WHAT DO I WRITE ABOUT?
You'll find any number of topics in the articles and stories below. There's entertainment, politics, sport, Aboriginal Deaths in Custody issues, a few interviews, some reviews, even a couple of short stories.
As a freelance journalist and author, I'm always looking for commissions. If you have a story you'd like me to write, please contact me.
ARTICLES AND STORIES
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NUMBER OF WORDS: 420
I don't like being called ''mate'' by people in the service industry. If I'm asked for my order, whether it's for a cappuccino, a TV or a new kitchen, I'm instantly hostile if the salesman addresses me in this way. But I'm not really comfortable when they call me ''sir'', either. In Australia in 2009, it just doesn't seem right to be spoken to with such formality.
The term that really makes my blood boil, however, is ''champ''. You can pretty much guarantee that I'm not going back to a certain service station in Appin or a particular chain of tyre fitters after unfortunate interactions in this regard. I can just about tolerate ''guys'' although this seems mainly limited to theme park attendants, as in ''You guys will need to hold on tightly as the capsule plummets'', though I resent the lack of differentiation between me and my 15-year-old daughter.
I know I have to be called something, but if ''sir'' is at one end of the prospective customer nomenclature spectrum and ''champ'' and ''mate'' are at the other, surely there's a happy medium? It's not such a problem for us as customers, because often the sales staff wear handy name badges. The Staceys and Connors and Dhananjayas who make the pizzas, work in post offices and sell the electronic appliances don't appear to mind being addressed by their given names - some become instantly warmer when this is done. Of course, customers don't wear name badges and I'm not suggesting we should start. I have to confess I don't object to being referred to by name. In fact, I'm always somewhat bemused when dealing with call centre agents who, after checking my full name, address, date of birth and sundry secrets ''for security reasons'', then ask politely if they can call me Simon. Sometimes I've been tempted to tell them a different name.
The best place for aliases is at the local chain beverage supplier - be creative when choosing your coffee or juice name. It can be quite liberating to respond to ever more outrageous noms de plume and to discover the natural point where you cease to be comfortable with new identities.
For most retailers, tolerating ''mate'' and threatening a boycott for ''champ'' will have to do. It won't change until we're all microchipped or barcoded and sales people know our preferred customer name as soon as we walk in the door.
And I'm OK with that.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NUMBER OF WORDS: 443
THE first step of healing an addiction is admitting you have a problem. I've taken steps not to use supermarket plastic bags. I have bought reusables of all kinds: thick plastic, canvas and string, among others. But what good are they if I leave them by the front door, or in the boot of the car?
There are too many pushers waiting to foist their evil wares on me. "Would you like a bag for the milk?" the girl asks sweetly.
I've bought six small items, so a plastic bag is handy, but the milk is already encased in a hard two-litre plastic bag of its own, complete with handle. Why on earth do I need to encase it within another bag made of far weaker material in order to carry it to the car? At least she asked.
Are the checkout assistants brainwashed to believe that no bag can hold no more than six items, no matter how little they weigh? Asking them to "try and fit them all in one bag, please" invariably brings about stunned looks, and sometimes even resentment. "What if the bag breaks?" I've been asked. I'm no expert on polymers but I'm pretty certain that a dozen eggs, two carrots, two cans of soup and some margarine will not rupture the skin of this imminent landfill.
"Won't it be too heavy?" is another common (and damning) question. I'm a middle-aged man, not the 80-year-old woman who might possibly having trouble lifting it. Stuttered explanations or jokes invariably require far too much explanation on my part and yet more blank, puzzled looks on theirs.
It was only recently that I realised these people are plastic bag pushers and not just eager shop workers wanting to assist me.
I was at the checkout and had removed my goods from the two bags and combined them, leaving an empty bag on the counter. The register assistant promptly threw the bag in the bin. When I pointed out the futility of her actions she claimed, "I can't use it now, it's creased." The future of humanity crashed before my eyes. Do we really live in a world where we can't use brand new plastic bags because they're crumpled?
These days I try harder to bring my reusable bags but, if I forget or am surprised by a need for purchases, the pushers are always there, patiently waiting.
I need help - legislation, financial disincentive, whatever it takes to rid the world of the blight of unnecessary plastic - because I've tried and I can't do it by myself.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NUMBER OF WORDS: 777
“We're doing a cull of our friends,” one of my closest mates said to me. ``Not you, of course.'' Of course. She and her partner and been consciously and deliberately deciding who they wanted to remain in their lives.
For me until this point, friends had been somewhat osmotic, as some flowed out through natural attrition: moving, jobs with different hours or tragic loss, others had always somehow arrived at an equal rate: new neighbours, work colleagues and friends of friends who eventually didn't need a third party in order to drop by.
But unless prompted by a fight, romantic fallout or substance abuse, the decision not to see people was never a deliberate one. When friends departed, it was because the tide ebbed slowly and inevitably, until at some stage the realisation came that you didn't need to transfer their details to a new address book.
The notion of `sorting out' the friend cupboard was a new one for me, and I suspect it is a more recent phenomenon, a manifestation of the zeitgeist in which we continually attempt to fit more activities into overcrowded lives. In the spirit of the age, I have giving ending a friendship the name, ‘frending.’
I’m sure frending goes right against time honoured traditions of community and society. How would it have been raising barns, being dug out of mines, battling bushfires and undertaking dramatic ocean rescues if you’d frended half the people you were supposed be working alongside? We used to rely on our neighbours, as they depended on us, in the age of frending, however, we act more independently, the nuclear family is well behind us, and we now live nuclear lifestyles.
A further example of this trend is the increased difficulty in finding new friends. We recently moved to a new neighbourhood, only to find that we had no dinner invitations when once we might have expected a welcome. Someone else I know was told, `I'd like to have you as a friend, but frankly, I don't have time for the people already in my life.'
I have been frended, and for a long time, I swore I would never be a frender.
Then, on a recent trip away, I had a long phone call. As I sat in my hotel room, waiting to go outside, chained to the bed by the unhappy voice in my ear, I realised that over the course of a decade I had repeatedly had the exact same phone call with this friend. For more than ten years he had complained of the same problems. With equal futility, I had been offering him the same advice, which had never been taken. The voice of temptation sang to me. I began to consider what I could with the extra time if I didn't have to listen to his continual whining. Visions of extended opportunities for swimming, for dinners with people I liked, and the chance to read entire novels swam before me.
I frended him. It was great. I felt free. Unburdened. Once the decision was made, however, it was inevitable that I should consider other potential frends. I was surprised at how many names my list soon held. There was nothing dramatic about my actions, there were no outbursts or fits of anger. Just calls that weren’t returned, and offers to visit that weren’t taken up. And this is one of the good parts of frending. Unless someone actually asks why you haven't visited, phoned or listened to their interminable whingeing lately – which they rarely do out of fear of hearing the truth – you can make the frending appear to be natural attrition. Another person who has simply slipped out the back of the speeding truck that is your busy modern life.
Eventually, you feel safe enough to delete their details. These days, email and mobile phone contact lists can take some work, as they often ask whether you are sure you want to permanently remove names. There is a sense of completion and satisfaction when you press the `Yes' button. In cyberspace, on social networking sites in particular, contact lists can be more public, and some discernment may be required unless you're prepared to answer the hard questions.
If you've been frended, it means you were probably never that close in the first place, and it gives you the opportunity to find people who have time for you. If you are the frender, the benefits can be considerable. Lately I have been swimming frequently, I’ve been to dinner more often, and have now read three extra novels. I'm just praying I don’t need to raise a new barn anytime soon.
PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 566
Simon Luckhurst talked to H.G. Nelson about the Illawarra and his new book "Petrol, Bait, Amo and Ice."
S: Tell us something about the book.
HG: It combines four great Australian talents. Myself, Reg Mombassa (Mental As Anything, artist for "100% Mambo") and Roy Slaven- genius, been there, done the lot, sporting identity.
S: How did you feel that Roy was in the list of "Who" Magazine's 25 Most Beautiful people?
HG: I was embarressed for Roy. Look at the bloody company he's keeping. There's no Lisa Curry- Kenny, there's no Rob Borbidge, or Jeff Kennet. When they rang I immediately passed the phone with a lot of glee. Roy's still suffering from their comments about being the 'thinking woman's sex object,' because he doesn't know what he's done, or how to keep it going.
S: Back to the book... Didn't you say 'four'?
HG: Four great talents. We've got Roy, Reg, Elle McPherson and myself. We've all got heaps of runs on the board in various aspects of life, and to cram them between a couple of bits of soft cardboard is a terrific acheivement.
S: Where's Elle?
HG: She's got a bit of a cough early, on page x.
S: What's the thrust of the book?
HG: It's an ideas book, to be brutally honest, chock-a-block full of the new Australia. I anticipated the change of government-
S: That was very prescient of you.
HG: Yes, only me another four hundred million people got it right, and I rushed into print to capture the mood of the nation. It's obviously go ahead, people making money everywhere. All I do is see trucks pulling up at houses and off-loading cash.
S: The New Greed?
HG: I think the New Affluence is perhaps a better term. Greed sounds so eighties. Many of the ideas in the book are result based, and I think that's what the Howard government is flagging from the top of the Big House Canberra way at the moment. Everything is to be result based - so we're going to be doing bugger all, and as long as I can get this book out, and onto the market, before the result based slammer comes down on us, I'll be thrilled.
S: You've lived in the Ilawarra?
HG: The Bellambi Creek comes to mind as a spot to wile away hours of youthful fun.
HG: We preferred dynamite, and would sometimes be very surprised what we got out with it. And I love the steelworks. I think it's now described as an industrial park.
S: That's a nice way of putting it.
HG: It's a fantastic description of a whole heap of derelict buildings which are ruining the environment. That unique drive down there when you're drenched in sulphurous gases, you can't do that everywhere in Australia.
S: You've done radio, TV, and you've got the book out. What's next?
HG: Obviously a good lie down is in order, but what I'm hoping to do is get on the space shuttle. This has now become very, very popular for Australians. Roy and HG driving a space shuttle is the next logical step.
S: Behind the wheel of that throbbing monster leaping into the sky?
HG: If I could be so bold I'd like to be part of the first double bunger into space. Roy in one and me in the other. We'll race up there, Holden written on his, and Ford written on mine. I think that would settle the argument forever.
"Petrol, Bait, Ammo and Ice" is available from Harper-Collins for $19.95. You can watch Roy and H.G. in "Club Buggery" every Friday night on the ABC at 9.30
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 338
The IMB Theatre was full when Irish born Australian based comedian Jimeoin came to Wollongong on Thursday 16th May.
He was preceded by the affable David Campbell, who sang a few of his own compositions interspersed with funny anecdotes. It was a low key presentation which ended, with the arrival of Jimeoin, as suddenly as it began.
Jimeoin, too, is a presenter characterised by his even, smooth manner. He chatted to the audience for a while, examining coats, bags and walking sticks, before moving onto to more rehearsed material. The transition was seamless, and by then he held the crowd firmly in his comedic grip.
He's a comedian who works more by stealth than by being brazen. His humour comes from the familiar world of the everyday: experiences of childhood, in the shower, when shopping.
These are the myriad foibles and habits we all have but mostly choose to ignore. When looked at with Jimeoin's illumination the commonplace becomes the bizarre.
A finicky complaint concerns his "just one of the people" approach. Sometimes you begin to feel you've been staying too long in his loungeroom, when you only dropped in to borrow some sugar, and that you're inconveniencing him. In a performance like this there needs to be some presentation beyond black drapes and coloured lights, just to be reminded that he does enjoy his work, and find joy in the vagaries of life.
Without this reminder his observations can become cynically black. Jimeoin, no doubt, would call this a pretentious observation, and go on to make, perhaps rightly so, a few remarks regarding wanking in newspaper columns, so enough said.
It was an enjoyable evening, and while there were no huge paroxysms of laughter erupting and rolling over the crowd like waves, there were no silent moments either. He kept you chuckling, and that, as we face the end of the millennium and the approach of the twin blights of pay TV and the "New Economy," is more than most people are capable of.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 374
The Pulse talks to Dawn Tremors, a local entertainer with a secret.
SL: You're a cross dresser?
DT: Livid. I'm furious. Another run in my stockings.
SL: By day a talented, if eccentric, uni student, and in the evening a glamorous chartreuse. Some strange things must happen in that twilight zone between the transformations.
DT: I'm just your average boy from Dubbo. Got a light?
SL: What's the appeal? Where does the thrill lie?
DT: Some performers get a kick from putting on a mask, covering their face and pretending to act like someone else. Dawn is a whole body mask. She's witty, funny and likeable. I'm those things as well, but she enhances the feelings of them. And she has a definite detectable rhythm. She's a much better dancer.
SL: How did you start?
DT: Chequers has a talent quest every 6 or 7 months. I entered, and won a stunning trophy, a bunch of gladiolis, some champagne, a tiara and a respectable bar tab. What more could a girl ask for? It was the senior prom I never had.
SL: What suggestions have you for anyone starting out?
DT: Do something new, and sheer to the waist skin tone stockings are a must.
SL: Can you give me some tips?
DT: One of the most important details is a very, very fine and close shave. You must practically scrub your face with a razor, preferably something like a 'Gillette Sensor.' You need to spend a good hour on your face. I use a heavy Max Factor cover stick, and then powder, mascara, black liquid eyeliner, black and white eye shadow, blusher, lipstick (the brighter and redder the better) and long, long lashes.
SL: (Shyly) Aren't there other... personal type arrangements? (Indicates vague area of genitals and breasts, and laughs shyly.)
DT: The tricks of the trade? For breasts I use some pantihose stuffed with birdseed, for weight. As for, ahem, down there, you'll have to come backstage to learn that little secret. (Giggles.)
SL: I resisted Dawn's offer. The atmosphere in the club abruptly changed. It was showtime, and she and the other two performers, Dee Dee Del'amour and Mariah Kenny emerged singly to do their stuff. My only complaint about the show was its brevity.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 125
2pm (ish)- Wake up in time for Breakfast Television, ie Oprah, the poor girl's Ricki Lake.
3- Crawl to fridge for vitamin intake- some red cordial washed down with the remains of last night's vodka.
5- News at 5.
5.05- Check through CD's for tonight's numbers. Anything with a spotlight and sequins.
7- Shopping. Dawn's usual outlet is the Hospital Pharmacy- great for picking up those last minute stockings, lashes and over the counter cold remedies containing pseudo ephedrine.
8- Dinner. Dawn is very conscious of the importance of healthy eating, and chooses carefully from the 2 food groups: fried or sugar coated. Donuts, naturally, are an ideal combination.
10- Cab to Chequers.
12 and 1- Performance.
Very late: Go home with anybody special!
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 558
A theatre group from the Illawarra taking home-grown performances to the rest of the country? To the world? Simon Luckhurst talked to another sometime scribe for these august pages, Drew Fairley, well known nachos connoisseur and arbitrary artistic facilitator of THROTTLE Theatre Company.
SL: Drew, first, the big question- can you tell us about the name?
DF: Well, Andrew was just too long, and a bit eighties, and I thought-
SL: Not yours- I meant THROTTLE.
DF: Of course. THROTTLE is actually an acronym for Theatre, However Raw, Overlanding This Tiny Little Earth.
SL: Hmm, there's a few bottle of red gone into that.
DF: Guinneas, actually. When we did our first show in Edinburgh, for the Fringe Festival.
SL: What's the background of the company?
DF: Most of us are have graduated from the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, although from different areas: acting, writing, and theatre tech. There are 19 people in the company altogether, and 14 of those are performers. We rehearse in Stanwell Park, and in a warehouse in Enmore.
SL: And the shows?
DF: The Higgelty Biggledy Cabaret features a variety of acts including naked men and guitars, Calvin Klein models, and some really nice songs with a bent, high octane flavour. (Like the one I was getting perched on the rooftop of the Enmore Warehouse high above the streams of pollution belching commuter traffic heading into the Marrickville heartlands- SL.) As well, we're manipulating the feel of the piece every night by changing the theme- one night it will be a Hippy cabaret, one night dedicated to Bjork, one night Spokesmodel orientated. That sort of thing.
SL: It sounds very aeliotoric.
DF: I wish I'd said that.
SL: You did. And the other show?
DF: "Bed" is a 90 minute three act physical theatre performance, about the importance of beds in our lives. How they are places of personal sanctuary, and how the privacy they afford can be interrupted; by work or a lover, or someone at the door, or even yourself. It's a semi-autobiographical piece, with contributions from many of its 14 performers. It includes some acrobatics, weird Japanese and French movement forms, and clowning; and there is a strong element of chance associated with the performance concerning just who is going to speak, or say what, in any given performance.
SL: Sounds gritty.
DF: It is. It's also frightening, and honest, and, we hope, funny as well.
SL: And your plans for these plays?
DF: Firstly the Adelaide fringe next month, and hopefully after that in Wollongong. But we're planning other shows, and want to travel to Chicago later in the year.
(At this point in the interview Drew donned some rather industrial strength looking ear protection devices.)
DF: Ready for the angle grinders?
SL: Doing some work? Going to cut some steel for the set? Or are you using the sound of steel ripping through steel as some kind of ambient background for the play?
DF: You're kidding! Lunch hour has nearly finished downstairs- the panelbeaters are starting up again.
Sure enough, the metal cutting began, and then rehearsal resumed as well, and I imagined the front wall of the building gone for a moment, and what a strange juxtaposition of images there was: the acrobats balancing upstairs, and the mechanics working below.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 648
The Spearman's Red Racer is a lively little beast, a bit twitchy, a little anxious to go. I had replaced the trusty rusty I usually ride, and now found myself at the start of the 92 kilometre event. I remembered the scenes of devastation from last year, the strong southerly wind that had caused the ride to be cancelled as the violent air tore through the Northern Suburbs of Wollongong, unroofing houses, knocking down trees, disrupting power supplies. But it was sunny and still today. Kathy Watt was all smiles as the time came to begin the ride. She must do 92 kilometres in her sleep.
There was an impressive array of machines around me: 2 and 3 thousand dollar numbers, to the kind of bike I usually stroll around on. Up to 10,000 people ride in this event, the cycling world's equivalent of the City to Surf. As 7.30 approached and the last of the Ride Against the Clock riders disappeared down Sth Dowling St the atmosphere became more tense.
"Anymore for Ride Against the Clock?" asked the official. "No," came a laconic reply. "Just us. The Ride Against the Odds."
By eight o'clock we were cruising along the Botany Bay foreshore, a low brown shroud of smog hanging over the ocean. The Red Racer was a beautiful thing to ride. It was smooth and quick and light, but I held it back, kept it steady. There were many kilometres to travel yet. No point rushing anything.
I passed a number of tandems, but rapidly tired of telling the person on the front that the person behind them "wasn't pedalling." The guy on the para-bike told me he did the trip in four hours last year. That was with the head wind. He must have arms of steel.
I chatted awhile with Robert from Sans Souci, 12 years old. This was the first time he had done the ride. He was nervous but optimistic. I let the Red Racer have its head for a time, and reined it back in near the entrance to the National Park. The hilly entrance is quick, the enjoyment of the downhill rush somewhat compenstated by the fact there's a hill going the other way at the exit to the park. I chatted to Dave, from Spearman's, who was waiting at the bottom. There were 19 different bike shops offering volunatary roadside assistance this year.
The ride earns $300,000 for Multiple Sclerosis every year. 500 volunteers direct the riders. There's a lunch stop in the Park, and the best view in the world when you reach the top of the hill at the other end, and see the coast stretched out before you. I knew the road before me now, and it was time for the Red Racer to do its stuff. Up through Coalcliff and along the coast into Austinmer it sped along, feeling like I was hardly working.
14 kilometres later, after the Bikeway from Thirroul, (a lovely ride away from the traffic) the "End" banner came in sight at the Lighthouse. I'd fallen in love with the Red Racer by then. It had proved itself a relaible and friendly machine, with a turn of speed and a smoothness I hadn't encountered before. I believe in some cultures it is wrong to marry bicycles. If no-one's bought the Red Racer from Spearman's in a couple of weeks, we may very well elope.
GOOD REASONS TO RIDE A BIKE:
Each car produces 26.5 tonnes of waste- before it reaches the road.
In a single year an average car will pollute 75 million cubic metres of air, filling it with 4.43 tonnes of carbon dioxide, half a a kiogram of sulphur dioxide and 4.68 kilograms of nitrogen dioxide.
Each year it will litter the roadside with 18 kilograms of tyre and brake debris, and worn road surface.
(Source: SMH 3.8.93)
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 412
I suspect there is something we inherit, an instinctive, inert gene that comes alive to the sound of horse's hooves thudding over the turf. Perhaps the tiny DNA fragment connects us to our Mongol, or cowboy/ cowgirl, or chivalrous ancestors- all horse borne, to whom the sound of the charge would have been the thrill of a life and death struggle.
I was aware the racing scene has changed, but still suspected that owning a hair oil concession near the front gate of the track wouldn't be a bad thing. I was therefore surprised by the wide cross section of people present at Kembla Grange last Saturday.
I was shown around the ground by the Illawarra Turf Club's Public Relations consultant, Glenys Holby. She explained there were usually nine or ten races per race day. There were 32 meetings a year, and these were attended by an average of five to ten thousand people. That's just in Kembla Grange.
Prize money ranges from $4,000 up to $100,000 for the Illawarra Mercury Classic. (When's the inaugural 'Pulse' Cup, Editor?) There are a number of different venues within the course to watch the race from: the grandstand, the grass, the Member's bar, the public bar, the bistro and the Member's dining room. (Membership costs about $150 per year- ring the course to inquire.)
No trip to the races could be complete without betting. Let's face it, watching a bunch of brightly coloured anorexic midgets belting the daylights out of a mob of hapless ponies is not what I was there for.
I nervously handed over my three complimentary $10 betting vouchers. My form guide looked like this:
Race 3- Horse 1. Came fourth, but didn't wager.
Race 4- Horse 8. Placed second, but I bet to win.
Race 5- Horse 3. Ran first all the way, and then placed fourth (I must admit there were only six horses in this race.)
Race 6- Horse 3. Won. (I pocketed a cool fistful of notes- $24).
There are function rooms for hire. Food varied in quality (I chose the punter's health food- chips with sauce) but could have gone for something greatly up market. There are pony rides (naturally) and a jumping castle for the kids. The course is close to public transport, or there is on site parking.
A day at the track may not be something you've planned for your next day out, but for $6 admission, it's worth consideration.
Especially if you win!
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 518
I remember the excitement I felt when my copy of "Jitterbug Perfume" arrived from the States. My brother had sent it months before it was released in Australia. I read every page slowly, savouring it, cherishing it. That was probably the pinnacle of my Tom Robbins experience. I had read "Another Roadside Attraction," "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues" and "Still Life With Woodpecker." The slightly disappointing "Skinny Legs and All" and "Half Asleep in Frog Pyjamas" were still in front of me.
All Tom Robbins books read as if they were written by a wizard, someone who can craft words as others shape clay or bronze, someone who can take the ordinary and find within it something so unexpected it is often indistinguishable from magic.
I was curious to see the man. I knew he would not look like a wizard, and that very probably he would not sound like a wizard. The slightly bemused Southern drawl was the only hint there might be other things going on down there in the Robbins subconscious.
This was the man who had started his writing career by 'calling in well.' This was the man described by one British critic as someone who writes like Dolly Parton looks. This was the man who described actress Debra Winger's voice as sounding like 'prune juice strained through the sheets of Bogart and Bacall's honeymoon bed.' This was the man whose quest was for the perfect sentence.
"I was born in a house I built myself," he began, but such anecdotal memories were all too few. He allowed himself the slight suggestion that he distanced himself from Gus van Sant's travesty of a movie adaptation ("Cowgirls..."), he mentioned that the title to "Half Asleep in Frog Pyjamas" was 'self- explanatory'. He told us that when he answered the famous question in "Still Life... " that is, "How can you make love stay?" he had asked the wrong question in the first place. Because, he explained, love moves, and changes, and there was another level of love that would help you avoid the times of drinking vast quantities of tequila and crying over jukeboxes.
His most illuminating story concerned his approach to editors. Jim Thorpe was a native American footballer, a 'running back. ' After being tackled twice by a large linebacker, the third time Jim ran over the top of his opponent ninety yards for a touchdown. He went back to the linebacker, picked him up and carried him the length of the field. His only words to the linebacker were: "Let Jim run." In a Tom Robbins book the reader is the linebacker, and that's pretty much what happens to you once Tom receives the pass.
In answer to my question, he said that he was taking a year off before deciding on the direction of his next project. But that he 'wanted it to be something different.'
Hold onto your forearms, fasten your libido firmly into place and get those frontal lobes warmed up. Something different from Tom Robbins will definately be something to see.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 1119
It hardly seems like a year since my last attempt at winning a motza, or even some cash, on Australia's only real annual moment of universal action and common purpose. Forget Christmas, forget Anzac day, forget January 26th. I'm talking about the Melbourne Cup.
Let's have a little look at some of the facts surrounding this legendary day. For example, some 1500 kilograms of crayfish will go to their boiling watery graves. You and I, and the rest of the population will jointly wager more than $53 million. Our collective cholesterol will slightly rise with the consumption of some 300,000 buckets of chips. The TAB's computer system will be issuing more than 26,500 tickets per minute (that's 442 per second.) We'll be drinking more than 30,000 bottles of champagne cooled in 3 tonnes of ice.
Not that I'm saying this is excessive. It is, after all, a horse race. The horse race. Two million dollars in prizemoney. OK, we could go on with a serious discussion about the idealogical worth of it all, but there's another factor we need to consider. Who's going to win it?
Most people swear blindly that their method of choosing a horse in order to throw away their hard earned cash is 'the best,' so "The Pulse" is going to commit itself early. We're going to annouce the winner of the 1995 Melbourne Cup even before the final barrier draw, even before the horses are nominated. Hell, we may even have a stab at the 1996 race. We're combining the best of two experts: Scott Gordon's brother, Barry, and well known local sidekick, er, that is, psychic, Madame Zelda. In horse racing, as in life, confidence is everything. As you walk away with your winnings, remember, you read it here first!
MADAM ZELDA'S ECTOPLASMIC TIPS FROM THE OTHER SIDE.
(Madam Zelda works in a very organic, unstructured way. Here is a transcript of the 'session' we held with her.)
"Good evening. I know already why you are here. Sit down, make yourself comfortable. Watch for the Pekinese. Is it? That's unfortunate. Oh well, I have another. There is great unhappiness surrounding you- something about money, and an unscrupulous editor... that's not what you're here about. You want to know about horses? They're large animals, usually brown- oh, Melbourne Cup winners. The conditions must be right. (Sound of large amount of cash being passed across a table.) Conditions are good. Let me got in contact with the other side... I'm getting something- sorry, it's a damn mobile- they play havoc with my reception. Are, here we are...
MADAM ZELDA'S TIPS
The Phantom Chance- this is the horse that walks. Forget it.
Sir Kingi- I see this horse striding home, a strong finisher, not definately the winner.
My Soul Dancer- this is a horse with a disposition not unlike that of Dame Edna Everage. Don't put your money on this horse.
Vintage Crop will be stung by a March Fly in the last furlong, and lose interest in the race.
Doriemus will lead the race for the first quarter mile, but then may finish strongly. Don't be distracted by the dog-meat van waiting outside it's stalls.
Jeune- it's the wrong month for this horse. It will win big in December.
Double Trigger- How could you put money on a horse with a name like this?
Unsolved- I see big things for this horse. This horse will be the winner. Sell your house now and back this animal.
Few Are Chosen- and this horse is not one of them.
Bullwinkle- don't back a moose in a 3,200 metres race.
Ed- good to see the return of this loveable old Palimino, a good talker, but too long in the tooth to be considered seriously.
Richard Cranium- no comment, other than to say that people can be so cruel to dumb animals.
Scrupulous- a hard worker, a definate place-getter.
These then, from the preliminary field of 72 horses, are my contenders: UNSOLVED to win, with SIR KINGI and SCRUPULOUS to place. These predictions are completely guaranteed. Send all non-winning betting tickets to me, Madame Zelda, 73 Marty Bormann Strasse, Capital City, Patagonia for a full and complete refund."
HOW TO PLACE THAT BET
So, you've decided which horse you want to back, and you walk into the TAB- what do you do next? (Experienced punters may ignore this section.) All you need to do is walk up to a betting window and ask, or usually on Cup Day they have all kinds of people wandering around the office showing you how to mark the special-just-for-the-Melbourne Cup betting tickets.
All you do is nominate how much you wish to wager, and the number of the horse you want to back. Then saunter casually over to the queue, and when you reach the cashier ask what to do next. They're used to novices on Cup day, so there is no need to be embarressed. Then you wait, follow the race, and return to the window to collect your winnings.
If you can't make it to a TAB you can bet by phone, where 650 operators will be anticipating approximately 130,000 calls. Alternatively, you may wish to enter a sweepstakes. In these you pay a set amount to enter, and draw the name of a horse from a hat, or the bosses underwear if it's a really really good Melbourne Cup office party, and if the boss isn't a fifty-six year old incontinence sufferer. Then you sit back and collect the winnings. It's that easy.
If you're still unsure who to back, even after the advice given by Madame Zelda and Scott Gordon's brother, Barry, then here are a couple of things you might like to know.
a) In the 31 Cups run between 1960 and 1991 mares have won on only four occasions
b) Bart Cummings has trained the winner of 9 Cups.
c) If you can find a male horse trained by Bart Cummings, this could mean something.
FIVE ANNOYING THINGS TO DO AT 3.20 PM ON TUESDAY 7.11.95
1) Stand in the middle of the TAB and shout: "I have just contracted equine mobilivirus!"
2) If at the course, wait for the gates to open and then insistently ask to borrow someone's binoculars, and shout loudly: "Go, the Jets!"
3) At 3.19 try and place a bet for the race after the Cup.
4) Dress in overalls, find a TV set with a crowd around it, and in the last furlong complain loudly about the horizontal hold and attempt to "fix" it.
5) In a crowded race watching situation scream out loudly "Don't bet on the Panda! Don't bet on the Panda!" (This is actually annoying whenever you do it, if it's loud and repeated often enough.)
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 370
I couldn't believe it, either. But it's all here. The guy who hits a fence on his Harley, and whizz, there goes a leg. The woman who walks into the spinning propellor. The boy gored by the bull in the rodeo. The kid who was really hung in the performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, although of course it should have been faked.
While I found a lot here that was plainly horrific, there is a certain morbid humour in some of the scenes. I challenge anyone to remain straight faced watching the guy having the accident with his testicles and a large power drill. It's not all so funny. There is a creepy fascination with watching this video, not necessarily the actual events, but with what Dick Clark's team have unearthed. It's all a little relentless by the end of the tape, like a slow motion train ploughing through a crwod of people. (There is only one train wreck in the show, but there is more than one car accident, not to mention parachutes failing to open and netless tightrope walkers who trip).
It's probably the commentary that is the most worrying aspect. Because they've gone straight for the jugular vein (there's a scene with a haemorraging one of these as well). The humour is of the most insipid kind. You can bear hearing this sort of thing when it's little kids falling of their tricycles, but to have the same inane trite jabbering while people are losing their lives is something else again. There's too much: "Oops, guess I'll be saving money whenever I go shoe shopping now," or: "Looks like I can cancel that dinner with the Fergusons," and not enough recognition that this is people's lives we're watching, that folk are suffering.
Entertainment made out of such pain makes it all the worse.
The always cheerful, effervescent, bubbly (and perenially youthful) Dick Clark remarks at the top of the show: "If there are any kids watching they'd better head straight for bed. They're risking (chuckle chuckle) permanent psychological damage." I'd say such damage has already been done- but it wasn't limited to America's youth.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 452
In Issue 6 of "Pulse of the Illawarra", for some perverse reason known only by my twisted reviewer's heart, I submitted an account of a video called "American Home Videos- Amputations and Decapitiations." A catchy title, and a bizarre description followed, documenting a morbid account of lives being lost in painful ways, all in the name of ratings and the entertainment dollar. "Uncle Luke's gone, but we can make a few bucks selling the video to Prime Time."
No-one has commented on the morals and ethics of such a review. Surely there were comments of "How disgusting," or "It's those bloody Americans again." But no-one wrote in, or called, to say we should not be supporting such a concept. Have we accepted too much? Do we (secretly) want to belive they would make such a compilation? When is the time to say we've had enough of this style of so called entertainment? We are the arbiters of our own taste, and we should make our views known to those who purport to represent us.
This shouldn't mean an outbreak of moralism or censorship. But violence on the streets is being linked to violence shown on the movie screen. The thirteen year old in England who murdered a friend gave as his reason "I wanted to know what it was like to kill." Where did he get this craving? In New York this week, subway ticket collectors have had their booths sprayed with inflammable liquid and been set alight, as in scenes from the movie "Money Train." The movie's supporters claim they got the idea from actual events that occurred in the eighties. I'm sure the burned subway guard still in hospital finds this excuse a fantastic source of solace.
I would be more upset by the lack of response to the "Amputations" review if it was in fact a a real review. Fortunately the video only exists in the mind of this reviewer. But for how long? Already there has been aired a programme of traffic accidents from hidden cameras.
Bruce Willis, in a publicity blurb for "Die Hard With A Vengence" (Who Weekly, 5th June) expressed surprise that people were becoming numb to outrages such as the Oklahoma Bombing. This must be regarded as one of the most obtuse views in the history of entertainment. For him not to see a link between a medium that endorses violence, and people who take that endorsement a step further, and use it for their own gains, is bizarre.
Censorship is not the answer. Social responsibility is. Fight for quality entertainment. There have been enough freak shows. Apathy starts when you count your view not important. Make sure your voice is heard.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 270
One of the most under-rated Australian films. The blurb on the back cover mentions something about "the powerful bonds of friendship, love and family" but James Ricketson's film goes further, and actually explores the nature of identity in contemporary Australia as well as the concept of family, and also examines part of a sub-culture, the inner urban Black lifestyle of Perth. If the last point sounds too specific to make a great film of, it is useful to remember that microcosms are the models of larger worlds, and the film-maker, through virtue of his or her trade, operates with a lens. And in this movie the magnification is admirably controlled.
Dougie Dooligan ("the Hooligan") is released from jail, and immediately meets up with his life-long friend, Floyd "Pretty Boy" Davies. While John Moore, as Dooligan, occasionally struggles in his role, David Ngoombujarra shines as Floyd in a virtuoso performance.
Led on by his mate, Dooligan starts becoming involved in the petty crimes that landed him in jail in the first place. His dream, however, is to buy Yeeticup, the country property he grew up on, once owned by his now drunken father. His (white) mother claims his aspirations are too great for a young, black man.
What follows is a clash of culture and identity as he struggles to come to terms with the differing parts of society that claim him.
Adapted from Archie Weller's "Day of the Dog" this is a film that will entertain you, open a window to another culture and also leave you thinking. And you can't ask for more than that.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 278
Filmed in documentary form, Bob Roberts examines the senatorial race of a right wing anti- Bob Dylan pop singer/ conservative money market speculator. Roberts favours the black power suit, is anti drug, anti freedom of thought, anti just about everything the sixties stood for. He represents the rise of the yuppie in its most reviled form.
His opponent in the elction is the sartorially inadequate Brickley Paiste (Gore Vidal). Piest has been governor for 30 years, and is a dedicated worker to improve the lot of the American people, especially those who are impoverished and in need of assistance.
Roberts cares little for those who "Complain, and complain, and complain" as his hit song says. He drives through the Pennsylvania heartland in his mobile stock and share trading campaign headquarter black bus. Damaging but possibly quite innocent photgraphs of Piest appear, affecting the incumbent's campaign. Roberts' own campaign director, played with seeming relish by Alan Rickman, is himself facing allegations of drug-running and Iran Contra type deals. His deadpan "I gotta go pray," is a highlight of the movie.
The plot twists and turns as the guitar picking suit wearing candidate survives an assasination attempt, and attracts some loony-tunes red-neck followers.
Bob Roberts is expertly derived political satire. It is funny, littered with barbs, and at times, poignant. It is a solid reminder of the dangers of the extreme right, of greed, and of self-interest. It's probably worth watching anytime before the big day soon, when we see our own versions of Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin up against each each other in the comedy feast of the year: The 1996 Australian General Election.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 315
Halfway through the film adaption of Tim Winton's novel "That Eye, The Sky" the competition became important to me. We'd met all the characters by then, and were being rocked by small ripples of plot. I became aware of the bloody accordian music, and it pushed me over the edge. It became a challenge, a quest, of more importance than the film itself. "Which was the most annoying element?"
Here are the nominations:
Lisa Harrow and Amanda Douge. It is apparent there are many Australian's who can act. Why not use some of them? And the token American (double bonus points) presence Peter Coyote, who looked as if he attended the Kevin Costner school of rigid acting. These three could all have had acting lessons from Jamie Croft as the 12-year old narrator, or Alethea Mcgrath, as the Grandmother, or even Errol the Wonder Chicken.
It matched the three afforementioned actors: banal, flat, and emotionally undemonstrative.
You see more evocative shots of the Australian landscape in a below average Coca Cola comercial.
A degree of stereotyping outlawed even during the Australian film renassaince in the late seventies.
Its inexplicable shifts in direction were like watching someone wading a circular path through quicksand. The consequences of a preictable accident culminate in the arrival of a 'mysterious stranger' who, if he knocked on your front door tomorrow, would have you racing to dial '000,' rather than putting him up and allowing him to bonk your sixteen year old daughter, before stealing your truck and running off with her.
And the winner is:
Not the audience. Ambiguity does not equate with mystery, nor vagueness equal depth. Because you can't see the bottom doesn't mean there is anything interesting going on down there. This film has recieved 9 AFI nominations. But they've been wrong before.
The accordian won.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 385
I had forgotten just how good "Doctor Strangelove" was. It was like seeing an old and dearly missed friend again, on the big screen, and I hadn't seen it there since that Stanley Kubrick Festival at the Mandolin in Elizabeth Street in the late seventies.
"Dr Strangelove" was made in 1963. It is a satiric look at what would happen if an American Air Force officer went suddenly mad and ordered an attack on "those damn Rooskies." It is of course looking a the whole insanity of nuclear weapons in general, the mad nature of M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction).
It stars, in the true meaning of the word, Peter Sellers, in no less than three roles. The bumbling Group Captain Mandrake, the American President and the loony tunes Dr Strangelove himself, straight from Adolf Hitler's bunker, brought to America on the 'grab-the-best-German-scientists-before-the-Russians-got-them-never-mind-their-ethics' exchange program. The film's final moments, as Strangelove's own arm attempts to strangle himself are about as funny as you're ever going to get on the screen.
Slim Pickens as the laconic cowboy B-52 commander, George C. Scott and Keenan Wynn also act their little hearts out. As a film with a message, or as entertainment, it is worth a look next time you're in the video store.
"Atomic Cafe" continues the theme of nuclear madness. It is a documentary, a compilation of the worst of American propaganda efforts since the Second World War to the height of the Cold War.
Scenes of American school-children leaning to 'duck and cover' under their school desks in the event of World War Three were chillingly funny. Awful pictures of radiation poisoned Marshall Islanders, the aftermath of Hiroshima, and American Army tests on its own soldiers helped to reinforce the horrific nature of that time in America, a time when nuclear war was conceived, planned for, and even publicly supported.
If the film has a fault it is perhaps that it fails to cover any one topic in depth, instead preferring to look at the general insanity of it all.
The issues of nuclear weapons are as relevant today as at any time in the last fifty years. We must not forget their presence.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 256
While London Burns" says the video cover. This is a bleak, black view of Thatcherite Britain. A multi-racial coverage of Sammy (Shashi Kapoor) the son of a prominent Pakistani politician, and Rosie, a social worker played by Frances Berber, and the people they co-exist with. Their relationship is founded upon the twin, perhaps conflicting ethics, of "freedom plus commitment," and while the city destructs around them parallels are drawn between their state and that of the nation.
Hanif Kareshi ("My Beautiful Laundrette" and the book "The Buddha of Suburbia") wrote the screenplay, and it was directed by Stephen Frears ("Accidental Hero" and "The Crying Game".)
With freedom of sexual licence and mild drug habits Sammy has to decide whether his selfishness will change to accommodate the more pragmatic Rosie. She, on the other hand, is finding sensual pleasure more forthcoming with the enigmatic Roland Gift (of the "Fine Young Cannibals.") In addition to this Sammy's father has been driven out of Pakistan and forced to return to England, determined to satisfy himself with ex-lover Clare Bloom.
But around this group of characters civilisation is literally cracking up and exploding. To the words of Thatcher's speeches we see the developers move in as another group of dispossessed are made to begin a long, directionless journey.
This movie is a scary reminder of Australia today, mindful of the fact we're staring down the loaded chamber of eight billion dollars worth of spending cuts, by a government whose ideologies lean much closer to Maggie than hope.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 357
I woke to the sound of a great, grey slowly revolving granite disc. I thought it was a dream, but the noise continued long after I had climbed, disheavelled and weary, from my bed. I finally identified it as the machinery of contemporary Australian politics crushing my hopes finally and inevitably into a thick, viscous paste.
Due to the vagaries of publishing, this is the last "Politics" column I fill before the election. Our candidate's policies are now rolling home to roost, to settle among us like tired chickens at the end of a hard day's laying, infiltrating our views of the nation, trying to influence us to believe it could ever have been any other way.
The rhetoric uttered by both Keating and Howard has hardly been at a level designed to stimulate, to honestly drive the cardio-vascular system into a good work out. There's been nothing thus far to stretch the veins. The debate about the debate was more exciting than the debate. The voices have been hushed rather than strident, complaining rather than proud.
It is, of course, illegal to suggest you vote informally, that you use your opportunity on March 2nd to make a protest to let them know that you're tired of it all. So instead how's this for an idea? Begin planning *your* campaign. Your very own assault on the Lodge. How would you change the face of the nation, and inject hope into the nation like a shot of pure adrenhilin directly to the heart of a jaded patient? Australia, this could be the prescription you need. We'll fax the winner's answer to whoever crawls into the Lodge on March 3rd. A double pass to Hoyts, Warrawong, for the reader with the best suggestion- and a promise for our vote in '99.
"I'll be voting for anyone EXCEPT Paul Keating."- David, father of 3.
"If Howard gets in the entire social fabric of this country will be torn apart. We'll have to march again- for our jobs, for the forests. For our kids."- Rosemary, housewife.
"Don't vote. It only encourages them."- My old election day badge.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NUMBER OF WORDS: 724
"...Australia! You are a rising child... you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not great enough for respect." Charles Darwin, 1836
Now that the Labor Party political strategists have deemed the time the most opportune (after examining the entrails of several dead birds and consulting the runes hidden deep within some Labor Party underground bunker) a general election has been called to determine our next Prime Minister. This means we are about to be bombarded with a myriad of claims, counter-claims, lies, election promises (these later two often indistinguishable), and tales of dollars being spent. Huge unimaginable sums, millions and millions of dollars which, it is alleged, will inevitably improve the lot of your life, you, the voter.
And then later, more quietly, like the rustling of dead leaves at the end of a windy day, will be the endless analysis on the late night talk shows as minions attempt to explain how such bonanzas and giveaways will make us all happier, to apply their own special brand of 'spin.' And even more quietly still will be the desperate whingeings of those foul detractors who dare to question such largesse with party-pooping inquiries such as "Where is the money coming from?
We will work hard to wade through the reams of material shoved into our letterboxes, and hear the sounds of concern from those who would represent our own electorates.
The Prime Minister announced the date for the showdown with the smiling face and confidence of one prepared for battle, and expectant of victory. The Leader of the Opposition immediately replied he would start releasing policies any day now. The lines are set, and the strategists are working late into the night. Expect some red-rimmed eyes, frustrated explanations and embarrassed pauses before the big night in the tally room. The Pulse hopes to keep you up to date with the policies of the parties that will be affecting you.
THE BIG PICTURE
But what about the Big Picture? Away from our neighbourhoods where do the parties stand on national and international issues? The Pulse asks you to examine where your opinions lie on the following:
A nineties buzzword, but none the less important. The world is becoming warmer. Scientists are adamant this is not conjecture, that the damage is being done now. The icecaps have started to melt, temperatures are hotter, and the sea level is rising. The ozone layer is being depleted. The use of CFC's has been partially regulated, but the ozone hole keeps growing. Land degradation continues unabated as well. Vast sums of money have already been committed to the Murray-Darling Basin, but other areas are equally poised to descend into the abyss of soil erosion, rising salination, and increasing deforestation with subsequent drought conditions. And then there is our obsession with unsustainable agriculture...
A problem for white Australia that is not going to go away. An issue with the potential to divide our society like no other. White Australians have longer life expectancy, black Australians have higher infant mortality rates. Whites are threatened by the double edged sword of native title and existing land's council claims. Aborigines are still clamouring for a treaty of reconciliation 8 years after the bicentenary, 208 after the arrival of Governor Phillip.
This election may very well decide the chances of Australia becoming a Republic by 2001. But what shape would it take? Are we to have a no-frills Republic, (simply altering the name on the letterhead) or will it be something deeper than that, a fundamental re-shaping of the fabric of our society? Or will we elect not to change things at all? Opinion polls show Australians to be roughly evenly divided on these issues, but anecdotal evidence suggests a much stronger leaning towards a course of self determination.
An idealist observer could suggest these three issues are inexorably linked, and that a determined leader of stature could use this election as an opportunity to quantum shift Australia's direction forever away from the roots of colonisation. Where are the reformers, the George Washingtons and Abraham Lincolns, the Mahatma Gandhis of late second millennium Terra Australis? Will we have to be satisfied with the two whingeing, carping, sniping, petty minded alternatives we have already? Where, in short, is a leader for the 21st Century?
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
SCRABBLING FOR SUCCESS- JOHN HOWARD'S ADVENTURES IN GOVERNMENT.
NUMBER OF WORDS: 1054
"There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it."- George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, in Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c 1694.
The fundamental difference between a political survivor with a predisposition towards flotation and a genuine leader can be seen more clearly in John Howard than any previous Australian leader. In John Howard we have all the hallmarks of someone who has reached the pinnacle of democratic power in our society, and yet is able to wield it as about effectively as if it was a severed flaccid penis.
One of his biggest mistakes was to say that Pauline Hanson's initial statements were a terrific example of the freedom of speech that exists in Australia. He supported her right to say what she wanted, but unfortunately this magnanimity did not extend to sharing with us his own views or exhibiting any form of disagreement with her position. Noel Pearson, an Aboriginal speaker, claims the reason behind Howard's silence is that One Nation draws its supporters from the same heartland as a fair proportion of the Libs. Pearson adds that this tacit support of Hanson and her policies would lead to further disenfranchisement of Aboriginal people, and distinct move away from multiculturalism in general.
"I do not believe (Pauline Hanson) knows what she is doing, and she is caught in a tragic redneck celebrity vortex from which she does not want to escape. "- Noel Pearson, Wollongong University, May '97.
One Nation, despite its name, is in danger of splitting the country. We've seen already mini-riots occurring as Frau Hanson holds speeches in redneck territory, and there's a real potential these could escalate into bloodshed and distressingly larger destructive exhibitions of discontent when she ventures, and she has stated she will, into more small 'l' liberal territory. And anecdotal evidence is emerging that her views are merely legitimising racism in the wider community.
"I saw this Vietnamese on the station, and I gave her a piece of my mind, where do I buy a Pauline Hanson T-shirt? "- Unknown woman overheard in Wollongong, 12.5.97.
Howard's blatant feeble-mindedness and possibly overt evil in not knocking the Hanson nail on the head has been compounded by his lack of leadership on the Wik issue. He had a choice of justice, ie, supporting the judgement of what the Highest Court in the land considered fair and legal, or a range of legislative options to neuter the finding, all opening the potential for huge compensatory claims. But in dithering with 10-point plans and ignoring the fundamental premise of Wik, (that in cases of dispute where Native Title and Pastoral Leases co-exist the Pastoral Lease shall have precedence) he has allowed the rabidly feral element of the National Farmer's Federation to have its head in the largest attempted land grab since Germany decided it had a nice spot on its mantelpiece for the rest of Europe in 1939. In an even greater example of political indiscretion Howard has endangered the structural fabric of the Coalition itself, with the very real potential for a split within the Nats.
"I think that USA wedge style politics is now here with us to stay. It is likely to become a part of election campaigning in our country in the future. The conservatives have struck upon how they can drive the wedge between the broad coalition of interest groups that had otherwise not voted for them. The projection of blame against minorities worked very well for them."- Noel Pearson, Wollongong University, May '97.
And hot on the heels of this lack of leadership comes a human rights scenario that makes the preceding obfuscation look almost like honour and dignity. In allowing public attacks and vilification of Sir Ronald Wilson, the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and supporting postponement of the tabling of his Stolen Children report to Parliament, even the most cynical observer must be wondering exactly how much red, black and yellow have been removed from our Prime Minister's true colours.
John Howard came to Canberra on an adventure he conceived as a personal triumph: Lazarus with a triple bypass did more than rise from the dead, he ascended the throne. But after all, who was Lazarus but a dead guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time, accidentally woken by someone with a point to prove. Howard has had no such Holy assistance, and those who would support him must now wade through the blatant lies, broken promises, half-truths, dithering, misinformed speculation and rampant fuzziness and grey areas that are rapidly shading his term as this nation's leader.
"Australia is a good country, but we have the capacity to be better. If you think that opportunity and success and achievement are just going to fall into our laps while we sit on our hands, you're wrong. If you think we're going to have a great and prosperous nation without some pain and uncertainty, then you're wrong. The potential which is inherent in all of us and which is our national inheritance will only be fulfilled with faith in each other, good will, perseverance and an unequivocal leadership. "- Noel Pearson, Wollongong University, May '97.
The truly frightening aspect of the whole scenario is of course the lack of an effective opposition. For where do we turn from here? The great silent achiever, Kim Beazley? Anointed head of a tired and dispirited Labor party, the apostle of Keating and Hawke both, our Prince Charles of the other side of the chamber is regularly beaten by Cheryl Kernot in every determinant of a true Opposition leader.
The tragedy of the current political spectrum is that in a period of maximum potential Australia has no real political adventure to choose. Although the stakes are so high the pieces have been mislaid, someone has thrown snake eyes when we need a double six, and the board has been thrown away into a well called Economic Pragmatism. The game of Ideological Hope in the Country We Love is over for now, and who knows when the emergence of the next Fair Player will be?
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
PAULINE HANSON AND THE "BANANAS IN PYJAMAS" CONSPIRACY.
NUMBER OF WORDS: 538
Pauline Hanson writes:
I mean, the aspersions about John Pasquerelli being my Macheveillian cohort are obviously ridiculous- who would have as an assistant someone with such a woggy title? And anyway, there are far more serious matters at stake here. Those commie pinko leftwing bastards at the ABC are subverting our children, and the time has come for it to be made public. It's not for nothing we've cut 55 million dollars from their budget, but those wimps in the Liberal Party are not happy to come out with anything in the open, be it the truth behind their immigration policies, the reality of the vast Aboriginal industry and those who continually moan about the sorry state of the environment- as if! We should have slashed the lot!
Let's look at reality here- forget the turgid realities of Post-Modernism, and get straight down to the nitty gritty of overt brainwashing. That's what's happening to the kiddies of the world as they fall for the lovely, friendly inhabitants of Cuddles Avenue. Or are they so friendly?
What are the bananas in reality, but the Asian hordes, having over-run our country? As if their colour is not a big enough give-away, and their pyjama wearing nature, you can't even tell them apart. They're nameless! They think in unison, and are very probably homosexual. They're the obvious rulers of Australia. No-one challenges their authority! They lord it over the indigenous inhabitants- the Teddies, obviously the last remnants of the Aboriginals- always hanging around the park, occasionally raking leaves in a hollow mockery of work, but actually put to good use as slave labourers.
Which leaves only Rat in a Hat. The Jew. Wears his funny little hat, has long whiskers (sideburns), who because he runs the shop controls the finances. He is constantly scheming.
THIS IS THE NIGHTMARE VISION OF A TRUE MULTI-CULTURAL AUSTRALIA!!! AND IT'S BEING FOISTERED UPON OUR CHILDREN AS A NORMAL, EVERYDAY VIEW OF THE WORLD!!!
The silent, hard-working white minority has been reduced to nothing- forced completely underground, or else deported to the countries of their origins, the ultimate legacy of political correctness- Australia for the Asians, the Aboriginals and the persuasively omniscient Elders of Zion.
Any further truth is apparent in the second last line of their insipid song. The first lines warn of the inevitability of Asian conquest, the last even warns of the surprise invasion. But the second last, which no-one who listens to the theme on the ABC has ever been able to understand, strikes directly to the heartland of our youth. It is in fact a phrase in Indonesian meaning "Resistance is Futile."
It has, recently, been alleged that I have misappropriated funds which should have been used in my electorate. I can now reveal the truth behind the absence of those moneys. I have built, here, in Ipswich, a bunker of my own. An enclave with a view. We are armed, and well-stocked with supplies. I will not go down the road of meek compliance. In life, as in the chip business, there can be no surrender. As I used to say to my father (before the accident) "Been there, shot that." This is Pauline Hanson...
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
MYOPIA MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY
NUMBER OF WORDS: 581
Is it just me, or are there are a number of other passengers on the slow moving bus we proudly call Australia who are also becoming a trifle curious as to the ultimate destination of our driver, one John Winston Howard? Forget economic imperatives for a moment, and fiscal reform and budgetary restraint. Tell us where we're going, John! What's the place like, does it have somewhere for the kids to frolic about in, and will we enjoy living there?
Our nation is now in real danger of becoming bogged to the axles in a dreary sort of materialist mud. Even Anzac day currently bears as much significance to honouring our glorious war dead as Easter does to a major religious observance. Take out the beer and the two-up and the chocolate bunnies, and there's not a lot left of either, is there? Beyond some sporadic marching and the odd church service, I mean, which really only cater to the converted, literally in the case of Easter. But for the rest of us, where's the belief, John? Where's the stirring of our souls, the drumbeats in our chests?
There are only 31 World War 1 veterans left alive in Australia now. Perhaps it would be a nice gesture for our leader to give them some indication of where we'll be in a few year's time. Even though the Vets aren't going to see the place, at least they'll know the number of the destination board. It's probably worthwhile mentioning at this point that none of the other coach captains (Mr Beazley, et al) who desire a turn at the helm have bothered to indicate the direction of their particular vehicles, either.
Take the reconciliation process. For those of you up the back of the bus smoking various substances and shouting abuse at the pedestrians, it should be noted that there is a strong feeling among many members of the community that a small gesture, such as saying 'sorry,' might be just do the trick to get the ball rolling in terms of dealing with some of the concerns voiced by Aboriginal people and a bunch of left wing do-gooders. Well, actually not so much a vocal minority as a reasonable proportion of the Australian population.
When I thumped Christine Bennet's arm in the playground in my first year of school it was suggested that I say sorry to her. I learned two things from this experience. Firstly, if you're going to hit someone smaller, weaker and of the opposite sex, then possibly it's better to avoid doing it within proximity of the staffroom window. Secondly, and I'm happy to say that I have in fact used this lesson in my later life, unlike the first, saying sorry meant Christine and I could go on and have a happy, fulfilling relationship, at least until she ditched me for Gavin Wheatly in Grade 2.
In its acknowledgment of past wrongs an apology has the potential to offer some suggestion as to where we're proceeding, without relying on continual glances in the rear view mirror. Unfortunately though, as the good bus Terra Australis lurches around another blind corner with all the danger of the vehicle in Speed and none of the romance or excitement, we are left with only two possible interpretations of our driver's intent.
Either John Howard is very stupid or he is criminally stubborn. And sadly neither suggestion offers a glance at what route might be pencilled in the Gregory's.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
DATE: Jan 2001.
NUMBER OF WORDS: 712
The louder voices from the trading floor are talking about the impending Salvation Army float. Once the religious giant lists on the stock market there's every possibility we're going to see a different type of worship in Australia. Yes, at last, pay for pray is coming to a holy place near you. It'll mean some other changes as well.
Under a percentage deal with the railways, donations to the Salvos (Trademark) will now be compulsory before you're allowed to exit train stations and bus depots. Negotiations are also under way with the defence forces to hopefully see the Army component of the Salvos (TM) used in new and inventive ways. Macdonald's and Pizza Hut are soon expected to lose their market advantage to the Salvos (TM) Soup Kitchen Family Restaurants. And as the network of Salvos (TM) Thrift Shops and Salvos (TM) Employment Agencies spreads expect to see takeover bids for the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Smith Family. Rumours are also spreading that both the Uniting Church and the Anglicans are ready to go public. The Catholic Church, of course, entered the stock market years ago.
It's all part of the restructuring of the Australian economy which the government supports in its attempt to ensure every household in Australia becomes a share owning household. This mystical belief removes from the government any sense of responsibility it may feel towards providing adequate welfare relief. Because once all Australians own stocks they will, of course, be self supporting. And who knows, it might just work. It certainly seem to do the trick for most politicians.
The changing face of this Australian resurgence of private enterprise beating down any concept of public service can be demonstrated most clearly by looking in bookstores for the best seller: Uses for Old Bank Buildings, or its popular sequel: Uses for Old Post Offices.
Once the consultants have left the Salvos (TM) headquarters expect to see the phenomenon known as a 'warm asset diaspora.' This is what happens when companies decide to lose the parts of themselves that make the least amount of money. Even if a division is bringing in a small profit, or only breaking even, the pressure to produce high dividends with correspondingly high stock prices means that these parts have to go. Followed soon after by the echoing clang of doors being locked for the last time by their warm assets, aka employees. Expect to see large retrenchments from the Salvos (TM) in the first six months of the restructure as hundreds of redundant tambourine players hit the streets replaced by cheaper (Asian, or possibly Eastern European) recorded music.
Another probable outcome of the Salvos (TM) float is the 'Green Card' disaster relief scheme. You may be cold and hungry after that landslide, but if you haven't contributed to the Scheme you won't have much hope of collecting your hot cup of tea and getting that blanket draped over your shoulders. As for the friendly face offering you assistance after you've overdosed again, it's quite likely this will be one of the first divisions to go, as there's little potential for profit here.
John Howard, as yet, hasn't commented on the proposed float, but then he's still thrilled by the fact he nearly said something witty during the week. When the ALP produced a pamphlet and video espousing the fact they would soon have some actual policies, our leader was heard to mention that the ALP was capable of only producing good pamphlets and videos, and not policies.
While the ground didn't exactly shake because of the huge numbers of guffawing, side-slapping hysterical Australians, the resultant mirth did drown out Kim Beazley's satisfied comments to the effect that yes, the ALP had worked hard over the summer break on its policy initiatives, and yes, the subsequent result was that it was, in fact, a tremendously well produced video and pamphlet.
So the best thing to do is head down to your local place of worship, whatever the denomination, and sign up before the cut off date if you want to receive your slice of the action. And please remember, while you're down there. If you want to pray a little. For Australia. Right now, it can't possibly hurt.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
DATE: Feb 2001.
NUMBER OF WORDS: 465
Phone: (distort.) Hi, you've called the Hell information line. Please dial '1' if you'd like to speak to an information agent, '2' for curses, spells and hexes placed on the boards of directors of prominent banks, '3' if you'd like to sell your soul for some policies
We hear the number '3' being selected.
DEVIL: Name, please.
BEAZLEY: It's Kim Beazley here.
DEVIL: Do you have an ABN?
BEAZLEY: It's around here somewhere. Is it really necessary? Is there a GST on souls? That may not be such a bad idea. I'd make a bundle in Queensland.
DEVIL: You want to have a GST?
BEAZLEY: It's just I think I've already sort of promised to roll it back. Or was that something else? Can I check for a moment?
DEVIL: To be honest, the GST was a policy I gave to another of my customers.
BEAZLEY: I was hoping you'd have something for me.
DEVIL: We've been doing some marvellous stuff down here with leather.
BEAZLEY: Not really my scene, actually. Don't you have anything we could present to the Australian population to shock them out of their electoral torpor and make them see that a vote for us is truly a vote for original, inspiring government?
DEVIL: How about increased expenditure on the armed forces?
DEVIL: New initiatives on education?
BEAZLEY: We've already stolen them from the Libs. Mind you they nicked them from us before that.
DEVIL: What about welfare reform?
DEVIL: Here's one. It's an oldie but a goodie. It might just work for you. Greater spending on roads.
DEVIL: There's not much left, I'm afraid.
BEAZLEY: Not even a little one?
DEVIL: There's one here, but I don't think you'll like it.
BEAZLEY: You could try me.
DEVIL: It's very runny.
BEAZLEY: I like it runny.
DEVIL: Oh, the cat's eaten it.
BEAZLEY: Look, I'm a devout Catholic trying to sell my soul in exchange for some policies of substance and all you can offer me is old Monty Python routines.
DEVIL: You overlooked one fundamental problem.
BEAZLEY: What is it? That people are ready for a republic? That it really is time for responsible government? That we should move away from the politics of reaction and towards some new, captivating, invigorating ideas? That we should embrace public debate to truly forge a new society actually based on the egalitarian principles we espouse? That vigorous, inspiring debate would be a hundred times more beneficial than the remand school-type screeching, whining and cajoling that passes for question time in the House of Reps at the moment?
DEVIL: My God, you are prolix, aren't you?
BEAZLEY: Prolix, and proud. But what have I overlooked?
DEVIL: You're a Catholic. We have your soul already.
THE PULSE OF THE ILLAWARRA
NEWS FROM THE FRONT
NUMBER OF WORDS:
The most remarkable feature of the recent Pauline Hanson/ One Nation/ David Oldfield/ Feral Pig Advancement Society Immigration Policy is the need for it. It would be a whole lot simpler for One Nation to get hold of a brace of megaphones, and then loudly announce to prospective settlers, refugees or visitors: "Look, if youse come over here we'll find Thommo and Davo and Crummo and a length of chain and some old cricket bats and show youse what really happens up in Bourke late of a Friday night." They'd at least be showing some honesty, and wouldn't have to resort to inaccurate and highly dodgy statistics. Even just a mug shot of Hanson's eyes under that carefully sculptured mass of lacquered red locks should be enough to cause most people to head straight back to the embarkation ports. Possibly the real criminal is her hairdresser. Would we take Pauline so seriously if she had dreadlocks? Long flowing golden tresses? A number two buzz cut? Well, the answer to the last is that yes, of course we would.
Can you imagine what this lot will do if they're ever given after hours access to the office? At this point it should be noted that Pauline herself has recently achieved the modest distinction of being the Senator with the highest backbench travel allowance claim for the quarter, at the same time as sitting on no senate committees, sub or otherwise, at all. Whatever happened to productivity based performance indicators? Or does she claim the alarming rise of racially inspired violence as a measure of her output?
It's worth considering that as the detritus of One Nation's divided opinions approach the rapidly rotating blades of the media hot-air moving device, and as the ranks of dissatisfied former staffers grows more vocable, there's every delightful chance of a split within One Nation. Realistically, it can't be long now. Administrative mismanagement, a fundamental inexperience in government methodology, and the Rapine Greed that only the Far Right can manifest as a policy platform practically ensure their failure. It's like putting a bunch of taipans in a jar and asking them politely not to nip each other. Sooner or later you just know you're going to be removing a bunch of dead snakes, and at the very least one tiny limp serpent. And this Freudian image is the one that immediately comes to mind when we review John Howard's sorry performance in response to the rapidly increasing velocity of the One Nation billycart, but we'll come to that another time.
Yes my friends, there's an increasing hope that the road we now travel is unlikely to carry Ms Hanson too much further. She's rapidly letting off so much ammunition in the general direction of her ankles that sooner or later there's a marvellous chance of a pair of air-conditioned slingbacks bidding a stuttering farewell to the corridors of power and trudging the long and winding extent of Route One northwards, all the way home.
THE KOORI MAIL
FOR EDDIE MURRAY'S FAMILY, THERE'S TOO MUCH WRONG
NUMBER OF WORDS: 1531
While the relatives of Cameron Doomadgee hope that his inquest will reveal the true circumstances of his death on Palm Island, the father of another Aboriginal man who died in custody warns his own experience has left him angry and frustrated. Arthur Murray, the father of Eddie Murray who died in custody in 1981, says that despite an inquest, a Royal Commission and an inquiry by the NSW Police Integrity Commission (PIC), basic questions regarding his son's death still remain to be answered.
In 1997 Arthur and Leila Murray took the extraordinary step of having their son's remains exhumed, which went against their beliefs and caused them a great deal of emotional distress. They felt their efforts were justified, however, when evidence of a previously undisclosed injury to Eddie's body was revealed. Eddie's sternum (breastbone) was fractured, and a specialist forensic pathologist suggested that it was likely that this had occurred immediately prior to his death.
The exhumation came about due to the efforts of the Murray family and the Newcastle University Legal Centre which published 'Too Much Wrong', a comprehensive and detailed breakdown of Eddie's inquest (where police were found to have lied) and the Royal Commission inquiry (which asked as many questions about Eddie's death as it answered.) After the evidence of Eddie's sternum was revealed, the authors of 'Too Much Wrong'the barrister Robert Cavanagh and the academic Dr Roderic Pittyas well as the Murray family, hoped a further inquiry into Eddie's death would be made, however it took until 2000 before the then NSW Police Minister Paul Whelan referred the matter to the PIC.
The NSW PIC has great powers. It can compel witnesses to give evidence, can run covert operations and hold public hearings. With its capacity to intercept telephone calls, it is more powerful than the body which recommended its establishment, the Wood Royal Commission into Police Corruption. It has an annual budget of nearly $17 million and a staff of almost a hundred.
Weeks passed by, yet the family heard nothing from the PIC. As months turned into years, the family began to wonder if this new investigation would turn out to be any more thorough than those which had preceded it. In May 2003 tragedy struck the Murray family when Leila Murray passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Eddie's mother had waited and struggled over twenty years in her attempts to find justice. She had gone through the pain of burying Eddie not once, but twice, so that the state would have the means to find that justice.
It wasn't until September 2003 that Arthur Murray was summoned to Newcastle University, where the Legal Centre had been sent a letter describing Operation Colorado, the PIC's inquiry into Eddie's death. The letter left Arthur Murray devastated. He felt the Commission had made no real effort to find out what had happened to his sondespite the length of time it had held the case, the resources available to it and the information that was available on the matter.
The PIC's initial position had been 'to ask itself whether there was any opportunity and advantage for it to use its investigative powers to gather fresh evidence of significance, particularly through the use of electronic surveillance techniques (listening devices and telephone intercepts)...' Perversely, though, the Commission then began to collect further reports on the case. The Commission decided that 'it was necessary to first to (sic) obtain an opinion from a forensic medical expert as to the significance of the sternum fracture.' This was despite the fact that the PIC already possessed the post-exhumation autopsy report prepared by Dr Johan Duflou, (now Associate Professor at the School of Medical Sciences at the University of NSW.)
In early 2001 the PIC contacted Dr David Ranson of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, however a comprehensive brief containing over seventy questions took the PIC until November to prepare. Dr Ranson's report was finally received by the PIC nearly eighteen months after it had been decided to obtain it. It appears there was little evidence in it to refute that obtained from Dr Dufluos, as interviews with potential witnesses and suspects apparently occurred only after this time.
The PIC spoke to all four police officers on duty in Wee Waa on 12 June 1981. Former Sgt Alan Moseley denied having any recollection of a death in custody in his police station. Another, Kevin Parker, had been found corrupt by ICAC in 1994. Rodney Fitzgerald, the only one of the four officers still serving in the NSW police force, could not remember whether there was a resuscitation attempt made on Eddie Murray, and also asserted that after at least 20 years of policing, he was 'not aware of any police officer prone to episodes of violence or (to) suffer short tempers in relation to people they arrested.' When Sgt. Gary Page, who says he remembers Eddie's death as if it was yesterday, claimed not to recall a specific detail of the highly unusual manner police said they used to enter Eddie's cell, the PIC generously drew the conclusion that 'given the death occurred 22 years ago and (as) Page already had 21 years experience at that time, his lack of precise recollection... in a lifetime of policing, is probably understandable.'
After discussions with his legal team, Arthur began to question the Commission's management of its investigation into his son's death. It appears that in January 2002, the Investigator assigned to Colorado resigned from the PIC. The Senior Operational Lawyer was given the task of finalising a report on Eddie's matter, however in August 2002 she reported to the Operations Advisory Group that due to her commitment to other operations (Florida and Malta in particular) she would be unable to finish the task. The job was then given to another officer, but she was unable to complete the report before going on maternity leave. The PIC's Senior Counsel was then briefed to 'review the papers and prepare an advice.' In general, the PIC admitted that its operational resources during the time it was investigating Eddie's death were being stretched by Operations Florida and Malta, which were then underway.
While agreeing that potential corruption amongst high-ranking police officers needed to be investigated, Arthur wondered why these inquiries should take precedent over a potential murder and cover-up. He wondered why civilian witnesses in Eddie's case were not offered witness protection, when it was clearly stated to the PIC that they would be reluctant to reveal new information unless this was given. He wondered why police evidence was not taken under oath, and why public hearings into the matter were not held. He wondered why his own legal team, with a wealth of information on the case, was not consulted during the course of the PIC's investigation. He wondered why covert surveillance was not used. He wondered why the PIC, which held Eddie's case from August 2000 until September 2003, only managed to procure nine OR IS IT TEN COUNTING RC TRANSCRIPT documents, create four more and speak to just eleven people.
Arthur Murray and the rest of his family feel they've been let down by both the NSW and the Federal governments. The Murrays have been offered investigations and promises, but twenty-three years after they lost their son in the care of the state, they still don't know the circumstances of his death. With the exhumation of Eddie's remains, their efforts (with others) at the forefront of the call for the 1987 Royal Commission, and their legal team writing 'Too Much Wrong', the Murrays feel they have more than met their obligations to provide just cause for an investigation into Eddie's case.
The final indignity of the PIC's investigation came when Arthur learned the letter received by his legal team from the Commission was released under Section 56 of the PIC Act, which means he may face court action if he publicly discusses it contents. It is only because Greens MP Lee Rhiannon has asked questions in NSW Parliament that any information on the PIC's investigation has become public. (Descriptions of the PIC's activities in Colorado in this article are based on Lee Rhiannon's questions as they are recorded in Hansard, although sadly not any responses to them from the current police minister, as these have been minimal.)
While Arthur remains frustrated and unsatisfied, he has not given up in Eddie's matter. He feels disappointment that more Aboriginal people died in custody in the ten years since the Royal Commission than the decade that preceded it. Arthur says this is a national disgrace, and feels the lack of interest demonstrated by the authorities in Eddie's case typifies the attitudes of governments in general when it comes to the issue of deaths in custody.
Arthur Murray has been in contact with the Doomadgee family, and hopes to visit Palm Island and share his experiences with them. 'My son died in police custody. We went against Aboriginal custom and dug him up. We found more evidence. This needs to be investigated,' he said. 'It's pretty clear that there's one law for us, and another for them.'
THE KOORI MAIL
DOUBT CAST OVER INVESTIGATIONS
NUMBER OF WORDS:1027
A document prepared by a branch of the NSW Police Service makes some harsh criticisms of previous investigations into the death of Eddie Murray. Eddie's case has been the subject of continuing controversy since he was found dead fifty minutes after being detained for drunkenness in Wee Waa, NSW in 1981. Eddie's parents, Arthur and Leila Murray, were at the forefront of the call for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, however believed the Commission failed to uncover the truth behind their son's death. In 1997 Eddie's remains were exhumed and their son's sternum was found to be fractured. Eddie had been behaving normally up until the time he was taken away by police, and the report of a forensic pathologist suggested that the injury to his chestbone probably occurred between the time he was detained and the time he died.
In 2000, Eddie's case was referred to the NSW Police Integrity Commission which conducted what it describes as a 'preliminary investigation' for three years. The Koori Mail has previously reported on some of the criticisms made by the Murray family about that investigation. Now further evidence that the PIC may not have acted as thoroughly as it could have has been revealed in the form of a review conducted by the Special Crime and Internal Affairs Unit of the NSW Police Service in 2000, and obtained under Freedom of Information legislation. Originally granted in a limited form, the Murray family only gained complete access to the document after the NSW Ombudsman made a recommendation that it be released in full.
Where previous reports and inquiries have been equivocal, the Internal Affairs review makes some clear comments which allow for the possibility that police were involved in Eddie Murray's death. The review is damning of police procedure following Eddie Murray's death. It notes that police partially destroyed a crime scene by removing Eddie Murray's body from the cell where it was found, 'in an indecently rapid fashion' and ignoring the fact that it was 'fundamental' that in such situations 'the body should have been left in situ until crime scene police arrived.' The review argues that the investigation was 'perfunctory and was contaminated by and predicated on a premise of suicide' and goes on to note that it 'may be contended with some force that the autopsy was also tainted by such a preconception.' The review assumes that any inquiry 'conducted against a background of an indifferent and less than penetrating (and possibly corrupt) police investigation was bound to encounter problems... particularly where police officers were prepared to lie (as they were found to have done) and possibly manipulate, destroy and mislay evidence.'
The review goes so far as to claim that Justice James Muirhead, the Royal Commissioner who heard the Eddie Murray case, 'displayed naivety.' It says that the 'most cursory study of human (or more particularly police) responses to situations either caused or contributed to by them, and which may expose them to punishment, discloses an inordinate propensity to "cover up" and conceal responsibility for injury, damage or loss. For the Commissioner not to have acknowledged this "fact of life" is extraordinary.'
The review points out that if Eddie Murray was killed, either accidentally or deliberately by police, that subsequent investigations were 'militated against by a number of factors,' including an initial police investigation which failed to be of sufficiently high quality, a inquest 'compromised by the police investigation which underpinned it,' and a Royal Commissioner who appeared 'unable to comprehend and accept that police officers could have participated' in Eddie Murray's death. The review concludes by noting that should a new investigation be opened into the case, that it 'would be worthwhile... to confer with the Murray family's lawyers to discuss what it is they feel may advance the investigation...'
The author of the review also says that in his opinion, 'the Murray family has not been particularly well-served by the justice system as it existed in New South Wales during the 1980s.'
Arthur Murray believes that the PIC investigation failed even more than the investigations which preceded the review. He says it 'might as well have been police investigating police again.' Dr Roderic Pitty, a long time Murray family supporter and co-author of a legal book on the case, 'Too Much Wrong,' says that the PIC's 'preliminary investigation' failed to significantly address crucial points raised in the review. The Murray family's legal team were never consulted, and neither Arthur nor Leila Murray was contacted by the PIC. He says the PIC did not attempt to find the missing evidence needed to resolve the case, and failed to use investigative techniques that were suggested by the review- or indeed were recommended in its own initial analysis.
'Given this background, it's only reasonable for the Murray family to expect the Police Integrity Commission to provide all the documents it holds concerning Eddie's case. Any refusal to do so inevitably raises the question: What has the PIC got to hide now, when they have closed their inquiry?'
Dr Pitty went on to say: 'I recall the Murray family's meeting in August 2000 with (former NSW Police Minister) Paul Whelan when he told them "It's not the end of the road if the Police Integrity Commission declines to fully investigate the case." That's still true, but the government must now finally tell the family everything they know. If the full facts about the Eddie Murray case which exist today in government files are not revealed, the Murray family will always continue to wonder what secrets remain to be told.'
Arthur Murray believes that it's a disgrace that there have been so many failings in the investigation. He feels the justice system has failed him and his family yet again. He still wants to know the truth, and the Murrays are still determined to find justice. 'We haven't given up yet,' he said. 'We haven't fought all this time for nothing.'
THE KOORI MAIL
NUMBER OF WORDS: 2186
Rose Hancock is a softly spoken woman, but her voice becomes firm and hard when she describes what happened to her in October last year. The experiences of that long weekend which led to the death of her daughter are something she wants no other family to go through.
Wendy Hancock was the second eldest of a Brady Bunch sort of family which consisted of her mum, stepfather, brothers and sisters. Rose describes her daughter as having a carefree childhood. The family lived and worked on farms near Collarenebri in north-west NSW, the kids enjoying the country life, with plenty of picnics and fishing trips. Wendy's life was so appealing that often kids from Collie would join the Hancock family for weekend-long sleepovers. Wendy didn't mind school, although she preferred art and sport over more formal lessons. After Wendy entered the workforce at 16 she chipped cotton, drove tractors, mustered stock and helped out on properties with whatever needed doing. Rose says Wendy was 'a loving and kind person with a very hearty laugh which came from the heart, who would share her last with you...'
Wendy's sister Elizabeth remembers Pop (as Wendy was known) as a caring woman.
'She was always worried about the underdog and the wrong done to them. Sometimes she would get very angry about these common occurrences. She always sent cards on your birthday, and even though she was unhappy, when you talked to her she would always sound happy. Her laughter would bellow from deep inside and you knew she was genuine. As a sister, most memories were funny ones. The path between Sydney and Narrabri is dotted with moments I'll cherish forever.'
Wendy moved out of home and drifted up to Lightning Ridge, trying to find some work. She participated in CDEP, but she stopped after she became involved in an abusive relationship. Rose loved her daughter, and could only watch with sadness and helplessness as she saw Wendy begin to drink and take drugs. She'd do what she could to give her a hand when she needed one. Wendy would occasionally return to her mother's new home in Narrabri to dry out for a while. Something always lured her back to the Ridge, however, and once there she'd return to the yarndi and the grog-and all too often other relationships which were as abusive as the first.
With the drinking and the drug-taking came inevitable interactions with the police. In 1993 a house was burnt down, and Wendy was charged with arson. Despite a number of witnesses testifying against her, after many court appearances she was eventually acquitted of the charge.
Rose had heard of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and knew some of those involved in the cases it investigated. She had an idea of some its recommendations. She had never thought of them in connection to her own family.
That having regard to the great input which has been made to the work of the Commission... it is highly desirable... that the implementation of (its recommendations) be carried out in a public way as part of the process of education and reconciliation of the whole society...That having regard to the great input which has been made to the work of the Commission... it is highly desirable... that the implementation of (its recommendations) be carried out in a public way as part of the process of education and reconciliation of the whole society...
Rose was usually informed by legal aid when Wendy was in trouble with the law. She'd drop what she was doing to attend court or visit Wendy in jail. Wendy had been out of trouble for most of 2004, and the first Rose knew that Wendy had been arrested again was when Wendy called her home in Narrabri from Mulawa jail in Sydney on Thursday, 30 September.
That Corrective Services effect the placement and transfer of Aboriginal prisoners according to the principle that, where possible, an Aboriginal prisoner should be placed in an institution as close as possible to the place of residence of his or her family...
Rose was surprised to hear that Wendy had been taken into custody three days earlier, and that she'd already appeared in court in Walgett, prior to being transferred to Bathurst and then Sydney. She didn't find out then what Wendy had been charged with, but thought her daughter sounded happy enough. Wendy joked about being back in jail, and arranged to meet Rose in Walgett for her next appearance at court on 6 October.
That police instructions should be amended to make it mandatory for police to immediately notify the relatives of a detainee who is regarded as being 'at risk'...
What Rose didn't find out until some time later was that Wendy had been classified as having the potential for self harm. Wendy was placed on 'suicide watch,' in a cell only a metre from the desk of a guard who had full view of her. In addition there was 24-hour video surveillance.
That in all cases, unless there are substantial grounds for believing that the well being of the detainee or other persons detained would be prejudiced, an Aboriginal detainee should not be placed alone in a police cell...
Rose was at home the following afternoon at 5. 30 when the phone rang. She had friends and her son around, and was in a good mood when she took the call. It was an Aboriginal Liaison Officer from the jail, who told Rose that Wendy was very ill, and had been hooked to a machine in hospital and could Rose get down to Westmead hospital 'asap?' Rose was not told what had happened to cause Wendy to be ill, nor was she told the nature of the equipment that Wendy was connected to. As it was too late to catch the train to Sydney that afternoon, she decided to travel down to Sydney the next day. It was only when she had a call from a doctor later that night who told her that Wendy's condition was 'becoming serious' that she began to feel some sense of urgency. She rang around, and her friend Jill Collis agreed to take her to Sydney the next day.
That police instructions should be amended to make it mandatory for police to immediately notify the relatives of a detainee who... has been transferred to hospital...
The roads were crowded for the first day of the long weekend, and the trip took longer than usual. Rose didn't know exactly what to expect when she arrived at Westmead hospital at around 7.30pm. She was met by Elizabeth, another daughter who lived in Sydney.
'Mother, you're going to get a fright when you see her,' Elizabeth said. 'She's got tubes coming out of her all over the place.'
Rose's heart sank. In Wendy's room the prison governor was present, as were two prison guards, another daughter, Mary, and the still, quiet form of Wendy.
Rose knew other Aboriginal families were meeting up at the football knockout at this time, preparing for a time of reunion and fun. It was different for the Hancock family, however, who were in the process of realising the serious nature of Wendy's condition. She was connected to a life-support machine, the first time Rose had heard the term used in regard to her daughter's condition. Rose was also told that Wendy's injuries had been self-inflicted. While still trying to come to terms with this news she was taken aside and asked to consider turning off the machine that was keeping her daughter alive.
It had been less than thirty minutes since Rose had arrived at the hospital, and now she was hearing that Wendy could not recover, that part of her brain had been deprived of oxygen for so long that it could no longer function. There was not the slightest chance Wendy would come back to them. Rose couldn't make the decision immediately. She didn't want to make it at all. She felt she was being rushed, that there was pressure on her to say, 'OK.' She finally consented the next morning at around 11 o'clock. A minister was called, and hospital staff began removing tubes from Wendy's body. At 12.35 on Sunday 3 October, the machines that were keeping her daughter alive were turned off, and Rose knew as that as her daughter was dying, part of her was dying as well.
Rose was devastated. Inconsolable. Angry.
The following day she went with Elizabeth to Mulawa to visit the cell Wendy had been kept in. The governor was present, as was a local detective and an Aboriginal Liaison Officer from the prison. Rose was not asked if she wanted to bring a legal representative, and in her shocked state had not thought to do so herself.
That the appropriate Aboriginal Legal Service be notified immediately of any Aboriginal death in custody.
She thought the cell looked OK, quite clean and comfortable (for a prison cell.) She was shown bars in the cell that it was claimed Wendy had used as a suspension point.
... the Commission recommends that... Corrective Services authorities should carefully scrutinise equipment and facilities provided at institutions with a view to eliminating and/or reducing the potential for harm... steps should be taken to screen hanging points in police and prison cells.
It was alleged that Wendy had put her underpants around her neck to hang herself with from the bars which were less than a metre off the ground. Rose now knows that hanging deaths can occur from such a low height, what she couldn't understand was why there were bars at all in a cell designed for those at risk of suicide. Rose also saw how near the supervisor's desk was to the cell, so close she felt it would take only seconds for someone to reach a person in trouble. If Wendy was 'at risk', where was the person who should have been watching her? How had her daughter been left unattended long enough to cut off the oxygen to her brain, something Rose had been told in the hospital took twenty minutes?
In the weeks that followed Rose visited Walgett Court House, and finally found out why Wendy had been detained. She had been charged with destruction of property and assaulting police officers, presumably those who had come to arrest her for the damage she had caused-a broken window.
That governments... should legislate to enforce the principle that imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort.
It has now been over six months since Wendy's death, and it's still something Rose thinks about every day. She has received support from her community and the Aboriginal Legal Service while she waits for the announcement of an inquest, which she understands is mandatory. She knows a detective has been travelling in north-west NSW gathering information on the case. She hopes he researches the lives of the prison guards she believes were supposed to keep watch over her daughter as thoroughly has he's investigated Wendy's background.
Peter Bugden, a principal solicitor for the Aboriginal Legal Service, can't tell Rose when Wendy's inquest will be. He knows that such things can take a long time, sometimes not occurring until a year after the person's death. He hasn't seen the police brief of evidence on Wendy's case yet, so he can't comment specifically on the matter. In general, however, he wants to see a decrease in the numbers of deaths in custody, but feels the challenges presently facing the ALS are not necessarily going to ensure that this happens. As a tender process to provide legal services for Aboriginal people is currently being rolled out nationally by the Federal government, Bugden feels that those whose bids are accepted will not necessarily have an adequate knowledge of Aboriginal people. Rather than being driven by compassion or a need for social justice, successful tenderers may only be interested in making a profit, something Budgen finds 'horrendous', and unlikely to instigate the changes he feels are currently needed in the justice system.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ran from 1987 until 1991 and cost more than twenty million dollars. It made 339 Recommendations, and $400 million was pledged to implement them.
Elizabeth Hancock feels her sister was 'too fragile for this life.' She adds, 'Wendy will be forever loved. We will make sure of it...' Rose Hancock hated Mother's Day this year. She waited, broken hearted, for Wendy to ring-always knowing she wasn't going to. Rose hopes to find the truth in Wendy's case, and wants the system changed to prevent other deaths from occurring in police stations and jails. She wants no other family to go through what hers has-and knows it's an impossible hope. She wonders if the Royal Commission achieved anything at all.
That all political leaders and their parties recognize that reconciliation between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in Australia must be achieved if community division, discord and injustice to Aboriginal people are to be avoided...
THE KOORI MAIL
NUMBER OF WORDS: 544
On Wednesday 26 April the inquest into the death of Wendy Hancock will commence. Originally from Collarenebri, Wendy was found hanging in Mullawa Gaol over eighteen months ago. Wendy's family was devastated at the news of Wendy's condition, and maintained a bedside vigil in hospital until the decision was made to disconnect her life support systems.
Wendy's mother, Rose Hancock, feels that if the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had been followed that her daughter may have survived her time in prison. Rose says that despite the gaol having assessed Wendy as being 'at risk,' she was left unobserved long enough to harm herself.
The inquest, which is scheduled to be heard over two days, will be a difficult time for Rose and her family. Although knowing of other families who have had similar experiences, Rose hasn't been through anything like this before, and it's something she has mixed feelings about. She hopes that the truth will come out, but is understandably not looking forward to hearing the details of Wendy's last hours. Rose is feeling scared. She is angry as well, angry that the system let her daughter down so badly, and in so doing, let Rose down as well.
Rose wants to return to Mullawa Gaol and re-visit the cell that Wendy was kept in. Her reasons for wanting to visit are not just to spend some time in the physical space her daughter was last conscious in. Rose has seen the cell once already, and said her goodbyes that time. Instead, Rose wants to ensure that the promises made to her to make the cell a safer place for other prisoners have been kept. She wants to check that the bars that Wendy was able to use as a suspension point have been replaced, or at least covered up, by Perspex sheeting, and she wants to see if prisoners in Wendy's condition are now made to wear paper pants, which won't support their weight if they attempt to use them to hang themselves with.
Rose is disappointed that there isn't an organisation in existence, such as the now defunct NSW Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, which would monitor the implementation of such reforms so that people like her daughter are kept alive.
Leonie Flannery from the NSW Public Defender's Office has been appointed by the Aboriginal Legal Service to represent Rose and her family at the inquest, and Peter Bugden, Senior Solicitor from the ALS feels it's likely that the issue of whether there was a failure to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission will be one facet of the coronial investigation into Wendy's death.
As Rose Hancock takes her place in the Coroner's Court at Westmead the question she really wants to hear answered is not whether the preventative measures such as Perspex and paper pants are now in place, but why they weren't in place sooner. Who was responsible for Wendy's death? The legislators, or those who are supposed to ensure the legislation is enacted?
Although Wendy Hancock died more than a decade after the Royal Commission handed down its recommendations, the inquest into yet another Aboriginal death in custody ensures that the issue remains a hugely important one for Aboriginal people.
THE KOORI MAIL
NUMBER OF WORDS: 1884
After a two day inquest, NSW Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich has found Wendy Hancock's death could have been prevented if measures introduced to protect prisoners 'at risk' had been properly followed.
Wendy was placed in custody in north-west NSW five days before she died. She was apprehended after seemingly attempting to take the law into her own hands, having allegedly suffered a violent attack a few days previously. She was then shuffled through the penal system, from the lock up at Walgett where an abortive attempt to arrange bail for her may have been made, and then to Bathurst and Sydney.
By now detoxifying and suffering withdrawal from long term alcohol and marijuana use, it seems Wendy's presumed lack of faith in the police to deal with her alleged assault, the upsetting nature such an attack may have had on her and her incarceration all contributed to her unsettled mood, and prison authorities diagnosed Wendy as 'at risk' shortly after she arrived in Mulawa on 29 September 2004.
Leonie Florey, who represented the Hancock family at the inquest, described what then happened as Wendy 'being let down at every turn' by the system inside the prison.
After her initial classification, Wendy was psychologically assessed the following day by a Risk Intervention Team (RIT) which decided that a 'camera cell' was an appropriate place for her. In addition to the video monitoring, her prison issue greens were replaced by a modesty gown and she was given a safe blanket. Both items were designed to ensure they couldn't be used as a means of hanging. Wendy was placed in a cell originally intended not to have any hanging points, and she was supposed to be physically observed every ten minutes. To ensure this observation took place, an electronic system called a Morse Watchman had been installed to record the visits to her cell.
Wendy should have been safe.
She was assessed again the following day. The new team didn't have access to Wendy's case management file, a copy of the RIT report made the previous day or a psychological profile of Wendy. The team determined that Wendy should remain in the camera cell.
Wendy should have been safe.
Unfortunately, the failure of the Department of Corrective Services to ensure Wendy remained unharmed had begun long before her incarceration. The Department's systematic failure had commenced seven years previously when Perspex sheeting placed over bars in the interior cell door were removed. This was allegedly done at the instigation of the Official Prison Visitor, who was apparently worried about the level of ventilation reaching the cell, which at that time did not have air conditioning. It appears that the option of drilling holes in the Perspex was not taken up. Once the cell was given air conditioning the Perspex was not replaced. A prison cell designed for inmates 'at risk' now had ample hanging points for a person intent on self harm.
The second point of failure for Wendy occurred in 2002 when the rule regarding underwear for prisoners at risk was changed. As underwear could be used by someone intent on hanging themselves, it had been removed from vulnerable women some years previously. The then Governor of Mulawa, Lee Downes, later stated that as up to 80% of female prisoners had suffered from or been exposed to some kind of sexual or physical abuse prior to their arrival in prison, many felt that being without underwear replicated the feelings they had experienced when they had suffered from abuse. Downes therefore issued a 'local order' which meant women at risk were now once again given underwear, with the intention that they would feel more dignity as a result.
The Coroner was later to comment that 'when it came to dignity or death by suicide, perhaps dignity should have taken a back seat.' It appears that members of the RIT who interviewed Wendy were unaware of the restoration of prisoner's underwear order. At least one member of the team later claimed that had she known, she would have placed Wendy in a 'safe cell' which had no hanging points.
Despite these failings, as prisoners in camera cells were supposed to be subject to video surveillance and regular physical observation, Wendy still should have been safe.
The Intensive Management Unit (IMU) which housed new arrivals like Wendy also contained other classifications of offenders. There were 'Extreme High Risk' inmates who demanded constant attention and 'non-association' women who were kept separate from other prisoners, as well as 'part associations.' There were also 'normal' prisoners, the overflow from another wing. In all, 30 women in 27 cells with different regimes of exercise, lock-in and feeding arrangements were managed by a team of three officers who came on duty around 2.30 on the day of Wendy's death. Despite the demands of their roles, they had less than 41 months of experience between them. Two were still probationary officers and had been in the prison system for under a year each, the other had been in her job for a little over eighteen months. None had been specifically trained for the unit they now found themselves in.
Although on some shifts the duties of prison officers were assigned, for 'C' Watch on 1st October 2004 this didn't occur. It was an 'all hands on deck' situation, where each of the officers on duty, and the others who arrived to fulfil specific roles, all chipped in as needed. Because there was no designated officer in charge there was no-one to ensure all the tasks that needed to occur were being carried out - like observation.
Not long after the shift started, prisoners began to be locked-in. A new prisoner arrived from another unit, a procedure which required time and effort as she was changed into appropriate clothing and placed in a safe cell, followed by completion of the requisite accompanying paperwork. Not long after this, the hourly cigarette round was started.
At 3.03 an officer handed Wendy a cigarette, as was standard practice. She abused the officer, he ignored her, saying later he was 'used' to abuse from prisoners. He says he told Wendy to 'have a nice day.'
These may have been the last words she ever heard.
Wendy contrived to remove her underwear. About ten minutes later she threw milk at the camera, presumably in an attempt to make her actions more discrete. Then she moved towards the door.
By 3.24 one of the prison officers was back in the vicinity of the control desk near the video monitors which showed conditions within the camera cells. It took another three minutes, however, before she called out to another officer to check on Wendy, who she had now noticed sitting with her back to the cell door.
It was too late. Despite the swift response from the officers in cutting Wendy down and calling for medical assistance, she had managed to hang herself with her underwear using a bar on the door as a point of suspension. She was unconscious, and although attempts to revive her were initially successful in restoring her breathing, she lapsed into a coma before arriving at hospital. Two days later the prognosis from the doctor was that she would never recover, and her family made the heart-breaking decision to turn off her life support.
Wendy had been unobserved for over twenty minutes. It was later established by viewing video footage from her cell that she had been hanging for over seven. In the subsequent investigation it was established that no prisoner observations were recorded by the Morse Watchman device since 7.34am on the day of Wendy's death. Indeed, observations didn't resume being recorded until 4.03pm. While officers were seen on video footage making some physical checks, the police examination of Wendy's death noted that these 'were less frequent' than required.
The Coroner found that while Wendy's death was as a result of her own actions, the Department of Corrective Services had failed to follow its own risk management procedures. He declined to make any formal recommendations on the case, although felt the underwear issue worthy of an 'informal recommendation.' He felt the Department had put in place the necessary changes to ensure the safety of future prisoners. Ultimately he hoped that the inquest provided a 'chapter of closure' for Wendy's family.
An internal review by the Department of Corrective Services resulted in some changes taking place within the IMU. The Perspex sheeting was replaced on the door of Wendy's cell. Assessment teams are now given records from the day previously. Data from the Morse Watchman devices is uploaded regularly to a Senior Officer and disciplinary action is meant to be enacted against those who fail to carry out physical observations. Bob Stapleton, from the Department of Corrective Services Media Unit, says that there is also more training for officers regarding risk management protocols, and that the windows in cell doors of camera cells in the IMU have been enlarged and lowered, allowing a better field of vision. In addition prisoner officer 'post' duties have been reviewed, with one officer tasked with continuously viewing the video monitors from the camera cells. The senior officer of the IMU is now a higher rank than previously. While prisoners are still able to retain their underwear (and their dignity) there is some discussion now taking place looking at replacing cloth pants with a suitable paper-based alternative, or similar, for prisoners at risk.
As a result of the internal investigation, eight prison officers were counselled before having to undertake more training. Since eight officers were disciplined, it appears that failing to observe prisoners at risk was not just confined to the three officers on duty in Mulawa at the time of Wendy's death.
The budget for the NSW Department of Corrective Services in 2004 was over $800 million, yet all that money couldn't keep Wendy alive. Her death was one of fourteen Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australian that year. Despite the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, more than one Indigenous person a month continues to die while in the hands of the police or locked away in ever increasing numbers of prison cells. Nearly one third of the female prison population is Aboriginal, and the rate continues to grow alarmingly, up 10% between 2004 and 2005. While there has been a reduction in the rate of Aboriginal deaths in custody, as long as the number of Indigenous people in Australia's prisons continues to rise, no matter how much money is spent on prevention, it's inevitable that there will be more deaths.
Rose Hancock is now in discussion with her legal representatives regarding the potential for further court action. For her family, the sadness of the loss of their daughter and sister continues. 'We used to laugh a lot,' said Rose, 'we all did, like Wendy did. Now I sometimes wonder if we'll ever laugh again.' Despite the tragedy of Rose's remark, there's something undeniably tough underneath her tears, something that says she and her family will get through this: because they're survivors, or because they're inherently strong. Although the journey may be a long one, with Wendy's inquest at last behind them, Rose and her family have now set out on the long road that leads to healing.
THE KOORI MAIL
NUMBER OF WORDS: 1102
The long weekend of October 2004 sadly saw one of the 14 Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia that year when Wendy Hancock, a prisoner identified as being 'at risk', managed to take her own life.
On 28 April 2006, the day after the conclusion of Wendy’s inquest, members of her family were given access to her cell in Mulawa Correctional Facility. Etched on the window was the word ‘Wendy’, a name repeated on the Perspex which now covered the bars which she had used to hang herself.
Although Wendy’s mother Rose and other family members were able to say goodbye to Wendy in the cell, they weren’t able to forgive the system that let Wendy down so badly. Rose Hancock took strength from the Coroner, who found that the NSW Department of Corrective Services had failed to follow its own risk management procedures. She decided that something needed to be done, in the hope that other families didn’t have to go through what her family was enduring.
Wendy’s case, previously reported upon extensively in The Koori Mail, was a tragic testament to systemic failure within Mullawa prison, where a vulnerable young woman, who should have been under observation, not only managed to find a suspension point but also something to suspend herself with.
The matter had caused Rose a great deal of despair, not just because of the loss of her daughter, but because it transpired that although no less than eight prison officers were subsequently given ‘counselling’ and ‘training’ because of Wendy’s death, it appeared that no-one was going to be punished for any of the duties they had failed to carry out at the time of Wendy’s incarceration.
Rose Hancock grew up in north-west NSW. She had lived mainly in rural settings, and the concept of a drawn out legal matter concerned her. She did not feel confident that she, a single elderly woman, could take on a government department. Although she was supported by her family, it was Rose who took the brunt of the stress in the case, as she was subjected to both legal meetings and psychological testing in order to ‘prove’ she had suffered emotionally as a result of her daughter’s death – the impetus for her case.
While she knew that no amount of money could ever bring her daughter back, Rose wanted the NSW Department of Corrective Services to understand that it was accountable. She wanted it to accept responsibility. She wanted no-one else to go through what she had gone through after losing someone she loved so much. Eventually the department, which had not disputed the findings made by the Coroner, agreed to make a payment to Rose as a result of the post traumatic stress disorder she developed due to Wendy’s death, and nearly five years after she lost her daughter, Rose’s case was finally settled.
Rose Hancock is not the only mother to have taken the Department of Corrective Services to court as the result of the trauma they have suffered due to failures in departmental procedures leading to a death in custody. In 2005 Veronica Appleton was also successful in obtaining a finding in her favour. The Department also recently came under further criticism by the NSW Coroner after the death of Adam Shipley in May 2007. In this case the Coroner recommended that the department reviewed both its protocols for inmates known to be at risk and manner it creates reports for the Coroner.
The tragic connection between Wendy Hancock, Veronica Appleton’s son and Adam Shipley is that they all had been identified at some stage of their incarceration as being at risk of self harm, yet all were able to carry out the actions necessary to take their own lives.
The 1991 report by Hal Wootten, the Royal Commissioner who compiled the overall report on Aboriginal deaths in custody in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania found that 13 of the 18 Aboriginal people who had died in the care of the state during the period the Commission investigated may have remained alive had custodial authorities not been negligent, uncaring or had followed procedures adequately – and that the other five deaths might also have been avoidable on the grounds that these people may not have needed to have been in custody at all. One wonders, however, how much the Royal Commission was actually worth when in 1996, as the Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner noted, that of the 96 Indigenous deaths it examined in the period 1989 – 1996, ie after the Royal Commission, that an average of eight to nine of the Royal Commissions recommendations were ignored in each death. Had they been followed in Wendy Hancock’s case, Wendy would surely have survived the attempt she made on her life in October 2004.
Michael Kozlowski, Rose’s lawyer from the NSW Legal Aid Commission, notes that the NSW Department of Corrective Services offered eight of its officers ‘counselling’ regarding Wendy’s death – and none to Rose Hancock. He wants other people to come forward in cases where they have lost loved ones due to omissions of care in the NSW prison and police custodial system. It appears that the weight of obtaining justice has once again fallen upon the families of those who have gone.
Rose Hancock feels it was worth the fight. She feels like a great weight has lifted from her shoulders. Although she considered giving up many times during the period the case was active, she feels her decision to continue was eventually vindicated. She also knows that she didn’t make the journey alone. She was supported by a large number of people from both within and outside of her local community, including Mrs Lyn Trindall and the Narrabri Local Aboriginal Land Council, her two dear friends (sisters) Jill Collis and Joyce Sharpley, and the staff of the NSW Legal Aid Commission in its Sydney and Newcastle offices, especially her lawyer Michael Kozlowski. She still misses Wendy, and she still suffers as a result of the loss of her daughter, but she knows as well that she did what she could to ensure that responsibility for her daughter’s loss was finally placed firmly where it belonged.
Simon Luckhurst is the author of ‘Eddie’s Country,’ the story of the Eddie Murray case published by Magabala Books. If you believe that the actions, or inactions, of the NSW Police Service or NSW Department of Corrective Services led to a death in custody which has caused you personal suffering, Michael Kozlowski would like to talk to you. He can be contacted on 02 4929 5482.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NUMBER OF WORDS: 1849
She's 26, grew up in Canberra and Byron Bay, now lives in LA and has signed a seven-figure music deal with Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg's company. So who is Jessy Moss, and how did she get to record her first CD with people who had worked with Eminem, Garbage and Cypress Hill?
Being discovered by a major label has many advantages, but there can be downsides as well when free-spirited creative beings like musicians sign big dollar contracts. Although originally slated for release in July, Jessy Moss's accomplished first CD, 'Street Knuckles,' is now going to hit the stores in January. Or conceivably later, if management decides the product will be better placed. It's a strange place to be in; a limbo created by her record company's executives when they decided to cross-promote Jessy via the New Year release of 'Win a Date With Tad Hamilton,' a Dreamworks picture starring Topher Grace from TV's 'That 70s Show' and Kate Bosworth from the movie 'Blue Crush.' The plus side gives Jessy an appearance in the film and media exposure, the negative is the waiting. She's sanguine about such things, acknowledging that "commerce and art don't always mix..."
It was her taste in music that moved her the first step along the way to her current position. Growing up in Australia offered her access to a diverse range of artists from Miles Davis and Nina Simone, to Bowie and Jane's Addiction through to the Beastie Boys and Run DMC. It was the latter rap artists who held the most appeal for her. She would hang out with friends, drinking beer and having long conversations in rhyme. It's obvious when you listen to her album that she has honed her proficiency in this area. The words flow easily and sometimes surprisingly. Rapping away while sitting on car bonnets on sub-tropical northern NSW summer evenings and playing small gigs in pubs and halls doesn't go far towards paying the rent, however, and her family's move to Canberra was the start of Jessy's emigration overseas.
She still manages to sound surprised when she describes her move from the peaceful Byron Bay hinterland to the smog-filled streets of Los Angeles. "I had an epiphanous moment when I was 18 and working for St Vincent de Paul. I was tired of jobs like that, sorting through old clothes, waitressing, scrambling for food. I went out the back for a smoke and I knew that if I didn't do something about it, that would be my lot in life." She says at that moment she made a conscious decision to change what needed to be changed both within herself and in her environment, even though she knew that this might mean leaving Australia. She'd previously stopped over in LA on the tail-end of a European trip, and a few opportunities had presented themselves there. One of these had occurred when she'd joined some friends for an impromptu rap session in a California club. Rick Hahn, a producer and writer, was impressed enough with her to give her his card and ask for a demo tape. When he rang and asked her to return to the States she found she'd already decided to go.
Once in America she says she decided to 'infiltrate' the music industry. She took on an internship at a recording studio, to learn what happens behind the sound, but also so she'd have an opportunity to work on her own songs. She's not the first person to find their way to fame and fortune by placing themselves in proximity to those they desire to emulate. Jessy soon found herself recording a backing track for Cypress Hill after she played them one of her songs. It could be argued that while what happened next was lucky, it was also a testament to the fact her talent had been recognised. A bidding war broke out, with Dreamworks eventually signing her. Was this sudden elevation in commercial status something she had expected? "Hell no! I wasn't prepared at all. I came from a frugal background. I didn't even have a credit card when I was signed."
LA is not a place noted for its philanthropy and kindness to strangers. The down-to-earth Aussie girl living in the heart of grungy LA soon discovered the duality of her nature. It's something you notice the first time you listen to her music. Sometimes it's almost as if there are two singers at work. The first is a soft and gentle toned crooner, the second is edgy and PJ Harvey-esque. In talking to her, it's obvious that this is something that goes to the heart of her persona. You hear it again when she says that she's kind and considerate, but if people do her wrong "she'll attempt root canal work through their arseholes."
Signing a seven-figure deal seems the ultimate aim of most aspiring musicians, but Jessy explains that it's the end of the performer as a solo artist. She finds she's now become a business, and she concedes that this is "so far away from being a musician." Where once she could rap happily with a mike and a couple of turntables, now there is a plethora of insistent voices all placing their demands on her. The commercial entity that now makes up Jessy Moss consists of an A&R (Artist and Repertoire) Person from the label, a Publicist, a Product Manager, a Booking Agent, a Manager and an Attorney. There are others as well, such as stylists who are hired as required. Rather than sleeping in, a bit of creative song writing in the afternoon and an evening gig, Jessy's day usually consists of a two-hour gym workout to keep fit, and up to four hours on the phone to her management discussing upcoming events and organising tours. She spends the rest of her time meeting people, doing photo or video shoots, and in interviews via the phone, in person or on the internet.
The area that Jessy works in, rap and hip hop, has its own demands as well, where many artists find their manufactured images provoking an ironic yearning for credibility. This musical integrity is important to Jessy. She doesn't believe it comes from who she looks like or hangs out with, but from her music. She feels there are two kinds of hip hop. The first is lightweight and commercial, which she laughingly describes as "hippy hip hop." It's designed to be popular, and usually not written by those who sing it, who are in it for "the cars, the money, the bling bling." The second, more serious type, (her kind) is "substance hip hop." It tells a story. It's not necessarily less commercially appealing, and she thinks Eminem is probably the best exponent of it. She acknowledges that there is a cultural component to this kind of music, but she says rather than artists like Eminem exploiting the genre, they've taken it to a new place, and in the process actually created a new kind of rap.
Another consideration facing her at the time of her elevation to potential rock stardom was the presentation of women in the world she now found herself in. It's something she had to seriously consider. Eventually she decided that it was a woman's choice if she wanted to be presented as a sexual object in music videos. She says she felt less about misogyny than she did about being told what to do, than she did about telling other people what to do. She reveals that much of her own strength and resilience was formed through exposure to "hard stuff." She feels it's parents who should decide what videos children watch, rather than those who produce them. "Kids can't be sheltered forever. It doesn't make sense to present a squeaky clean culture when we don't live in one. Parenting should be about teaching kids to be discerning rather than preventing their exposure to scandalous shit." It's the tough side of her coming out again. "I'm the sum of my experiences, and I wouldn't change a thing that's happened in my life. You have to know rock bottom to appreciate the highs," she adds.
She describes some of these life experiences in 'Street Knuckles.' She admits that talking about the album now is difficult for her, if for no other reason than it's been so long since she recorded it. For her, much of the joy of her work comes through the creative process of writing songs, rather than in their polishing and refinement. She tells a story of her father's about a man arrested for defacing an artwork hanging in the Louvre. It transpired that he was the creator of the painting, who'd come to 'finish it.' She laughs and says she won't be sneaking into the Dreamworks archive to adjust the content of 'Street Knuckles' anytime soon. Instead she's gaining a greater joy from her live appearances. Performing in front of crowds is offering her a better way to keep her songs alive. Where many recording artists have honed their career by playing gig after gig before getting signed, Jessy has done it the other way around.
Her desire for her music to retain its integrity is affecting the content of the songs she's writing for her next album. Many will be based on her recent experiences. Working in California, it's almost no surprise to learn that Jessy now has yearnings for the simplicity of something like punk- which in its truest form is against the control of the boys and girls from marketing. She hopes to record her next CD with more freedom than she had with 'Street Knuckles,' but whether this is actually possible remains to be seen as she dances "a delicate ballet of performer versus management," a continual pas de deux of artistic vision and commercial pragmatism.
So right now she's meeting people, and talking business on the phone, and thinking about the albums to come. But most of all she's waiting. Waiting for the release of her CD, waiting for it to be a hit, waiting for the next stage of the journey: the recognition, the shows, the status. She says people are already starting to come up to her on the street. Although she's obviously quite pleased about this measure of her success, as she describes it her voice suddenly sounds quite vulnerable. I ask her what she has to say to all those who are still out there, gigging away, who would love to be where she is. "Do it for the love," she says. "When you get here, it's a lot less about the music and more about the business. Music was my only sacred and holy and pure joy. Now it's my livelihood, and other people's as well." She's adamant she's not complaining about her blessing. "But," she adds, her voice now becoming firm as she speaks, so I can clearly hear the other tougher side of her nature, "be careful what you wish for..."
Jessy Moss's first single, 'Telling You Now,' is being released in America this October.
NUMBER OF WORDS: 2905
(WINNER OF THE 1995 BANJO PATTERSON NATIONAL SHORT STORY CONTEST
I suppose there was only one question that mattered, which was whether she would live or die. That's what it came down to. A simple enough equation. Life or death. As if it was that easy for the rest of us. But it never is outside of Hollywood.
We had checked into the motel, not so cheap, side of the highway, and were indulging in what Jane, before she went to the bathroom, referred to as a night of popular culture. First tits and bums, and then high school angst, and now this, the thriller movie, murder through the tears, for those who really care. But this was really just the dull epilogue, and the rest of the holiday came quickly into my thoughts, the escapist fare on the TV not enough to stem the tide. And as soon as I thought of waves it all came back to me in one of those repeated sequences, and I wondered how long I would replay it, and what would be the result of such a loop?
The sea had not been rough. Instead it had quietly lapped the sandy shores, gently, almost idly. It was sunny, although cold. An Australian beach, in winter, with its habitues rugged up and shod in leather. And not the leather of their hardened feet.
On the beach we watched the endless pattern of the waves for a while, not yet realising we were already caught in currents of our own, flows of life stronger than the mere pulls and whims of water, the riptides of existence itself. But in our childlike sand covered joy we did not notice them. Like the dingo.
Jane saw it first, skulking and hovering near the top of the dune, and to our surprise it was indeed black. We had heard it existed. The old fisherman on the wharf had sworn it was true, and here we were watching it. As it watched us.
Later we left it some food, and stood behind the look-out, and soon we saw it stealthily approach the abandoned steak bones. It carried them away, to who knew where, leaving us again alone.
Our actions were, by now, all performed in a kind of coded language we had somehow developed, a system of short sentences and gestures, a refinement of communication, a honing down of words, of volume, tone and touch. I was not unhappy, but sensed dissatisfaction for Jane. I realised that soon, perhaps even on this holiday, the axe would fall, and a dismembered and bloody corpse would be the result, a violently wounded relationship, initially stunned, then flapping and jerking, but all too soon forgotten. It would be piled onto the reversing tumbrel, and hauled away to the mass pit where such combinations end, where dreams and hopes and such are buried, where they lie sprinkled with handfuls of white lime, finer than any sand we had yet encountered on our silent walks. So perhaps we were mourning already.
The sky turned misty, and grey, more suited to our mood, and we turned away from the beach one afternoon, and walked instead inland, across the fields and paddocks, skirting the homestead we knew to be there, walking along the edge of the tree-line. In the gloom we startled rabbits and wallabies and kangaroos, and twice cattle.
We were surprised ourselves, however, when we found a farmer nursing a calf down in a small gully, his tractor now thankfully silent beside him. Its drone had woken us several times.
The calf was scared, and feebly kicked, but he held it firmly, and stroked its neck, and I wondered what disease it must have had, but as we neared we saw the blood, and it began to make a plaintive sound.
The farmer initially motioned us to stay away.
"That bloody dog," he said.
We could see the torn and ripped legs, the tendons trailing on the red and stained grass. The calf was lowing forlornly. At a distance away, on the other side of our private and sorrowful arena a cow, presumably the mother, stood, agitated and restless, wanting to approach the source of her despair. But we knew she was never going to be able to help her offspring. Suddenly the farmer became loquacious.
"That dog. It skulks, and waits, and then it finds one like this here alone, and silent as lightning it strikes, and what can they do? This is the fifth one this season. It's worse this year. The season's been good. I'm going to lose many calves. I have to kill it."
I thought he meant the dingo, but then he removed a knife.
"I shouldn't look," he told Jane, as if I were fit for such things. He slaughtered the poor calf, and the mother bellowed her distress, and some of mine as well.
Later the calf was a bloody pile, one leg trailing on the ground, still attached by a few tendons, and Jane and I sheltered on the other end of the trailer, huddled together as we bounced across the fields, unsure of what the offer of a warm cup of something entailed.
We drove past the top of the cove we had explored a few days previously, and I looked at Jane, wondering if she was down there again with me, and in her eyes I thought she might have been.
That had been a bright day, with the sea still gentle. We had gathered food, and warm clothes, and had walked backwards for a while, to watch our growing trails on the sand. The beach had ended, and we crawled and climbed over the rocks and into the next bay. Here there were round rocks, like mythical eggs, and the water kept them polished. After the waves washed over them they clucked, like all the hens you had ever known, and rocked together, snug in their nest, and never safe.
In the next cove we saw the dingo. It was crouched down in the sand, gnawing who knew what, perhaps some decaying fish, or a dead bird. It was alert, but we were behind it, and the sound of the water had hidden our voices, and we watched for a while. The sun lit the black body, and its coat was glossy. We knew we were in its world, and not the other way around. Silently we observed, and it finished eating, and trotted away, satisfied, and relaxed, and pausing occasionally at items the sea had delivered, sniffing with interest, or indifference.
The farmer's dogs had smelled the dead calf as well, but he reverently swore at them, and carried the dead animal away. He held it with more dignity than I expected, and the animal seemed somehow heavier in his arms than it could ever have been in life.
We drank our hot drinks, and the farmer told us how he intended to kill the dingo, although he never called it that. Instead he referred to it only in terms of "that bloody dog," or worse. He even produced a gun at one stage, not in an alarming manner, and showed us how he had been training, and sharpening his aim. He seemed odd to be talking about death when we had watched him fight it so strongly, when I think he would have given anything to have kept his little calf alive.
When we walked back to the campsite we chose the long route, the one running along the cliff-tops, descending the sharp ridges, by degrees, to the shore. When we reached the water Jane asked me a question, and I wondered briefly what she meant, but I think in my heart I knew.
"Would you be happy doing these things by yourself?" she questioned. "Would you mind if, sometime, I wasn't able to accompany you?"
I smiled, and told her it would be fine, before pointing out a particularly bright scarlet anenome, and some unusual and vivid purple coral.
Down by the water we crossed a lava bed, and it was hard and sharp, and in some never remembered upheaval the horizontal strata had been lifted and tilted until the ends of the pieces of lava stood out of the sea like sharpened or pointed tombstones, or old fashioned catalogue filing cards, and we wondered what abundance of detail they referred to. What library of the sea.
The dingo was on our beach when we returned, and we stood quietly against the rock slope and watched as it played with some sea-gulls, feigning and feinting, and then pouncing, but too far away to ever have a hope of catching any of the silly noisy birds.
The dog was not young, but looked fit and tough. After a while he stiffened, and stood still, muzzle in the air, snout raised, sniffing. And then he was off, running across the dunes, his legs a blur, and we heard a flat crack in the sky. Our farmer was silhouetted against the hills, rifle still raised to his shoulder.
The dog was too quick, and had disappeared before the man had a chance to shoot again. Reluctantly he lowered his gun, and turned away. Before Jane and I emerged from our hiding spot we heard the low rumble of his 4-wheel drive as he departed.
Later in the day Jane and I sat in the lee of the wind, down by the waves, and looked into the rock pools near us. And I recalled the drive down had been quiet, about the only comment of note being Jane's observation, as we drove through the Illawarra, that it would be a gorgeous thing to see a flowering blood red Flame Tree next to one of the purple Jacarandas from Grafton.
Our conversation was slow, like a creek nearing the sea. I knew what Jane wanted to say, but had no desire to help her. She began all her sentences with hope of change, of inspiration provided by things new, and wanted, I'm sure, me to continue, to open gates and allow her to proceed to the next section of her talk. But consciously, or otherwise, I followed fence-lines, or steered away from tracks, and in the end we were silent again.
Our calm and peaceful campsite was disturbed when we returned, and we wondered first about interlopers, but decided eventually upon possums, or bush rats.
After we had cleaned up we sat before our fire, watching the smoke and the patterns in the flames for a while. We saw a moth die. And again I thought Jane wanted to talk to me. There was some place we were in, one that didn't have a name, where she was going to end our relationship. It was a place of pain and isolation, and change, and fear. I looked across at her, and I thought she would speak, but suddenly there were other, human, visitors to our campsite, a young couple, hiking, their backpacks loaded, and they were smiling and laughing, and talking loudly to us.
They were en route to some even more scenic site, but they stayed the afternoon with us, and were friendly enough. I suppose we all flirted in our ways, Jane and the younger man, me and the girl, Gail, too tiny I thought, too small to be an adult, really, in a way.
They left us laughing, to go off and indulge in whatever rites of the young they chose.
I think it was half on the lips of all of us that they should stay, and cook on our fire, and wash in our creek, and pitch their tent alongside ours, but somehow the invitation, or the request, was never forthcoming. Afterwards our fire seemed to be too quiet. As if it had ever been noisy. We went to sleep in that same silence.
In the morning we woke early, and decided to walk along the pristine beach. It was, after all, the last day of our holiday. As we walked I heard in the waves echoes, and I wondered, if Gail and her friend had stayed, if I would have been listening instead to the Bacchanalian remains of their voices, the excesses of indulgence from activities the night before. But only the spray from the sea was real, and inevitable.
The shower stopped, and Jane was soon beside me on the bed. The noises in this room were all generated electronically from the machine before us. The question was still confronting me. Was there any hope for the young killer? Would the price of her soul be life itself?
Certainly she was no stranger to injury, and we watched, slightly astounded, as she removed, without anaesthetic or antiseptic, several sizeable pieces of shrapnel from herself, only grimacing while she pulled the ends of the tourniquet tighter. I winced as she held up a large chunk of metal, just taken from her leg, so that blood and perhaps some muscle still adhered.
I turned out the light and watched the coloured patterns and shadows flitter on the walls around us, and they reminded me of dying insects. It was inevitable I should recall the events of the previous morning, on the mist embalmed beach.
Because yesterday there had been no-one to operate, and the patient had refused help. There had been no close ups of strained features, or dramatic musical score to indicate bravery. There had been only the mist, and the sound of the sea over the dunes, and the whimpering of a dog, and our voices, Jane's and mine, kept low, and concerned, and, later frantic.
We had packed, and began one last walk, one last encounter with nature before the drive home. We had turned away from the sea, and gone towards the dunes, the sandy desert before the tree-line. We wandered among the objects disturbed by the wind, along the high water mark, in the beginnings of the tough and stringy grass.
Jane heard the sound first, and I wondered, initially, whether it was the sea. But it was too insistent, and mournful, even for that cloudy day on a beach, walking with someone who wanted to end our relationship. We peered through the long grass, until we came upon the dog, proud no more, and instead struggling, its back legs caught cruelly in the jaws of some large and rusty steel trap.
My instinct was to approach, but the dingo got angry, or frightened, or both; and its hackles rose, and it growled, and looked like it would attack if I got too close. Jane and I talked softly to it, and tried to creep near, but always met the same reaction, and all we wanted was to help the poor thing. Eventually we ran back to the campsite, deserted again, got in the car and drove quickly to the farmer.
He only laughed, and told us it was good.
"I've lost too many calves to feel sorry for the monster," he said. "That's why I set the traps."
I asked if I could borrow a rifle, to attempt to put it out of its misery, but he chuckled again, and told me no. When we returned to the dunes the animal was whimpering, and still adverse to us approaching. The pain was almost tangible, it was there in its eyes, its breath, in every sound it uttered. In desperation I searched through the scrub and found a long branch. Jane held my arm tightly, staying near to me. But the stick was too short, and I couldn't come close enough to the dog to strike it on the head, and it got upset, and hurt itself in an effort to get away.
We discussed our options. Our only alternative was the drive, a long one, to the highway and a phone, and a wildlife organisation. And I had to go, because Jane was not confident on the bush roads, or even of the direction. And when I returned the animal was dead beside her, and she was stroking its soft fur. We drove in silence to the motel, and here we were now.
On the screen the choice had been made. The killer with love in her heart lay injured, but not dying. She was able to pay her penance. Her murderous sweetheart had died, it was true, but she would love, and I supposed, given her personality, and the likelihood of a sequel, she would probably slaughter again.
And so I looked over to Jane, and expected to see, now, at last, with her final opportunity, bullets in her eyes, a knife for my throat in her speech.
"I've wanted to talk to you," she said.
I lay back, feeling the trap enclose my heart, the cold jaws sprung, and biting, to hold, and never let go, until too late. The low rumble of the approaching tumbrel. But instead Jane was smiling.
"I thought I was pregnant," she told me. "But I've just started to bleed. I'm sorry if I've been moody."
I laughed softly, and held her hand, and thought about how long I'd known her, and whether I'd ever know her. In our little room we were surrounded with blood.
I wondered how much of it was mine.
SHORT STORY 2 - A BRIEF GUIDE TO THE ACQUISITION OF DREAMS
(RUNNER UP IN THE 1994 BANJO PATTERSON NATIONAL SHORT STORY COMPETITION)
NUMBER OF WORDS: 2000
I was only a sixteen year old boy, after all, and she was far wiser and prettier than I was, so I was bound to fall in love with her. I think it's compulsory at that age. I did a lot of things to get noticed by her, including breaking the record for getting thrown out of my English class in the shortest amount of time. (OK, no-one actually timed how long it took, but I would have to estimate that it was about eight seconds. I walked across the top of the teacher's desk on the way to mine.)
Her name was Gabrielle, and she was petite, and dark haired, and she favoured a gypsy sort of look: bracelets, and scarves with strange symbols. All I wanted to do was to be close to her.
Then it was the day of the school athletic carnival. I had launched myself onto the bus with the day's collection of books. I was determined to stay as far away as possible from any track, field or possible physical exertion. There were, after all, Greek myths to be re-read.
I think I was cleaning my glasses on my shirt-tails, and so I didn't see Gabrielle get on the bus, and therefore it was something of a surprise then to have found her sitting next to me. I guessed that she had finally come to her senses and noticed my existence, but on inspection it appeared that the bus could well have been full, and that the seat next to me was the only one still vacant.
I was delighted to find that she was another athletics rebel. As we conversed that day, a little breathlessly and perspiringly (on my part, anyway) it seemed that we had more in common than just a dislike for competition, noise, and the concentrated activity of just too many muscles.
When I erected my annual temple of bodily inactivity, put together in a shady and cool part of the athletics field, I was delighted to find that I had a companion to bend saplings and drape towels.
We spent most of the rest of the day in our humble dwelling, only occasionally having to deal with inquisitive stares or hostile remarks from immature teachers.
Our conversation had not stopped since we had began it on the bus.
"What do you know?" she asked me.
I told her about some of the books I had read, mentioning a few really hard ones, impressive.
"I mean in here," she said, touching my chest. "I know that you are aware of a lot. I can feel it. I can sense your open-ness."
This was all new to me, but I drank it in. I told her about some of my beliefs, as shallow and unformed as they were then, and she laughed, and happily held onto my hand. Suddenly she paused, and sat back, very still.
"What is it?" I asked, concerned.
"Don't be worried," she told me. "It's just a trance. I'll give you a vision."
She sat still and glaze-eyed for a few minutes. I was worried lest we be questioned by someone in authority about possible substance abuse, but then I relaxed. The tents where that was occurring all had healthy queues formed outside them by now. And we were still alone. Outside there were cheers and shouting, and I think someone won a race, possibly even broke a record and became world champion, but all was as calm and as quiet as it was possible to be in our little cave. Finally she stirred, focused upon me, and then smiled.
"What can you tell me?" I asked. "What did you see?"
Her vision was a mixture of images: of long winding highways, the ocean, and an old dog that lived in a cave. There were forests and ice as well, and she painted a picture of them before me like a child colouring by numbers. It seemed that simple. I was interested in what she was describing, but it is the power and assurance of her delivery that I remember more, and the intensity and clarity in her eyes.
I wanted to have those things, too.
She left school at the end of the next term. Her father was posted to a distant army base. We corresponded for a few years, but when I last heard from her she was training to be a high-school teacher.
Later, too, I came to love running, and now find any excuse for a jog along the beach, or a sprint down into the park.
What she did was to open my mind, to show me that there were other things beyond facts, or books, and especially the hard-shell of high-school athletic extravaganzas.
And could I have some of it? I tried, and I think I did achieve something of the IMAGE. But what did I truly know? A few obscure phrases, maybe. Occasionally, instinctively, I would be right about something inconsequential. But she helped me to begin, and perhaps, now, I do occasionally travel along some of the roads that she implied I already knew so well.
A BAD DAY FOR COELENTERATES
We were down south, near one of our favourite beaches, a place which, as Marmalade was fond of describing, lay between Turmoil and Eden. Turmoil was really a village called Termeil, but Eden was real enough.
This trip was another lost in a vague collage of sun, beach-walks, swimming and cooking on real flames. We had met up with some old friends, Wendy and John. And now, out on the bay, Marmalade and John were messing about in a boat, while Wendy and I were walking along the beach, kicking over shells with our toes, and inspecting the high-water mark for valuable finds among the weed.
There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Bluebottles, Portugese Men O' War, blown ashore and stranded, and we were constantly walking to avoid their dangling tentacles, their bright blue ribbons of injecting poison, their pretty pain.
The noise of the boat's little outboard motor came to us occasionally through the freight-train roar of the waves.
I knew that Marmalade wasn't fishing, and that John did not have a lot of patience, and I suspected that these factors were the source of their constant need for movement.
"We're breaking up," Wendy was telling me, but I was not surprised, having heard the story from John in front of one of the tents already.
I spoke the inevitable.
"But you seem so suited to each other."
She sniffed, and I looked over at her.
"That's what we thought. But something's gone. Something's changed."
"The fire's gone out?" I asked her.
She nodded, and then bent to look at a shell, an individual among so many. But not individual enough. She left it there.
"We don't seem to have a common purpose anymore," she was saying. "But it's hard. I'm at work, or he is, and we can barely see each other."
"But you're not trapped," I heard myself saying. "You're not buying a house, you don't have huge financial commitments. Children, for heaven's sake. Can't you arrange to begin again or something?"
The bay stretched around before us, the water a beautiful cola advertisement colour. The sand was soft and clean and fresh, like warm soft snow, or the spongy white flesh you have under your swimmers. The mountains stood away in the distance, clear and disorderly and perfect.
I felt the heat, and knew that it was nearly time to swim again.
"We've just lost interest," she told me.
"In each other?" I wondered.
"In everything, I think," she replied. "I have no passion."
"What are you going to do?"
"There's nothing to do."
I looked out at the boat, so tiny on the other side of the bay. It was turning and twisting and weaving.
"What ARE they doing?" asked Wendy.
"Marmalade must be at the helm," I explained to her.
I could imaging Marmalade's determined face, chin jutting purposefully forward, as she concentrated and made sure that the boat's wake should never be straight, that the line of bubbles and different coloured water that followed them should be all curves and waves and circles and spirals.
And I pictured, too, John shaking his head at the pointless-ness of it all, and I knew that Marmalade would be smiling at him as she put the boat into another 360 degree turn.
I stepped over the trailing hem of some little deflated jellyfish's torn dress. I wanted to go for a swim.
"Do you have ANY plans?" I asked Wendy.
"I don't know. I don't know what I want anymore. I don't know what we need."
I jumped suddenly. I had been stung. I hadn't been watching, and had trodden on one of the long blue inarticulate fingers that ran down from a tiny balloon towards the water. I looked at the sole of my foot, and already a red weal was evident. I wondered briefly about colours, about how a blue object could leave a red mark.
"We probably won't break up," Wendy was saying.
THE WATER HE LOVED
Michael came from the Northern Beaches, and if you've ever driven up to Palm Beach, through Newport and Avalon on a warm spring day, when the ocean is clear and blue and pristine and stretches out for ever, then you'll know that he loved the water. He surfed and swam, and wore a constant tan. He was healthy and somehow he was able to acquire muscles like other people do paunches. His round, good-looking face featured a pair of large melting-chocolate brown eyes. Eyes like that seem absent from tragedy.
I met him when he started uni, and we would ride home after our drama workshop, for a while, on our bikes, along the cycle path, and we always were laughing.
There were things about Michael I didn't like. He was not a god. I left uni early, and then he did too, and we didn't see each other often, as often as we should have.
And then before we knew it he was in the States. Directing big budget commercials. One was huge, and took him through Africa, and into Egypt. Word of other projects reached me intermittently, and already they were like messages from another world. He married, and had a baby, and I wrote him a note around this time.
At work one day I took a call which told me he had died, and I grieved for a while, but it wasn't until at least a year later, sitting in an old cafe in Annandale with his widow, who was visiting, that I learned the manner of his death.
It seems that he was filming something, in the States, and someone asked him if he wanted to come up in a chopper, they were going somewhere. Michael came on board with his camera. The helicopter developed engine problems, but they were able to set down safely on a frozen lake. And then the ice broke. They tried to swim, but the water must have been so cold, and it took them. It was not the water Michael had known.
I saw his baby daughter, who has Michael's same chocolate eyes. She glanced up at me, and I smiled at her while listening to her mother's words. How Michael looked just as if he were sleeping when his body was finally and irrevocably retrieved from the water.
It is, I suppose, ironic that the water he loved should have caused his death. But I suppose that's how it happens sometimes. Or you're sitting in front of the fire with your toast when some tumour surfaces and leaps for your throat.
But you can't decide not to swim, and drifting is doubly dangerous. Because you'll never beat the tumour then, never beat it at all. Even if it is just grisly old age.
Bless you Michael. Bless us all.
PATIENT HEAL THYSELF
"What seems to be the problem?" she was asking.
"I think I've fractured my sense of hope," I replied. "Perhaps there are lacerations to my anticipatory functions as well, and even contusions to the rest of my well being."
"Hmm. An urgent case. No time to bring in a consultant. I'll have to operate now."
"What's the prognosis?"
"Touch and go. Wait here. I'll go and sterilise the instruments."
"We'll be needing some clean drums."
She left me for a while then, and I gazed around the waiting room, and saw the pieces of broken mirror which dangled and danced and flaunted themselves before the open windows. I looked at the skulls and other bones, and at the shells and nests, and at the stones and shards of coloured glass. Securely locked up in the ancient bloodwood cabinets I noted arcane editions of some of the less popular philosophical and geometric texts.
She suddenly popped her head back into the room.
"How will you be paying?" she wanted to know.
"Anyway I can," I told her.
She danced back into the other room, her necklace of old Medicare cards rattling like seed pods in the wind.
I stood there. Worried and unsure. This practioner had been recommended, but she was, I knew, an unorthodox solution. Should I leave the safety of civilised learning in my search for a cure? Every other method had failed. What choices did I have?
She returned, and I sat alone with her and all my fears, and the operation began.
She exorcised my doubt and despair. Welded, an intricate performance, my hope to a piece of old faith. Made idealism real and hard, transforming the poor dull, limp thing into something like shiny chrome. Ideas were shuffled around and sorted into their correct compartments: New, Used, Useful and How Could You Have Ever Even Considered? Laughter was unearthed, patched, inflated, tested, and pumped some more. Then she looked up.
"Unusual triage, but we've healed the minor wounds first. All better, though stitches can tear, inviting sudden haemorrhages in the night. Even, ahem, a sponge carelessly left in the wound. But now we move into more dangerous areas. Checking the heart. For scratches, say. Even a tiny little graze can be dangerous. But we shall persevere."
And so she started. Open heart therapy, where I was invited, or rather, it was demanded that I participate. I felt the organ there, proud but unsure, pumping away regardless, with force, although perhaps unknowing of direction. I caressed it, tearful, it must be said.
"There," she was saying. "A quick rebuild of your other major organs, a re-shaping of your psyche, and a little aura massage. And then perhaps we can begin to think about rehabilitation."
And she slowly removed my caressing hands from that dear and bloody vital organ, and scarlessly she sealed the opening. I felt her re-arrange and manipulate all my other organs, and then I knew I was out of danger.
She was smiling too.
"Time for rehab. Here's your drum. Beat it as tonelessly and as arhythmically as you like, three times a day before meals. Remember to wash it down with a long dance. A sense of smell, if you can find one, will work wonders to reduce the effects of an overdose of tension. In case of panic induce laughter. Will you be all right?"
I smiled, relaxed and confident, sure of myself, and cradling my new drum.
"It's a miracle," I said.
"All in a day's work."
"What about the bill?" I asked. "What would you like? Shall I serve you all my life? Perhaps you'd fancy my firstborn?"
She smiled again.
"A fiver will do," she suggested.
I paid her and walked away, new ideas already meshing with my repaired and healthy body.
But really I knew that this woman did not had not could not exist. Her operation was a dream. If it was only that easy.
But I knew also. We cure ourselves, if we care to, everyday.
A POST-COPERNICAN VIEW OF THE UNIVERSE
I was lost in a dense scrubland of beliefs, where ideas and reasons barred my way as tightly as a thicket of ti-trees. But not necessarily with their healing powers.
I followed a now familiar path, in fact the only path I knew that would lead me safely, and if it was called love, and if it was sometimes well-worn and familiar, then so be it.
With more love the path widened, and I was not scratched so much, and so I also bled less. And with the widening of the path came also the signposts: "Do Unto Others," "Instant Karma's Gonna Get Ya," and "You Create Your Own Reality," were but a few.
I tried, at times, to explain to C.L. what was happening, but perhaps it was a hard time for her as well around then. She was enmeshed within the three guys she liked, and her job which she didn't, but she had started writing again at least. I cornered her one day at her house, to explain, but she only laughed.
"You should have realised all this TEN years ago," she told me.
"Well, it's only becoming apparent now," I replied, perhaps a little too defensively.
"When I turned twenty-five," she started saying, cutting off my previous sentence, "When I turned twenty-five I realised that I had to face up to some things. You see, I always told everyone back home that I would be dead by then. That I would take a gun, or a bottle of pills, and use them. And that would be the end of that. But here I was, years later. I knew that it was time to change, or else I would fade into unwanted mediocrity for ever. And then one day I'd wake up and I'd be FIFTY-five, and then I would really be reaching for the ammunition. So I got going."
"But what if you don't know what you want to do?"
"You do know. You always do."
"But what if you don't?"
"Then you'd better think about it, damn hard, until you decide. Once you begin you can, I suppose, always change your mind, although I suspect that once you start something then its probably better to persevere with it. Did I tell you my new theory of the universe?"
"What's that?" I asked her, laughing.
"It's a post-Copernican view. Kepler, Galileo, Copernicus, they all had it wrong. The earth doesn't revolve around the sun, or even the reverse."
"What does it revolve around then?" I asked her.
She was smiling.
"Oh no," I said.
It was her turn to laugh.
"That's right," she said. "Scientists have recently been astounded to learn that the centre of the universe is, in fact, the person you are sitting opposite. Did I tell you I was going to New Zealand?"
She had, but I listened, and heard her plans again anyway.
I was still confused. So many people seemed to have so many ideas about what was good, about how to get out of holes they had dug themselves into. Everything from conventional counselling and psycho-therapy to dolphin spirit rebirthing and past-life home videos. Would any of them really be any good? Weren't some of them just a little far-fetched?
"Whatever it takes," said C.L. "If you're dis-satisfied with something in yourself then you've just got to keep working on it until you're happy. No-one else is going to do it for you. You have to do whatever it takes."
She began her dance practice then, high-kicks and pirouettes all around the room.
"Did I tell you about David?" she was asking me.
I shook my head.
"While I was in Tasmania I did some thinking. Re-assessing where I stood with him. I've decided not to see him any more."
"Have you told him yet that he's been re-assessed?" I asked.
"What did he say?"
"He told me I should have gone to Vanuatu."
I watched her dance for while then. She noticed, and suddenly dropped to her knees on the cushions before me.
"You look sad," she was telling me. "You look so sad."
"Maybe my Saturn return has returned. I get tired. Unsure. Even lonely and confused. But I'm working on it."
"That's the spirit. Keep trying. You're the only one you've got."
That was true enough. But I was immediately attacked by a squadron of lurking doubt. Who was I among so many, anyway?
"Do I count?" I asked her quietly, almost hoping that she wouldn't be able to hear the question, but she replied instantly.
"As much as anyone else. Does it even matter? Put your energies into being happy."
She was up and dancing again.
"Me, I like doing these (kick), or these (spin), or 'specially these (kick, spin, leap). What about you? (Pant, breath.) What makes you happy?"
I told her a couple of things.
"Good," she said. "I should do them then, if I were you."
I thanked her, and left, and I ran all the way home. I wasn't late, but the run felt good. I smiled as went. When I got home I immediately rang C.L.
"Hey," I said.
"Tu hablas Espanol?" she replied.
"Only with you. How do you know so much?" I asked her.
"You idiot," she said soothingly. "I read, and listen, and ask questions. I want to know. Just like you. Now go to sleep."
I replaced the receiver, and thought for a while about bed, but it was early yet.
BEACH BLANKET PAGAN RITUAL
We were there for a while on Friday, our own place, our own beach, somewhere, again, between Turmoil and Eden. This one stretched out before us like a road. Great rocks sat like giant weathered skulls on the land behind us. We spent some time in formal duties first. We wrote our own secret names in the sand on each end of the beach, and then in the middle we scrawled the other name of the beach, which was a secret as well. Then we went back and rubbed them all out.
We established a camp, the Atlantis Caravan Park Marmalade called it. We found for our home a kitchen and a bathroom and a library and a bedroom. We stacked the shelves of the larder with special foods, and Marmalade walked around the tent three times for reasons of her own.
Later we made love against one of the rocks, and when we were finished we were grazed, and wore fine dust from the surface of the rock on our bare skin, and where we were wet, fingers and mouths, for example, sand grains stuck like forensic evidence.
We swam in the sun and lay in the water. We were there.
Sometime later, when Marmalade had retired to a private room I took a walk along the shore, around the rocks at the end of the beach, and then later around the rocks at the end of the next beach as well.
I spent no time wondering about the correctness of our destination. That was so evident it was pointless to waste even one neurone on it. But the MANNER of our arrival deserved, I reasoned, some attention. It had after all, so far, been an interesting journey. And of course I thought about Gabriel and C.L. and Michael, and there were millions of others besides, and some had names, and some only faces, and some neither, but their contributions were none the less noted and appreciated.
I skipped around a piece of weed.
I practised some handstands.
I looked at an interesting shell.
There was something skulking along in front of me, just out of the range of my clear vision, leading me like a new direction. It looked like a black dog. Possibly even a dingo. They were rumoured to be around. I knew I would have difficulty in getting close to it. It was walking away.
I moved sideways like a crab.
I found some driftwood.
I did a cartwheel.
I examined, for any changes, the size and the shape and the colour of the sea, but all seemed right there. I ran around in circles for a while, with my arms outstretched, like an aeroplane. I experimented with different ways of laughing. I took my clothes off, and then put them on. I took them off AGAIN, and then put them back on, but this time I put my shirt around my waist and my shorts on my head. I glanced, almost casually, over one shoulder.
The dingo was sitting closer. Was it curious? Had it moved towards me in order to better see what I was doing?
I began to run. Fast. As fast as I could. Long strides, legs moving at great speed, the sand a blur at my feet and all that.
I looked up. The dingo was just jogging away, each loping stride keeping it perhaps forever out of reach. I ran with extra effort, although by now I knew it was futile. But all I wanted to do, really, was just to see its face, clearly, even for a only a second.
I stopped when I had to, when I was shaking and panting and exhausted, and I watched the shadow run further away. A cloud obscured the sun, and in the nature of such things the shadow-dog also slowly dissolved and disappeared.
That night Marmalade built a fire on the beach we had named, and we danced newly invented straight off the shelf pagan rituals around it.
We congratulated ourselves on our efforts.
We brushed some sand away.
We loved each other.
We loved ourselves.
We giggled and rolled and examined and high-kicked and tranced and leaped and roared and squeaked.
Behind us in the dark dingoes howled with primitive abandon, and even, we hoped, some form of wild canine approval. They stood in the edge of the flickering light, watching us. And we could see them.
We formed new dreams.