McDonald’s, those toxic American invaders. So why deprive the dogs of American delights?

Yet you cry; “Surely Casterton, that centre of the Australian tradition would be immune from McDonald’s or KFC.”

Wrong – on both accounts! “Puppy Scoops” await.

You must have heard this from Prince Rupert

Golf has a predilection if you better par by one is to call it a birdie, two under par eagle, three under par albatross and four under par a condor. That is holing out in one on a par five hole, I understand has only been recorded five times.

Four under par …

However, as the golf courses are stretching to par seven, a new bird as been introduced, an ostrich equivalent to five under par. Nobody has been recorded yet in achieving this unlikely target.

The longest drive? In 1974, 64 year old Mike Austin drove a 515 yard on a 450 yard par-4 using a steel-shafted, 43.5-inch persimmon driver and balata ball while competing in the U.S. National Seniors Open Championship at the Desert Rose Resort, Las Vegas. Both club and ball have been replaced by more technologically advanced equipment, but that day there was a hot following wind of 27 mph, and the golf course was at an altitude of 2,000 feet, which all helps.

But wait, there is more.

Carl Cooper had a disastrous start to the third hole of the 1992 Texas Open when he earned the unofficial longest drive ever. His blast towards the green bounced past the green, beyond the sixth tee, and eventually came to a stop behind the twelfth green. After the ball finally came to a halt, it had travelled 787 yards, but not on the one hole.

So given the right conditions anything can happen in golf – even an ostrich from the sand.

Mouse Whisper

Australia’s official war historian, C.E.W. Bean, who wrote of Monash as a “pushy Jew”, and Rupert Murdoch’s father, Keith Murdoch, conspired during the war to try to prevent Monash winning the active command of Australian forces on the Western Front. Murdoch later opposed Monash’s efforts to build the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne – Tony Wright.

Over to you yon Keith Murdoch hagiographer Eric Beecher!  Oh, from the mouse that whispered.

John Monash and Shrine of Remembrance

Modest Expectations – Sudbury & Harrow Road

At one time I was among the youngest, if not the youngest Fellow of the Australian Medical Association, and used to attend the annual Fellow’s dinner, in my case in Victoria. At one of these dinners, I got to talking to an elderly doctor named Southey. He was old enough to remember the announcement of the outbreak of the First World War. He said the jubilation in the community was palpable, hats were thrown into the air, aggressive words were launched upon an enemy a long way from Australia, of little relevance, but one which provided the backdrop of a “Boys’ Own” adventure. Among some there was an urgency to fight because it would be all over by Christmas. Could not miss the action.

Katherine Mansfield

One of the most striking books I read by Christian Stead was one in which he portrayed Katherine Mansfield, almost as if she had written herself. It was a clever characterisation with an authenticity about her life during the First World War. Hers was a brief life, dying in 1922 of tuberculosis at 34 years, but the story is in fact an allegory of War. Even though not particularly close to the frontline it occurred in 1915 before trench warfare horror became established – an amorous climax with a young French author-cum-corporal, Francis Carco. There was the spice of foolhardiness admixed with desire. Her world was still one of pre-war privilege and courtesies.

Then her much loved younger brother, Lesley was killed in 1915 in France, not in the frontline but in a grenade training accident.

Near the end of the War she travelled alone to the south of France seeking a Mediterranean sanatorium cure for tuberculosis, which she had acquired but at the same time she had recurrent symptoms of her chronic gonorrhoea. No longer was there chivalry, when she was forced to ride on crowded trains where the troops returning from the Front were not inclined to give up their seats to a well-dressed woman. Privilege was dead in these railway carriages, and it was a most unhappy time for Katherine Mansfield. Because she was a prolific letter writer and diarist, often in the form of short stories, the transition of war being an adventurous jape with one of unyielding bleakness and horror is well traced through her life, as it was by Stead.

Sometime in between, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders lost their lives on a Turkish beach with a Greek name due to British folly, a recurring theme across those years, until the allies were bailed out by Australian military genius in Sir John Monash, who won the War – lest we forget!

Sir John Monash

Thus, lest us not forget Monash in the celebration of an unmitigated disaster in 1915 commemorated on April 25 where now the braided strut, their heads only bowed for the obligatory one or two minutes silence. Then they straighten and, like the Bourbons, they have learnt nothing; they have forgotten nothing. Looking for another conflict. But at least, “Lest We Forget” is scrawled across the granite plinths of Australia for the collective amnesia until November, when Poppies remind us of Monash’s triumph, which put a temporary end to the misery of war.

What’s in a name

One of my favourite photographs is of an Apulian olive grove in spring, where the ground is covered with crimson Italian heather. The olive trees are almost overwhelmed by this red carpet which, in a few weeks under the Apulian sun, withers and lies dormant for another year. Apulia is one of the regions on the Adriatic regions where Albanians – gli Albanese – came and settled. There has been a long relationship between Albania and Italy, extending back into Roman times when the Roman legions burst out of the Italian peninsula and overran the Illyrian coast, where the ancestors to modern day Albanians lived.

When I read the story of Albanese’s procreation – it reminded me of a cousin of mine who, on the rebound from a disapproved love affair, met a happy-go-lucky steward from Barrow-on-Furness on one of those P&O liners that used to ply between Australia and England. He followed her to Australia. They married, settled down in a country town and begat three daughters. Let us say he had an easy life after that.

That meeting bore unmistakeable similarities to Anthony Albanese’s parents without the immediate “blessed” outcome. I was not attracted to the travails of the young Anthony, but rather to the resilience of his mother. I was a medical student when Albanese was born, but remembered well the unmarked building across the road where unmarried pregnant women were kept under the watchful eyes of nuns, before they had to make the journey across Grattan Street to the labour ward.

It was a difficult time for the unmarried mother. A colleague of mine at the time, in a different State, said that when these young women gave birth, their faces were shielded by a pillow so each never saw her baby. I cannot remember that occurring, but labour wards were certainly not the most comfortable places in those days. Being on a roster both for births and for sewing up episiotomies in the early hours of the morning was not conducive to staying around and having a friendly chat to the woman you had just delivered or sewn up. Sleep was more important.

Therefore, Albanese’s mother must have been a remarkable woman – not the least of which was keeping her child and not having him adopted out – whilst maintaining the fiction that the father had died tragically. In fact, she had met the father, Carlo Albanese, when she was a passenger and he a steward on the Fairsky. He was about to be married to a giovane donna di Apulia; and that was that. The car accident was a total fiction that Albanese’s mother invented.

Having lived in that era when abortion was a criminal offence and the “oral contraceptive” had just become available, the dilemma that Mary Ellery faced was immense. A story of tragic loss had been created. This enabled the young Albanese to adopt his father’s surname (a form of nominal baptism), yet his heritage was also inner city Irish Roman Catholic; and the fiction and pretence that his mother maintained is not unknown among the Irish. I have a strong Irish heritage where fiction is admingled with fact; let me say that Yeats was not wrong when he wrote about the Celtic Twilight.

Albanese’s mother was burdened later in life with chronic rheumatoid arthritis and she eked out a living through low paid work and a pension.

Nonetheless, I cannot get out of my mind what this woman endured, as did many of her generation, hiding. Eventually she told her son the truth.

As to the story of his finding his long lost father in Apulia, the record says that Albanese had several half-siblings. I wonder whether, if he placed an advertisement seeking Albaneses in ports where the Sitmar ships berthed, he may find he has a tribe. I’m afraid that I have no time for men like his late father, Carlo – but Albanese’s mother was something else.

Childhood Memories

Talking about Southern Italy, Sicily is one place still on “my bucket list” to visit. I have just finished reading Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s “Childhood Memories”. He had been born at the end of 1896 in Palermo. The man whose novel “The Leopard” became a huge best-seller after he died, was part of the Sicilian nobility as it had been fashioned through centuries of acquisition, beneficial marriages, usury and overall shrewdness by certain members.

Yet his child memories are amazingly crisp and outlined against the searing heat of Sicily from the last decade of the nineteenth century. Lampedusa was the scion of a family with vast properties, but with a perilous future in having to maintain the family fortune based on the productivity of its land holdings.

Sicily had many of these families that had survived the violence which accompanied the invasions and internecine warfare. Lampedusa refers to a noble family whose name reflected their Norman forebears. Lampedusa refers to the 1908 Messina earthquake when he lost relatives – so there were natural disasters with which to contend. Not to forget Mount Etna, which has been in almost continuous volcanic activity – a turbulent island. It is difficult to define what is a major eruption, there have been so many.

His acute observations, even as a child, of the massive discrepancy between the rich and the poor, which presaged the middle class vacuum filled by the rise of the Mafia, barely cast a shadow over Lampedusa’s childhood – and yet there is this pervasive sense of decay amid the masterpiece which is Sicily.


Despite all these imperfections, Sicily remains an island of fascination. After all, why do we potter around the petrified entrails of our ancestors?

The Wisdom of Islands Solomon

What an inconvenient time for Australian foreign policy to reveal the genius of Marise Payne. This bumbling Minister of an equally bumbling Department is one of the worst foreign ministers Australia has ever promoted.

Foreign ministers should have an ability to relate, and in the South Pacific arena this is particularly important. During the time he was auditioning for Foreign Minister, Andrew Peacock provided a role model. At a time when Australia had a Prime Minister – Billy McMahon – to rival the talents of our current incumbent, Peacock’s work with Michael Somare helped the transition of Papua New Guinea from colony to nation, although it was the Whitlam government that presided over the actual independence. Peacock in many ways knew that Australia had a responsibility for Melanesia, as Gordon Bilney later did when he had the Ministerial portfolio for the South Pacific.

I remember visiting Papua New Guinea several years before Independence, with the late John Knight when we were working together. John Knight had worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs and was later to become a Senator for the ACT before tragically dying whilst still a young man.  It was clear from our meetings that these then young PNG legislators were well disposed towards Australia, even though I realised that being the last week TAA flew to PNG, one could never count on a seat being available on any flight even if, as I did, one had a booked ticket. Such was democracy. You learned to go with the flow. Before and after independence, Australians were ubiquitous in PNG. The number of Australian doctors who worked in New Guinea provided a groundswell of both knowledge and understanding.

As Donald Denoon has written: “Within three years, Somare’s coalition reorganised the Public Service, negotiated an aid package and renegotiated an important mining agreement. They drafted, debated and enacted a constitution, and created a planning capacity, a defence force and all the other limbs of a modern state. Secession was averted in Bougainville and in Papua, an explosive land dispute was defused around Rabaul, anxious Highlanders were mollified and the fragile coalition held together.

Somewhat different situation in Papua New Guinea today, but the lesson is there – concern to help rather than colonial paternalism. While “fuzzy-wuzzy” was meant as a term of endearment by Australian soldiers who served in New Guinea, it was just that type of paternalism that our generation tried to eradicate, without wishing to offend the generation that fought and left the legacy, which is symbolised by the Kokoda Trail (now called Track).


No such empathy exists with the Solomons Islanders – the British Solomon Islands, as they were called previously when under UK rule. On the other hand, the Northern Solomon Islands, known also as Bougainville, was part of the German territories mandated to Australia after WW1. This meant that Bougainville was linked to New Guinea even though ethnically they were Solomon Islanders.

Then Bougainville was shown to have one of the biggest copper and gold deposits in the World. Rio Tinto, through its subsidiary, proceeded to develop the Panguna mine and bugger up the environment such that they were forced to curtail operations by the local Bougainvilleans; yet still left a grossly contaminated river system in the south of the island.

Bougainville Copper, as the subsidiary was known, simply abandoned the site in the face of a landowner rebellion in 1989. This was largely triggered by the mine’s environmental and social impacts, including disputes over the sharing of its economic benefits and their impact on predominantly cashless societies.

Following PNG security forces’ heavy-handed intervention – allegedly under strong political pressure from Bougainville Copper – the rebellion quickly escalated into a full-blown separatist conflict that eventually engulfed all parts of the province.

By the time the hostilities ended in 1997, thousands of Bougainvilleans had lost their lives, but negotiations have since yielded the PNG Government ceding a degree of autonomy to Bougainville, given the overwhelming vote for independence. The aim is for full independence by 2027, but in the intervening period there must be resolution over ownership of the mine which, if concluded for their benefit, could make the Bougainvilleans some of the richest citizens in the World.

The defunct Bougainville mine

Yet, what is Australia doing about a potentially rich neighbouring independent country, once held under an Australian mandate, ethnically Solomon Islands. I presume the Chinese may be prepared to stump up the $6 billion to get the mine working and repair the environmental damage. With its current level of foresight Australia may offer a sports arena, or perhaps to teach them rugby.

How different from our role in the transition of PNG to independence in 1975. China has seized upon our lack of interest in Melanesia in general. New Zealand shares some of the culpability but its political influence is stronger in Polynesia even though Tonga is deep in debt to China.  Given that the State Department in Washington has suddenly woken up to the fact that Honiara is not just an answer in a game of Trivial Pursuit, there will be belated action. The French have a presence in the South Pacific but, given how Macron views us as mendacious and les péquenards, one needs an incoming government to provide a piece of repair work to ensure co-operation.

However, Australia seems paralysed apart from the aimless pugnacity of Minister Dutton and the non-appearance of the Foreign Minister Payne.

Canberra should remember seven words: “The Republic of the Northern Solomons Islands”, as we fumble our way across Melanesia.

And by the way, what is the putative capital of this Republic called?

The People in an Ironed Mask

Below in this article in the Washington Post is a warning to the Labor party if they achieve Government and pursue their promise to establish the Centre of Disease Control & Prevention. It is about the level of autonomy and, given the way the politicians have interfered during this pandemic, it is a major question to be answered. And of course the bleats from a tourist industry don’t help maintenance of such autonomy.

The Justice Department is filing an appeal seeking to overturn a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hub.

The notice came minutes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the Justice Department to appeal the decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.

A notice of appeal was filed in federal court in Tampa.

The CDC said in a statement Wednesday that it is its “continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.”

It remained unclear whether the Biden administration would ask the appeals court to grant an emergency stay to immediately reimpose the mask mandate on public transit. An emergency stay of the lower court’s ruling would be a whiplash moment for travellers and transit workers. Most airlines and airports, many public transit systems and even ride-sharing company Uber lifted their mask-wearing requirements in the hours following Monday’s ruling.

A federal judge in Florida had struck down the national mask mandate for mass transit on Monday, leading airlines and airports to swiftly repeal their requirements that passengers wear face coverings. The Transportation Security Administration said Monday that it would no longer enforce the mask requirement.

The CDC had recently extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant, which is now responsible for the vast majority of U.S. cases. But the court ruling Monday had put that decision on hold.

The CDC said it will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine if a mandate would remain necessary. It said it believes the mandate is “a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

The Department was filing the appeal “in light of today’s assessment by the CDC that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health.”

Biden’s administration has offered mixed messages in the wake of the Monday ruling. While officials said Americans should heed the CDC’s guidance even if it was no longer a requirement, Biden himself suggested they had more flexibility on masking-up during transit.

After a winter surge fuelled by the omicron variant that prompted record hospitalizations, the U.S. has seen a significant drop in virus spread in recent months, leading most states and cities to drop mask mandates.

Several Northeast cities have seen a rise in hospitalisations in recent weeks, leading Philadelphia to bring back its mask mandate.

The appeal drew criticism from the U.S. Travel Association, which along with other industry groups had been pressuring the Biden administration for months to end the mask mandate for travel.

“Masks were critically important during the height of the pandemic,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the group’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, “but with low hospitalization rates and multiple effective health tools now widely available, from boosters to therapies to high-quality air ventilation aboard aircraft, required masking on public transportation is simply out of step with the current public health landscape.”

Prince Rupert would have loved this comment

Leonid Kozhara, a Ukrainian member of the pro-Russia Party of the Regions said, fingering the button on his jacket sleeve: “Kazakhstan and Belarus are like buttons on the sleeve, but for Russia Ukraine is the sleeve and you can’t walk around without your sleeve.” – as quoted by one of the publications Prince Rupert has coveted but not bought – the New York Review of Books.

Mouse Whisper

I am known as an erudite mouse. There are always those who want me to write their citation for Mickipedia, and recently I came upon some of the brood described as “mephitic” – a word with which I was not familiar.

However, the Mickipedia tells me that Mephitis was a Roman goddess adopted from the Sabines who presided over the foul-smelling stench which was emitted through fumaroles throughout Southern Italy where volcanic activity is rife. She was both the patres et plebs guardian against malaria, because of her oversight of this miasma of hydrogen sulphide and other sulphurous vapours. There are a few unremarkable images of her, and she never made it to the Top Table.  She did leave that obscure word “mephitic” to mean foul-smelling, and of course I have found distant relatives named after her – the skunk without a hyphen, mephitis mephitis.

mephitis mephitis