The past twelve months – 14 – August 2014

World War One

3 August

Today I take a VERY local look.


A train heading for Wollongong via the original Helensburgh tunnel in 1914. The current deviation and new station are under construction on the left. That train could have been 1954 however, when I was living overlooking the line in Sutherland, though the “dogbox” carriages had become rarer by then. That engine though: I probably saw it! Photo from Lost Wollongong

11 August: Anzac Girls last night on ABC. This has been 2014’s most visited post – 657 views so far.

Meanwhile a kind of local connection. I suspect when I was very young I may have met the James sisters in Shellharbour: see Illawarra Remembers.

My current World War 1 reading includes Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars and Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. See also Christopher Hitchens on Hochschild:

In his previous works, on subjects as diverse as the Belgian Congo and the victims of Stalinism, Hochschild has distinguished himself as a historian “from below,” as it were, or from the viewpoint of the victims. He stays loyal to this method in “To End All Wars,” concentrating on the appalling losses suffered by the rank and file and the extraordinary courage of those who decided that the war was not a just one. Since many of the latter were of the upper classes, some of them with close relatives in power, he is enabled to shift between the upstairs-downstairs settings of post-Edwardian England, as its denizens began in their different ways to realize that the world they had cherished was passing forever…

We read these stirring yet wrenching accounts, of soldiers setting off to battle accompanied by cheers, and shudder because we know what they do not. We know what is coming, in other words. And coming not only to them. What is really coming, stepping jackbooted over the poisoned ruins of civilized Europe, is the pornographic figure of the Nazi. Again, Hochschild is an acute register. He has read the relevant passages of “Mein Kampf,” in which a gassed and wounded Austrian corporal began to incubate the idea of a ghastly revenge. He notes the increasing anti-Semitism of decaying wartime imperial Germany, with its vile rumors of Jewish cowardice and machination. And he approaches a truly arresting realization: Nazism can perhaps be avoided, but only on condition that German militarism is not too heavily defeated on the battlefield…

19 August: The flowers of the forest.

From Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars (2011) p. 349:

Should we not include some of the deaths reflected in the elevated rates of suicide that followed the war? … The Battle of Fromelles, … a forgotten sideshow to the Somme, saw more than 2,000 Australian and British soldiers die on July 19 and 20, 1916, in a foredoomed night attack against formidable German machine-gun nests in half-buried concrete bunkers. Brigadier-General H E Elliott had protested beforehand to Haig – something few dared do – that his troops were being asked to do the impossible. After the battle Elliott stepped between the dead bodies, tried to comfort the wounded, then returned to his headquarters with tears streaming down his face. Fifteen years later, half a world away in Australia, he killed himself.

See The War that Changed Us on ABC tonight.

It promises to be a more nuanced approach than the ra-ra ‘War that Made Us Australian’ type approach that I find so uncomfortable.  Its six main characters are two soldiers Archie Barwick, Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott, army nurse Kit McNaughton, anti-war activists Vida Goldstein and Tom Barker, and pro-war pastoralist’s wife Eva Hughes.

20 August: We came from the Tomb of Ezra – Sutherland 1964…

…1964! I was deeply embedded in the by then uber-Calvinist Sutherland Presbyterian Church, turned 21, wrote a thesis on King Lear, and had hepatitis. The previous year I had worked at the MLC Insurance Company in Martin Place. By the end of 1964 I was a BA (Hons) – but the truth is I knew bugger-all really.

And World War I was just 50 years on.

In the shop were Mr and Mrs Morris – name anglicised I would think. She seemed about twice the size of him and really seemed to be running the shop. You would often find them reading behind the counter. Perhaps because I was known to be an educated young fellow I would sometimes be greeted oddly. One time the opening line was “What do you think of Spinoza’s philosophy?” I had little to say in reply as they knew far more about it than I did!

You see the Morrises were Jewish – rather unusual in The Shire. In time they told me quite a bit about their life, but I was too young and too crass to explore it more. Like many they had come via China to Australia, but during World War 1 they were here:



28 August: Anniversaries – life changes…; 12 August: Food for thought and otherwise.

Kung Pao Chicken at Steelers 6 August

13 August: Friday nights in 1957 at Waratah Street West Sutherland; 14 August: Yesterday’s geriatric TV memories – the answers.


The Sydney boys High Choir in 1958. I was in the choir, but still in 58? Not sure…


But there is a lad there that looks rather like me…

24 August: Two kinds of people on earth to-day…

Last night I made an amazing discovery, an aspect of myself of which I had hitherto been unaware. Or perhaps now I am a septuagenarian it has developed as part of the general unravelling one has to expect. To adapt the words of the Bard of Wisconsin:

THERE are two kinds of people on earth to-day
Just two kinds of people, no more, I say…

And 23 August: Poetastery and pollies. “Lifters and leaners” and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. And my aunt.

The faults of a poetaster frequently include errors or lapses in their work’s meter, badly rhyming words which jar rather than flow, oversentimentality, too much use of the pathetic fallacy and unintentionally bathetic choice of subject matter…

This poet is an example, according to most critics and historians of poetry, though she may not be the worst. There was a silver-fish nibbled copy of the following at the bottom of a cupboard at our place when I was growing up. It had belonged to my Grandfather Tom Whitfield. When he had a daughter in Shellharbour in 1904 she was named “Ella”. My late aunt, of course. Coincidence? I wonder…

The past twelve months – 13 – August 2014 photoposts

August had 15 photoposts. The biggest set was Expedition to Surry Hills, 4-10 August. The month for this blog began with a trip to Sydney to lunch at The Shakespeare Hotel with M, recently returned from his Canada/Alaska trip.

In The Shakespeare Hotel

Sydney Boys High School, Moore Park

There were three posts in the Wollongong Transformed series: 15, 16 August and 1 September.

Wollongong transformed — 7

Posted on August 15, 2014 by Neil

I’ll soon take a few more pics for this series. Today, however, I draw attention to this story inThe Illawarra Mercury.

City Diggers RSL [sic*] Club general manager Phil Ryan wrote to the Mercury in response to comments made by independent councillor Vicki Curran, in which she criticised Wollongong City Council’s plans to encourage people congregating in Crown Street Mall to meet at nearby Wesley Church.

The plan, designed by a working group of the council, police, security, methadone and health clinics, Wesley Church and GPT, began a six-month trial on August 4…

Disagreeing with Cr Curran’s views that this represented an attempt at “gentrification” and the “marginalisation of our poor”, Mr Ryan was scathing in his assessment of those engaging in antisocial behaviour in the mall.

Keira Street 31 August (published 1 September)

Busker outside Woolworths in Burelli Street; he’s very good.

Mount Kembla from my window 21 August

See Laughing Jackass, Settler’s Clock…

The past twelve months – 12 – July 2014

Was this the end of July? Seems just yesterday.

See Pig’s guts! It’s the end of the month!

At the beginning of July I noted M’s travels in Alaska and Canada – photos from which I saw just the other week in Surry Hills. I also noted: “My brother in Tasmania had surgery on Monday. Good news there too, as he is now back home in Devonport.”  I then went on to waste my breath on the unlovely Scott Morrison.

3 July — Wollongong transformed — 2. This was an ongoing series culminating in the new centre opening later in the year and the completion of work in Crown Street Mall.

Cronulla was on my mind.

Oh Cronulla, my old stamping ground. I revisited a few years back.

…The coverage on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl included much disturbing footage I hadn’t seen before. It was also good to have a police viewpoint presented. On the other hand the episode did tend to minimise provocations from the “Leb” side that did happen. The point made that Cronulla Beach had long been the preferred weekend haunt of people from the western suburbs because it is the only beach accessible by train is also true. Even in the early 1960s I recall how Gunnamatta Park was full of Mediterranean types feasting on cockles taken from the bay – so much so that the sandbank eventually collapsed sometimes blocking passage of the Bundeena Ferry at low tide.

Whatever, the hideous xenophobia we saw back then in 2005 is simply beyond all decency and is certainly not patriotic. Rather, it led to our country being shamed internationally.

Sadly, as we saw recently, this aberrant interpretation of being Aussie still surfaces, most bizarrely just lately on an intercity train.

Check more of my entries on The Shire: Neil’s Final Decade; Floating Life; Ninglun’s Specials.

Another matter raised in Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl last Thursday was the radicalisation of young Muslims. I found what was shown interesting, particularly as in the period 2001 through 2005 it was very much part of my work. See for example The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?  It appears there may be more about this next week. I may post something more then as the issue is very much a live one again.

6 July is when my late uncle Neil would have turned 90: Ninety years on – family thoughts.

7 July: Sheltering

Still very relevant is 9 July’s The very real danger of the two minute hate.

…The effect of the Telegraph front page is clearly to suggest very strongly that ALL 65,000 or so asylum seekers are “assassins” or at least some kind of criminal. What were they thinking when they decided to run this line?

Almost certainly the purpose is just cheap stinking populism to sell their rag to gullible punters. The usual tabloid sewage. Fear and loathing of asylum seekers sells these days. But sewage like this really makes our country a worse place, not a better. Do we really want to ape the journalistic methods of Der Sturmer?

See also The New York Times 4 July 2014.

Australia is pursuing draconian measures to deter people without visas from entering the country by boat. In doing so, it is failing in its obligation under international accords to protect refugees fleeing persecution…

Saw some great DVDs. And then there was the Ian Thorpe interview.

See also an effort of mine which was for a while a page backed by the Sydney Boys High Welfare Committee:

GLBT resources

“Be sure that, in the end, inclusion will replace exclusion. For the sake of the planet and of humanity it must be so. And by our lives let us be an example of respect for human rights. Not just for gays. For everyone.” —Justice Michael Kirby, High Court of Australia. See below…

A bit out of date now as it was last revised in 2005, but much there still works. A shame that Sean Crist’s  “Rusty is a homosexual” has disappeared though; it was delightful.

Ah: a copy exists. BTW it was Thorpie’s former classmate who introduced me to Rusty back in 2000!

Then on 14th: Channel 10, the Commonwealth Games, and Ian Thorpe.

Recycled some 2000-2001 entries then: And at the beginning of this century I…  I then had another go at our Prime Minister:

17 July: Wollongong turns it on — 1, Wollongong turns it on — 2.

Yesterday began in the lower register – damp and coldish. A shame, as one of M’s housemates, Max, was coming down to Wollongong from Sydney. I had at the Shakespeare Hotel in Surry Hills a few weeks back sold him on the “best Chinese food this side of Sichuan” at the Red Dragon in the Steelers Club and on the wonder that is Illawarra Brewery.

Max’s train arrived and fortuitously a Shellharbour bus was waiting at Wollongong Station, accelerating our progress down Burelli Street at far as IPAC – appropriate given Max is an actor. Then at Steelers Chris T, my usual Wednesday lunch companion, joined us.

Red Dragon lived up to its reputation. The two-for-one deal meant we could have four dishes and we did: Sichuan spicy lamb chopsMao Family pork 毛氏红烧肉; Kung Pao chicken, and a garlicky/sesame oil stirfry vegetables to balance the heat of especially the lamb, which is very hot. All for just $12 a head. Max was amazed. Here is their (PDF) Sichuan menu…

The two-for-one deal has now ended.

Seems the world was just a bit much on 19 July.

See also Did he who made the lamb make thee? I then Recycled from July 2009.

22 July: Just caught up with last night’s HIV/AIDS #QandA – superb — 1.

This was a must see – much more so than #QandA often is. The panel and audience included people from the World AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne. You will recall that some of the researchers coming to that conference perished on MH17. And what a panel!  Do go and see/read, wherever you are in the world…

Then came MH17.

Wollongong Lord mayor Gordon Bradbery comforts Carol Clancy’s son Andrew Malcolm at a candlelight vigil to honour the victims of MH17 on Monday. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

See also West Wollongong magnolia, graduates and general weird stuff….

28 July:

Last Saturday I was treated to lunch in the Red Dragon Restaurant at Steelers

Great food as ever, and very multicultural company, my companions coming from Iran, Korea, Bangladesh and Australia – albeit the last being German-Cambodian. Such a shame the whole world can’t be as harmonious as that little group in a Wollongong footie club!

Two of my companions disappeared outside every little while for a smoke. I could empathise as once I would have been joining them for sure, but when the subject was raised by one of them I did tell my story – 50 a day (preferably Benson and Hedges), then 2011 and the cardiac ward and successfully stopping if rather after the horse had bolted…

Then on 30th: “My Wollongong Library reading has lately included two very different biographies. Least controversial first…” True or not true? Two biographies. One was Sir Henry Parkes. The other was Mark Kurzem, The Mascot (2007).

West Wollongong morning: 24 July

The past twelve months – 11 – more June 2014

On 2 June, politics.

I mean…


The Devil must have made me do that! After all, Tony Abbott didn’t really say that on The Bolt Report, and I have no reason to think I know what Andrew Bolt might be thinking…. I am sure Tony Abbott is perfectly willing to go on #QandA —  he is just so terribly busy!

On the other hand:

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has courted controversy by linking a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day to his government’s policies…

Then Tiananmen 25 years on and Megafires, Tiananmen, and a sad #QandA on Monday.

There am I, third from the left, with a Japanese Christian and Mr Kim from Korea on my right, a couple of Indonesian Muslims, Rui from Tianjin China, two more Indonesians, a Korean, and another Indonesian on my left. It’s a long time ago now, and I have always been better with faces than names. This is just one group from the hundreds of students I came to know in 1990 to early 1991 when I ventured into the overseas student world. Most were those Chinese who had left their country in the wake of Tiananmen. Rui, for example, was a scientist…

On 8 June: I was alive on D-Day 6th June 1944 includes reference to my late uncle, Neil Christison. Then Fairy Sparkle and the Old Queen.

It was arguably one the biggest days in Wollongong’s history, with local dignitaries and thousands of spectators packed into the city centre to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during their visit in February 1954.

Now, 60 years later, the excitement of the day has been brought back to life, with original footage of the Royal procession, as well as memorabilia including maps, programs and newspaper coverage, being published online by the University of Wollongong Library.

The seven-minute film, along with original commentary, has been digitised and published by the UOW Library in time for the Queen’s birthday long weekend.

See also Lesley Coombes, A 1954 royal flashmob and my posts 60 years ago today… and Sixty years on – and mortality. I wasn’t in Wollongong that day, but my grandfather Roy Christison and I did watch the Royal Train make its way back to Sydney.

More nostalgia on 11 June: It was 50 years ago today! The Beatles in Australia. That post includes the story of my religious position at that time. On education, chaplains etc see 20 June’s Another week in paradise – 2 – and tradition reasserted by High Court.

On 23 June Over a Sichuan lunch on Saturday ranged over quite a few matters, mostly multicultural and replayed some very old blog posts from as far back as 2000.

How multicultural can you get, when you think about it. On Saturday I shared authentic Sichuan food at the Red Dragon in that quintessentially Aussie venue, a Rugby League club, with three Iranians – one PhD and two PhDs in prospect – and one Cambodian-German Australian. Conversation naturally went to the World Cup, which I have been rather casual about. But of course Iran was soon to play Argentina. I will let the Cambodian-German Australian (Mel) report the sequel:

Poor Iran had prospects of an honourable tie snatched from them in the last seconds of the game, resulting in grown men crushed and sobbing for the loss. What an emotional 90mins. I’m going back to bed!


Yes, we had that hotpot again…

Mel also asked me if I still blogged, at one point. “Every day,” I answered and she looked a bit surprised. When I said how long I had been doing it she looked even more surprised…

24 June, and some appropriate reading for this centenary year of World War 1: The almost forgotten Andrew Fisher.

25 June: Wild weather, wild chaplains, wild verdicts… was indeed partly about the weather. This had been the scene the previous night here in West Wollongong.

As the month end neared I shared Some thoughts on Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl. Recent events make this all the more relevant.

Sydney siege

It isn’t often Sydney heads the Morning Brief from the US site Foreign Policy.

Top news: Much of central Sydney, Australia is on lockdown after an armed man entered a café and took up to 40 people inside hostage. The gunman carried a black flag with white Arabic writing that may have resembled the flag of the Islamic State jihadist group. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, “We don’t know if this is politically motivated.” The gunman has asked for a phone call with Abbott.

Five people have escaped the café so far but the siege shows no signs of ending. Sydney police are preparing for a long siege, saying they will keep the city’s center on lockdown for “as long as it takes” in order to break the siege and return the hostages safely. Muslim groups in Australia have condemned the hostage taking  and some Australians have taken to social media to speak out against a fear of hate crimes directed at Muslims.

The siege is now over.


ABC News summarises:

What we do know

  • Two hostages and the gunman, Iranian cleric Man Haron Monis, are dead.
  • The hostages who died are a 34-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman. Four other people required hospital treatment for non-life-threatening injuries, including a police officer.
  • Police stormed the building shortly after 2:00am AEDT after a number of gunshots were heard from inside the cafe.
  • Police regard the siege as a “critical incident” which will be thoroughly investigated.
  • In total, there were 17 hostages.
  • Monis had been holding the hostages inside the Lindt Chocolate Cafe in Martin Place since about 9:45am AEDT on Monday.
  • Monis was on bail for a string of violent offences, including being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife.
  • Monis’ former lawyer, Manny Conditsis, said Monis was an isolated figure likely to be acting alone.
  • Police had been in direct contact with Monis during the siege.
  • A number of hostages had been seen with their hands pressed up against the glass of the cafe windows.
  • Five people fled the cafe on Monday afternoon, having escaped from Monis.
  • Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement the gunman was “claiming political motivation”, but did not declare it an act of terrorism.
  • A black flag with an Islamic creed written on it in Arabic was displayed in the windows early in the siege, but the flag was not the one used by Islamic State.
  • Hostages contacted a number of media outlets, including the ABC, during the siege. Police asked the media not to reveal the contents of the calls.

What we don’t know

  • How the two hostages died.
  • The details of the motivation or aims of Monis, except Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s statement that he is “claiming political motivation”.
  • Whether the incident is related to terrorism – although NSW Police are “operating according to our counter-terrorism protocols”.
  • Exactly what weapons or explosives Monis may have had access to.


Map from ABC News

See also Martin Place, Sydney siege gunman identified as Man Haron Monis and Muslim community ‘shocked’ by Sydney cafe siege, say ‘misguided’ individuals misrepresenting faith.

We watched events unfold from a distance here in Wollongong. At the City Diggers Club the screens that last week were devoted to the Adelaide Test carried Channel Seven’s coverage. And as is I guess inevitable rumours and facts came and went as streaming coverage tends to do. For example: Was there an incident at the Opera House? (No.) Were there arrests in Lakemba? (No.) How many people were in the cafe? (17 in the end.) It was bad, no doubt about it, the whole thing, but it does seem in the light of next day – and tragically three people dead, including the gunman – that this was the work of a lone nut job.

Proportionality is vital. Just think Port Arthur 1996 — no Muslims involved — 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. And I couldn’t help thinking also of the Battle of Broken Hill in 1915, partly I suppose because it has been discussed a bit lately.


The Manchester Unity picnic train attacked by ‘Turks’ at Broken Hill on New Year’s Day 1915.

…While the attack was apparently politically inspired, as the attackers confessed in notes they left behind, it appears they were not involved in any organised group or militia. Turkey was one of the Central Powers Australia and its Allies were at war with. It was speculated that the two men were Turkish. Later they were identified as Muslims from what is now modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The attackers both former cameleers working at Broken Hill, they were Badsha Mohammed Gool, an ice-cream vendor and Mullah Abdullah, a local imam and halal butcher.

Abdullah had arrived in Broken Hill around 1898 and worked as a cameleer, before becoming a Islamic mullah killing and preparing animals according to halal Islamic law…

After the battle, the scene in Broken Hill was pandemonium and the following night the police were forced to stop a lynch mob from marching on the West Cameleer’s camp.

After this there was no further violence recorded against the Broken Hill Muslim community. Instead, the attack was seen as the result of seditious activities of ‘Enemy Aliens’ and the German community in the area became the focus of mob violence. Believing the Germans had agitated the assailants to attack the train, the local German Club was burnt to ground with the angry mob cutting the hoses of the firemen who came to fight the flames. Once again the police had to break up the mob.

Back in the present: here is a really good thing!

Screen-Shot-2014-12-15-at-9.27.51-pm See Harrison Cartwright, #IllRideWithYou: The hashtag campaign to provide support to people dressed in religious attire.

It’s been a very dark day. There’s no denying that. And it’s not over yet.

We avoided providing coverage today because there were news outlets out there much more qualified and equipped than we were. What we can bring you tonight is coverage on a heartwarming example of the internet using its powers for good – at a time when a horrible darkness is threatening our nation.

At its heart, the campaign is aimed to provide assistance to those dressed in religious attire – particularly given they’re the ones that suffer the most persecution in the wake of events such as these. Users are offering to accompany people on public transport for protection, support, and a shoulder to lean on.

On a day like today, it’s a nice reminder that there’s still hope out there – and special to know that compassion and support still exists in such a massive way…

Harrison I should add is a second cousin of mine. I note also Ray Christison, a cousin, published this on Facebook:

I have decided on a one-strike policy in relation to hate speech. I will report any racist comment or comments aimed at inciting hatred between or against religious groups, including reposts from “patriotic” or hate pages. I will also unfriend the person who has posted such comment. This is my personal choice. ‪#‎illridewithyou‬

Amen, Ray!

Wednesday 17 December

Moving scenes in Martin Place over the past 24 hours. Had I still been living just down Elizabeth Street in Surry Hills I would have been there in person for sure.


ABC photo

It does appear that the crazed Muslim Walter Mitty who currently fancied himself as an emissary of those ratbags in Iran and Syria was solely responsible. Among the profiles to emerge see Sydney gunman Man Haron Monis a real sheikh only to himself by Waleed Aly. I should add that while there has rightly been discussion of the role media new and old have played in all this, much really has been excellent. I hope we are all capable of making the necessary distinctions.

I for one was a touch uncomfortable about some of what the Prime Minsister said. Sure, we all wonder why the jerk was on the street, how he could get a gun, whether the tragedy might have been prevented – but we need to be very careful where such thoughts might take us. For example, see the cautions expressed by former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery.

On the victims see Lindt cafe manager Tori Johnson killed in Martin Place siege.

The manager of the Lindt Chocolat Cafe was one of two people killed during Monday’s siege in Martin Place.

Tori Johnson, 34, of Redfern, died in hospital after being shot inside the cafe that he had run for two years.

He is the son of acclaimed Australian artist Ken Johnson and his former wife Rowena.

Sydney barrister Katrina Dawson was the other hostage who died.

Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn would not comment on Tuesday about claims that Mr Johnson was shot when he tried to wrestle the weapon from Monis, to allow the other hostages to escape…

His family has gathered at the 34-year-old’s Redfern apartment as his brother James flies to Sydney from Canada.

The cafe manager was also in a long-term relationship with his partner of 14 years, Thomas Zinn.

It is understood Mr Zinn is being comforted along with the Johnsons at the couple’s home. 

Friends of Mr Johnson described him on Tuesday as “a loving, placid and very gentle soul … a true gentleman”.

Parents’ statement

Mr Johnson’s parents released a statement via journalist Ben Fordham, saying: “We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for…

See also Tim Mayfield, How to honour the victims of the Sydney siege.

Malcolm Turnbull: just class!