Roast Dog On A Spit

I wrote this in jest a couple of days ago and it is already out of date. I just can’t keep up with the turpitude of Canberra politics.

Lucy dear, breakfast this morning is blue collar rather than blue tie. I’m making scrambled eggs. It’s a working class soufflé. Goes with spinach.

Do it with kale Malcolm. They do have pretensions you know.

Yes. Well after testing their public transport system I thought a change would be nice.

You are so brave dear. Speaking of which. Don’t forget the Trumps are coming for dinner tonight. You do have something in common. I know he can be uncouth but you are both self-made you know what.

Oh damn. Perhaps we should hide the Henson. It might over-excite him.

You don’t think he’ll do a Shorten do you?

The gall of that man. I invite him in, serve him some decent wine, he admires the photo – even recognises the subtle use of light – and then walks into the press to accuse me of dishonesty. I don’t see what a photo has to do with 18C anyway.

And to think you were the doyen of free expression. What is the world coming to?

I blame Christensen. If it’s not 18C then it’s 457. He just seems to grab random numbers to disorient me. Next he’ll be dropping hints about RU 486, and of course I am so I should be invited back to the Mardi Gras. I wish somebody would just go and frack Christensen.

That would upset Barnaby. Or perhaps not.

Well frack him too. Do you know how much it is going to cost us to move Canberra? Where the hell is Kelly’s Plains anyway? They don’t even have snow fields.

At least it’s further than Warringah. Do you think Donald would give Tony a job? They are so like-minded.

I said to Tony I’d dump Joe and he could have Washington but he started talking about loyalty. With Joe! Between us dear he didn’t express the same feelings towards Alex.

And Pauline?

Business is too good for her to go anywhere. What have I done to deserve all this? We had hopes, dreams, visions and now it all lies at my feet – shattered. ‘Jobs and Growth’ – how boring. I’ve got a job. Union bashing might be necessary but it is so blasé. Besides, what do they expect? The government has no control over a deregulated and privatised economy.

Can’t you go back to innovation dear? That was so much fun. I don’t suppose Donald’s militarisation interests you does it? You might get your own new Air Force One.

Aaagghh!!! Aussie One to base – I don’t want to go down in history as the warmonger PM, although it could be a useful campaign slogan. Dutton is playing games with moderation. Doesn’t he know I’m the nice Malcolm?

Perhaps you could make him a Spanish omelette. Dear I have to go sort out that tunnel thing. A few trees go and everyone thinks Sydney’s vision is tainted. Public transport once in a while might be fun but we do need to improve private transport.

Just keep them out of our area.

Oh the western suburbs love tunnels. They think it is an achievement to come out the other end. Small things. It’s those inner west hipsters that are the problem.

Ah, the youth of today. They are impeccable dressers. I like their taste in fashion.

I’m not even sure they’re people. They talk a language I just cannot comprehend. It’s not just the young ones but also the old hippies who are chaining themselves to bulldozers. Yet again. Malcolm – the eggs!

Damn! They’ve burned.

I warned you not to cook with coal. It really isn’t your area of expertise.

But the solar cooker is broken. The thermostat has gone ballistic.

Feed it to Tony dear. He’s at the front door. He won’t know the difference.

Tony! How kind of you to visit. Share some scrambled eggs with me.

Uh, er. Morning Malcolm. Good morning Lucy. If you must know I prefer mine raw. It helps to put hairs on the chest and to see in the dark. Now Malcolm, me and the boys have a problem.

What could it possible be now? Didn’t you hear what I said about the ABC?

Well, er, yes. I do have to admit that did take us by surprise. Especially from you, he, he. But actions must follow words you know. Slash and Burn – that should be your new slogan.

I’m not like you. I don’t mean any disrespect but I can truthfully claim to have greater eloquence – Short Term Pain For Long Term Gain – that’s seven words.

We do express ourselves differently I’ll give you that. Just make sure there is no pain for us. Now did you hear what happened at Marrakech?

Nothing much at all happened at Marrakech just as we planned. I cannot possibly see what there is to complain about.

I take it that you noticed where we ranked.

Oh, fifth from the bottom. Yes, that was disappointing.

I can understand it is difficult scoring lower than Saudi Arabia or Kazakhstan, but sure we can beat Japan and even South Korea.

So what do you suggest?

Well, er, Gina has actually been on the phone.

I thought you said just the boys.

And Barnaby. We think you need to open a few more coalmines. Abolish the assistance package to those Hazelwood workers and redirect it into subsidies for Twiggy’s fracking interests, or should I say, er, his exploration for new energy sources.

Tony. I do have my limits you know. Nothing to Twiggy until he can prove there is gas in commercially exploitable quantities. Don’t you worry about the Carmichael because Labor will get that over the line. I will get the legislation preventing the greenie legal appeals through. I am the Prime Minister need I remind you.

And it is a grand title to have Malcolm.

In cabinet yesterday, yes I know you are not there, and no you will gain a return, I cannot trust you that much. But I will being you in on the joke. We played a little game yesterday where I asked each member to complete the sentence ‘there has never been a greater time to be Australian …’. Do you know what Julie answered? It was about you. Guess.

Tony?

Tony! Are you there?

Tony! Don’t give me that glazed look. You’ll never match Julie’s death stare.

All right Tony. You can have a turn. Give me the answer. There has never been a better time to be an Australian ….

Er, well, um, because I can pull the strings on the Puppet Master.

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One last beer at the Black and White

ABC Open has published a short story I wrote about an encounter with a ‘small-small’ brigade at the start of the Sierra Leonean war: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/159059

child-soldiers

The tropics in the build-up to seasonal rains. Dust swirls between mud brick buildings, children kick a dud football, a pile of burning rubbish sends off an acrid stench.

In evenings we would sit on the veranda of the local pub, the Black and White, savouring cold beer and cool breezes, appeasing our conscience by throwing coins to the polio-crippled beggars. Father Bob’s whisky odours, engineer Johnny’s beery breath, and the vinegar taste of cheap wine gone warm.

Bo, Sierra Leone, and now I am the last expat in town. Across the border a brutal civil war. Rebels announced that this weekend they will take Bo. Government forces, aid organisations and the expatriate community have fled, leaving the local population to hastily construct rudimentary defences.

I’d been asked to provide logistic support to the aid organisations till management sent an instruction to cease operations and relocate all vehicles to the national capital. By midday Saturday the instruction is clear – “Drive directly to Freetown. Do not divert or stop for any reason.” They might be the but I think one last beer at the Black and White can’t hurt.

As I swing round the corner, my throat dry for a beer rasps with fear. Heads wrapped in bandanas, chests encircled by bullet belts. Goggle eyes, hysteric laughs and the reek of marijuana. A group as big as the guns and machetes they bear surrounds me. They are the feared ‘small-small’ brigade and the leader, almost to shaving age, shouts, “Now what for you do here?”

A heartbeat, or two, then, “Hey white man, come and have a beer.” The Commander, alone at the bar, seeks a drinking companion. I do the gunslingers walk. The pub seems different – the raw timber floors more splintered, the tears in the laminated tabletops more pronounced, the depth of the bar has turned into a shadowy tunnel, while the Commander, standing, towers over me.

A former General in the Liberian army, he has been operating in the refugee camps, recruiting retreating soldiers and others, to try and create a new invasion force. He mocks rumours of an imminent attack. “Now what for they do that? They don’t want big fights that go kill ‘em. They do what they always do – cut off the entrances so no one gets out or comes in, and then they strangle slow-slow, like the python.”

He orders a beer, which I eagerly grasp. At least the fridges are working. We discuss whether the forthcoming rains will halt the rebel advance. “A big rain ‘e go wash them scum into the sea,” the Commander asserts. We talk about ex-Liberian President, Samuel Doe being tortured to death to prove he was not protected by black magic. Captured on film (which I refused to see) the Commander reflects prevailing opinion, “He die like a man,” then switches to English football, “MU, this year they going to win the FA cup again.”

When I say I need to go, he orders another beer, and then he says, “Now you go look-look big time. That road’s not safe no’more.”

The road to Freetown is crammed with hundreds, possibly thousands, of walking refugees and mine is the only vehicle. People charge at the speeding car begging a lift. The rules say, “No passengers”, but then rules are made to be broken.

Unfinished Business: How Did I Get Here?

ABC Open has published my 500 word story, a reimagining of our climb up Mt Kenya: https://open.abc.net.au/explore/48hv8oi 

Mr Grumpy on the mountain top

There are people who claim that men are naturally risk takers, or perhaps just dumb and stubborn. Is it testosterone surges or the assured confidence of male privilege? Or perhaps it is just a myth?

An old friend, who was once was a member of a women’s nude parachuting team, said, “You would not believe the contortions the body can go into.” One day she drifted off course, landing in a park full of praise-singing evangelists. “That was an embarrassment,” she said. “For me and the people in the park. They didn’t know if I was an angel or Beelzebub.”

I don’t know why I was thinking of my nude parachuting friend just beneath the summit of Africa’s second highest peak. Unlike her, I was on course but frozen – both figuratively and literally – while attempting to traverse a glacier. And no amount of testosterone was going to help me.

Gripped with fear I can move neither forwards or backwards, while the dawn wind is whipping through my protective gear. The glacier falls away below and my thoughts go to the travel guide, who forewarned, “Errant hikers have slid down glacial faces and over the edge never to be seen again.”

It hadn’t started this way. Bristling with confidence I was carrying a flask of tequila intending on a tequila sunrise from the peak while waving the scarf of my favourite footy team.

We ascend in darkness, timed to summit with the sunrise. It is a tough scramble over shale, rock, ice and snow. When the first rays of dawn appear and the mists lift I see my position as precarious. One false step and I become a snowboard setting a new downhill speed record.

I’m sobbing and screaming at my partner, “How could you have made me do this? I am never going to get out of here!”

I am immovable and panicked. Doomed. A storm has iced in chains we are meant to grip, and the glacier waits like a greedy water slide.

My saviour is an Austrian woman who bounds over the glacier like a child in a sandpit. Whipping out her pick she hacks a step in the ice.

“You vill put your foot in here, ja,” she instructs. Oh how I love that accent as she leads me up the mountain, one ice-pick footstep at a time.

There is a photo showing a group of climbers celebrating reaching the peak. The grumpy old man sitting on the sidelines is me.

As she got me up, so too does my saviour lead me back down to base camp. We rest before a relaxing downhill walk through magnificent valleys bearing trout-filled lakes, crystal clear tarns and giant lobelias. Tame hyraxes watch from rocks, warmed by the afternoon sun.

The sense of achievement has the blood rushing through my veins, if not the head. On the flight home, I turn to my hiking companions and say, “Hey, that was neat. You know the seven summits challenge? One mountain on each continent. We make a good team, what do you say we give it a go?” I couldn’t understand why they wanted to throw me out of the plane without a parachute.

Now, my abode is on the Kimberley coast whose tidal flats contrast to mountain peaks. The highest point is eighty-three metres above the sea. We climb it to survey the surrounds. My partner, a South African, says “Back home we’ve got mine dumps bigger than this.”

“C’mon,” I say. “We’ve still got unfinished business. Two peaks down and five to go.”

2 Levity le Grunge and the Apparition on her Shoulder

Chapter 2 of my fictional creation. I would like to think it is John le Carre meets Dune and Frantz Fanon, but fear will be more akin to The Magic Faraway Tree as described by Marvin the Paranoid Android. Still, gives me pleasure …

Levity - http-::seraphym-blog.blogspot.co.ke:

Levity got grunt. She’s tough. And she’s a smart one. Like she went to university.

Levity’s parents wanted a girl as first-born. May their souls rest in peace. They reckoned she could help raise the sons. She came out last but still got the job lookin after her four big brothers. May all their souls rest in peace.

Her folks give her that name cause they thought she’d be light and airy. She turned out real serious. There were things that made her that way. Sure she can laugh, but her jokes are cold like.

We saw a dead guy once, a big fat one. The rats and dogs was rippin at his body. He must have crossed a gang cause they’s had cut a small hole in him and led his guts across the road so the cars would splatter it. Levity looked at the dead guy and said, “I guess he won’t be ordering eggs hollandaise for breakfast.”

Levity and me is bestest friends – ain’t nobody closer. I’m her confidant. The person she tells things to that she tells no one. And I tells things to her. I’m the eyes in the back of her head. Or like I’m inside her head. Usual you finds me on her shoulder. Levity needs me.

I saved Levity from the darkest of places. If youse kind to me then maybe one day I’ll tell ya how we met. She calls me her “fantastic phantasm” or her “happy skellem”. I likes that. Then she says “you are caught in your own purgatory and we need to get you out of there.” Which makes me confused.

It weren’t always so sweet. When we started out together Levity she crushed her nose and said, “Toko, you stink and your breath is putrid”. Well I had been lost a long time. With no friend or nuthin. Now Levity makes me wash myself at least one time each week, and she puts this green stuff in my mouth and swills it about. She holds me mouth shut so I can’t spit it out, and then she says “now you smell sweet”. Levity says that maybe its time to get me a new set of clothes but I says I likes them this way cause they lets the breeze through.

“If you dressed well then you would be much more presentable.”

“Yeah but the one’s that can sees me don’t care and them’s that cain’t don’t matter.”

“It would help me. Sometimes I feel embarrassed. I mean like it is really hard standing up to people who always seem to know what they are doing. My confidence –“

“Youse the smartest person is the whole wide world,” I says but Levity gives me such a brutal look I shuts up. Levity can cuts a person to bits with just one look.

She got a sort of tough stocky ‘come-on’ thing about her. Her lips are tight and determined, and her nose crunches up. Yet her eyes sparkle like black jewels shooting stars.

I says, “I reckons you got mountain blood in yer,” and a tear pops into Levity’s eye. That means I’ve rumbled somethin and she’s thinkin of her family so I goes and gives her a big hug. Then she smiles, one of them glory smiles where her teeth glitter like mirrors in the sun. Then she tickles me under the chin cause she knows I loves that.

“You are right. Grandma was Piriantu. She came to the lowlands when the government drove them off.”

“Why’s they do that? Government don’t like peoples do they?”

“They turned it into a national park, and then sold it to themselves. So they had to get everyone out. Grandma made azak which strong men claimed sent them flying. No one messed with Grandma.” She rubs the back of her neck where the tatt is.

Levity swings her arms and stomps her feet to show how strong she is. I seen Levity lift bags of maize just to prove she can. And she done it a dozen times cause the boys said she couldn’t. She strutted off proud. She spent the next few days in bed nursin hurt muscles, but she didn’t let anyone know that. And nows I sees her thinkin and I knows whats she’s thinkin. She’s thinkin about her grandma who was a wild one and wonderin if she took on more than just the shape. Then she goes back to tying to fix the window.

The burglar bars are rusted and Levity can’t afford a welder and the landlord sure not going to pay for it. So I freed some razor wire from the wall of a posh folks house but we’ve not got any gloves and it is real nasty sharp. So we got to be extra careful twisting it around the bars to hold them together, and we get little pricks on our fingers and bits of blood on our hands. Blood don’t bother Levity cause she seen too much before now. Everyone here done seen death since when they was a little kid. It’s things from what peoples done seen that goes and makes them.

Once we fix the burglar bars we goes to the bus station cause Levity got another job. She keeps doin different things cause she gotta survive. This time she’s callin herself a researcher. She dun that before and peoples at the university reckons she’s a good one. Well nots all. There’s this professor don’t like her but others say she does a good job. Levity prides herself on a good job.

Levity’s lookin into what she calls fatalism – which I think means why peoples don’t do nothing even ifs they should. It’s not a sickness but if it was then I reckon the whole worlds got it.

We’s at the bus station cause Levity wants to talk to the passengers that protested to stop the price hikes. She wants to know why they don’t do nothing about shoddy buses and deadly drivers, or mebbe that’s shoddy drivers and deadly buses. But theys the same same. Levity figures understandin whys they don’t do nothin, even when they shown they can do something, says somethin about “the intrinsic interrelationship between fatalism and disempowerment.” Whatever that means.

I likes the bus station cause there’s always lots goin’ on. Over there is two cops shakin down someone they reckons got a spare dollar or two. There’s a couple of sharks conning a woman to open her purse. And then you gets the soapbox preachers fleecing anyone that gets too close.

The sun’s real bright today and it comes through the dust making the touts sellin tickets look like red ghosts. Sorta ether real. “They’s shoutin’ “Hurry, hurry the bus is about to go”, even when no ones on board.

Then there’s the young mens and womens selling water or softs or lollies or nuts or fake sunnys. They sells maps or baby toys, anythink to try and make a livin. There’s the smells of cookin all different things – dough balls in oil, eggs and sausages, plantains. Thes people are artists cause they can cook, talk, sell, take money and move all at once.

Over there watchin from the side and acting like rulers is Griffin and his Mongrels. They’s nasty. They got knives and big guns. ‘N bubblewrap for brains. We don’t like them so we’s stays in the middle where’s everyone can sees us so theys can’t touch us. They don’t like Levity cause she smart and makes them look stupid. They’s both fears me and they’s wants me. Theys scared cause they knows what’s I can do to em. But they’s knows me parts is worth lots and they wants to get holds of me. So we keeps away from them.

Levity don’t like bus stations too much. “It is the epitome of the world. Everyone rushing everywhere and not really sure why they’re doing it.” She still don’t fully trust people and she reckons when theys going in all directions thens you can’t see whats happenin and that’s when you get dun. Like the guy that came up and started rubbing against her and she felt his hard on in the small of her back. She swung around and hit him in the goolies with her right hand, the one where her fingers are missing and the stubs are like fork prongs. That woulda hurt him. I stood on her shoulders and bit him on the nose so he ran away squealin. I thoughts it was real funny and was laughin till I thought’s me head was gonna fall off. Levity she was ferocious and steamed so much that the top of her head did come off. You shoulda seen the fumes. Phewee. It was so hot that’s I got scolded.

“Come back here you slimy piece of dead goat’s sperm,” she screamed after the guy. But I reckon he hasn’t stopped runnin. And he’s probably still trying to find his ball sac.

Anyways enough with the introductions. We got a story to tell and it’s a big one.

Levity done interviewed a few people. Some folks don’t want to talk, somes talk a bit then rush off, and others once they start there’s no stopping them. It’s like no one ever asked them anything before now they gots a chance then nuthins stopping them. When there’s ones like this I lets off a smelly and that makes em move.

Levity says, “I have to go the Mothers Club.”

“I know,” I sez, “cause you told me.”

“It is their anniversary and I am close to them.”

“I knows. And you said you gotta go and then we’s gotta be back later cause you got another job tonight.”

“Are you coming with me?”

“Yeah. Of course.”

Levity looks at me curious, like as if she don’t believe, and says, “OK.”

I sez, “Them clouds lookin like they gotta a grumble so mebbe a pikipiki no good. We better take a bus.”

Levity groaned but we gets on one and sits at the back so we can see everything happenin, Levity munchin on a mix of grilled cicada dipped in honey washin it down with fermented sugar cane. I was right bout the clouds cause day went night and the sky became a waterfall. That don’t stop the driver none. He’s just driving like he’s trying to prove Einstein wrong. Maybe he’s full a ‘phenes, what with his reflector sunnies, seat set back as far as it can go, and foot glued to the floor.

Levity’s screamin’, “Slow down! You will kill us all you fool!” but the driver don’t hear. He’s got a bit of hippity-hop berrydoo-chop-chop playin so loud he can’t even hear his brain changing gear.

‘N old lady lean over, well I reckon she’s old cause she got grey hair and wrinkles and I ain’t got one of that and I’s infinite, and she says, “Don’t worry dear. It is all in God’s hands.”

Levity says, “Maybe God wants us to make a decision instead of us expecting everything all the time.”

“God is always with us dear. Just pray and you can be assured.”

“What if God’s gone for a cup of tea?”

“Then that is God’s will and we will join him all the more sooner.” The old lady gives Levity the sweetest smile, like fair floss with chocolate sauce on top. Levity gives back a smile like vomit in a vanilla slice. She give up prayin a long time back. She did it once, then lost it, and then now she’s somewhere between sort of. It’s like … well I’s digressin and that’s part of how we’s met so it can wait.

We does get’s to the end of the route OK.

“Have a wonderful day,” Levity says to the old lady as if she means it.

“Always dear. Life is full of praises. You just keep that song in your heart as it will help you get rid of the ugly on your shoulder.”

I was gonna bite her for that but Levity’s grabs me and pulls me away.

The Mother’s Club is havin their anniversary at the Church Hall. There’s lots of coloured streamers showin the way and inside we can hear voices. Lots of peoples there.

“You can’t come in,” Levity says.

“What do you mean? I always come with you.”

“It’s a women only celebration.”

“That’s OK cause I’s not a man.”

“You are also not a woman.”

“Don’t blame me cause I’s that way.”

“Look,” I sees Levity’s feet shiftin’ which means she gonna sez somethin she reckons I don’t want to hear. But I wants to hear everythink. “Perhaps I should have told you but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. The old women. They can see you and you scare them.”

“I won’t do them no harm.”

“I know that Toko, but they don’t. Please wait outside. You can listen through the door.”

Then she goes in and closes the door on me. I don’t likes this place. It smells funny. I wants to know what’s happenin so I’s close me eyes and press my ear real hard to the door. I wuz tryin’ to listen to what they was talkin’ about but being outside it was tough. Like I was hearing the volume on voices going up and down but I couldn’t make out the words.

Something was under me skin that made me unsettled. That’s true. It wasn’t quite right and my alerts were full bore, yet cause my head was into listenin I didn’t see them come round the corner. It took me by surprise and that made it easy for them’s to grab me.

This was the fear that I had me worried. Cause it weren’t my home turf and I’s get snapped. I got swarmed by a plague of putrids who took me as their afternoon’s entertainment. First I thinks maybe theys either wants to kill me, or chop off me parts. But I’s lucky ‘cause at least they ain’t the rampaging rabies – if it had been them then I wouldn’t be here to write these words. These mongrels just want to use me as a game. They did try for me eyes – everyone flips over me eyes – but I foughts them off.

I was mocked and prodded. My pockets were emptied into their hands. I got kicked from to the other and back again. Then they tied me shoes over a power line while my feets was still inside them. Theys left me hanging the wrong way up.

That’s when things started happenin that no one person ever could figure would. Like the world went real weird and started shiftin. And I’s there helpless, dangling upside down watchin it.

What Happens In Vegas: Off the Beaten Track

ABC Online publishes short stories by all sorts of people. on 23 August 2016 my story on the recently undertaken Melbourne to Broome trip is posted. 

https://open.abc.net.au/explore/02fa0rw

Two DogsTwo Dogs in the Painted Desert

I throw caution to the wind and decide to take the shortcut.

In the 1960’s my father sold his Melbourne nursery and bought another piece of land to build a new one. My school holiday task was to clear the land for the new nursery. It was overgrown and furrowed, hardened from harsh summers. Amongst the scrub and thistles we came across an old trailer. Now it is fifty years later, and I am charged with the task of transporting our possessions from Gippsland to the Kimberley almost 6000 kilometres away, to join my partner working in Broome.

The trailer has sat unused in my sister’s backyard. There has been a debate over whether it can make the distance. Eventually, we decide to give it a go so we hook trailer up to the second-hand 4WD I have bought.

The subtly changing landscape creeps into the skin, drawing the traveller in. The journey starts with Gippsland Red Gums which give way to northern Ghost Gums. Rain has exploded the grasses, from straw fields through to saltbush turning into patches of scrub.

The journey to Alice Springs, goes smoothly. I am tempted by the Tanami Track, both for the sense of adventure and that it cuts over 1500 kilometres off the journey. It is 1000 kilometres of dirt, corrugated road and I heed my partner’s pleadings not to take it.

But, but … the tarred road north is straight, flat and boring. Three or four days of that and I fear falling asleep at the wheel. Or maybe I’m just a risk-taker seeking an excuse. Whatever, I am alone and I relish the fact that there is no-one around to bare witness. I decide to take a shortcut using the facetiously named Buchanan and Buntine “Highways” and only 400 kilometres of dirt.

The track takes me through Kalkarindji, formerly known as Wave Hill, and home to the famous strike. It is approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the nine-year strike, which concluded with the photo of Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hand of Vincent Lingiari.

Then there are the saltpans and lines of gums marking riverbeds. Throughout the redness of the land breaks through, and then in patches the sun reflects off moisture and silicon to give a purple hue. Here and there a rocky outcrop or the odd mesa, or in the distance the line of a razorback range. I see Roos and Dingoes, Wedge Tail Eagles, Emus and Bustards. Finally the expanse of the Kimberley welcomes. One of the most beautiful parts of the planet, seemingly scarcely populated, yet with layers of complexity.

That night I reach Hall’s Creek, tired but exuberant. I have knocked two days off the trip, and call people to haughtily announce my achievement, ‘Trailer’s fine.’ I declare. Tomorrow, Broome!

Departing at the crack of dawn, forty kilometres down the road the trailer blows a tyre. It has been ripped to shreds. When I look underneath I notice pieces of leaf spring hang down. Easing back into Halls Creek, I find Mick the Welder, whose business card says, “What’s Broken Now?” Genial and full of yarns Mick’s inspection shows that my smart-arsed decision-making has rendered brutal consequences. Not only are the springs broken, the U-bolts holding the axle on are about to snap, and a couple of bolts holding the wheel have sheared. The mudguards flap loosely and, while we stand there, the tail light lens pops out and drops to the floor. Trailer is as good as dead. We strike a deal: Mick will take care of my possessions inside trailer until I can collect them. In return, the trailer is his.

Growing consternation at trashing trailer is tempered by knowing it may very well live again. Who knows what kind of life awaits it now, swapping a suburban Melbourne backyard for Mick’s red dirt yard. Mick is keen to rehabilitate it. It is comforting to think that the trailer will live to fight another day much like the wonderful film, The Never Ending Story. Instead of the luck dragon carrying a child off to another adventure, the trailer will faithfully follow another person’s dreams down a dusty track to a new life.

Turning Our Backs On Old Friends – Australian Aid to Africa Turns To A Trickle

In the build up to the July 2 2016 federal election in Australia, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), peak body for Australia’s international NGOs, published a series of articles in support of Australian aid. I contributed two articles from an African perspective. This is the second one, published 30 June 2016.

https://acfid.asn.au/blog-post/turning-our-backs-old-friends-%E2%80%93-australian-aid-africa-turns-trickle

Vic Falls dried up

As the Australian Government’s latest harsh aid cuts come into effect, including axing almost all aid for Africa, Anglican Overseas Aid Advisor Phillip Walker describes a visit to Victoria Falls and last week to Mozambique where people are battling to survive one of the continent’s most severe droughts.

Australian NGOs have long supported people in Africa and their governments to manage disasters. As a result they are much better at dealing with extreme events today. Still, a series of severe weather events and ongoing conflict has meant they’re still struggling to cope just as Australia.
East and Southern Africa has been hit with a series of wild weather events, intensified by global warming. In 2014-15, the southern region and the Horn of Africa were inundated with torrential downpours and destructive floods. People were just recovering from flood impact when drought hit.

The Afar region in north-eastern Ethiopia is a harsh desert populated by nomadic pastoralists. Once again the seasonal rains have failed. An old man looks despairingly into the distance, searching for the grass that has failed to grow. “The weather is crazy. It does not know what it is doing anymore,” he tells me. Tens of thousands of cattle have died, destroying the subsistence lifestyles of many families. Fortunately, few people have died, so far.
In December last year I was in Zambia and with a group of work colleagues, as people do, we went to view Victoria Falls. Renowned for being a roaring mass of water (the locals call it Mosi-oa-Tunya, The Smoke That Thunders) we were shocked to see bare rock with the flow reduced to just one corner.
Last week I was in Mozambique. Summer rains have failed and the next rains are not due until December. Strands of maize have withered and fallen to the ground. Families can be seen scrambling through fields for remnants. One woman tells me a story I have often heard, of the fear from not knowing how her family will survive. “We had stored maize which we ate after the floods destroyed our crops,” she says.
This is now the worst drought in Africa since the 1980’s. Unlike the disasters of the 1980s deaths have been few because governments are now better resourced to assist their own populations. However, their ability to continue with assistance is wearing down.
As a result, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says in East and Southern Africa over 50 million people are lacking food, and there is $2.4 billion shortage in funds for emergency relief. In Ethiopia alone 10.2 million people need food aid.
In February, the Australian Ambassador to Ethiopia Mark Sawers told me that Australia had contributed $10 million directly to Ethiopian drought relief. Mark is rightly proud of Australia’s contribution. Yet, compared the past Australia has contributed far less to help Ethiopia. A 1984 UN report said in that year Australia donated $10.75 million to the Ethiopian drought. In todays terms that is more than $30 million.
Australia and Africa have ties going back a long way. Last year Australia celebrated 50 years of relations with Ethiopia. There are Australian NGO’s who have operated in Africa for over half a century. Business and trade links beneficial to Australia go back to the 1800’s.
Previously Australian aid has made significant contribution to relieving the impact of natural disasters. It also supported development programs, usually done by the NGO community, which improved people’s standards of living and increased their resilience to natural disasters.
Yet in the past three years Australia has axed almost its entire aid program in Africa, the world’s poorest continent.
The loss of this support has had a detrimental effect on people’s lives. Rather, than long-term assistance from one of the world’s wealthiest countries providing fertile ground for progress, Australian aid to Africa has become a trickle, like the drought stricken Mosi-oa-Tunya.

Aid Cuts End Successful African Project That Reached 2.3m Marginalised People

In the build up to the July 2 2016 federal election in Australia, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), peak body for Australia’s international NGOs, published a series of articles in support of Australian aid. I contributed two articles from an African perspective. This is the first one, published 23 June 2016.

https://acfid.asn.au/blog-post/aid-cuts-end-successful-african-project-reached-23m-marginalised-people

Barbra Babweteera

A highly successful African community development project that reached more than2.3 million marginalised people will come to an end this month.
The Government’s Australian Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES) began in 2011 with five years’ funding from the Australian Government.  It reached more than 2.3 million people and established a unique partnership model for development assistance delivery that has come to be regarded as best practice and impact.
Australian aid to Africa has been a huge casualty of the Government’s damaging cuts aid cuts.  Seventy percent of Australian aid and development assistance has been withdrawn from the world’s poorest continent.
As Philip Walker, ACFID’s Africa Community of Practice Coordinator recalls, for about 20 years the Australian Government has made a specific allocation for Australian NGOs to work in Africa. With AACES’s closure, that allocation will cease.
So concerned was Kenya’s High Commissioner to Australia Isaiya Kabira about the abrupt end to ACCES and other successful development projects, he raised his concerns directly with the Government, it’s been reported.
AACES works has worked as a partnership program involving ten Australian NGOs working and their African partners across 11 countries –  Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s contributed to poverty reduction across those countries by targeting assistance to marginalised communities, in particular women, children, people with disabilities and people vulnerable to disaster.
Plan International Uganda’s Barbra Babweteera is the outgoing AACES Project Steering Committee Chairperson. She explained to Philip Walker why AACES delivered such good value for Australia’s aid funding.

“AACES has been a partnership between the Australian Government, 10 Australian NGOs and their African counterparts covering 11 countries. It improved the lives of marginalised people especially women, young people, and people living with a disability. It functioned in three major areas, which are water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, and maternal child health. Included in all these areas were themes like gender equity, strengthening human rights and inclusiveness.
“The AACES program ensured there were sustainable services for people who have been marginalised. The program exceeded expectations as it has reached more than 2.3 million people, so it has been highly effective.
“AACES has been a unique partnership model, based upon principles of collaboration guiding all members. DFAT has been a key member, who took a flexible approach to support the way AACES ran.
“The program has had a number of unique features. First … learning and collaboration. Unlike other programs, we have worked to complement each other rather than compete. We have also been able to leverage on the expertise that existed within each organisation, instead of buying it in from the outside.
The Project Steering Committee functioned as a management structure of joint decision making with everyone on an equal footing. Even DFAT has only had one vote. All this is because there has been a lack of power dynamics. There is no ‘Big Brother’ syndrome.
“Across the life of the program, authority has been deliberately transferred to African partners. We have never seen this before with organisations or donors. Personally, I have gained immensely from the experience. For the first time I have been confident and have learnt to fill the role of Chairperson.
“AACES is coming to an end and the conclusion is a sad experience. The program delivered excellent services, and built a lot of capacity on the African continent.
“I must point out that it took resources and time to build this unique partnership. Coming to the end has an impact because this momentum we have built is now going to close down, instead of bringing others in.
“To make this investment and not to be able to build upon it means poor value for money. There is a negative effect on what we have been talking about. That is value the impact, momentum, and encouraging others to adopt this model will stop.
“The closing meeting was very sad, because we knew we had worked together closely and achieved so much. I hope in the future Australian aid will again support a program like AACES.”
Post script: Barbra’s sadness at the ACCES program’s is reflected across Africa. Aside from AACES and CSIRO’s Food Security Program, the Governments’ aid cuts also saw the Australian-Africa Development Program, the Australian-Africa Partnerships Facility and the Transparency, Responsiveness, Accountability and Citizen Engagement Program in Zimbabwe come to an end.
The cuts to those valuable programs are already having an impact on Australia’s international reputation and influence. African leaders have indicated the cessation of successful aid programs is a disincentive for African countries to back Australia’s second Security Council bid, unlike the last time around.
ACFID is calling on the next Government to restore Australian aid to Africa and reinvest in the aid program by setting a clear pathway to reach the goal to allocate 0.7% of gross national income to aid and development assistance.