Saturday, December 31, 2011


Production of A Guerra da Beatriz , Timor –Leste’s own feature movie about the bloody struggle against the Indonesians for independence is well advanced. The film was conceived by and is being performed and directed by young Timorese with support from Melbourne volunteers, director Luigi Acquisto and his wife, film producer, Stella Zammataro . Additional funding is needed , Kirsty Gusmao taking an interest in the filming.

A well-illustrated article about the film by Natalie Craig can be viewed on .

Friday, December 30, 2011


A bizarre murder–suicide with a Darwin religious connection is included in the swag of exclusive articles lined up by Little Darwin for our expanding readership in 2012. Other prime fare includes the ongoing book length serialised life of crusading NT editor , Big Jim Bowditch; further chapters in the hectic career of political activist/journalist/publisher, Pete Steedman , down to his last Bentley; additional exploits in the life of Darwin’s relentless warrior, Rob-Wesley Smith , who once "knighted " Jose Ramos-Horta in a little known investiture ; the poetic "saboteur," Dr John Tomlinson, who, like Robin Hood, wants to redistribute some of the wealth of the world (especially the petrodollars ) to help the poor living on the smell of a proverbial oil rag , particularly those just across the Timor Sea ; a guide to xenophobic gardening ( no, not written by Pauline ), which helped shape the " Australian Dream. "

The roaming artist/architect/author PETER BURLEIGH will continue to entertain with pen, brush and pungent pars.

As the year 2012 is shaping up as a momentous one for the globe , Little Darwin has arranged a team of local and overseas correspondents to provide copy for the blog on a wide range of subjects. Extensive coverage will be given to Territory and Federal politics with a good serving of what is going on within America where President Barack Obama , carrying the world's hopes on his shoulders when elected , was stymied from the outset by the vicious right wing and looney forces in the US, including toxic sections of the media .

There will be spoof, satire, quirky yarns , photos. Unusual ephemera will include postal history, guides to Hitler’s Olympic Games and a souvenir from the Paris exhibition where Picasso’s painting, Guernica,expressing outrage at the killings by fascists during the Spanish Civil War , was displayed.

The Little Darwin blog is read in many parts of Australia and has a growing following in the US. It is perused in Britain , New Zealand , Russia, Germany, France , the Netherlands , Canada , South Korea and India . China took a sudden interest in us when we reported that a British commando in Hong Kong had invaded mainland China for a bet and was later executed in Vietnam when he became involved in the drug trade .

Little Darwin will never stoop to P3 girls, cheesecake, tit and bum shots or rude Willie Nelson poems to attract readers, unlike some unGodly sections of the uncouth press. Wholesome horseflesh will , however , get a run-like this appealing snap of the first time the Gurindji stock brand -GDT (Gurindji Daguragu Territory) -was applied. (Photo by Rob Wesley-Smith.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Darwin’s cafe society, the latte sipping section, is intrigued- but not surprised–by what seems to be selective amnesia involving the reporting of a certain local event. Vital background information ,which should have and would have AUTOMATICALLY been recalled in southern competitive media circles, was not included . Why not here ?


In the style of Old Moore’s Almanack , Little Darwin’s grumpy 500 pound gorilla in the editorial room , below, makes wide-ranging predictions about the coming momentous year. If anyone scoffs at his prognostications he will come round and rip your bloody arms off-like Aunty Jack.

TERRITORY POLITICS : It will be the year of living dangerously for a number of politicians.***The sale of scones, lamingtons, and yiros will plummet when a current sitting MP decides not to butter fairy cakes and cut the mustard at the next election. *** Shane Warne , if not on an extended honeymoon, will receive an urgent call to help a person who is looking more like the Last of the Mohicans, his hair receding ,taking on the appearance of a bit player in Mad Max movie. *** A former beaming polly will appear in a Colgate ring of confidence advertisement and then undergo plastic surgery to remove his perpetual hail- fellow-well-met grin , which terrifies children and causes dogs to bark hysterically. *** Plovers continue attacks on re-rerouted minister and a police spokesman . *** The Chinese candidate, Kon Vatskalis , will offer to teach Kevin Rudd advanced Cantonese .

FEDERAL POLITICS : Italian fizzgig , Silvio Berlusconi, will invite female way past use by date to Roma for bonga bonga party on Mt Vesuvius , view matrimony and another jug-eared love child. *** National Party member abducted by aliens in bone dry Murray-Darling Basin for anal examination after failing to find any trace of grey matter .*** Prominent Liberal Party person will be given the bum's rush.

GASEOUS ANNOUNCEMENT: Inpex planned announcement of go ahead for $30 billion project , put off last year because it was amazingly stated and faithfully reported by the media without comment that it would get lost in the Territory Christmas festivities, will be further delayed because of post-Christmas shopping rush, Chinese New Year, the distraction of Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras , Patagonian Pancake Day, Shrove Friday, NT Cracker Night ( 13 months long in 2012 due to world tilting on its axis ) , the Winter Solstice, Maundy Thursday to Sunday- extended due to increasing world poverty, several fairytale endings in sporting world premierships , the Moomba Festival,Japanese Sumo Wrestling Championships, Warren Capper’s latest hernia operation and the unexpected storming of the Bastille .

RACING: The ghost of Sir John Kerr will be evicted from nine corporate marquees during the Melbourne Cup piss up. *** Sensational allegations will be made when Timor pony wins Melbourne Cup.*** Stewards will investigate claims that horses are being genetically modified with Territory long neck turtles to win in photo finishes in desperate bid to stop those cheese-eating, surrender monkeys , the French , from ever winning again.

TOURISM : Smelly , free-loading backpackers overrun the Territory due to Lonely Planet recommending a visit to Darwin a must ; Drug Squad and OH&S will raid Lonely Planet editorial office where snip and paste production of so many guides exposes staff to dangerous glue vapours and hallucinations. *** OPRAH proudly boasts her visit to Uluru attracted a record number of blowfies. ***While Centralian tourist trade continues to dive , Austria overrun by Yank tourists, ignorant of geography , who mistakenly believe OPRAH did the Aussie Wave in that Germanic country. *** Austrian made boomerangs and leather stubbies selling like hot cakes, thanks to NT mix up . *** Big Game butterfly shooting safaris revive Batchelor economy.

MEDIA : Outbreak of bedsores in newsrooms continues , caused by sitting in offices waiting for hand outs from government spin doctors and PR palmy army . *** Busy scribe undergoes painful operation to remove millet broom jammed up anus, ordered by quack to use spellcheck and regular dollops of strawberry flavoured haemorrhoid ointment inserted during working hours . *** ABC taught ABC and how to pronounce place names such as Guam and Tripoli . *** Elastic perishes in literary giant’s bowtie and jocks .*** Star-struck reporter still suffering from incontinence after did but see Barack Obama passing by , and yet will remember him until eaten by pet crocodile called John Donne or Sir Robert . *** Several shock jocks come down with rabies - boofheads who listen to them placed on nation's growing brain transplant list.

Monday, December 26, 2011


Another natural disaster has impacted on editor/publisher/journalist/political activist, Pete Steedman, his colourful, action-packed life subject of an ongoing series in Little Darwin . Cyclone Tracy brought Steedman to Darwin from Melbourne when he and John Ball ran the Darwin Newsletter , a newspaper for residents scattered throughout the nation after the disaster.

Wild Melbourne weather this Christmas day damaged Steedman’s house in leafy Hurstbridge. It was bombarded by hailstones as big as cricket balls which smashed the solar panels, water came through the roof and down the chimney. Floodwaters swept down the hills sending mud coursing through his property , some of which cascaded into the garage and underground archives room with its invaluable files . His son, Sam, drilled a hole through the studio floor to let the water out . Thousands of dollars of new landscaping and gravel for the driveway has ended up in lower paddocks, blocking the natural drainage . Hurstbridge was cut off from the outside world when the train line washed away at Eltham , the entire line declared unstable . Pete bought the house from renowned playwright , David Williamson, who wrote the classic Don’s Party.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


A sure way to survive a cyclone is to retire to the smallest room in the house , accompanied by a pet duck , taking with you a sturdy windmill , which will enable you to generate your own power when the electricity is cut, an early Coca-Cola bottle , a large chess piece carved out of a coconut tree and a book of poetry by P.K. Beveridge, entitled Billabong. Wearing a wig sent to your wife as a Christmas present by a tattooed grandson gives a surreal atmosphere to the retreat and men in white coats will be gentle with you when they come to take you away. This photo taken on Magnetic Island, in an area of North Queensland known as Cyclone Alley, before a big blow ; patient and faithful duck are now resident in troppo Darwin .

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


NORTH POLE NEWSFLASH: Santa will not be coming to Australia next year. The 2012 Australian Christmas present run has been sub- contracted to Grey Nomads . In an exclusive interview, Father Christmas told Little Darwin the decision had been prompted by the sweaty Northern Territory conditions, cyclonic weather and a threatened strike by flighty reindeers who want better conditions than Jetstar's Asian staff . As Australia was overrun by Grey Nomads, pulling caravans that come complete with sooty chimneys, they were the ideal team to deliver Christmas presents , Santa explained.

As part of the much acclaimed, Bulldust Diaries, our roving litterateur, Peter Burleigh, with more literary decorations than the Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree has fairy lights , in his inimitable philosophical style, penned this article , below, while in the dusty north. It raises questions about the hordes of Grey Nomads touring the country and mirages encountered along the way.

Grey Nomads, fearlessly pioneering in their portable suburbs , will next year drink our grog and eat all the Christmas cake for nix.( Illustration drawn by Peter Burleigh while furtively roasting a squatter's jumbuck during his outback tour. After writing this brave article,acting on our advice, Burleigh joined the French Foreign Legion to avoid angry Grey Nomads, daggers drawn, foaming at the mouth, screaming for his blood . Already he and an imported NT racing camel from the Finke have won leading parts in a desert reshoot of Lawrence of Arabia.)


Small country towns seem very ill these days. Those I drove through recently were mere fossils of their former selves - but so are the tourists, the so-called Grey Nomads. They stop sometimes to buy bits and pieces, usually fried or battered. Uninterested and ignorant, they grumble about the prices. What can their mental processes be? I suppose we’ll have to wait for Gay Nomads to inject some style into the small town experience. It’ll cause a cultural upheaval amongst the locals, but if they’re going to survive they’d better be flexible.

Don’t get me wrong – it is ugly out here, but it gets its hooks into you. Australian desolation has shrugged off most of the efforts of men to convert it into something else. It won’t be converted. The roadside tells a story of a thousand ideas gone bad: citrus in Bourke, irrigation for berries, failed dams, big prawns and big oysters and other farcical tourism magnets...the list goes on.

The land reverberates with their crumbling echoes; the errors and the foundered dreams were repeated over and over again along this road and I guess many other roads. Images stay with you, as if the land wears its skeleton on the outside. An abandoned railway line, symbolic of an earlier prosperity, catches my eye. A wooden bridge has rotted away completely, leaving only the unsupported steel rails to span a dry creekbed. Only the ghost of an earlier time remains. From midday onward scudding cloud turns day into a matinee of twilight, and an inappropriate feverish yellow light suffuses the land.

And so to the demands of reality. Choosing a site in a caravan park is fraught with problems. People are watching you. Your rig and your camping skills are being evaluated. Your credentials, and by this I mean your manhood, is on the line. To make maximum money each site is as small as possible. If you drive a Matchbox toy you’ll fit OK. I learned to ask not for “a site” but for a “drive-through site”. If I can drive my camper-trailer rig through it I don’t have to reverse the damn thing. My insurance company’s bottom line is very healthy, solely due to my lousy reversing skills. Earlier today I stopped to help a guy who’d got himself into trouble by ploughing into the mud on the wrong side of the road. My tow strap pulled him out without much effort.

“How’d you get on this side of the road, mate?”
“Because that’s the way I’m goin’. Lost me concentration for a moment.”
But…” What business is it of mine if he is facing the wrong way and on the wrong side of the road? He climbs into his ute and starts off in reverse, passing me. He stops; he thinks he owes me an explanation. He knows reversing along the road might raise the eyebrow of a city slicker like me.
“Thanks,” he says. “Me gearbox is rooted. All I got is reverse gear.”
The mechanics’s up the road.” He detects my disbelief. “No problem,” he says. “It’s only fifteen K’s.” That’s reversing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Always on the prowl for oddities and rarities , a Little Darwin newshound here in Darwin has found details of Prince William’s future love life in a pile of Old Moore’s Almanacks dating back to the 1960s.

We immediately thought about flogging the story off to News of the World for a king’s ransom,or an Adelaide pie floater or something chewy from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, Sydney . Alas, News of the World is no more. Still there must be scores of quality (stet) celebrity(stet) magazines who will come knocking at our castle/dungeon door with fabulous offers for the titillating details once the word gets out on the 24 hour news (stet) cycle . ( As usual , our Little Ronnie Blackberry is already being hacked as we type this scoop.)

The Almanack for 1985 said the astrological chart for Prince William , a chubby , pleasant – faced , little nipper at the time , above , about 18 months old , revealed he would be endowed with natural charm and great charisma-features George V sadly lacked. Even at that early innocent stage of life , Wee Willy was described as "every inch a sovereign." Henry V111 was so described , if our recollection of British Royal hanyk panky is correct.

It went on to say that although William was fortunate to have Venus in his fifth house of love affairs , it was poorly aspected by Uranus , Neptune and Pluto ( a pet palace Corgi?).Clearly, it said, he was going to have problems with romance , likely to be highly attractive to the opposite sex; charming, debonair and amusing to boot.

History looked as if it would repeat itself ... But , like his father, he would need a woman he could love dearly. William would be exceedingly close to his mother – the ill-fated Princess Diana . With him "adoring her", he would look for similar qualities in his wife. Indications were that he would meet , fall in love and marry between the ages of 26 and 29. As it turned out , he was 29 when he married commoner Kate Middleton.

However, said geriatric Moore , the relationship would have initial problems and, later, in his early 40s, a pattern of emotional upheaval would emerge. Wait for it : "It is possible that William will marry twice , and it is in his second relationship that he will find happiness and fulfilment." Astrologically , Prince William’s chart appeared to be obscured by a London pea- souper when it came to predicting if he would become king, with indications of stormy times ahead for the Royal family( true).

SKIPPYMOBILE PREDICTION: The Almanack for 1960 made us pull over for a voluntary breathalyser test when we came across a giant kangaroo driving a sportscar!!!! It predicted , with a sketch, that the production of Australian made cars would reduce the demand for British built vehicles.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Saffron garbed monks were seen showing a keen interest in an attack helicopter at last week’s International Maritime and Air Show, Langkawi, Malaysia , according to a Little Darwin correspondent, renowned for making aeroplanes out of old wire coathangers in Australia, who attended what is one of the world’s major aviation events .

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Darwin's most respected newspaper-The Cullen Bay Cock Up-is now printed on environmentally friendly elephant dung paper . And its award winning editor, Argus Tuft,111, today challenged the Northern Territory News to produce its paper on some other kind of animal dung."It could try crocodile excreta , " suggested Tuft, pointing out that there is a lot of it in Darwin media circles.

Cullen Bay Cock Up reporting staff is shown above armed with long- handled shovels collecting dung from ceremonial elephants in Sri Lanka . The steaming dung was shipped to Darwin , mixed with the local fish and chips wrapper and turned into green newsprint in a secret process . Under intense questioning from Little Darwin , Tuft finally showed us the diagram , below, which illustrates how the high quality paper is produced with the help of intelligent elephants who never forget how to sit on reinforced toilets . Getting an elephant to sit on a dunny is the really hard part , according to Tuft who said being trampled by a constipated jumbo is worse than being bowled over in Mitchell Street on a Saturday night .

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Longtime Darwin journalist,Peter Murphy, is reported to be receiving palliative care in a Victorian hospital. Peter worked on the NT News and then had a long association with Chief Minister Paul Everingham. Pete asked this writer if he should take up the post as Everingham's media man . I advised in the affirmative, and said that with self -government in the offing and eventual statehood, working for "Porky", a doer and an interesting operator, there would never be a dull moment, which proved correct.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


A group led by Inpex is reported to have bought into the British Columbia shale gas company -Nexen Inc - for $700million. The deal involves an upfront payment of half the amount and the rest in capital spending by Inpex and the JGC Corp. A media report says Inpex has joined a rush by Asian based investors that have entered partnerships to develop Canadian energy resources. In other interesting Inpex news, not mentioned locally , it is said that the Japanese government ,with an 18 percent holding in Inpex, is likely to sell shares in the company to help finance the massive rebuilding task following the earthquake, double tsunami wave and the Fukushima disaster.

Monday, December 12, 2011


*In this dramatic reenactment of the murder of journalist Roger East by invading Indonesian soldiers in the East Timor capital, Dili,December 1975, Wesley-Smith plays the part of East. (Photograph by Darwin photo-journalist David Hancock.) *** ''Robert Wesley-Smith is an exemplar of perseverance and moral commitment. He played a leading part in the attempt to break the Indonesian blockade in 1976 and was a constant advocate, jeopardising his career as a Darwin agronomist and sacrificing his material resources for the cause of East Timor."- Statement by David Scott, OA, in his book, LAST FLIGHT OUT OF DILI, Pluto Press , Australia, 2005
While constantly fighting the good fight, during nearly 50 years residence in the Territory, Wesley-Smith has also been involved in numerous community sporting and social activities. That widespread involvement and commitment continues unabated today-despite an accident which saw him in Royal Darwin Hospital in an induced coma.

Apart from zooming about on his motorbike in earlier days, he played Aussie Rules for Wanderers; coached the under 19 Parap Wanderers Football Club to a premiership and also initiated the U15 Junior Football League where in its first year he acted as umpire, coach and water boy, and unsurprisingly ( his comment) won the inaugural premiership; planned and organised the first Banyili football carnival, now a major annual event; even coached the Kormilda College Girls’ Soccer side;long before the city boasted an orchestra, he played the trumpet in a seven- strong Anglican ensemble which competed in the North Australian Eisteddfod and saw David Gulpilil ,about 16,performing a stunning tribal dance, awarded third prize,which Wes firmly believes should have been the winning entry; made a submission to a parliamentary inquiry which may have led to a shake up in Aboriginal education in the NT ; sang in choirs ; wrote numerous letters to newspapers; had his own newspaper column-WESVIEW-in the independent newspaper,the Darwin Star,which gave the NT News a run for its money; played a leading part in setting up the NT Civil Liberties Council( more later in another Little Darwin special report. )

Over a glass of soft drink, Wes ruminated on this less than complete list , throwing in many amusing anecdotes, some a mite scurrilous, laughing from time to time. "I got involved in a lot of shit," he admitted, smiling impishly . Indeed. A Catholic cleric researching aspects of Darwin life wanted to know if this Wesley-Smith person,mentioned so many times, was one person or a clan.

Due to frequent contact with union officials ,Wes was introduced to a new arrival from the Miscellaneous Workers’ Union, Sydney,Jon Isaacs,who later became the ALP NT Leader of the Opposition. Wes put forward the case that unions should take up the cause of Aboriginal rights and advancement , irrespective of the fact that they were not paid up members. It would be nigh on impossible trying to sell the idea of unions and membership to Aborigines, he told them. It is his belief that he persuaded the MWU that it should waive the membership rule in respect of Aborigines and this attitude spread to other unions.

About this time, he consulted a lawyer he knew and was referred to a new legal eagle in town, Ian Barker, who became a QC, the NT's first Solicitor General ,who spoke out about the sacking of the Whitlam Government by Sir John Kerr and a key figure in the Azaria Chamberlain case.

Off to Russia went Wes in 1974 to attend the International Grasslands Congress. The party observed pasture trials conducted higher than Mt Kosciusko. On a rotating basis, Wes was elected the leader at a function where he made a speech that included a few jokes, explained through an interpreter, which the hosts apparently appreciated because they laughed. While there he was introduced to kumus, fermented mares mik, which he downed in Territory fashion; some in the party gagged when they took a sip.

Also known as Milk Champagne, kumus was reputed to be good for chronic diseases such as TB, bronchitis,catarrh and anaemia. It is said that the Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov, the latter suffering from TB, took the "Kumus Cure". Chekhov was not cured, but put on much weight. Some finicky people found the old habit of putting the dregs from kumus cups back into the main storage container for later use off-putting.

As part of tours associated with the congress ,the party travelled through the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan-Tashkent and Samakand , the latter on the old Silk Road, one of the oldest cities in the world ; Tajikistan , Kazakhstan and Frunze the then beautiful capital of Kyrgystan,named after a close buddy of Lenin,the city laid out in a spectacular grid pattern with wide boulevards, most streets flanked on both sides by narrow irrigation channels ,numerous trees providing shade in hot summers. Wes said Frunze’s main street had something like 16 footpaths and roadways, greenery ,three bike tracks. The locals took a shine to Wes and called him a " Kyrgys-beck," a true friend who would return one day.

[ So impressed was he by the layout of Frunze he later urged Whitlam Government minister for cities and urban development , Tom Uren ,to visit the city for inspiration on how to beautify Australian cities , kindly offering to go along as his advisor and guide, at the same time availing himself of the opportunity to down some more kumus .]

At the end of the visit ,there was an elaborate dinner in Tashkent which included girls in national dress dancing and serving . A large jug of kumus was sent to Wes and everyone laughed. He responded by taking the jug back to the top table and told his hosts he did not want to deprive them of such a fine drop and told them to have a swig themselves.

Preparing for departure at an airport , Wes took some photos. A KGB type, with whom Wes had become friendly during the visit, hastily advised him to desist , as he could get into trouble, it being the Cold War, and an airport regarded as a military installation. A New Zealander who took snaps had his camera confiscated and the film removed .

Because of Wes’s prominent part in Darwin’s anti-Vietnam War protests and involvement in other issues,unions invited Wes to meet Jose Ramos Horta from East Timor when he made his first visit to Darwin in 1974, seeking support from Canberra and the media for Fretilin and East Timor independence in light of Portugal’s declaration of self determination for its colonies. Horta pointed out Timor residents had helped Australian troops stranded on the island during WW11 and many of them had been killed by the Japanese for doing so.

On June 17,1974,the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Adam Malik, sent a letter to Horta , whom he had met in Jakarta,stating that the recent changes in Lisbon, Portugal,offered a "good opportunity to the people of Timor to accelerate the process towards independence."
Minister Malik went on to say that whoever governed Timor after independence could be "assured" that the Indonesian government would always strive to have good relations, friendship and cooperation for the benefit of both countries. The letter ended:"With my best wishes and warm regards to you and to all the people in Timor."

It was decided by Darwin unionists that a committee should be formed to deal with the East Timor issue and that Wes be in it because of his experience. As often happens with committees,it became almost a one man band,partly due to his dogged determination and application.

About Christmas 1974,Wes, through a friend, sent some seeds to a Fretilin member in Dili , Nicolau Lobato, East Timor’s first Prime Minister,one of 17 ministers sworn in at the birth of the nation, shortly before the Indonesian onslaught. Then Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin.

One of those who came to Darwin as a result of the cyclone was veteran journalist Roger East. He was on the personal staff of the head of the interim Darwin Reconstruction Commission, Sir Leslie Thiess. Somehow, during that chaotic post cyclone period, Wes did not meet East. The fact that East gave up his secure, highly paid job , packed his fishing rod, and went off to Dili to help Fretilin, with the active support of Horta,impressed Wes. East,who could have flown out to safety in Darwin, remained and was shot and thrown into the sea when the Indonesians invaded Dili.

Roger East , arrowed, at Darwin Reconstruction Commission media conference.On his right is his longtime friend, reporter Peter Blake, now in New York. The woman is social and travel writer, the late Joy Collins. Another journalist,Bruce Brammall, from Canberra , also known as Warty J. Warthog, is far right.

Once the invasion took place, Wes, shocked and appalled, threw himself into the cause and fought long and hard for the beleaguered country. Wes became involved in a problem associated with the sale in Darwin of East Timor coffee,worth $38,000. It had been sold on behalf of the Timorese by Cypriot Sydney jeweller, Jim Zantis. The money was lodged in the Commonwealth Bank and one of the two signatories required for its release was killed during the Indonesian invasion. When the bank refused to hand over the money, Fretilin was desperately in need of the money. Wes suggested forging the signature; Horta , was not amenable to his audacious solution. The money remained frozen in the bank until after Timor-Leste voted for independence in 1999. NEXT: Wes and others take on the moral turpitude of the world’s political elite who turned a blind eye to the slaughter in East Timor, our nextdoor neighbour.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Even though the exterior graffiti had been roughly covered up on the once proud art deco Commonwealth Bank building,above, at the corner of Bennett and Smith Streets, US President Barack Obama may have thought it was a reminder of our Pearl Harbour when he drove by on his short visit.

Bombed by the Japanese , the building was repaired and for many years regarded as a fine example of Darwin’s tropical architecture-along with the Hotel Darwin , known as the Duchess of Darwin , it sadly flattened by developers during the night , despite community attempts to prevent the demolition .

A panoramic view of the Commonwealth Bank featured in the 1970s Department of the Interior publication , DARWIN...A WAY OF LIFE, showing mini- skirted girls, palms and a Mini-Moke outside the impressive building. Taken by Matt Kent, the above photo of President Obama’s motorcade passing the forlorn former bank building, ear-marked for re-development, shows signs of wear and tear, covered up graffiti patches , a decapitated palm tree. Below : The bank in the 1960s when it was a busy part of the CBD, much admired and photographed by tourists .

Friday, December 9, 2011


The late Sir Zelman Cowen, above, had some frightening experiences in Darwin . A sub-lieutenant in the Naval Reserve, he was in Darwin the night news came through about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour , December 7,1941. He read signals conveying the shock news of the “day of infamy”. As the duty officer, he had to decide whether to wake the frightening skipper , Captain E.P. Thomas, and inform him of the momentous raid.

He described the scary task of interrupting the captain's slumber thus :"I must say that there was no man with whom or for whom I have ever worked of whom I was more frightened than Captain E.P. Thomas. I woke him , handed him the signals, which he took calmly and meekly enough, and then, presumably, for I know not went on in the houses of frightening captains , went back to bed ."

Then the Japanese bombed Darwin on February 19,1942 , and Cowen dived for cover; he was sent south to a naval hospital in April or May.

When vice -chancellor of Queensland University, Zelman Cowen had dealings with author Xavier Herbert , a staunch republican , who wrote the Territory based books Capricornia and Poor Fellow my Country. When Cowen was knighted in 1976, Herbert sent him a “fearsome letter”of denunciation , saying he had done a terrible thing.

Herbert fired another fearsome broadside at Sir Zelman when he became the Governor- General,saying he ( Herbert )could have nothing further to do with him because he had become the representative of the worst type of elitism there is-hereditary rule. That isolation would continue unless he indicated he had taken the post to "white- ant" the office and become the first administrator of a free nation. Sir Zelman did not reply, according to Herbert.

Just to indicate the depth of his anger, Herbert said he would throw rocks on the roof of the vice-regal residence , Yarralumla, while Sir Zelman was enthroned there. However , during a visit to Cairns , Sir Zelman contacted Herbert and they dined together. A reader of the Cairns Post asked what Xavier Herbert, arch republican, was doing hobnobbing with the Governor-General. In reply, Herbert said he was trying to white-ant the GG and also draw attention to the subject of republicanism . Another reason was that Sir Zelman was helping honour Sadie, Herbert’s late wife, whose painting had been put on display in Cairns . Sir Zelman had a sketch of Xavier Herbert by artist Ray Crooke in his private collection.

Herbert sent Sir Zelman the typescript section dealing with the bombing of Darwin in Poor Fellow My Country for comment; he replied saying it was just as he had seen it- " from the deepest dugout in town."

In 1978 , Sir Zelman again came " under fire " in Darwin - outrageous verbal abuse and even flying eggs. The extraordinary event involved the ceremonial opening of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Part of the action took part in the street outside the Assembly. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and daughter sat on a dais; some people expressed political displeasure- catcalling, waving placards, one against Pancontinental, and jeering. When Chief Minister Paul Everingham arrived there was some hearty booing. He responded with a distinctive hand motion, which caused louder shouting. Intelligence came through that there were several dozen eggs "out there ". Some suddenly grew wings and flew through the air . The Governor- General bravely drove up and inspected a naval guard of honour - see photo at top of post . Police were anxiously standing by ready to deflect an egg with a lightning hand movement like a ninja turtle or grab anyone who looked like chucking one .

At a subsequent parliamentary debate over the official opening, Everingham said some terrible things had been shouted as the GG went about his duty, and mentioned one particularly nasty statement which applied to the GG. According to Everingham, the honour naval guard probably had to restrain themselves from turning on those responsible for the abuse. It was decided that a special copy of the Hansard covering the opening debate should not include the offensive personal abuse allegedly directed at Sir Zelman.

After Sir Zelman stepped down as the Queen’s representative in Australia, he later supported the republic in a public letter . Herbert’s rock throwing may have influenced that decision after all . In any case, Herbert contacted recipients of the first Order of Australia and scornfully said they were based on the old Imperial Honours and should be returned.One of those who did return the O.A- which Herbert dubbed the "Order of Arseholes"-was H. C. "Nugget" Coombs, an ardent campaigner for Aboriginal rights and reconciliation.

Sir Zelman, flanked by ramrod-straight personal secretary and aide-de-camp, looking somewhat apprehensive at the official opening of the Northern Territory Assembly after the hijnks that went on outside the building. Following the entertainment and refreshments after the opening, Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, held an impromptu media conference outside the toilets and warned "the chooks" that Aboriginal land rights would be a disaster for the NT ; Doug Anthony , in effect , told Joh to put a sock in his gob , as it was a special Territory occasion.---By Peter Simon

Thursday, December 8, 2011


The incredible silence over the glaring spelling errors in the western wall of the Darwin War Memorial continues. Not far from the major 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin , the Chief Minister, the Darwin City Council, the RSL ,the media, assorted historians , armchair generals are all suffering lockjaw .

While Chief Minister Henderson is happy to make a pronouncement about a public holiday for Territorians to mark the bombing, he has not answered questions put to him by Little Darwin through his conduit, Fred McCue, about what HE is doing to correct the memorial snafu , embarrassing for the Territory's image.

These are the errors carved in large letters in the granite : NETHERLAND’S EAST INDIES, which should be NETHERLANDS EAST INDIES; PHILLIPINES , which should be PHILIPPINES and UNITED NATION PEACEKEEPING , which should be UNITED NATIONS PEACEKEEPING.

For these errors to have remained uncorrected for so long reflects adversely on Darwin. Little Darwin raised this matter more than a year ago . THE SITUATION CALLS FOR REAL ACTION .

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Birdlife in North Queensland has taken a hammering, according to a Little Darwin correspondent. The recent annual count of Torres Strait Pigeons on Hinchinbrook Island was exceptionally low-about 2800.Usually the figure is nearer 25,000. Cyclone Yasi battered the NQ coast in February . It ripped through the controversial Port Hinchinbrook marina near Cardwell , where 40 vessels were destroyed and damaged , some hurled into houses and down streets by the surge . After much public opposition, the marina was built by Gold Coast entrepreneur Keith Williams ,who also built Sea World.

Large tracts of vegetation along the coast were badly damaged by the cyclonic winds and tidal surge . With tops torn from many trees , vines have grown up trunks, stifling regrowth and reducing feed for pigeons and other birds. Each year large numbers of pigeons from the NT , New Guinea and parts of Cape York descend on Hinchinbrook . Torres Strait Pigeons can be seen nesting in Darwin now. Recent cyclonic weather reduced the amount of nuts available for Cassowaries resulting in them invading settled areas and being run down by vehicles. Silt laden run off along the coast has killed seagrass beds leading to the death of many turtles and dugongs

Thursday, December 1, 2011

THE (UN)QUIET AUSTRALIAN, DARWIN'S ROBERT WESLEY-SMITH. Part 2 of special dossier by Peter Simon.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam shakes the hand of Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari at the historic August 16,1975 first act of land restitution to Aboriginal people - handing over the pastoral lease to 1250 square miles at Wattie Creek, NT, part of Vestey's Wave Hill Station, successful end to a mammoth struggle which involved Wesley–Smith, his wife, Jan,and many others from near and far, including crusading editor Jim Bowditch, author Frank Hardy and veteran Communist campaigner , Brian Manning .

At Adelaide University,Robert Wesley-Smith studied first year agricultural science–physics, chemistry, botany and zoology,the first two subjects proving difficult. A decision was made for Wes, with finance from his grandmothers, to resume studies at the University of New England, Armidale, NSW. Within 14 hours of this decision, Wes was on his way. In Armidale, he became a member of the Australian Christian Movement and joined the church choir, conducted by Professor Neville Fletcher,a professor of physics, reputed to have written a one page thesis disproving Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The choir gathered three quarters of an hour before the service to practice what they would sing, which did not leave much time for rehearsal. The college was run by Dick Udy ,one of three brothers who had worked as Methodist missionaries in Fiji, and who later headed the NT Uniting Church. One day Wes was asked to participate in a debate WHY I AM A CHRISTIAN,in the affirmative.The choir master, who had supposedly debunked Einstein’s famous theory, surprisingly, took an opposing view,justifying his stance by saying that while he was not a Christian, he liked participating in music.

Faced with the choice of becoming an agronomist in New Guinea or the Northern Territory, Wes chose the NT. During the college holiday at the end of 1962, he came to Darwin and had a quick look about the place during two months here. Accommodated at the Mitchell Street Mess, he shared a room with a meteorologist who wrote the weather forecasts. Intrigued by such a job, Wes asked his roommate if he could write the forecast , did so, and his prediction, which went out over the radio, was for afternoon monsoonal showers- about 4.21, when public servants knocked off -spot on. The weather was more predictable in those days, he said, blaming global warming for the current apparent uncertain variations.

A keen Australian Rules player, he went along to some matches and was not impressed.The Territory Rice Humpty Doo project, into which American and Australian money had been invested, supposed to turn the Territory into a food bowl for Asia, was on its last legs. Wes went out and inspected the venture.

Three years later
, he lobbed back in Darwin with his rural science degree, the first NT Commonwealth cadet agronomist to graduate ; after only one day in town, hardly any time for his feet to touch the ground, he was sent to be the sole scientist at the agricultural research farm/station at Tortilla Flats, named after the Steinbeck novel,on the Adelaide River. It had the reputation of being a place where no scientist lasted long. Nobody informed him that at the nearby Beatrice Hill rice project,some years previously,a 21 year old man had shot himself dead with a.303 rifle inserted in his mouth ,seconds after his friends, thinking he was joking, dared him to do so during a late night drinking session.

Tortilla Flats became the support base for three adjacent pilot farms , rice being one of the crops . Rice paddies were fed by water pumped from the river. Wes, the Christian chorister, came armed with a “weapon”-a trumpet-on which he tootled at night from the edge of the rice paddies, disturbing the Magpie Geese, frogs,mossies and crocodiles. With his background,his trumpeting could be seen as emulating that biblical event outside the walls of Jericho. Field days were organised at which Wes spread the agricultural gospel to the Steinbeckian sod busters.

A carpenter who worked next to Tortilla Flats, Brian Manning ,from Mt Isa,also musically inclined, played the saxophone. Manning came into Darwin at weekends to play in a band at the RSL Club and enjoyed the good meals there, the tucker situation at Tortilla Flats being rough and ready. Manning, who became an airport fireman, a leading Darwin Communist and waterside worker, would have many dealings with Wes in struggles for social justice and freedom , ranging from Aboriginal rights to the East Timor struggle. Manning particularly recalls that he had been most impressed by the way Wes explained technical matters to farmers at Tortilla Flats.

Wes bought himself a Yamaha and liked hitting the outback trails. Involved with the motocrosse club, he drove the water truck around its track, and won the first NT championship in a competition against more experienced riders from Alice Springs,going on to win another two championships. Astride his bike, he rode out to the Nourlangie safari camp when it was run by the so-called Great White Hunter , Allan Stewart. Stewart regularly played the bugle at the Anzac Day dawn ceremony in Darwin. In conversation between the two, Stewart, who liked a drop of rum, said his bugle had become inoperable. Wes examined the instrument and soon had it playing,impressing the White Hunter. A colourful character,Stewart, who had stood for political seats in NSW, had been a PR for the Territory Rice project ; he and Wes discussed the project and why it had failed.

Once a fortnight Wes attended church at Batchelor and stayed with the manager of the Rum Jungle uranium mine. Redtape “ drove everybody mad”at Tortilla Flats. Wes was furious with the restrictions, time wasting and dithering he encountered dealing with head office in Darwin , thus establishing a long and wordy confrontation with “ the system.” Wes complained to the experiment farm manager, Stan Brett, the person who dealt with requisitions from Tortilla Flats; he responded by picking up the outstanding paperwork and consigned it to the bin,never to be heard of again. There was a radio link between Tortilla Flats and Darwin through which Wes voiced his frustrations from time to time.

Getting a dollar biro cost at least $17 due to the excessive redtape involved , Wes reckoned. On another occasion, Wes asked for a can of CRC,handy for spraying on wet spark plugs, and it was knocked back because a clerk said he had a diesel vehicle on the farm. In any case, Wes bought a can, and when a visitor to the farm crossed a stream and conked out because of a wet ignition, he quickly got the vehicle going. It irked him that “ a flea-bitten clerk” could tell a scientist how to do his job. There was a clerk at head office who always had a pile of files on his desk, which were slowly processed. When that fellow went on holiday, his stand-in cleared the files in a few days.

As a result of bucking the system and pointing out absurdities , Wes was inevitably branded a “trouble maker.”A person so regarded by many in government, right wingers, public servants and others- left wing author,Frank Hardy,then influenced Wes. After reading Hardy’s 1968 book,The Unlucky Australians, about the Gurindji and their struggles at Wattie Creek,Wes and his partner, Jan Marie Ridgeway, an art schoolteacher, decided to visit the settlement during the Christmas holidays.[ Wes only met Frank Hardy once, probably after a May Day March in Darwin,and was not overly impressed as Frank seemed more interested in other matters.]

A striking painting , on bark, by Jan.

As a result of that first visit to Wattie Creek,Jan and Wes became involved in the cause , bringing them into frequent contact with Brian Manning and Moira and George Gibbs,the last two also union activists. Jan taught at Nightcliff High ,was employed in the Darwin High library and then went into head office in the curriculum development section. After making each trip to Wattie Creek, Wes would call in at the Northern Territory News and discuss the situation with crusading editor, Jim Bowditch, making suggestions for improving conditions.

Girls from Kormilda College posing with Jan-in her frocks.

Bowditch,personally involved in the Gurindji struggle and a close friend of Frank Hardy, at times ran Wes’s observations and letters as news stories, describing him as a human rights activist. The relationship with Bowditch grew ,Wes saying he was inspired by the editor, describing him as a great human being, a fearless and enlightened crusader. Jim invited Wes, a non drinker at the time, to drop in for a snort late at night when the paper was being put to bed. The newspaper stories quoting Wes kept the issue alive , got improvements in services for Aborigines and helped inform the general community about numerous issues.

At times Wes returnedby car from Wattie Creek with Gurindji members who stayed at his house, calling at places like Kulaluk and Bagot. On one trip Vincent Lingiari and his wife were passengers; Vincent’s wife saw Katherine and the sea for the first time. On another occasion Vincent camped at the Bagot reserve for several days and Wes was ordered off the grounds when he was seen talking to him on the lawn inside the front gate.

Printed comments attributed to him at times contained criticism of government which raised eyebrows as he was a public servant. Nevertheless, he refused to be gagged. His involvement with the Gurindjis and the anti- Vietnam War movement resulted in him being watched by ASIO. ASIO even checked to see if Wesley-Smith had been absent from Darwin to get married in Adelaide.[ Yes, he did tie the knot, in the grounds of the property of his cousin who became the NT Supreme Court Chief Justice.]

Wes, Moira Gibbs and Brian Manning were in a group which formed the first directors of the Murramulla-Gurindji Cattle Company , which after three months was passed over to the control of the Gurindji. Persuasive Wesley-Smith was able to get approval from the Animal Industry and Agriculture Department director, Barry Hart, to deliver the first cattle in a government truck. Hart also later okayed giving the part-Brahman herd being replaced with higher grade Brahmans at the Katherine Research Station Farm to the Gurindji, delivered by road trains to Daguragu. To this day,Wes regards this generous act as remarkable.

Wes played a little known- very important part-in a major event in the history of Aboriginal land rights when PM, Gough Whitlam, handed over Wattie Creek to the Gurindji and symbolically poured soil into the hand of Vincent Lingiari. Involved in the planning for the function, Wes provided a bottle of champagne for the occasion,and gave it to the PM. Gough first offered the champagne to Vincent–probably the first time he had tasted champers. Then Whitlam had a swig , but some of the media rushed over and asked the PM to hold it there so that photographs could be taken.

As the fluid cascaded down the PM’s ample throat, Wes shouted," Fair go,Gough,you’ll drink the bloody lot!" The PM responded,"Keep your hair on,Wesley."[ Wes attended this year's anniversary at Daguragu/Kalkarinji and was ignored by the media, yet he was warmly welcomed by the Gurindji. Frank Hardy's son, a lawyer, was there, and Wes told him how the book The Unlucky Australians had impacted on his life. ] NEXT: Championing many other causes,the arrival of Vietnamese refugees, an unusual Russian drinking session and the long fight for East Timor. *** Lingiari/Whitlam photos from Peter Simon Collection;others Robert Wesley-Smith Archives .