Thursday, June 30, 2011


With the Northern Territory described on national radio as a failed state ,there is no doubt whatsoever that Darwin needs a new image. One like sunny California with its swimmable beaches , where gifted cartoonist/ architect Peter Burleigh, a member of the brainy Mensa Club, in 1969 pointed out up to 50 academics a month were encouraged to just navel gaze , if they so wished , ultimately solving the many mysteries and problems of the universe, probably leading to the invention of plastic shopping bags, napalm , credit cards , ring top cans , frisbies . To make the Territory a dynamic place, we respectfully suggest Darwin put out the welcome mat for navel fluff-gazing academics who could be fed grouse Territory brain food like prime T-bone steaks from Mataranka and Muckaty and Wedding Cake irradiated corn in whopper Coney Island buckets.

Monday, June 27, 2011


What is the difference between temporary insanity and a temporary position in a madhouse which looks good on your CV ? *** Stuart Highway now stretches all the way to Chile. ***Working in a wine saloon wiping up the slops is great training for a career in journalism .

Friday, June 24, 2011

CANTERBURY TALES # 1- Tribute to an earthquake shattered city

The devastation caused by the Christchurch earthquakes is an unmitigated disaster for the once beautiful city through which runs the River Avon , now apparently obstructed due to the earth’s upheavals , adding a further British air with Oxford –like punting to this attractive city, gateway to the Canterbury Plains.

In the past, I twice visited Christchurch , where friends , a journalist and his schoolteacher wife now live in nervous uncertainty. On the first visit , the city boasted a council employed Wizard, Ian Brackenbury Channell, who spake out from a ladder in Cathedral Square , near the Anglican church , badly damaged in the first big quake.

Christchurch’s bookshops ( especially the renowned Smith’s), antique centres , large market and a bottle and collectables fair were perused for items of interest ,which included a large scrapbook covering the social history of the South Island ,commencing before WW1, cabinet photos , old Christchurch school magazines, early NZ poetry, postcards , and the collection of a ballet fan which contained autographed programmes and photographs of a famous Russian company which toured NZ .

As a tribute to Christchurch , we will publish items bought during pleasant visits to Christchurch with its grand old buildings , many of them now destroyed or badly damaged , in much happier times .
Built for Allan McLean , a bachelor in his late 70s, this spectacular Christchurch mansion ,Holly Lea , was said at the time to be the largest timber construction in NZ . McLean was born in Scotland in 1822 ,the son of a farmer-fisherman .When his father died early , his mother and nine children emigrated to Victoria to join the goldrush ,and struck it rich .

Mclean moved to NZ and became one of the wealthiest men in Canterbury through sheepfarming during the early years of settement. Late in life , he had the mansion built in Christchurch ; it covered 23,000 square feet and contained 53 rooms . When he died in 1907 at the age of 85 , his will established a fund for housing women of refinement and education in reduced or straitened circumstances in memory of his widowed mother . His faithful housekeeper was well catered for as well.

The above postcard , sent to a nurseryman in Auckland, states the mansion is the house built by “that old batchelor " (sic). The NZ stamp on the postcard was cancelled at the spectacular Christchurch International Exhibition on December 27 , 1906.

The exhibition was the idea of the NZ PM Richard "King Dick" Seddon , who died a few months before it opened, and attracted two million visitors , when the Kiwi population was less the one million. A big drawcard was the British Art Exhibition, viewed by half a million, which influenced post- colonial art appreciation and art societies on both sides of the Tasman.

Delegations attended from Fiji and the Cook Islands. A fortified Maori village, the Te Araiteuru pa, and canoes , with a mock battle between Maoris and pakehas, also attracted much attention, giving many people, including New Zealanders, a greater understanding of indigenous culture , their arts and crafts.

Australian artists exhibited included Hans Heysen , Jane Sutherland, Will Ashton ,William Lister and Elizabeth Armstrong. The general manager of the exhibition, G.S.Munro, sought advice from Victoria about the 1880 Melbourne Exhibition in planning the Christchurch event.

TEA BREAK : Included in our Christchurch trove are two fine bone china cup and saucer sets , souvenirs of the Christchurch International Exhibition 1906-7, each cup bearing the name MINSON’S,220 COLOMBO ST.,CHRISTCHURCH on the base , possibly made by the German or Czechoslovakian souvenir trade. Minson’s sold good quality china, cutlery and household requirements, was a Christchurch institution (Everybody Went to Minson’s ) based on a family emporium in Cornwall.

It operated from an impressive three-storey shop . One of its main display areas had a springy wooden floor which caused the stock to rattle as people walked through - giving the impression of being" like a bull in a china shop". Imagine what damage it would have sustained if hit by a major earthquake . (See Canterbury Heritage blogspot and New Zealand Journal site for photos of and information about this once great Christchurch shop .)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Darwin’s would-be dictator, Adolf Shicklgruber, exclusively revealed in Little Darwin as planning to take over the Northern Territory, has just finished writing a cookery book : MEIN PICKLED CAMP PIE MITT SAUERKRAUT AND DUMB-DUMB DEMOGRAPHICS, expected to be serialised soon in weekend newspapers throughout the unsuspecting nation . The recipes are based on Frau Beetson’s guide to DIY brown paper bag cooking for single men trying to break the unhealthy junk food habit.

Sensational new revelations about Adolf and his goosestepping henchmen will appear in Little Darwin in the near future-once cleared by the CIA, ASIO, the FBI Handbag Department and the D-Notice sticker and Koala bear stamp are removed from our top secret file.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


After an experience in the Darwin Federal Magistrates Court (FMC) , I intend to go armed the next time I attend to counter the bities therein, Your Honour. My weapon of choice will be this wonderful Malaysian rechargable mozzie swatting racquet- a kind of Dirty Harry special when it comes to dangerous household pests , sent to the Little Darwin office by one of our jovial roving reporters in Asia.

While sitting outside the FMC today waiting for a courtroom to open , mosquitoes, moving as fast as V8s , became evident. People swiped at the critters , but they escaped. The previous night, the fascinating French ABC TV show, Miniscule, had centred on the misadventures of a mosquito who flew into a pot of honey and then got stuck to roll of toilet paper , a tablecloth and a lamp shade , so there was a touch of French farce (sans the poor, sad-eyed spider, ants , snails , the cheeky ladybird et al ) to proceedings before the door opened for business .

Many people attending a court are apprehensive and should not have to face the added fear of contracting Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses and Dengue fever because the Flick Man , SC, has not been called in - another sign of belt tightening in judicial circles,such as in NSW, and the Federal Attorney-General’s jurisdiction ?

Once the FMC courtroom opened, a local lawyer took up his position at the bar table , unpacked numerous files; his apprehensive client sat nearby with a family member. Then ZZZZ! A mozzie made its presence known. Without success, I swiped at it. The clerk of the court, in shorts , making him a tasty target for mosquitoes, was having difficulty attempting to make a TV link with far away Canberra , where the mozzies and the Bogong moths were probably either in hibernation or frozen to death.

Are you their Josh? No response –just the view of an empty room . Some comment was made about being able to make contact with man on the moon, but not the Forbidding City. After several attempts,Josh appeared on screen and rearranged the seating in nautical fashion . A hotshot lawyer appeared pushing a lectern on wheels and the show got on the road . Soon after , a person entered the Canberra room holding what could have been a jug of hot toddy, but was waved away . There was a buzz of expectancy as the hearing got underway. It is sincerely hoped that the anklet on the magistrate's associate did not draw the attention of a bloodsucking mozzie to her leg.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Saturday, June 18, 2011


According to a dispatch on the back of the above postcard from Little Darwin’s roving royalty reporter, Dame Tania Battenburg , the rulers of the Hutt River principality, in WA, are looking fragile - that is why they were unable to attend the Queen’s London knees up for Kate and William. Our respected correspondent recently visited the sovereign state and was granted a personal audience with Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley.

Prince Leonard fondly recalled making an overseas trip to Magnetic Island, Queensland, in his younger days when he was asked to advise a group wanting to secede from the Commonwealth of Australia.

A wise observer , Prince Leonard probably believes that the way things are going in the unfortunate lucky country of Australia , now in the grip of a vicious revival of the War of the Roses, it could soon be over- run by carpetbaggers , slave drivers and sellers of jerry built tandem bicycles with faulty valve rubber.

The much admired royal couple recently celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary and managed to do a stately gavotte, with the aid of Dencorub, in the Hutt River Palais de Dance before a crowd of applauding subjects , their forelocks held back by bobby pins .

Wednesday, June 15, 2011



Irvine Brown, a former Darwin Show Society secretary , nearing 50 years as an active mason and expert caller of the Bingo numbers at Evergreens meetings in recent years , died in RDH palliative care June 15, attended by daughters , Alison and Karen. The grocery trade brought him to Darwin in the 1950s ; "Brownie" was closely associated with many business men and women , shopkeepers and restauranteurs. In particular, he had fond memories of working for the late Sam Calvi , an Italian involved with Mick Paspalis . In those early days , Brownie, a reliable and conscientious worker, was in demand for carrying out end of financial year stocktakes. Others with whom he had many dealings were Richard and Alec Fong of the Victoria Hotel. Horse riding lawyer, George Cridland , known as " Cannonball" in his rugby league playing days, was one of the presidents when Brownie ran the Darwin Show Society.

In retirement, Brownie was often seen sitting on the back verandah , armed with a fly swat and the NT News race guide , listening to the races , while also playing patience with a pack of cards. He would have been 79 on Monday .

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Little Darwin sent an email to friends in Christchurch, New Zealand, expressing concern for their safety after the latest major shocks. Back came a short reply saying they had received 79 jolts in the last 24 hours , two strong ones in the past few minutes. "Not funny" was the understatement. Discussing the plight of Christchurch yesterday with a Casuarina businesswoman who once lived in NZ , she said it was obvious that the city , the country's second biggest, would have to be abandoned and rebuilt on a new site.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Pen-names are often used by persons who are shy to let the community at large know that they have a bent for literary expression. Some deliberately disguise who they are because they intend to take the mickey out of people in high places or give some organisation a verbal lashing . In North Queensland , one of these latter fiends went under the pen- name of Bud Sigatoka . Sigatoka is a fungal disease in bananas which does nasty things to the male buds in plants, causing them to break out in black spots. As no mother would name her child Black Spot , this moniker was obviously a cunning nom de plume. Bud Sigatoka took swipes at various individuals and organisations, particularly the Townsville City Council when it was dominated by the ALP.

This prompted threats of legal action , the seizure of a computer and muttered threats to insert the very rough end of a pineapple where the beautiful Queensland sun does not shine . The search for this irksome person became so hot that Bud suddenly announced his much read dispatches would no longer appear in cyberspace . BANANA TRIVIA : Bet you did not know that bananas are slightly radioactive which is due to the fact that they are high in potassium and contain the isotope,Potassium-40. Wikipedia states that proponents of nuclear power sometimes refer to the banana equivalent dose of radiation to support their argument.

Friday, June 10, 2011


While the unfortunate boat people get so much vicious attention in the media and politics, little is being written or said about another large influx of people from oversea. A Darwin resident recently back from the earthquake stricken NZ city of Christchurch says there are frequent newspaper classified advertisements announcing monster garage sales-selling up and going to Australia . If the NT government and business is so concerned about getting skilled labour , it should consider trying to attract some of these displaced Kiwis. Hearsay has it that 10,000 people have moved to Australia from the Christchurch area , and that many are heading north for the warmth . More are expected . Many have moved up to the North Island, impacting on real estate prices and rents. Sydney contacts say the tough economic situation in NZ has resulted in a noticeable increase in new arrival Kiwis there .


When it comes to matters maritime, the NT News appears to be all at sea. One of our many fans , after reading the post about the paper getting the MV Tampa mixed up with tamper , semaphored that there seems to be a similar problem when the daily refers to Maritime Union of Australia Territory organiser, Thomas MAYOR . For some unfathomable reason ,the News refers to him in print as MAYO–rhymes with DAY-O! in the Harry Belafonte hit ,the Jamaican Banana Boat Song. As a result, you now hear happy waterfront workers doing Belafonte imitations as they load the Humpty Doo banana crop for export to Queensland , ever alert for poisonous tarantula spiders.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Quoting an ABC interview , the June 8 edition of the NT News ,P3, ran the following intro : TERRITORY politician Marion Scrymgour has backed away from her former claims that the federal intervention was a “black kids tamper.”

Ms Scrymgour was actually referring to the shabby MV Tampa affair of August 2001. On that occasion the Howard government refused the Norwegian vessel MV Tampa, carrying 438 rescued Afghans from a distressed fishing vessel in international waters, to enter Australian waters. This triggered an Australian political controversy in the lead up to a federal election, which saw Howard reelected . Ms Scrymgour was equating the Federal government’s intervention in Aboriginal communities as one more pre- election stunt-another Tampa.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


It seems nothing much has changed in the treatment of NT cattle. In Xavier Herbert’s award winning 1938 Territory novel,Capricornia, he included a period of cattle industry boom after WW1 , with exports from Darwin to the Philippines and down south. He wrote that the trade became so good, even the last bellow of a beast was put to use and turned into cash by the beef barons. The claim was made in a chapter headed PROSPERITY IS LIKE THE TIDE- applicable to the present uproar over live cattle exports to Indonesia with strong calls for shipments to be stopped .

Like so many others in the Territory , Herbert disliked the British pastoral company, Vesteys.The union owned Northern Standard in 1924 ran a story from the Sydney Labor Daily headed THE VESTEY BLIGHT IN NORTHERN TERRITORY in which the Vestey family were called '' knights of the cleaver". Lord Vestey, it said, had made a packet selling beef to the British Army and had been rewarded with a peerage .

Several of Herbert’s short stories were run in the Northern Standard ,one being The Rain Maker,in which Coateys ( a play on Vesteys) and Beefjoose (Bovril) were beef barons intent on buying up Australia, a scenario inspired by revelations in the Royal Commission of inquiry after Administrator Dr Gilruth was forced to leave Darwin on a navy gunboat . FOOTNOTE : A January 1949 reprint of Capricornia in our Xavier Herbert collection is ex libris E.J.Fotheringham, 181 Chloride Street, in the great mining town of Broken Hill, NSW . There is a stylised map of Capricornia at the front of the book which includes a rampant goat, such poor beasts said to be subjected to appalling treatment in overseas countries . ( See bubbly Burleigh bouillon ROAD TO MOROCCO post below .)

Monday, June 6, 2011


A relative in Brisbane reports an unusual and sad event . She lives near a busy intersection where a nearby house , with its old garden , including a large Poinciana tree , was bulldozed. The naked block has stood vacant for many months. A passing motorist turned up at her door and said he once lived in the house on the now empty block, and that his mother’s ashes had been placed underneath the Poinciana . The concerned son pondered the fate of his mother’s remains and wanted to know what was going to be built on the site. When speculators and developers have their way, many mothers end up in the foundations for a stack of boxes in Ticky Tacky Towers.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Another predicted end of the world has come and gone , although the American evangelist responsible for the latest furphy has revised the date from May 21 to October 21 . Guided by a mystical force, Little Darwin has discovered that a New Zealand religious organisation in 1900 predicted the end of newspapers .

Tucked away in our archives is a copy of the Dominican Star , a literary annual, edited at the Dominican Priory, Dunedin,an impressive building constructed in 1877 ,then the largest un-reinforced concrete building in the southern hemisphere ,designed and built by architect Francis Petrie ,father of the NZ architecture association and the daddy of 13 children, he one of 16 . Petrie also designed the Christchurch Catholic Cathedral which collapsed during the recent earthquake.

In an article headed TALKING THROUGH THE ETHER ,dealing with Marconi’s invention of the wireless , the Domican Star predicted it would herald a new era in which “newspapers will be no more .” There would be no more waste of paper and ink.

News in the future would be "ticked off tapes " every hour into homes of subscribers who had "receiving instruments ". The news would henceforth be sent out by Marconi signals from high towers ,the Eiffel Tower being a great distribution point. One such tower could be erected on the South Island’s Mount Cook - putting it to better use than standing there idle , attracting tourists "to break their necks trying to reach the summit , and burying them in glaciers , avalanches, snowdrifts , fogs and blizzards–scenic pleasures!" Obviously the nuns were not only worldy and trendy, but also had a sense of humour .

The Dominican Star was also available through Mr Ryan , a Catholic bookseller , Perth, Western Australia. Our copy is ex libris St Paul’s Retreat , Glen Osmond, Adelaide, bought from a Port Adelaide auction room.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


This is a true story, and even the made-up parts deserve to be true.
( At some stage , probably seeking relief from the frenetic London lifestyle, PETE STEEDMAN and JULIE REITER set out on an overland trip to Morocco with architect PETER BURLEIGH , who had drawn cartoons for Broadside magazine back in Melbourne. Burleigh, in the Mother Country intent on becoming as famous as Christopher Wren, who designed a church on just about every corner in ye olde London , provided this tour de force account of that death-defying Cook’s Tour . WARNING : Maiden aunts, people of delicate disposition, those with heart by-passes and wowsers should avert their eyes or prepare to rant at certain risqué , depraved and wildly humorous passages . Insomniacs who sit up watching endless reruns of the golden years of Hollywood will be struck by the similarity with the road movies of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, except they were wholesome, G- rated fractured flickers. Astute Little Darwin readers will notice a time discrepancy in this golden prose and outstanding Burleigh artwork , but then the travellers were warped/ bent at the time , and who cares what year it is when you are having fun?)

In 1969 or thenabouts, Morocco was a brand of instant coffee. Even though I had travelled to London to make my fortune, I came to accept the world might be a bigger place than the triangle formed by the Holland Park pub, the supermarket in Portobello Road and my semi-basement flat. I needed to broaden my horizons.

My first mistake
was deciding to travel in Continental Europe. My second was to seek advice from my behaviourally-challenged advisor on life matters, Pete Steedman. Pete had parachuted into London (about a year before ) and had disrupted my middle-class yearning for respectability. He worked for Oz Magazine and the young Time Out; both publications were foul-mouthed, deliberately outrageous and politically subversive like Pete himself. My third mistake was deciding to travel with him and his blond “personal assistant”, Julie Reiter.

I purchased a blue Bedford Van for 200 pounds. It was old. “She’ll last for years,” said the nice salesman, wreathed in hashish smoke. I trusted him immediately. The pop-up roof worked. Two people would have to sleep in stretchers under this roof and one lucky bugger (me, it was my van) would sleep on a bench seat down below. No matter that the Bedford was the worst van ever built by the human race, I gave the salesman my money and in turn he gave me the ignition key and a rudimentary road map cut from a packet of breakfast cereal. It showed most of Europe as Empire Pink and while this seemed a little out of date, how inaccurate could it be? He shrugged off a slight problem with the starter motor; you had to rock the van back and forth so its teeth engaged and the thing would start.“Don’t fret abaht it,” he grinned. “It’ll prob’ly fix itself.”

Equipped with basic items recommended in Kerouac’s book On The Road (wine, whiskey, selected aspirins and other drugs, plastic glasses, a certain herbal substance and a bad attitude), we rocked the van, engaged its teeth and drove to the Channel ferry.

The crossing took five hours
instead of the customary two. The wind roared down the Channel from the North Sea. The weather the Germans had hoped for on D-Day had finally got here. Within 30 minutes of leaving all the glasses fell out of the on-board bars and smashed. Bits of bottles rolled about, breaking down into smaller pieces as they impacted on each other. The floor was slick with vomit and spilled beer. Passengers lay as good as dead on the floor, seats and benches, waxy-faced, pale as toilet paper. The ferry staff disappeared; perhaps they abandoned ship.

We drove southwards towards Spain through France, which we ignored. At some point we decided to cross the Mediterranean and go to Morocco. I don’t remember whose idea this was, but Steedman was known to be attracted to subversion wherever it could be found, whereas I was known mainly for making bad decisions. Julie seemed sweetly innocent despite her use of several four-letter words Pete had taught her. She’d give it a go.

The cancer
in the starter motor got worse as we ate and drank our way through Barcelona, Valencia, Toledo, Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Granada (but probably not in that order. Who knows?). A fascist country which could produce good beer, wine and food gave Steedman pause. He started asking awkward political questions in bars. Were there any ideas he could use back in Australia?

In the foothills
of the wintry Sierra Moreno, mechanics in a bus workshop built parts for our starter motor by hand and wouldn’t accept payment, which was just as well because it had a serious relapse a couple of days later. From Algeciras we took a car ferry to Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave in Morocco. To the ignorant romantic who owned the van this was Casablanca territory and our first step onto the African continent. Neil Armstrong ate his heart out.

To celebrate
our conquest of Europe, we chose a bar near the border crossing into Morocco. The Spanish-speaking locals amused themselves by buying drinks for us and by 11pm we were all seriously drunk. Pete, who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, was haranguing our new friends about Australian politics. They were pouring what may have been locally-made Port down our throats. Some of them were looking analytically at Julie preparatory to making a financial offer.

The Port
had shrunk my brain, which was cringing in a dark corner of my skull by the time Pete called me over to meet his newest buddies. He was excited. These Spaniards, who were raving about Austrians instead of Australians, insisted on taking us shooting in the hills the next morning. Even in its crippled state my brain recognised this as a fatally bad idea. Around midnight I staggered outside to the Bedford van (it was parked on a garbage-strewn street near the bar), put up the roof and inserted Julie into her stretcher. She was unconscious the moment her head hit the pillow.

I went back for Pete. It took a long time to find the bar again because I had forgotten that a straight line is the shortest distance. He was laughing crazily, listing against an off-duty Guardia Civil and insisting that the cop’s patent-leather hat was akin to the Australian Digger’s hat only worn arse-about. As I knew about rifles and hunting weapons he demanded that I clarify with our hosts just what armoury we could expect to use in the morning. Pete’s secret hope for the morning’s shooting may have been to take over Ceuta with a swift coup; you never knew with him. I had never seen him so pissed, and I never have since. He would not stop drinking the Port, although everyone else had. I had one for the road. He had five.

Outside the night was freezing. Getting Pete’s raving, drunken body into the other stretcher was a nightmare. Our laughter made us more helpless. A puppet with its strings cut, he too fell unconscious onto his sleeping bag. If he’d had any awareness left he’d have been satisfied with the shock and awe he’d created amongst the Spaniards in the bar.

Drunk people snore
but usually can be woken long enough to get them to turn over or lie on their sides. Steedman’s corpse was having none of this until, after a sleepless couple of hours in which even Julie was woken, we pushed him outside the van and went to sleep. He was there a few hours later, when I stumbled out of the van to be sick. Somehow he’d got himself into his sleeping bag. It was closed over his head. Snoring came from inside. The whole bag was shivering - not surprising because the puddles on the street had frozen over and he was lying on the road itself. He could have frozen to death, been run over or removed with the rest of the garbage.

As I alone retained some tenuous consciousness, I had to take the responsibility of getting us to the border crossing and away from any rendezvous with our shooting comrades. I rocked the Bedford without help. I remember reversing into a wall at 20mph, but little else.

We got through the Spanish formalities without Steedman saying something offensive about Franco’s personal habits, but at the Moroccan side we were refused entry by a plain-clothes official, the kind of balding, puffy-faced, sweat-sheened villain we knew from Midnight Express. Julie and I wore respectful faces but the instant the man saw Pete his hackles rose.

Come back tomorrow with hair cat,” he snarled. A U-turn took us away from there but I knew he wouldn’t forget my friend, who has a consistent talent for arousing hatred amongst bureaucrats.“What the fuck is a hair cat?” Steedman scowls.“He doesn’t like your pony tail.”

He can fuck my hat if I’ll cut it off.” says Steedman . “In fact he was looking lustfully at your hat. You could be next.”

The next day Pete wore my polo neck sweater, his ponytail tucked inside, hat pulled down over it, coat with collar pulled up, and dark glasses. His plan was to be inconspicuous but he stood out like a naked man in a nunnery.

You there!” It was the same official. He took off Pete’s hat, put Pete’s shades in it, and with infinite distaste used his forefinger to flick the ponytail into the open air. “Hair cat or you no go through.”He didn’t understood Pete’s foul mutterings, but he did recognise the huge flick knife which clicked open in front of him. Pete held his ponytail out and slashed it off his head with the knife.

Pete said, “Here you are, you cunt”, or something similarly sensitive. He handed it to the man. “You need this fucking hair more than I do.” Lucky not to be shot, we drove through the shocked silence into Morocco .

He and Julie suffered vicious hangovers for the next three days as I drove south through the dust. I couldn’t focus very well and didn’t see much, except the thousands of ragged children who came running whenever I stopped the van. They had the impression that I had boxes of free ballpoint pens, sacks of coins and air tickets to America to give away. If they’d only known what awaited them should they get inside the van. Pete’s new prejudices against Moroccans were approaching the genocidal.

To save money in Tangiers we parked under a street light for the night instead of a camping area. You’d do the same thing in Australia and you’d be OK, so what was wrong with that?

In the early hours came a mighty thumping on the van. Arabs. Would they rape the men and sell the women in the market? Julie lay in the stretcher above, a beautiful naked blonde, probably the target of evil slave traders. The bashing on the side of the van continued. They were shouting something. Pete and I didn’t know what to do, but getting dressed before we did anything was a good start. It sounded like the Bedford was being dismantled. The starter motor was no good, so we concluded we had to get out and fight.

We slid the door open and a tree branch whistled inside and hit Pete on the forearm, his back and chest. He took the brunt of the attack – we couldn’t get out of the van. Everyone was screaming. I remembered the French word for “money” and shouted “d’argent, d’argent”. They backed off with the branch, but kept shouting. The street light wasn’t much help with security. I crawled into the front seat, got a random sample of coins from several countries in one hand and threw it out the window, turned the key with the other - and the motor started first time.

A bored night porter at a hotel told us where to find a hospital. Pete’s bloodied and chewed-up body was bandaged by an amateur nurse; to the hospital the incident was insignificant. “That’s nothing,” said their attitude, “wait’ll you see the horrific things people do to goats in this country.” But they did call the Police Station. We had to go to them or they would come looking for us. Driving around the alien streets of Tangiers at 3am tested our panic level, but finally there was the police station – as grubby and rundown as any other building. We were made to wait in the lobby. There was no Muzak but there was the sound of heavy blows and screams coming from a distant room. There were spots of fresh blood on the lobby floor. A cop appeared wearing a camel-hair coat over his shirt. He was smooth and neutral. He spoke English. He drove us back to the street light in a police car. We pointed out the branch and retrieved one of Julie’s knee-length boots that I’d tried to use as a weapon. Now he knew what martyrdom was, Pete insisted that he’d saved my life twenty times over.

With a shrug to put any Frenchman to shame the cop told us there was nothing he could do and perhaps we would like to contact the Australian Embassy? That would be as productive as a Bandaid at a beheading - and there was a chance they’d heard of Steedman which would bring us even more trouble. Back at the Bedford the cop smiled and without irony wished us a pleasant holiday in Morocco.

, although spectacular, proved to be a pale imitation of this drama. Its huge marketplace seethed with criminals and innocents of all kinds. In the whirling movement of people and music, bowls of mysterious gruel were being eaten, camel shit was sold in lieu of firewood, orange peel dotted the walkways like confetti, dates were slipped on instead of banana skins, and local cops sold hash/kif to student travellers, especially Americans, then arrested them for a reward from the US Government. That was the current paranoid belief in the medina, anyway. This combined with our recently acquired anti-Arab prejudices meant we didn’t press on towards the Atlas Mountains and Fez.

On our return journey we ignored Morocco, Spain, Portugal and France. We crossed the channel like a Li-Lo crossing a warm bath, and enjoyed a full Customs search on our return to England. Something about Pete – perhaps his contempt for their authority – intensified their search, which included Julie’s knee-length boots, the roof lining and door panels of the Bedford, and the inside of our spare tyre.It took several years to work out that we’d had a good time, but we never could agree on exactly what had happened.*** Succumbing to the dreaded influence of Hollywood , Morocco recently removed this unusual cultural link with the Land Down Under.