Welcome to Palermo, but Don’t Mention the Mafia. 1/10/2014

Laden-down and confused tourists, we arrived at Palermo central station on a quiet Thursday evening. We found the taxi rank, where a helpful concierge directed us to a taxi in the middle, a small surprise. We showed our apartment address to the driver and he got under way while chatting on his mobile. The route seemed very circuitous and the bill came to seventeen euros. Giving the driver the benefit of the doubt, I tipped him one euro. We found next day that the direct route was a mere three kilometres, which we later walked. The taxi concierge had directed us to his pal as specially plump victims. The driver also turbocharged his meter.

It’s small-scale stuff but part of the culture here: if it’s a tourist, fleece it. On the grand scale, the local mafia has dominated the place for a century, except for a bloody interlude in the 1980s when intruders from Corleone killed 1000 city rivals.

The mafia’s heyday was between 1950 and 1980, when it literally ran the place, selling parklands, school sites and clinics to builders of shoddy apartments. Remembering the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 AD, the locals here refer to the mafia’s “sack of Palermo”.

Mussolini saw the mafiosi as rivals and imprisoned hordes of them. The arrestees persuaded the invading Americans that they were the cruelly-treated anti-Fascist resistance, and were rewarded with government posts and mayordoms.

Lately, the mafia has been tapping funding from the European Commission. Robbing ratepayers is naughty, but who is the victim if a few billion euros of EC and World Bank funding vaguely dissolves in shabby Palermo projects? The Italian Foreign Ministry estimated this year that total Italian mafia turnover is 200 billion euros a year, compared with the EU budget of 140 billion. I have an image of the mafia as Danae, naked and with legs akimbo, being fertilised with showers of gold from the EC playing Zeus.

On Sunday evening we went to see Bellini’s Norma at Palermo’s opera house, the biggest in Europe behind Paris and Vienna. The acoustics were as good as claimed but the production director, a German, for some reason had updated Gaul’s Druidic struggle against the Romans to the 1960s, with men in suits armed with rifles and the hero in horn-rimmed glasses. Yawn.

The opera house shut in 1974 for some safety improvements, but thanks to mafia-augmented cost overruns and official red tape, the funds ran out, the roof leaked, and this magnificent place mouldered away for twenty years, finally reopening in 1997. Try imagining the Sydney Opera House as a spectacular ruin for twenty years.

Just north of the opera house is the Palace of Justice, a huge monolithic building flying the EC and Italian flags. Its site must have involved a hectare of slum clearance, and slums still border the precinct. The style? Mussolini would love it. The builders? Count in some mafia companies.

The mafia’s bread-and-butter business is protection money from business, called the pizzo, and unlike official taxes, payment is enforced from 80 per cent of Palermo businesses, who pay about 160 million euros a year. In 1991 a small business refusenik got three bullets in the head. Supermarkets in Palermo are also mafia-influenced, rather as if Coles shoppers were assisting the Bandidos while Woolies shoppers were being skimmed by the Comancheros.

In 2004 a group of five young graduates revolted against the pizzo and started a community-wide movement called “Addio Pizzo” (“Bye bye Pizzo”). Motto: “A whole people that pays the pizzo is a people without dignity.” About 200 businesses have put up Addio Pizzo logos, seeking preferment from shoppers, rather like use of the “Australian made” logo. I didn’t notice any logos, but wasn’t looking out for them.

We were rubbernecking in the 900-year-old Palermo Cathedral, which is austere compared with the Baroque-run-riot style of some churches and the lurid gold-and-mosaic-encrusted palaces from the time when Palermo was one of the top four cities in Europe. The cathedral had the usual niches for long-dead saints and big-wigs. But in the middle of the south side was a modern niche with a brown marble tomb and educational signs and posters.

The tomb commemorated Father Giuseppe Puglisi, then fifty-six, who was shot in 1993 with a silenced pistol by a mafia hitman, Gaspare Spatuzza, for proselytising among youngsters in the slums where the mafia recruits its foot-soldiers. He also caused offence by refusing to let mafiosi “men of honour” march at the head of devotional processions, a long-standing Palermo tradition. Puglisi’s archbishop, Cardinal Ruffini, used to deny the mafia even existed: “So far as I know, it could be a brand of detergent,” he commented.

The assassination caused an uproar and, to some extent, forced the Church to stop pussy-footing around with the mafia, one edict ordering that not even a dead mafioso should be admitted to a church unless he had repented. Puglisi was beatified in May 2013 as “the first martyr of the mafia”.

We had another take on the problem when we went on an ill-starred expedition to the stunning Norman cathedral at Monreale, which crowns a steep hill about eight kilometres out of town. We waited an hour for the late bus and when we arrived all on the bus were tipped out at the foothill, without explanation even for the out-of-town Italian sightseers. It turned out that we needed to transfer to a mini-bus for the final stage. Anyway the cathedral lived up to its reputation of 1000 years and was covered with quaint mosaic versions of medieval-biblical life, with a Noah’s ark including peasants poking their heads out of the portholes. There had been some extensive renovations and I learnt later that the Bishop of Monreale, no less, had been indicted for siphoning renovation funds.

I was intrigued by a map reference to a piazza of the “Thirteen Victims” at the seafront end of Via Cavour, imagining these were mafia victims. On the way there to inspect, I noticed a placard outside a tobacco kiosk featuring a pig’s head and a header (translated): “New Mafia, Old Horrors”. It took me a while to work out that it was a Palermo magazine, and I bought a copy for three euros, which turned out to be good value for ninety-eight pages of anti-mafia stories by a gutsy editorial crew. Strangely, the production was as glossy as Marie Claire, and with twenty pages of full-colour ads from equally gutsy businesses. (The first ad, I’m embarrassed to report, featured the “F**k Boredom” fashion label, and used unexpurgated English.) Contents were a montage of anti-corruption and mobster exposés, with plenty of incriminating scanned documents, portraits of malefactors and leaked cop-photos of homicide crime scenes. It seems that the mafia is no longer willing to enter the glare of publicity by bumping off respectable and prominent opponents—clerics and, dare I say, journalists—and instead diverts its energies into lucrative white-collar crime. The magazine has been coming out monthly for seven years. Notwithstanding some of our local unions, I can’t see Melbourne supporting a 100-page monthly of crime and corruption exposés.

When I got to the Thirteen Victims piazza, I headed for the old-fashioned monument on my right, in a patch of weeds, untended shrubs and junk. I felt a bit indignant, but zooming in for a photo I discovered that the victims were executed there in 1860 as revolutionaries by Bourbon soldiers, not mafiosi. My tunnel vision had distracted me from a red-rusted steel tower four storeys tall in the centre of the roundabout, within a neat sea of grass. The script (translated) read, “To the fallen in the fight against the mafia”.

I couldn’t get up close because the park was railed off, but I noticed a wreath against the railing on the other side. I went around and found the flowers were real, not plastic, probably put there the day before. There was a picture of a bloke in a white suit with his baby-blue Fiat and a three-word message translating to “You are our life” but no name or detail. Weirdly, his original pork-pie-type hat was literally spiked on the fence. My wife later suggested that it was an anniversary of his murder.

An open-decked red tourist bus went past and I watched to see if anyone turned towards the steel tower. No one did. Clearly this was not featured on the pretty-Palermo commentary.

Right behind and alongside the waterfront were several lumps of what was left of a big castle, set in a paddock. This had been a complete-ish castle with a fine history of repelling invaders, until 1922 when the port authority on a whim knocked it down for some project that never eventuated. The paddock is now in use for hideously amplified night music entertainments, which we suffered that night at our flat twelve blocks away.

Back at central station, our scheduled train had become fictional. I can’t believe that even Mussolini made the Italian trains run on time.


The Wedding Brawl on the Road to Goroka

When I organised a lift with some locals in their ute from Mount Hagen to Goroka, I little foresaw the cultural complexities.

It was mid-April 1986, and I waited for some newfound friends in the main street. A stranger sidled up—he must have been keeping me under observation. “Beware of those men. They are bad and you will be in danger. I am from the CIS,” he whispered urgently. The CIS was the prisons service. As my three new friends emerged, the CIS man delivered his faux-Wagnerian punchline: “This,” he warned, “is Hagen.”

I was a fairly timid accountancy editor on a study of tax-effect accounting and lease-or-buy decisions in the highlands. At least, that’s what I put on my expenses claim.

Hagen is indeed a tough town. A few months earlier, a potential investor had flown in and teamed up with an accountant at the airport. They arrived in town as the police were tear-gassing rioters. Every shop window in the town had been smashed in retaliation for some offence to clan honour by a white man. Paybacks are fairly indiscriminate, as I was soon to discover.

Nevertheless I had reasonable confidence in my new friends. Victor, aged somewhere between twenty-five and thirty-five, wore a Talair Airlines promotional T-shirt, once white but now dark brown, and ragged shorts. He was bare-footed. We’d struck up a conversation in the local ANZ bank where I entertained him with the holographic bird on my Visa card. He sported a bushy black beard coated with dust. But he had an open, happy face and his grins displayed Hollywood-standard flashes of teeth.

I told him of my problem. I had to travel 150 kilometres from Hagen to Goroka in three days in order to catch my plane back to Port Moresby. An expected lift had fallen through, I had no driver’s licence for a hire car, and I’d been strongly warned never to ride in the PMVs (public motor vehicles, or minibuses) used by the nationals. One expat had told me that a white passenger had been dumped by a PMV driver fifty kilometres from nowhere.

So I asked Victor, should I risk a PMV? He laughed, and said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

Victor turned out to be an elementary school teacher on a few days’ furlough. He was mission-educated, with a copious store of biblical allusions, folk wisdom and proverbs. “Fear not my beard,” he said, or quoth.

I suggested he come on the bus to Goroka with me. He had a better idea. A friend had a Toyota Scout ute and would take us in style.

We found the ute at the registration office where the driver, Bocil, was having difficulty getting a roadworthy certificate. The ute consisted of little more than the metal cab, chassis and tray from which the plastic and other non-steel materials had disintegrated. But by some miracle (don’t ask) the roadworthy was obtained and the Goroka trip was stitched up for the following morning.

I was still perturbed by the CIS man’s warning and confronted Victor. “I do not know that man. He should not judge a book by its cover,” he replied. I decided Victor was trustworthy, but it turned out the CIS man was not wholly wrong about Victor’s pals.

The truck rolled up an hour late next morning with Victor, Bocil and two escorts. One of them, Mick, was older and wiry. He wore a sort of turban over his balding pate. In attire and comportment, he made Victor seem a Beau Brummell.

Neither Victor nor I had mentioned paying for the trip. This issue had to be resolved sometime, somehow, but it seemed uncouth to raise the subject up-front. Mentally, I was trying to estimate fair payment for man-days, petrol, whatever, but it was all too hard. Victor likewise had his expectations, but these were enmeshed with highlands culture. His expectations of me, while dramatic, had nothing to do with wage rates and out-of-pockets. The misunderstandings formed the sequel to our adventure.

The trip began as a rural idyll—the ute labouring up hills to vistas of dark blue mountains, lush high-country forest, patchwork gardens and little clusters of huts. Our engine roared through rust-holes in the muffler.

As we made our way along the rutted road from Hagen to Goroka, civilisation’s infrastructure faded away. The track became a goat-trail and bridges were a few wobbly logs stretched over the creek beds.

It seemed a day marked for festivities. We stopped in front of a band of forty villagers, the men near-naked and carrying bundles of spears. The bare-breasted women wore elaborate feathered headdresses and shell necklaces. A trio of them giggled flirtatiously with our party. “Nice little bitches!” Victor said to me sotto voce—his only vulgar remark for the whole trip.

One man was totally blackened with oily gunk, as though he had been dipped into a pond of warm tar. His eyes gleamed whitely out of his black facial carapace. He raised a quivering spear and ran at me, stopping just short while everyone laughed at my ill-concealed fear.

The party divided to let us drive through and we continued for half an hour through roadsides of cane and scrubby vegetable plots. The fresh spring morning was giving way to a hot midday.

Suddenly Mick banged on the cabin roof. He had heard singing of some sort down to the left. Soon we caught up with a throng of excited people hurrying to a big wedding.

We stopped the ute and I distributed my valuables—cash, cards, travel bag and air tickets—among my four pals, since nothing could be left in the ute.

The groom was from the Arnge clan on a hill near the road while the bride came from up the further hill. She was being decked out in her finery by relatives.

The day before, a dozen pigs had been slaughtered and on the ground was a pyramid of blackened cooked pigs’ heads and great slabs of fat. On the groom’s hill four young women, gorgeously decked out, were dancing and singing, welcoming the bride to the clan.

The village courtship is rather like ours—the couple live together for several months before the marriage bells (or drums) tie the knot. The bride’s price was $6500 in cash, eighteen live pigs, twelve dead ones and one live cassowary. This bird or beast, eyes glaring hate, was trussed to pinion its powerful legs.

I was a most acceptable guest as all parties loved being photographed. My ever-present notebook cramped my photographer style, so I gave it to Mick. We got separated.

A number of tablecloths marked out a clearing, with respective clans at each end. The bride-to-be capered across, her tall headdress of red and yellow bird-of-paradise feathers bouncing. She huddled briefly while presents were fished out of a well-made wooden box. Then she capered back with bunches of banknotes now pinned to her blouse and long skirt. She kept repeating the trip and her pinned-on money stacks got ever more lavish.

As a courtesy to an honoured guest, they handed me a piece of pig fat. I expected it to be similar to the fat bits on pork roasts at home. But it was undercooked and shockingly rank.

Shortly, a commotion broke out on the bride’s hill. People began running and shouting and whacking each other with their long sticks. Something barbaric and un-Melbourne-like was happening. “Get back in the truck!” shouted Victor as he ran towards the fight. The cab was locked so I tried to make myself inconspicuous on the tray.

After some time, Victor returned looking distressed. Just as suddenly the combatants cooled down and I could walk about again. My valuables had been secured or retrieved—possibly ransomed—but my shorthand-filled notebook was lost. “Someone is hiding it, don’t worry,” said Victor.

It transpired that the groom’s clan had grabbed the notebook and now wanted an unspecified sum for it. Their justification was that I would probably write bad things about their village.

The drama began to crystallise. A small group of elders squatted on one side of a dip in the ground; Victor, myself and one escort on the other. Haggling was in plestok, the local language. I fed Victor some good lines about my high status with the PNG government and how I would post my best photograph of the bride to the village. Their disbelief was manifest.

As far as I could make out, the notebook’s ransom was around $A1000. I was delighted when Victor eventually retrieved it for what he said was $1.40. The real figure, I found out later, was $30, which he had paid secretly from his teacher’s $75 weekly pay-packet. The notebook was crumpled and damp with someone’s sweat but I could have kissed it, given the many days’ work it contained.

Our escort Mick turned up with a bloody nose, split lip and swollen face. He set off on foot back to Hagen and thus ended his active role in my story.

There were other ripping yarns on the road to Goroka. But it all ended happily as I smuggled my three remaining pals into my hotel room for the night and treated them to their first ever hot baths, television and clean sheets. Several hours of television wore them out, especially Victor, who had made determined efforts to write down every joke in an episode of The Two Ronnies. The three lay on the double bed like sardines and were asleep in seconds.

In the morning I gave Victor a good grilling about the fight and the following story unfolded.

Our escort Mick was a slightly bad man, and when some of the groom’s people had been in Mick’s territory he and his friends had beaten them up. The clan could hardly believe its luck to find Mick in their midst carrying my valuables. He claimed some sort of diplomatic immunity, which they chose not to recognise. They set about giving him a thrashing, which had drawn Mick’s own people into the fight.

My valuables had been captured, then recaptured. Mick’s survival prospects had seemed dubious but he managed to flee into the hut of a Christian woman, who then refused entry to the revenge-seekers. Eventually he had crept away and rejoined us.

Victor had sufficient status to act as peace-maker, running between the combatants and shouting “Stop the fight!” in plestok. He assured me that if anyone had attacked him, his friends would have fought to kill. “Our wontok system is very tight indeed,” he said.

Victor confided his hope to win a seat in Parliament in Moresby next year and expel an expat lecturer who had given him a “fail” grade at teachers’ school. He also wanted to visit me in Melbourne. “But not all dreams come true,” he said wistfully.

I gave him what I thought was generous pay for the trip, although finance in these parts didn’t seem to make sense. For example, the $6500 bride price was astronomical, even without the supplement of the pigs. Maybe these weddings kept everyone poor but chuffed.

Back home in Melbourne, I noticed that women in Little Collins Street kept their breasts covered, and was relieved that waiters at lunches for the press did not serve semi-raw pig fat.

In the mail about two months later came an envelope with a PNG stamp. Victor, in good copperplate, hoped I was well, and asked if I could send him enlargements of the colour photos I had posted. No problem.

As I recall, the letter finished:

Right now we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. The coffee harvest was very bad and coffee prices are bad too. We also bet on the forward market that coffee prices would go up. We’ve paid all we can but we don’t know how to get the $14,000 still left.

How is your wife? Give her our best regards.

Your best friend, Victor.

My heart sank. I couldn’t become guarantor for their coffee speculations. I posted off the enlargements with a friendly letter, but knew I was letting Victor down. He would lose status mightily in Mount Hagen.

Nor is there any tidy way to wrap the story up. For me, life went on and memories faded. I hope Victor came through all right, and doesn’t think too badly of me.

Later, an old PNG hand was able to explain to me the high bride prices. Some funds were recycled from earlier bride exchanges. Clans are often large and each member can be arm-twisted to put in, say, 100 kina from sources like coffee sales. No one bothers about savings so anything in the bank is taken out. “And anyone who has a government job might ‘find’ a bit of cash stashed somewhere or get their hands on a saleable asset,” my informant said.

Skippy, Meet Stumpy

As a young reporter, kangaroo-paw bottle openers set my investigative juices flowing. Where did all those amputated limbs come from? While my efforts produced but few hard facts, I’m guessing they were more valuable than the latest green-inspired documentary listing kangaroos as endangered

skippyThe controversy rages over our kangaroo-meat exports to Europe, with Greens luminary Lee Rhiannon among those presenting a horror-cruelty film Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story to the snowflakes of the European Parliament. I’m a Perth boy of Kendenup-Mt Barker heritage, and in the south-west in the good old days we always treated roos as nuisances. Roo-shoots at night from a ute combined good works with entertainment.

Let me now take you in my time capsule back half a century, when you, a pale-faced Eastern Stater, have arrived at Perth Airport by a state-of-the-art TAA Boeing 727. You exit via the gift shop and browse the shelves for a souvenir to take home to loved ones to commemorate your epic and safe flight.kangaroo paw opener II

“Hmm! These look nice!”

They’re chopped-off paws of kangaroos, a sort of visual pun on the kangaroo paw plants flourishing in the gardens outside the building. The actual paws are about 10 inches long and the fur ranges from white through fawn to brown. At one end the five claws and palm are lacquered black, and at the other the amputation is concealed by a steel circlet. Fixed into the circlet is a bottle-opener, paper knife, can-opener or shoe horn.

One model in this novelty line has a thermometer fixed midway down the paw. The thermometer fluid seems to be red ink, and from a distance it looks as though the paw is still bleeding.

“Greetings from Perth, WA,” is inscribed on the metal fittings. Prices are $5 to $7 [$60-80 in today’s money].

In my role as The West Australian’s reporter-at-large, I see fit to look into this souvenir trade.

“Where do you get the paws from?” I ask Miss Andrea Lee-Steere behind the counter, wondering if they are a local industry.

“Kangaroos,” she says.

“Do you like them?”

“We’ve got a bottle-opener paw at home. It looks tremendous on the cocktail cabinet.”

“Do they sell well?”

“Four or five a week. Some people think they are gruesome but most people off the planes are really impressed.”

My arrival at the importers in Perth causes some consternation and steely-eyed glances, particularly when I want to know who produces the paws.

“We don’t say where we get any of our stuff from,” says a representative. “Once we told someone and people started ordering stuff through him direct instead of through our agency.”

He considers the paws are horrible, but says they sell well. It emerges they are made by a struggling migrant in a garage in an outer Melbourne suburb. He had been looking for something original to make, and the paws combined the attractiveness of kangaroo fur with absolutely unshakable authenticity.

Where does the struggling migrant get his raw material from? No-one in Perth knows.

I suggest the paws could be a by-product from the pet food industry, but they don’t think so. I eventually decide that a truck must materialise once a month and tip a load of kangaroo paws on his driveway – an interesting subject for Salvador Dali to paint.

Is anyone in Perth thinking of setting up a rival factory? This is, after all, the Kangaroo Paw State.

No, they say, there’s nothing brewing in that direction.

Being a sentimental bloke, I conclude, “Maybe it’s time to pause on the poor paws.”

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here

Sinking, sinking, not – Tuvalu. 30/1/2012

Tuvalu and the Maldives would like money from the West as victims of the West’s CO2 emissions. However, their purported problems are largely solvable by their own efforts, without the need to lay guilt trips on the developed countries.

Island states and their rising-seas campaigns 

Tuvalu and the Maldives are two tiny low-lying states making a big splash on the global warming scene. Journos love to label them the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ because when (or if) global warming does its thing, these states will be the first to be washed out. Both countries have been poster children for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and their delegates are prized fixtures at any IPCC conference, “as a symbol of all threatened small island environments”, as the fourth IPCC report put it.

Little is as it seems. Take Tuvalu. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth movie had this to say re ocean rises:

That’s why the citizens of these Pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand.

He was obviously including Tuvalu. As UK Judge Michael Burton found – stating the bleeding obvious (10/10/07):

There is no evidence of any such evacuation having yet happened.

Next, Tuvalu continually claims rising seas are doing bad things to it. It so happens that someone found 27 aerial photos of Tuvalu and nearby Kiribati from 60 years ago, and these can be compared with modern satellite photos. Big surprise, the Tuvalu island chain has increased in area, with seven islands growing, including one that has grown by 30%. (The most populous Tuvalu island was not included). Overall, 23 of the total 27 islands were stable or growing, and only four, mostly uninhabited, were shrinking. The study’s co-author, Professor Paul Kench of Auckland University, said the physical basis of the island chains looked OK for the next 100 years, because of the way that coral debris piled up on them and grew there.

Segue now to the IPCC’s Copenhagen conference of late 2009. Ian Fry, Tuvalu’s lead negotiator, told delegates:

I woke up this morning crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit, the fate of my country rests in your hands.

As he said this, his eyes again filled with tears, and mortified delegates applauded him wildly. Later, some nark noticed that he was not from Tuvalu at all, in fact he is a lawyer from Queanbeyan, Canberra’s next-door neighbor. He’s an ex-Greenpeace liaison officer and specializes in island nations.

Tuvalu would like money from the West as victim of the West’s CO2 pollution, along with re-settlement rights into prosperous countries, eg NZ and Australia.

However, Tuvalu’s problems are largely solvable by its own efforts, without the need to lay guilt trips on the West.

Concerning atoll erosion, over-fishing of beaked reef fish and mining of sand, gravel and coral for Western-style house construction are primary causes.  Other ‘bads’ are  denuding of beach vegetation for fuel, asphalting of roads, and urban drift to the main island Funafuti. (Funafuti is only two-thirds the size of London’s Hyde Park, but includes a 1500m air-strip). Waste and waste-water disposal are other serious issues. Above all, having lots of children in a seriously limited habitat is bound to create an environmental mess. The fertility rate in Tuvalu is 3.11 children per woman, compared with Australia, 1.78.

One wonders if global warming and inundations are really top of the mind for half of Tuvalu’s population, namely the females.

Tuvalu acceded  in 1999 to CEDAW – The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – but has not acted on it. There is no law prohibiting discrimination against women, although discrimination on the basis of race, color and origin is banned. In 2007 an official health survey reported that 47% of women surveyed had suffered violence. In such domestic cases, the police avoid prosecuting and instead seek customary forms of reconciliation.

Turning now to the Maldives, they comprise 1200 islands 700km south-west of Sri Lanka. They were governed by a brutal and corrupt dictatorship for nearly 30 years under President Gayoom, who got re-elected six times from 1978 by  banning all other contenders. In a democratic revolution in 2008, Mohammed Nasheed took over, reconciling with his old persecutors despite his personal history of having been gaoled and tortured.

Nasheed is a one-man public relations industry. His big splash (literally) was in the lead-up to the Copenhagen IPCC conference in 2009. He taught his cabinet the rudiments of scuba-diving and ran a ‘cabinet meeting’ around a table six metres undersea. By raising their hands, and using water-proof crayons on a whiteboard, the cabinet passed resolutions for Western curbs on CO2 emissions and other righteous initiatives.

As Nasheed put it:

Well that’s the bottom line isn’t it – under water. That’s where we will end up. In many senses that might be where we will be having our cabinet meetings in the future.

The Maldives even under the villainous President Gayoom was an IPCC darling. In 1997, the IPCC chose Gayoom’s Maldives as venue for its 13th Plenary (involving its 194 member nations). The intent, presumably, was to give delegates a tingle by visiting a doomed-to-drown venue. Today the Maldives’ Mr Amjad Abdulla even has a seat on the 30-member inner IPCC bureau, comprising a mix of nations including Sudan (a vice-chair).

Nasheed has set a goal for the Maldives to become the planet’s first carbon-neutral state by 2020, a symbolic gesture to the world rather in the style of Julia’s carbon tax. Nasheed talks of  solar power and even electric cars, although a stream of  half a million tourists jetting in annually and gadding about by sea-plane, will make his carbon reductions difficult.

He also has plans to buy land to relocate his otherwise-drowning population, with Australia a candidate.

Even under the Mandela-like Nasheed, Maldivian life and mores are not all that excellent. The Maldives, an Islamic theocracy, is particularly notorious for its public floggings of women who have extra-marital sex. An out-of-wedlock birth is sufficient evidence, hence floggings normally involve the new mothers. The fathers are more or less exempt. Flogging appears to be prevalent, judging by a local comment that for 140 women flogged, there would be only a couple of men.

When the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, criticized the practice during a visit last year, outraged men picketed the local UN building with posters including “Flog Pillay”, and she got some Islamist death threats. Although there are suggestions that the floggings are largely symbolic, a floggee may well differ.

Meanwhile female circumcision is in resurgence, according to a January SMH report, despite President Nasheed’s criticisms of extremists. Girls are also being held back from schooling.

Domestic violence against women is on the rise, while a bill against it has been stalled in Parliament for 14 months. A survey in 2007 found a third of women had been sexually or physically abused.

Currently 30,000 people (more than a tenth of the population, or close to a fifth of the adults) are reportedly heroin addicts; in 2009 a UN team estimated 40% of youths were users. The official response has been gaol terms running into decades, but rehabilitation is now getting some more emphasis. Youth unemployment is nearly 25% (males) and 50% (females).

Rising seas? Well, it’s a good earner.

Tony Thomas is a retired business and economics journalist



Pop 10,500; land area 26squ km; maximum height 5m. Ferility rate: 3.11.

To observe the absence of sea-level acceleration at Tuvalu, see THE SOUTH PACIFIC SEA LEVEL & CLIMATE MONITORING PROJECT, AusAid and Bureau of Meteorology. Graphic, p22. Pdf here…


Pop 400,000, land area 300squ km, maximum height 2.4m. Fertility rate, 1.81.

Nils-Axel Mörner, Emeritus Professor of Paleogeophysics & Geodynamics, Stockholm University, was part of an international sea level project team making six expeditions to the Maldives since 2000. He said (15/10/11): “There is no ongoing rise in the sea level at all and since 1970, it fell by about 20 cm and has remained quite stable for the last 30 to 40 years.”

Strength for the Fight Against PC

There was defiance aplenty at the launch of Rowan Dean’s new book, and a measure of hope as well — hope that the politically correct tyranny of the self-anointed (and all too often taxpayer-funded) will soon be eclipsed. But only if those who recognise knaves and fools when they hear them dare to speak up

pc offends IIIAustralian university students are starting to rise up against Left brainwashing and political correctness. But such rebels must be prepared to pay a high price for openly challenging the zeitgeist on campus.

Case in point: a young woman studying and working at Melbourne University, who spoke up at an Institute of Public Affairs function in Melbourne last night (Wed). She asked Spectatoreditor Rowan Dean, who was there for the launch of his novel Corkscrewed, how she could openly express her politically incorrect views at the university and still hold on to her job.

Dean said she would suffer for speaking out but ultimately would be respected. Many others were in similar situations. “You have to be true to what you believe in. Put up with  the ratbags. It’s sticks-and-stones stuff.  But, yes, you can lose your job unfortunately.  That is Australia today. It is terrifying, but do you want to work in a place where you are forever watching what you say?  If they do you wrong,  go to Andrew Bolt and spread it on national TV.”

IPA policy director Simon Breheny said young people are now  recognizing that Western ideology is best and also under attack. He told the student,  “You will lose friends but gain others. People must know what is happening. So many people are making the same calculations as you.   If they all keep quiet to keep their job, no-one will know this is happening. You’re not alone at all. Our IPA campus coordinators say a thousand kids have joined  our program in the past 18 months.

“Academics, school teachers, contact us to thank us for our work and say they feel the same way. In future there will be universities set up where truth is important; there’ll be big big changes in the next five to ten years. It’ll be massive.”

IPA Executive Director John Roskam wondered what would happen in a university tutorial if a student suggested that Abbott had been an effective Prime Minister. “The spirit of inquiry at universities has entirely disappeared,” he said.

Dean, who has edited the Australian Spectator since 2014, said,  “If you don’t kick back against political correctness it gets you. Friends and family that 15 years ago were happy, strong conservatives have completely succumbed and think carefully about risking a wrong word — or they just stay silent.

“I had my sister-in-law screeching obscenities at Christmas lunch because I dared comment that London now resembles Bahrain.

“When someone says an idiotic, politically correct thing, strike back, say ‘no’. I talk of Sudanese gangs in Melbourne not because I’m racist but because that’s what they are:  Sudanese gangs. Your papers in Victoria won’t tell you that but in NSW, we know.”

A classic was Canadian PM  Justin Trudeau last week correcting a woman talking about charity volunteering who referred to ‘mankind’. Trudeau said the proper term was ‘peoplekind’.

“PC overtakes everything and is always there in the foreground clouding people’s vision,” Dean said.

Australia’s chief scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, Dean continued, had admitted it didn’t matter how much Australia reduced its emissions, as there would be no impact on global temperatures. ‘The whole climate story collapsed at that point. But most people remain genuinely confused, because conservatives have been too quiet and passive and continue to let climate people get away with falsehoods. In the UK if you query the climate change thing, they think you are completely bonkers.

“The chief scientist’s statement is one of those nuggets or insights  that sceptics should be spreading and provoking believers with, whatever the damage to goodwill at dinner parties.”

Dean ridiculed PM Malcolm Turnbull’s talk of a ‘trilemma’ [emissions, affordability and reliability] on electricity. “Piss off the emissions one; just have the dilemma about lower-priced reliable energy.”

He named Liberal MHR  Craig Kelly (NSW) as a person with the Margaret Thatcher spirit to sweep away falsehoods. “He is utterly unafraid to call out climate change as a fraud. We need politicians like that  who are not beholden to the prevailing political line. Another who is willing to speak the truth is Andrew Hastie [Lib., WA], in the face of vile onslaughts from the PC crowd.”

Dean was backed by Breheny, who noted another tragedy of the climat scare. “Science has been gripped by politics,”he said, “and politics has smashed science. It’s a great shame.”

Dean summed up by saying that humor and ridicule are the best weapons against the PC tribe, since humor reveals the absurdities of posturers. They want to be taken seriously for arguments that have no merit whatsoever.

He said his magazine’s three criteria for contributors were to be provocative, insightful and engaging. His London boss had told him the issue with the cover illustration of a young lady in a bikini and a burka was the best in Spectator’s history. But it could not run in the UK where political correctness ruled and the energy and excitement had been kicked out of the British people. It was as if all of Great Britain had become the ABC.

Drowning Truth in a Sea of Luvvie Piffle

Sooner or later the climate scam’s meal ticket will be cancelled. Tuvalu will still be getting bigger when that happens and catastropharian moochers will need another faux crisis to unlock the public purse. Meanwhile, if you fancy watching hysteria in a flooding Perspex tank, read on

opera house drownsIf you scamper along to the Perth Festival of Arts, you can catch body artist Latai Taumoepeau in a video of herself as a Tongan who’s drowning from the devastating seas of global warming. She dances inside a Perspex tank (pictured below), her movements becoming “more challenging and frenetic” as rising water finally submerges her.

Climate-horror has been her shtick since at least 2007 when, as a delegate, she joined the countless thousands of activists to the Bali season of the IPCC.  She recollects: “It really kind of annoyed me how Australia could not  take responsibility for demise of neighboring countries from climate change and global warming.” Her interlocutor is co-director of Performance Space, Bec Dean:

Dean: “There should be a place for anger…act now, do something about it or f–k off.”

Latai: “Our complacency seems to me like performing water torture  on groups of people who have contributed nothing to climate change.”

In that video Latai identifies as both a first-generation and a third-generation Australian. What’s definite is that she grew up in Marrickville, Sydney, as “a person of color” (ancestry Tongan) afflicted by open and covert racism that gave her a “sense of otherisation”.

tank girlHer actor-musician friend Jay Laga-aia says,  “She definitely is a voice that can’t be silenced.” Silenced? She’s had $27,000 direct from the Australia Council, plus indirect Australia Council help through its funding of events in which she stars. She is also an Australia Council peer assessor with a voice in deciding which of her fellow artists get funding and how much, as she explains in this video clip. When not  pursuing or distributing taxpayer grants, she has taken her show to London. I can’t detect a brutal silencing campaign.

She has another climate-horror dance involving fixing herself painfully to a 500kg block of melting ice (the Antarctic isn’t melting, but never mind). She cries and wails, to the distress of pal Bec Dean.

In a third show, called Disaffected, she says she’s in a climate disaster zone: “What it feels like to have your homelands swamped. What it feels like to have to leave your land and culture behind, or to see the bones of your ancestors washed away.”

Another show “Nothing to Lose”, at the Sydney Festival in 2015, wasn’t about climate horrors but a collaboration with six other dancers and “fat activist” Kelli Jean Drinkwater  “exploring the movement and sculptural quality of the larger physical form“. The SMH’s critic noted:

“A delightfully light-hearted sequence where the performers shimmy and shake each and every part of their bodies is contrasted with another during which one performer throws herself repeatedly on the floor – whether in frustration or despair, it is hard to tell.”

Re-done at Melbourne’s Malthouse, the audience was

“encouraged to lift the skin of a belly and to feel its weight as it fell upon release or to trace their hands along the contours of the body until they found a hair. And once at that singular hair to twirl it with their fingertips made for an intimate celebration of ‘the sculptural splendor of the fat dancing body.’”

Well, I have great news for Latai Taumoepeau. Seas are not drowning Pacific islands after all. The most low-lying of them, Tuvalu, continues growing in size, according to a new peer-reviewed paper in Nature Communications by University of Auckland scientists. Using aerial photos and satellite imagery, they found that, from 1971-2014, eight of the nine atolls and nearly three-quarters of the 101 reef islands grew in extent rather than eroded. Tuvalu gained 73 hectares or 2.9%. Of the 101 islands, 73 have grown.

After backside-saving kow-tows to climate orthodoxy, the paper says the Tuvalu islanders should  skip their doomsday caterwauling and hopes for antipodean visas, and instead “start planning for a long-term future”. Co-author Paul Kench  says that since Tuvalu land is expanding, there’s decades for the islanders to work out adaptation plans. “Loss of land is unlikely to be a factor in forcing depopulation of Tuvalu,”  he concludes.

It’s been established for years that  Tuvalu is growing, but this evidence has been ignored both by the Pacific islanders (who have used ‘international compensation’ for global warming as a money machine), and by all the green propaganda groups which use “drowning islands” as persuaders of the ignorant. Indeed my first contribution to Quadrant Online six years ago dealt with an earlier study by the same Auckland Professor Paul Kench, who had used wartime aerial pics to show Tuvalu was growing  and had nothing to worry about for the next 100 years.

That article noted, “Concerning atoll erosion, over-fishing of beaked reef fish and mining of sand, gravel and coral for Western-style house construction are primary causes.  Other ‘bads’ are  denuding of beach vegetation for fuel, asphalting of roads, and urban drift to the main island Funafuti. Waste and waste-water disposal are other serious issues. Above all, having lots of children in a seriously limited habitat is bound to create an environmental mess. The fertility rate in Tuvalu is 3.11 children per woman, compared with Australia, 1.78.”

Tuvalu nonetheless was great for climate activists, a literally tear-jerking issue. At the IPCC’s Copenhagen conference in late 2009, Ian Fry, Tuvalu’s lead negotiator, told delegates, “I woke up this morning crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit, the fate of my country rests in your hands.”

As he said this, his eyes again filled with tears, and mortified delegates applauded him wildly. Later, some nark noticed that he was not from Tuvalu at all, in fact he was a lawyer from Queanbeyan, Canberra’s next-door neighbour. He’s an ex-Greenpeace liaison officer and a specialist in island-nation advocacy.

At the 2015 Paris climate farce, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said, “Tuvalu’s future at current warming is already bleak. Any further temperature increase will spell the total demise of Tuvalu.” For the sake of Tuvalu (pop 10,000) he wanted the whole world (pop 7.6 billion) to eschew fossil fuels in the phantasmagoric hope of capping warming at 1.5deg.

Climate huckster Al Gore in his Inconvenient Truth movie fictionalised that “the citizens of these Pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand.” A UK High Court judge Michael Burton, stating the bleeding obvious, said Gore’s claim was false. Gore has never amended his film, which has since been force-fed to millions of Australian schoolchildren. Undaunted by such strictures from the UK Bench (there were eight other errors judicially noted), Melbourne University chancellor Allen Myers AC QC  last July awarded Gore an honorary doctorate – in Laws, would you believe.

Australian taxpayer aid to Tuvalu  for the three years to 2017-18 is $24 million, not bad for an island population of a mere 10,100. DFAT mentions the island’s economic problems and adds, “Climate change impacts will exacerbate these development challenges.” However this “climate change” aid is  nothing  more than normal development, such as augmenting fresh water, food security and cyclone recovery. Apparently bureaucrats have to keep saying “climate change” to please Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull.

Last May a World Bank paper by Prof Stephen Howes from the   Australian National University urged that the Tuvalu and Kiribati (pop 107,000) get open rights to migrate progressively to Australasia in order to save residents from (non-existent) island shrinkage. “The worsening impacts of climate change have provided a new moral imperative for providing open access,” he wrote . Sea levels, he said inexplicably, “have already begun inundating land and homes across the islands.”

So far the number of climate refugee claims from the Pacific amount to 17. The successful ones: zero. This compares with the UN forecasting 50 million globally by 2010.

The Wikipedia page Climate Change in Tuvalu has already updated to include the Auckland land-growth results in its opening  paragraph. I suspect the warmist vigilantes who censor Wikipedia will find a way to smother and erase that good news shortly.

Catallaxy Files: Tony Thomas for quiet achiever of the year

Here is a hidden treasure, a stockpile of journalistic weapons to fight economic illiterates, communist sympathisers and biased and incompetent journalists. He has been posting on Quadrant on Line for years and I didn’t look often or closely enough to find him. Just as well Connor Court published this book of amazing pieces. There is so much in it – stories from the Communist Youth activities of the 1950s, brushes with Soviet agents in Canberra (courting journalists), climate alarm stories, the feminization of the defence forces and the amount of violence among the First Nation people even before they were “invaded and corrupted”.

“Once, it was common to encounter a Tony Thomas in Australia’s newsrooms. They were the wise and senior hands young reporters were encouraged to admire and emulate …
They’re mostly gone now, the men and women who wore professional honesty and scepticism as their badges of honour, and we’re all the poorer for the banishment of those skills and voices. That is why the essays in this book are so valuable and the man who wrote them a treasure.”
— Roger Franklin, Editor, Quadrant Online.

This book of 45 essays – ranging from purely humorous to politically and socially grave – provides samples of the lifetime’s work of a trained journalist of 60 years’ professional standing. Thomas was a prominent writer for The West Australian (1958-69); The Age as Economics Writer from the Canberra Press Gallery, (1971-79); and BRW Magazine from inception in 1981 to his retirement in 2001, including a decade as Associate Editor. He is currently a prolific contributor to Quadrant Monthly and Quadrant OnLine.
Thomas’ interests, particularly in the political, stem from his early childhood indoctrination into Communism, followed by an adult reaction towards conservatism. Suffice to say he has ink and politics in his veins.

Hal Colebatch reviews Tony’s book.

11 Responses to Tony Thomas for quiet achiever of the year

  1. Chris

    Agreed! I have his books and they are excellent value, as Roger says.

    Both the collection of past essays, and The Pocket Windschuttle.

    Tim Blair’s ‘risky conversational gambit’ piece in a recent Quadrant describes a certain lack of tact which pays off in various and uncertain ways; but Tony Thomas says to himself ‘Tact? We’ll blow that bridge up when we come to it!’

    But I am curious; is this ratbag author himself one of the magnificent, cynical bastards who make the Cat the splendid killing ground for leftist ideas that it is?

  2. Ian Plimer

    Because all my previous publishers had knocked back “Heaven and Earth”, at the suggestion of the late Ray Evans I approached Connor Court. Within 10 minutes they offered a deal and the book became an international best seller. Connor Court are now the only publisher in Australia that publishes non-PC books (often at a financial loss), books critical of the left and books supporting our Western Civilisation. It is absolutely no surprise that Connor Court publish the works of Tony Thomas and we should try to keep this husband/wife team of Anthony/Julie Cappello as the publishing voice in the sea of vulgarity.

    Buy the Tony Thomas book and other eclectica that Connor Court offer.

    Ian Plimer

  3. Tim Neilson

    Ian Plimer
    #2623177, posted on January 30, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for the info Ian.

    There’s a lot of great stuff available on the Connor Court site, so I urge all cats to use the free market to the mutual advantage of themselves and a non-PC publisher.

  4. Tony has been one of the most consistent right wing voices in Australia for decades. Love him and love his work.

  5. Chris

    Tony has been one of the most consistent right wing voices in Australia for decades.

    I dispute that he is ‘right wing’. He is both anti-bullshit and anti-communist, which are not the same as ‘right wing’.

  6. JohnA

    Chris #2623216, posted on January 30, 2018, at 4:49 pm

    Tony has been one of the most consistent right wing voices in Australia for decades.

    I dispute that he is ‘right wing’. He is both anti-bullshit and anti-communist, which are not the same as ‘right wing’.

    The expressions “right wing” and “left wing” have been so worn by overuse as to now be meaningless.

    I recommend that they be interred for a couple of hundred years (hopefully in an unmarked grave) and we beg/desire/demand the use of more precise terminology along a spectrum of Liberty such as:

  7. herodotus

    Happy to support Quadrant and Spectator Australia, and will be doing the same for Connor Court. The Ian Plimer struggle to be published, and they way he and Bob Carter (and others) have been treated by the elite commentariat on climate matters has been a clear indication of the bent nature of the media.
    It is such a disaster that our politicians have been captured by the false prophets of climate to such a degree that we now see our power system disintegrating. Heads should roll.

  8. stackja

    Yet one also gets the impression, reading this insider’s account, that the Communist Party, despite elements of farce and Carry On bedroom antics, at times had more real power and influence than any except perhaps its natural enemies on the Right gave it credit for.

    USA and UK did not trust ALP/Communists, only when ASIO was created and Menzies elected did trust trust return. We don’t know what KGB/GRU did. Coal miners strike was the first battle in the war to destroy Australia. Chifley did his best. Evatt and others were of no help.

  9. Nerblnob

    Tagging someone as Right Wing these days is just a method of making sure they are not read or listened to by the very people who would most benefit. A Black Hat.

    I’ve read a lot of TT’s pieces and sometimes I have to kick myself to remember that Australia once had good journalists like this writing in the mainstream daily press.

    Go look at some old facsimiles of The Age or even the Melbourne Sun from the 60s and be shocked at how far they’ve fallen.

  10. Rafe Champion

    stakja, Santamaria and the movement did a herculean job in the 1950s to end communist control in several major unions but the lunatic Evatt pulled the plug before they cleaned out the wharfies and the consortium of building unions and others now the CFMEU which runs the country nowadays.

  11. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    It is a disgrace that under a so-called Liberal Government a quality magazine like Quadrant, which has a long track-record in Australian politics and letters, should have had its very small Australia Council funding axed in recent years, while a plethora of second-rate leftist publications get substantial funding. A few MP’s on Malcolm’s tail about this might help.

    I’m not particularly mounting an argument here for government funding of such publications, merely saying that if such funding is on offer then there should be some level of accountability in the grants made to ensure taxpayer assistance is given to a wider range of opinion than happens at present.

    Don’t give me the argument about Australia Council ‘independence’ here being inviolable. There is clearly a big leftist rort going on with their allocations of this funding, and it should be called out strongly and in the public eye.

    Connor Court are certainly worth supporting too, with personal purchases and library orders (for schools and universities).