Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 29 March 2015

We Are All Boat People

Pic courtesy Catholic Leader

To celebrate St Patrick's Day the Tuesday before last, today's Catholic Leader ran a report which reminds us that many early Irish settlers were refugees, and boat people.

Like the people in the report, I have no problem identifying as a descendant of these boat people. My ancestors came out on the actual boat mentioned in the Leader. That  boat was the Erin-Go-Bragh.

Here is an extract from the story -

“It was a long journey, a six-month journey, the longest journey to Australia of any boat, with 54 deaths, one of the highest deaths of any boat,” Mr Nayler said. “The passengers nicknamed her the ‘Erin-go-Slow’.”

The Erin-go-Bragh has close ties with the Brisbane archdiocese, having been helped by the city’s first bishop.

“The incredible story of the Erin-go-Bragh was perhaps our archdiocese’s earliest efforts at supporting economic refugees and helped to develop our great state of Queensland,” Mr Nayler said.

In 1861, during a potato famine, Irish families in Country Offaly were forced to leave their land but, being poor, “begged” a local Catholic priest Fr Paddy Dunne to send them to Australia.

Fr Dunne contacted the Brisbane Bishop James Quinn and, with help from the Queensland Immigration Society, organised a passage from Ireland to Moreton Bay.

Erin-Go-Bragh. Artist Rodney Charman.

My ancestor on the Erin-Go-Bragh was my Great Great Grandmother. Here is the narrative as my dad wrote it after some research he did a few years before he died -

On the 1st August 1862, the sailing ship Erin-Go-Bragh anchored in Moreton Bay. She had previously been known as the Florida and was the first fully Irish immigrant ship to arrive in the Australian colonies. It was known popularly as the Erin go Slow because of the length of time the voyage from Cork (Queenstown) had taken. It had left Cork for Brisbane on the 7th February 1862. It was 1111 in tonnage, its length was 250 feet and it carried (officially) three hundred and eighty-seven passengers. I say officially, because from what I have read, it carried quite a few more unofficial passengers as well. Its master was George Borlase.

The issues of the Brisbane Courier of August 2nd and August 11th 1862 reports on its arrival and the voyage. It had left Queenstown with 431 migrants. On the fourth day after leaving, Typhoid fever and Scarlatina broke out on board. During the voyage, as a result, fifty-four deaths occurred, most of those dying being children. The winds were light and variable, and there were other mishaps besides the sickness.

At Liverpool, a religious bigot managed to get on board, with an augur, after lifting the copper lining in places, bored holes in the fervent hope that the ship would go down with its papist cargo. Legend has it (and it is true, according to Father T P Boland, a well qualified historian of the Catholic Church in Queensland), the man responsible was a Scot named Douglas. He himself later became a migrant to Queensland, and married here. The irony was that when he did “fall” for a girl, it was for an Irish Catholic. The children were reared as Catholics, and they and their descendants provided Catholic barristers, judges, doctors and priests who made great contributions to Queensland over the years. Pumps had to work continuously on the voyage. Off the Cape of Good Hope, fire broke out on board. As a result of this, the ship ran short of water and had to put in to Capetown to replenish its supply. This added a thousand kilometres to the voyage.

So long was the ship in arriving in Botany Bay, that the Archbishop of Brisbane, Bishop Quinn, wrote to Queensland’s Colonial Secretary, R. G. Herbert, stating his concern about its whereabouts.

When it did arrive, after almost two hundred days, it was held at anchorage (because of typhoid fever) near St Helena Island. After eleven days, the passengers were transshipped and landed near the present Customs House in Queen St.

The Erin-Go-Bragh did not make it back to Ireland. The last heard of the ship was that she was seen in Calcutta in October 1863.

One of the passengers on board the Erin-Go-Bragh was a nineteen year old orphan girl from Tullamore named Catherine Ryan. She became my Great Grandmother.

The Queensland Immigration Council was formed by Quinn, Queensland’s first bishop. He had arrived in Brisbane in May 1861, bringing five priests and six nuns with him.

At that time, there were thousands of people homeless near Tullamore. Many were, like Catherine Ryan, orphans. Orphans were common in Irish famine times and the great famines had occurred in the forties. Neighbours reared the orphans, because among the poor, there appeared more kindness than was apparent in industrial, political, or court circles of the time.

The reason for the number of homeless people near Tullamore was that Lord Digby, an absentee English landlord, wanted to rear sheep on his estate there. This meant that the tenants were expelled. These Irish tenants, unlike tenants in England, had no legal rights.

In Tullamore was a priest named Paddy Dunne. He had been in Ballarat in Victoria but returned to Ireland after a dispute with a bishop. It was he who suggested to James Quinn that these displaced people should go to Queensland.

There are a number of historical parallels between the boat people on the Erin-Go-Bragh and those who arrived in this country a few years ago, and are now banged up in detention centres.

They were, like the Irish, forced out of their native lands as a consequence of disaster. In the case of the Irish - a famine. In the case of the Vietnamese and people from the Middle East, war and persecution.

The British (who ran the colony at the time) had a moral responsibility for the parlous state of Ireland at the time. We (Australians) have responsibilities for the Vietnamese and refugees from the Middle East because of our military involvement. There is a very clear historical thread running through this issue.

The Irish were feared and hated, much in the same way that Middle-Eastern refugees (and to a lesser extent the Vietnamese) were feared and hated. The Irish were regarded as dirty, would out breed the British, and they were Catholic. The term in use was "dirty Tykes".

There was no organised political exploitation of the issue in 1862 and in the 1970/80s. It took Howard's grubby use of the Tampa incident and Labor's acquiescence to his shameful policies to destroy what was a proud and noble record.

It was probably just as well that my dad wasn't alive to see it. He would have been deeply ashamed.

We are all boat people.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Iraq in Hindsight

Pic courtesy Daily Maverick

It's groundhog day - we're back in Iraq.

That's hardly surprising looking at recent history. After all, Vietnam set the template.
We follow the Yanks.

Our own strategic interests are subsumed to those of the US. You know, I'd be OK with that, if we got to vote in US congressional and presidential elections. Most Yanks couldn't care less - so they don't vote.

Again, given that I wasn't considered worthy of having a vote as a conscript on his way to an American inspired conflict back in 1969, I should not be surprised. Get used to it - that's the way it was........that's the way it is. At least these days the diggers are volunteers.That is a change for the better.

What hasn't changed is that we persist in fighting other people's wars.

Anyway, I came across this piece by Ron Paul in Townhall.com

There are two rather surprising aspects of this article. One is the journal in which it was published. The other is its content.

In summary, Paul (an arch-conservative) is saying that involvement in Iraq was a great strategic blunder. I couldn't agree more, and of course, we're still reaping the whirlwind of Bush's Texan Machismo (because that was what was driving him).

The piece in full -

 Twelve years ago last week, the U.S. launched its invasion of Iraq, an act the late General William Odom predicted would turn out to be "the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history." 

Before the attack I was accused of exaggerating the potential costs of the war when I warned that it could end up costing as much as $100 billion. One trillion dollars later, with not one but two "mission accomplished" moments, we are still not done intervening in Iraq. 

President Obama last year ordered the U.S. military back into Iraq for the third time. It seems the Iraq "surge" and the Sunni "Awakening," for which General David Petraeus had been given much credit, were not as successful as was claimed at the time. From the sectarian violence unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq emerged al-Qaeda and then its more radical spin-off, ISIS. So Obama sent the U.S. military back. 

We recently gained even more evidence that the initial war was sold on lies and fabrications. The CIA finally declassified much of its 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was the chief document used by the Bush Administration to justify the U.S. attack. According to the Estimate, the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded, "[W]e are unable to determine whether [biological weapons] agent research has resumed... the information we have on Iraqi nuclear personnel does not appear consistent with a coherent effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program." 

But even as the U.S. Intelligence Community had reached this conclusion, President Bush told the American people that Iraq, "possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons" and "the evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program." 

Likewise, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's "bulletproof" evidence that Saddam Hussein had ties with al-Qaeda was contradicted by the National Intelligence Estimate, which concluded that there was no operational tie between Hussein's government and al-Qaeda. 

Even National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice's famous statement that the aluminum tubes that Iraq was purchasing "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," and "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," was based on evidence she must have known at the time was false. According to the NIE, the Energy Department had already concluded that the tubes were "consistent with applications to rocket motors" and "this is the more likely end use." 

It is hard to believe that in a society supposedly governed by the rule of law, US leaders can escape any penalty for using blatantly false information - that they had to know at the time was false - to launch a pre-emptive attack on a country that posed no threat to the United States. The fact that they got away with it simply makes it all the easier for Washington's interventionists to try the same tricks again. They already did with Libya and Syria. It is likely they are also doing the same with claims of a Russian "invasion" of Ukraine. 

Last week President Obama correctly blamed the current chaos in Iraq on the Bush Administration's decision to invade. He said, "... ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion. Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot." 

However, if the U.S. intervention in Iraq created the "unintended consequences" of ISIS and al-Qaeda, how is it that more US intervention can solve the problem? 

A war based on lies cannot be fixed by launching another war. We must just march home. And stay home.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


The poverty pack Ambiente. Awful colour ("Midnight Sky")

Yes, I know, comparisons can be odious, but I write this for myself, gentle reader, and if you aren’t interested, it makes no difference to me.

The slightly up market Trend

I’m referring to a motoring comparison, that of the poverty pack ford Focus (rejoicing in the title of “Ambiente”), and the mid-range model, that Ford calls the “Trend”.

I have no idea where Ford derives their nomenclature. If there is a living human being responsible, I would apply for his/her job, because I reckon I could do it better.

The comparison became possible because she who must be obeyed (the fleet manager) allotted me a Focus Ambiente (the most basic version of the breed) to take West this week. I was able to drive this thing about 1000kms across three days.

It was instructive to climb behind the wheel of one version, whilst living with another (our Focus “Trend”) since last year when we bought it new.

The mechanical differences are substantial (different motor and gearing) and the trim differences significant. When we bought our Trend, cruise control, which I consider essential, wasn’t available on the Ambiente. It is now.

This was one of the main reasons for shelling out the extra. The Trend is still pretty basic with lots of hard plastic inside. In the Ambiente, it’s much the same, but lacks the silver highlights which are a feature of the Trend. Whatever……

Of greater significance are the mechanical differences. The Trend has a 2000cc motor, whereas the Ambiente gets away with 1600cc. Gearing is slightly taller in the Trend (2200rpm at 100kph as compared with 2750 in the Ambiente).

Whilst I’m not completely sure, I suspect that the Trend has a different power steering setup – electric/hydraulic as opposed to straight hydraulic in the cheaper version.

There are minor differences in the upholstery quality and the Trend has driving lights. That’s about it.

Translated to the driving experience, you’ll notice the more generous torque of the Trend, which becomes quite apparent when overtaking. On the other hand, the old-fashioned power steering setup in the Ambiente, to my way of thinking, retains more road feel. Both versions handle excellently well, something that has been a feature of small Fords for a while.

The six speed auto compensates well for the shortcomings of the smaller motor, although both versions feature lurchy transitions in the lower gears. Every now and then, the tranny dithers before selecting the appropriate gear. It’s a minor irritation.

The Ambiente seemed to exhibit slightly more road noise, although tyre fit and profile (Michelin - 205/60 R16) is identical.

In summary, it’s debatable whether the Trend is worth the extra two grand, although both versions are reliable and fun to drive. The Ambiente is slightly more economical on a long run – low sevens as compared to seven/eights.

Perhaps this is the car that Ford should have been building locally. At one point they planned to….

Saturday, 14 March 2015


The Bone is almost in the centre of the map. Look for the centre and move your eyes to the left and up.

The older you get, the more anniversaries you accumulate.

Yesterday (Friday 13th March) is an anniversary of sorts for me. The last Friday March 13th I lived through was in the year 2009.  

The one I remember best however was Friday 13th March 1970.

If you will indulge me, gentle reader, I will tell a short war story, triggered by this anniversary.

On Friday 13th March 1970 my rifle platoon was patrolling near the Song Rai (a small river) in Phuoc Tuy province, South Vietnam.

We were tromping through decayed paddy and bamboo, interspersed with light scrub, the kind of country depicted in light green in army ordinance maps. Our formation was single file, and I was third last in line in the platoon, as my section was trailing, and there were two diggers behind me.

There was supposed to be a fair gap (over 500 metres) between us and 4 platoon which was bringing up the rear in a company move. We were on our first long operation in country – Operation Finschhafen.

We had been resupplied by chopper that morning, so backpacks were full and heavy.  It was stinking hot, we had been on the move all day, and water was being consumed at a rate threatening our meagre supplies. It was about 3.30pm.

I had a specific job to do, and was the only digger in the platoon doing it. I have no idea if other platoons followed the same practice. The practice I’m referring to is counting paces. This was achieved by clicking a sheep counter which was taped to the stock of my SLR. I would, every 500 paces, pass a signal up the line to the platoon commander (we called him the “skipper”).

This was used to assist with navigation, something not straightforward in this terrain, although it was even more difficult in jungle with lots of secondary growth.

I have no idea why I was singled out for this task. Perhaps because I was a teacher in Civvy Street, the skipper had assumed I could count. The task was not a burden, and it helped me maintain concentration, or in army parlance, staying “switched on”.

We had just traversed a small clearing (I think it was called the “bone” because of its shape on the maps), when all hell broke loose.

Rounds were landing amongst us, and the vegetation was being chopped to pieces by this small arms fire. You never forget the distinctive angry snap of incoming fire. I recall it as clearly and sharply as if it were yesterday.

Instinctively, I went to ground, dropped my back, and found what cover was available. There wasn’t much in this spot.

The firing stopped as quickly as it had started. Company headquarters had heard two almost simultaneous transmissions – “Contact front” from four platoon and “contact rear” from five platoon.

It didn’t require much imagination to realise that this was a “friendly fire” incident, and the command “cease fire” was transmitted and shouted up and down the line.

It was quiet for a second or two, and then I saw our West Indian section commander make a crouching run past me and towards the rear of the section. He’d heard our tail end Charlie saying he had been hit.

Indeed he had. A round had opened the left side of his face, creating a wound which would require 76 stitches. He was a very lucky digger. To a lesser extent we were all a bit fortunate given that about 200 rounds of M60 had been sent in our direction by the gunner in the lead section in four platoon.

Their forward scout had seen a figure dressed in what appeared to be black pyjamas, wearing what looked like a headscarf, and assumed be was VC. The reason his greens looked black was that they were soaked with sweat. This particular digger had been part of a squad that had unloaded the resupply choppers earlier and had been sweating profusely. I’m not sure why he had substituted a sweat scarf for his bush hat. 

The wounded digger was choppered out on the CO’s Sioux. We found out at the end of the operation that he had made a full recovery.

We dug shell scrapes that evening for the first time in country. This incident had concentrated our minds wonderfully, as they say in the classics.

I didn’t discover until 2008 (thirty-eight years after the event) that I was not responsible for the the loss of separation between four and five platoons. I had assumed that I must have miscounted the paces.

Talking to my now ex-skipper in 2008, I was relieved to hear that there was a lot of iron in the soil in that area, and the problem was unreliable compass readings caused by this, and not my count.

I remember wishing he had told me this at the time.

An interesting sequel is that if you take the trouble to read the after action report in the AWM archives, the incident is reported as “overshoot” on the basis that enemy were seen.

They weren’t and it wasn’t.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

American Gun Law - the Funny Side

A fellow Vietnam Veteran sent me this - thanks Garth.

He shared it across the ex-digger community - a bunch of people who have a better understanding than most of firearms and their place in the scheme of things.

The comedian (Jim Jefferies) demonstrates the point that the US gun laws are prime targets for ridicule. He was, I think, in Boston. It's a wonder the NRA didn't pull a ban on him.

You have to laugh - a culture in which laws like those are tolerated deserves ridicule. It's a pity it kills 30+ Americans daily. It reminds me of the cliche -  if it wasn't so sad it would be funny.

Strong language warning.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Used by All and Sundry

Pic courtesy South China Morning Post

I wonder how you, gentle reader, see the two members of the Bali Nine slated for execution.

I see them as two young men who made a stupid mistake years ago, before their adolescent brains had settled down to something approaching maturity. Any males who have never done anything stupid in the throes of adolescence may read no further.

It’s well known, incidentally, that adolescence persists well into the twenties for some men.

Smuggling dangerous drugs is about as anti-social as you can get. It doesn’t however earn the death penalty in most jurisdictions, except in a number of countries in SE Asia.

OK, I see them as recovered (and apparently rehabilitated) ex-adolescents.

It’s interesting to consider how a few other notables regard them, based on current and previous behaviour.

Let’s start with Abbott and Shorten. It‘s pretty obvious that these two see them as opportunities to swing the polls. It seems to be working for at least one of them.

Then there’s Widodo Frankly, he is operating from the same frame of reference as his Australian counterparts. They don’t seem to run polls routinely in Indonesia, so I’m not sure how his popularity is responding. If you know, tell me.

The Indonesian police and military see the situation as a great rationale for playing with their most expensive toys, including their Sukhois.There are also opportunities for selfies.

As for the death penalty - put simply - it doesn’t work. There’s no correlation between capital punishment and deterrence.

If the Indonesians were fair dinkum about tackling drug importers, they'd start with dealing with corruption in their police and military.

So we’re left with a media spectacle. These guys are being used in the most despicable manner.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

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