Australian miners in South Africa

The Saturday Paper on April 9 2016 publishes a story I wrote on the murder of a South African community activist and an Australian mining company, with links to practices of Australian mining companies across Africa, and Australian government policy.

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/resources/2016/04/09/australian-miners-south-africa/14601240003106

Bazooka RadebeFacebook. Activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe being spoken to by police.

The assassination of South African community activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe was shocking but sadly not surprising.

On the night of his death – March 22 – Radebe had warned his colleagues in the Amadiba Crisis Committee of a hit list. An hour later, two men masquerading as police arrived at Radebe’s house and shot him eight times in the head.

Radebe had been opposing titanium mining at Xolobeni, on the ancestral land of the Pondo people on South Africa’s east coast. The mining company involved is Australian-based Mineral Commodities Limited.

At Radebe’s funeral last weekend, Chief Cinani, representing the Queen and the Royal House of the amaMpondo, criticised the government’s acceptance of Australian investment and investment from the Indian business family the Guptas. “I am blaming the government because the government gave permits for those Australians, while people were saying ‘no’ to the government … It is clear that the business community is ruling the government. It is not only about the Guptas. Now we have seen the Australians. People are coming here with huge sums of money to divide the people.”

The correspondence ended: “It is easier to support us, than work against us.”

Through its director, Mark Caruso, Mineral Commodities Limited (MRC) and its South African subsidiary, Transworld Energy & Minerals Resources (TEM), have long been in dispute with the Amadiba community. The latest tragedy marks an escalation of hostility in a conflict now entering its 10th year.

There were hopes that the international condemnation drawn by the assassination of Radebe might stem the violence, but it is now alleged that after Radebe’s funeral “pro-mining thugs” assaulted three journalists.

Following the killing of Radebe, Caruso issued a statement on behalf of MRC declaring that it was “in no way implicated in any form whatsoever in this incident … This company will not engage in any activity that incites violence.” The Saturday Paper does not suggest Caruso had any involvement in Radebe’s death or any other illegality.

In an email sent last October regarding a taxi contract for the Tormin mine, however, Caruso said he felt “enlivened by the opportunity to grind all resistance to the [sic] my presence and the presence of MSR [another MRC subsidiary] into the animals [sic] of history as a failed campaign.”

In the same email, he cited Ezekiel 25:17: “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”

Elsewhere, he raged against the “group of colluding malfeasant, recalcitrant people and groups who chose to use underhanded nefarious elements to achieve their self-interested objectives”.

The correspondence ended: “It is easier to support us, than work against us.”

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs has reported MRC’s Tormin mine, on South Africa’s west coast, for several contraventions including mining in no-go areas and the use of unauthorised roads. MRC also stands accused of poor environmental practices by allowing a cliff face to collapse, and engaging in substandard land rehabilitation.

At both Tormin and Xolobeni, evidence suggests that MRC and its South African subsidiary are creating communities at war with themselves. Families, communities and tribal authorities are pitted against each other through the selective allocation of benefits and favours.

During a public consultation, subheadman elder Samson Gampe captured local feeling when he declared: “A cow that is a stranger in the herd is always chased by the rest of the herd by showing it horns. This is what we have done today, to tell the world that people of Kwanyana do not want this foreign ‘cow’ – this mining proposal … We need a proposal that brings us together, not the one that brings us conflict.”

Through Transworld Energy & Minerals Resources, MRC seeks to mine 2900 hectares at Xolobeni on South Africa’s Wild Coast. The Amadiba Crisis Committee, representing the local community, has blocked mining licence applications on environmental and ownership grounds.

The communal land in question is held in trust by the minister of land reform on behalf of local residents under communal land tenure. The crisis committee is committed to community-owned ecotourism as a more viable option for themselves and the land. Permission to mine one of the five “blocks” was rescinded on appeal last year.

Speaking in 2012 of the affiliation with ancestral land, the now late amaMpondo king Justice Mpondombini Sigcau said: “Mining the Wild Coast is simply absurd. It can be likened to the slaughter of rhino for their horns: the destruction of endangered species for the short-term commercial profit of greedy foreigners.”

Last year, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released a report called Fatal Extraction: Australian Mining Companies Digging a Deadly Footprint in Africa. It reported that Australian mining companies were the most rapidly expanding of all mining investors in Africa. From 2000 to 2009, prospecting licences held by Australian companies in Botswana alone increased from 14 to 260.

According to the report, Australian mining companies were responsible for multiple cases of negligence, unfair dismissal, violence and environmental law-breaking across Africa. It claims that since 2004 more than 380 people have died in mining accidents or in offsite skirmishes connected to Australian mining companies in 13 countries in Africa.

Among the most notorious incidents is the case of Anvil Mining in south-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2005 Anvil vehicles transported Congolese troops under the command of Colonel “Double-Bladed Knife” Ademar to the village of Kilwa, which had been taken the previous day by rebels.

Most villagers had already fled by the time Colonel Ademar’s troops arrived, and the rebels fled within hours. There were reports that Ademar ordered, “Kill everything that breathes.” It is known that 73 men, women and children were summarily murdered.

Following public outcry, Anvil issued a statement saying: “The DRC military requested access to Anvil’s air services and vehicles, to facilitate troop movements in response to the rebel activity. Anvil had no option but to agree to the request”.

Neither Anvil Mining nor any employee has been found guilty of any crime.

In comparison with Australia, African tax regulations are relatively flexible, while wages and working conditions, environmental protection, and occupational health and safety laws are weak. Mining companies attribute conflict to corrupt or brutal officials, or to local issues, rather than acknowledge the role of the mine in these conflicts.

Many mining companies are tempted to use their association with Australia and its friendly reputation to gain a competitive advantage while avoiding the ethical and operational standards that prevail within Australia.

Last year Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that the Australian government would actively promote the interests of the mining sector ahead of economic aid to Africa.

“Australia’s aid program has been reshaped in line with our belief that the best way to help countries grow their economies and improve the living standards of their people is to focus on prosperity…” she said. “Mining has made, and continues to make, a substantial contribution to economic development and poverty alleviation in Africa.”

Australian aid to Africa has been slashed since 2014. The mining sector is the only remaining means for Australian embassies to build relationships and promote their public profile in Africa. Even the remnants of the scholarship scheme named Australia Awards have been aligned to suit the mining sector.

Last year, at the Africa Down Under mining conference held in Perth, it was claimed that in Africa “ground discoveries made by Australian companies amount to $687 billion of value”, while investment was only 10 per cent of that amount. Clearly there is significant profit to be made mining in Africa.

While most mining companies may operate in accordance with national laws and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – the minimal standards apply – outrages such as the murder of Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Radebe undermine any promotional value Australia may seek to achieve.

In his funeral oration, Chief Cinani said: “There is no crisis which can take more than 10 years. A crisis should take place for quite a short time and then the authorities should resolve the problem. The King has said, ‘This must stop.’ Today we are here to say Bazooka has died with the key in his hand, so whoever would like to continue this must go and dig the key from his grave. He has gone with it. That simply means there will be no mining here.”

 

 

1 Perhaps A Little Bit Perverse

Someone suggested that my less than worldly travel experiences could be worthy of a story, especially the African parts. Which seemed to me would be pretty boring, a chronological tour of mildly recidivist behavioural patters, but perhaps could become basis of a piece of creative fiction. So here goes. Welcome to chapter One.

CH 1Edvard Munch 1

 

Codger Spumante stood on the veranda of his club staring into the darkness. The tobacco in his pipe had extinguished, yet its odours mixed with the scent of whiskey to swirl around his head.

Codger loosened his necktie. Dinner suits had never appealed and he only wore them as a necessity. His choice would be shorts and open neck shirt, even if the body was decaying.

It had been a fine evening. He felt gratified to people who had gathered to wish him well in retirement. After all, there was not that many left. Some had died, of old age or other, possibly suspect, reasons. Some lambs still rotted in jail, the sacrificial lambs to a deceased regime. Members of the old crew had brought their wives with them, while others had lost theirs in one way or another. Marcus sat at the back with his husband, which bought a brief snicker to Codger’s lips. It wouldn’t be much more than a decade ago that such proclivities were illegal. While everyone had their suspicions about Marcus it remained unspoken, although he never received a promotion.

Codger realised his brother may have been of the same inclination given he had never married. Which would explain why there was no one to continue the family farm after he was killed in the car accident three years ago. Yet as it had been decades since they had been in contact Codger would always remain uncertain. He wondered what state the farm was in.

He tapped his pipe so hard it almost broke. A twinge of pain crossed his eyes. The words of Botox Delux delivered as final homage, lingered in his memory. Botox, Codger’s chief and long-standing accomplice, had been in full flight, dramatically raising his arms and throwing his voice.

“I am coming towards the end of this little meander through Codger’s career, so let me tell one final story. It is an infamous one that no doubt some of you have heard before but it is a good one that goes to the heart of Codger’s character.

“We had been interrogating a prisoner and the time had come to put the young man out of his misery. We had relocated to a suitable cornfield and I don’t need to tell you the advantages of a decent sized cornfield for disposal of unwanted items.

“Well the damn gun jammed. Wouldn’t fire. We had forgotten to bring any other and it was too far to go back. Couldn’t use service pistols of course as that would leave a trail. So we were stuck with quite a nasty little dilemma until Codger stepped up to the mark.

“Announcing he would settle it he picked up the shovel and before any of us could respond began battering the prisoner. Right across the head. All trussed up the prisoner could scarcely do anything to protect himself. Even after he hit the ground Codger kept going until all that lay at our feet was bloodied pulp.

“We were stunned by the audacity let me assure you. Indeed when it came time to do Codger’s performance appraisal I did have to tick the box that said ‘displays innovative problem solving techniques’. I think I even got you a bonus for that one, didn’t I Codge?

“But the best is yet to come. Codger bends down to check to pulse to ensure that the deceased actually is the deceased. He look up to us and says ‘Well is there a pleasant way to die?’

“Indeed is there? We must have laughed for at least five minutes before we realised that we had forgotten to get the prisoner to dig his own grave. And Codger was too exhausted after his efforts. So we had to dig the damn graves ourselves. Even I lifted a shovel, which is a rare occasion let me assure you.”

Botox held up his soft hands as evidence. He was laughing raucously with many in the audience joining in. But he did notice, “Yes, yes. I can see some of you are shocked. No doubt with good reason. But you really had to be there. At the time … oh dear … come to think of it … I think that is one body that has never been exhumed. We really have to keep that one to ourselves, Chatham House rules and all that. What with all these investigations and retributions going on we do not need any more skeletons coming to light, now do we?

“So in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to charge your glasses. Let us cheer on dear old Codger to many glorious years in his retirement, and when the time comes that he does find a pleasant way. To Codger.”

Once upon a time Codger had displayed self-effacing good humour when hearing this story, masquerading embarrassment. Now it left emptiness in his stomach that alcohol could not suppress. His stomach gave a small heave. Soon it shall be over and I can be freed of these memories.

He noticed Botox sauntering towards him, in that self-assured way of his, the usual half empty glass in hand.

“Well old boy. A jolly fine evening. Supremely organised, if I say so myself. Everyone was full of congratulations. The best farewell yet they said. We have had too many recently.”

“You can’t let it go, can you?” Codger kept looking into the night.

“What … oh … your most famous action. Well, what ones would you prefer I share? The time when we thought you had crossed? I have kept that little one secret you know.”

“You damn well knew what was going on.”

“Plausible denial, old boy, plausible denial. Yes it was brave of you to take that risk. We did well didn’t we, even if you did have us scared for a while. Thank goodness we managed to pull you back at the last moment. I would have missed you. Anyway, let’s not dwell on it. What is the past for except foundation to our everlasting friendship? Time for a night cap, what do you say.”

Botox finished his whiskey, feeling its warmth run through his veins and tickle his brow. He signalled the waiter to replenish their glasses. Codger looked at his empty glass, wondering if he wanted a refill. He glanced over at his old friend, starting to feel grateful that a separation was coming.

“It is just one big game for you isn’t it? One jolly big roller coaster ride with every bend another thrill. You care nothing for the havoc left in the wake as long as you get what you want.”

“My good man,” Botox took a breath. “In any conflict achievement of your objective comes with collateral damage. You only need to determine the acceptable level of expendability. We have been though this before.”

“You had kept me in the dark.”

“Some matters cannot be shared outside the inner circle. Anyway, let’s not dwell on it. What is the past for except foundation to our everlasting friendship? Time for a night cap, what do you say.”

Botox finished his whiskey, feeling its warmth run through his veins and tickle his brow. He signalled the waiter to replenish their glasses. Codger looked at his empty glass, wondering if he really did need another refill.

“It’s just one big game for you isn’t it? One jolly big roller coaster ride with every bend another thrill. You care nothing for the havoc left in the wake as long as you get what you want.”

“My good man,” Botox took a breath. “In any conflict achievement of your objective comes with collateral damage. You only need to determine the acceptable level of expendability. We have been through this before.”

“Our battle was for nothing. We lost.”

“Did we?” Codger took his refilled whisky glass and raised it to the light. “Look at the colour of that. Pure gold. If this is defeat old boy long may it run.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I am aware that in you have been remarkably inconsistent your whole life. You confuse yourself and that is your greatest weakness. Really, how often have I put myself out on a limb for you. You should really be more appreciative of the efforts.”

“I’ve been used, abused and bruised.”

“When it comes to abusing you’re the one with form.” Botox stepped back when Codger’s eyes flared at him. “Sorry old boy, I didn’t mean to hurt but you only have yourself to blame for that particular lost love.”

Botox gave one of his smart-arsed grins, the sort that says ‘I might be saying sorry but I don’t really mean it’. He skolled his whiskey and signalled the waiter for a refill.

“There is individual responsibility you know. You cannot spend your life blaming others. Face up to it. The instinct was there. It’s an inherent part of you.”

Codger gazed reflectively into his glass.

“I have to accept responsibility for my actions. But … Bah! What does it matter? That’s what we always say when things don’t turn out right isn’t it? What does it matter? Nothing matters. Who cares? Now I care and it is too late. Perhaps. I don’t know.”

“Just know that when you fail, as I fear you will, here you will find a welcoming fireplace, a comfortable arm chair, and a glass of delightful whisky. Plus the companionship of old friends who will welcome your return with a cheer. We do care for you, you know.”

“With a good deal of mocking I dare say.”

“Only the most generous.”

The night air was filled with subtle disturbances. In the distance a truck revved its engine. In the garden beyond the veranda screens insects buzzed. A moth that had manoeuvred through the barricade attacked the wall light. Nearby a gecko’s darting tongue captured any bug errant enough to come within range.

“Still no word I take it?”

The growl in Codger’s throat grew until he almost spat. “Of course not. After all these years there never will be.”

“Not even from the girls?”

“Cynth called to tell me I had become a grandfather again. Just to humiliate me because I know she will never let me see them. Let it go. It is gone.”

Servants had begun cleaning up the dining room from the evening’s entertainment. The guests had wended their way home, apart from those who continued to deny advancing years and sought out the city’s vibrant nightclub scene.

“You don’t have to go you know,” Botox said.

“Too late now. No turning back.”

“No one would blame you if –”

“I don’t want to. My mind is set.”

“You cannot run from yourself.”

“The hole in the soul? Perhaps not. But I do not have to stare it in the face each day.”

“You’re mad.”

“Not at all.” For the first time that night Codger smiled. “Possibly just a little perverse.”

They stood there. Two ageing inter-dependent colleagues. Whiskey glasses in hand, faces pointed into the crisp night breeze. Botox Delux with the opaque grey eyes known as the man of many face-lifts. And transplants. In vain desire to deny the ageing process Botox had undergone an endless series of surgical procedures – from hair to chin to organs to cellulite. Rumour had it that there were more fine scars on Botox’s torso than flowers on a peacock, or bodies buried beyond reach.

The external scars on Codger were of the more mundane variety. White cuts on the arms amongst the first signs of melanomas on tanned flesh. A nick over the left brow from a wayward strand of thornbush. Calloused hands with a permanently missing nail on one finger as symbols of hard work. If a wedding ring had once left a mark that had long since dissipated. His untamed grey curls and whiskers offset the crystal blue eyes that were too often bloodshot. Codger still stood erect, tall, thin and wiry, but for the bloated belly.

He rested his hand on the timber beam that marked the veranda perimeter. To think I once thought I could be an artist and now I am just a portrait in decay. My best friend taking delight in my worst memories.

Botox was having his own reflections. He was finally acknowledging that he was generally mistrusted by the world at large, and that he was about to lose his last remaining friend.

They neither felt nor heard the person hover into their terrain, as her mammoth frame silently glided over the floor.

“Hello boys,” Lindilulu Oqwanti said in her quietly mocking tone. “Two old spies never bought to justice soaking up remembrances. How sweet.”

*          *          *

Portrait of Edvard Munch

 

Are Boomers Responsible For Millennials Narcissism?

This post started as a jaunt and was tripped over by reality. Sort of like being at the carnival and looking into a funny mirror, then discovering the toilet is blocked. 

Our parents fought in a war, we stopped a war, and for our kids there is no war (or at least drone technology means it can be kept out of sight, along with those fleeing imperial conflicts vanishing into offshore gulags).

A friend who deals in such things tells a story of being in a meeting where the Millennial chairperson (an antiquated term for today’s young jargon laden professional) announces, “My name is Butterfly and I am your networking lead so let me spend the first five minutes telling you about myself and why I am important, while posting selfies as I do it.”

The Generation Gap

But let me put forth the proposition that if Boomers were a clean generational break from their forebears, then Millennials are the logical extension of Boomer pandering.

The ‘war generation’ returned debilitated from WW2, got married and settled down to rebuild the population. Carrying memories of Great Depression childhoods, they thrived in the post-war economic growth cycle when a family home was affordable and job security was for life (well at least those permitted membership of the White Australian dream). They also lived through the narrow constraints of the 50’s when McCarthyist witch hunting dominated and women were forced out of the formal economy.

As their offspring, we Boomers prided ourselves on being a distinct break from what came before. Our world went from radio to TV, Mantovani to Foxy Lady, and the basin cut to no hair cut. We declared open shop for sex ‘n drugs and rock ‘n roll, and challenged conventional orthodoxies.

We ended military conscription. Our youthful spirit initiated, or relaunched from a long hiatus, the feminist movement, the gay movement, the green movement, and international solidarity with oppressed people around the world. Fresh pathways gave impetus for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians, the Aboriginal tent embassy, and the land rights movement.

There is no doubt that the period from, let’s say introduction of The Pill in 1960 through to the fall of what was then Saigon in 1975 (or the advent of the Fraser government, amazing we now think he was a good guy in comparison to what followed) was marked by substantive social and economic gains. Many of the achievements from that period still resonate today. There is a lot to be proud of.

Yet we can’t stop reminding subsequent generations that this was an unforgettable period in history. TV series continue to be made about it. Music from the era still top sales charts. We post photos of our youthful countenances as Facebook profiles. As Austin Powers would say, our world was psychedelic groovy baby. Many of us behave as if we are still in our youth, even if now we wake up at the same time when once we used to go to bed.

So what does this mean for our offspring?

Boomer children have been raised on a contradiction – to know they are exceptional, while the Boomer era is unsurpassable.

Millennials have been raised believing Copernicus was wrong because actually the sun, universe and everything else revolve around their splendid being. But at the same time they will never manage to reach the lofty heights of being a Deadhead.

We’ve all seen the sites where Millenials get asked if they had a choice which era they would prefer to live in and they say “the 60’s because Mum and Dad keep telling me how wonderful it was.” The newspaper headlines “All the classics were recorded in the sixties” (digital news of course, we are tech savvy – unless there is a glitch in which case we ask a Millennial to fix it).

We have found quirky unique names for our wondrous offspring, such as … oh I daren’t go there, you know what I mean. From birth we have been insisting that they were incomparable, while growing in them the belief the world was their magic pudding. Because you can eat it all and have it too.

We rocked them to sleep with the lulling tones of Black Sabbath or self-mocking commentaries from the Small Faces. We won’t be hypocritical and warn them away from asking Alice because we sure as hell munched both sides of the mushroom.

If our parents could not understand us then aren’t we the epitome of tolerance to our own offspring?

The war generation survived through backroom adultery, Boomer maturity embraced open promiscuity, and in turn we now provide our kids with sex education, condoms and the bedroom (making sure their dope is organic).

The exemplar for generational shift is underwear. It’s true!

Mums of the 1950’s were constrained by cream coloured corsets. In acts of liberationary defiance their daughters burnt their bras. Today’s young women nonchalantly display their coloured bra straps.

If you’re a guy, post-war dads wore pants so high they could strangle themselves. The freedom loving 60’s male hung loose with no undies. Our sprouts have pants down to their arseholes so the world can see what brand of undies they are wearing.

Mine was the generation that thought only bikies and sailors got tatts, and we have raised a generational that smears themselves in designs. The adornments may be unique but the trend for body colouring most certainly is not.

So just what has our insightful, caring, empathetic and articulate helicopter parenting produced?

We have kids that won’t leave home because they are on such a good wicket. No more granny cottages, now its brat flats.

Our progeny are entrepreneurs selling coffee beans that have travelled through a ferret’s digestive system or shelves stocked solely with breakfast cereal. There is a plethora of one-person do-gooder NGOs setup by rich white kids using mummy and daddy’s trust fund. All claim to have found a secret methodology for poverty alleviation or social justice. Most only embellish the ego of the CEO.

When they are not killing themselves taking selfies – globally over 50 since 2014 (more than shark attacks), all of them under 34 years of age, seventy five per cent males – they either have a psychological problem or food allergy with such a long name it can only be expressed by an acronym. Worryingly, here has been a significant increase in self harm.

We have created such sensitive little beings that their tolerance has possibly now become a form of inverse censorship (and this is not an argument against the politically correct use of language, which in essence is simply being considerate to fellow humans).

One university students union recently issued a list of 57 “triggering issues” where forewarning must be given being mentioning. Understandably the list includes the negative ‘isms and phobias (race, sex, able, homo, trans, etc). Yet it goes onto cite insects, spiders and snakes. Mentioning food requires a trigger warning. Along with trypophobia, scopophobia, misophonia, tokophobia and trichotillomania. How did we give our kids so many disorders? – seriously.

Let’s give the Millennials some credit. They rank high on the social consciousness scale, expressing their activism with the click of a images. Certainly, in the last few years there have been significant gains in the social justice arena and in broadening acceptance of what was a highly discriminatory definition of normal.

So as us baby boomers go truckin into the night (this year our heroes are dropping their mortal coil at a rapid pace), what can we claim as our legacy?

We are possibly the first generation where our progeny will be worse off. As the counter culture entered mainstream marketing, those of us aligned with ‘the left / social progressives / humanist / whatever’ were shown to be pretty impotent in the face of an ideology that declared ‘there is no society’ and set about proving it with Social Darwinist deregulated ‘free’ markets.

Twenty years after the rise of neo-liberalism a neo-con attempt to reshape the Arab world has caused over one million deaths, destroyed functional societies, continues to reverberate with ongoing civil wars, and created the mass exodus that we still witness.

The same form of thinking gave us the dotcom bubble and the Global Financial Crisis, from which the world has not recovered while lurching towards yet another economic collapse.

On our watch the world has moved from job security to the casualization of labour with accompanying loss of work benefits. Levels of inequality have risen to the highest levels since the days of lassez faire capitalism. The welfare state along with care for the most vulnerable has entered the realm of mythology.

We have gone from free education to university degrees costing more than a home mortgage. Post-modernist individualism has replaced the student collective with an en-suite and microwave in every bedroom.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room – the depletion of earthly resources. Finite resources are being extracted faster than the replenishment rate. Pollutants push the planet’s absorption capacity beyond its limits. Species are being made extinct at an unprecedented rate. The only records being broken are dangerous one, the trajectory escalating at an alarming speed. And we were warned about this back in the 60’s.

We elect governments that at best make platitudes to environmental concerns, and at worst deny the plausibility of anthropomorphic climate change. We remain a society of fossil eaters.

Not really anything for a parent to be proud of. Yet our children still love us.

But what about me?

I won’t comment about Millennial music. After all, what can a person say about repetitive syncho beats with some rapper going 200 words a minutes so no-one knows what is being said?

In 1968 one anthem was What About Me by Quicksilver Messenger Service. It was a demand that the world take note of our generation and what our issues were (and we lecture on narcissism?). Tweak a few words and the lyrics remain relevant. Think about it – fifty years later and our complaints remain valid.

Martin Luther King once said, “Those who love peace must learn to organise as effectively as those who love war.”

That is a call to all the generations. It’s not just bringing back a sense of community with a decent standard of living, along with survival of the planet. At some point in the future we don’t want to be looking back fondly to when the current mob ruled.

quicksilver

Listen to What About Me here

ps:       Don’t take me too seriously. I’ve not got any kids, so what would I know?

Oh, and I do extend the boundaries just a fraction for Boomerdom.

giant steps

Well more first steps than giant ones. Still, with a nod to Mr PC.

Last year a renowned publisher of progressive culture held a short story competition on the theme of travel. Anyone with whom I have had fleeting contact would understand why I declared, “oh I can do that”. At the time I considered my stream of consciousness ramble to be brilliant. Looking back with the benefit of time … well, it has some nice ideas but is a garbled thematic mixture. Despite reservations about the quality and the terrain covered, both physically and abstractly, the piece does seem an appropriate place to launch a meander through the universe. Please enjoy.

the lucy image

 

From Sea To Flight, Post Restante to Skype

The lure is not to see if the grass is greener, rather it is an inherent quest to discover what is on the other side. This is a journey of the person as mirror to the species.

Life is like a river, it’s got no beginning and it’s got no end

We had been hiking for several days and were deep into the mountains by the time the last village was reached. As was customary we paused to give greetings to the Chief before moving on, our final destination still a distant peak. Accompanied by a bevy of guides, hunters and porters from our starting village, we felt an embarrassed resemblance to early European explorers, lacking only in pith helmets, khakis and long white socks.

Until the arguments erupted we were unaware that the two villages remained locked in a bitter dispute over the granting of Paramount Chieftaincy decreed by colonial authorities thirty years prior. Suddenly the Chief pumped his chest proclaiming authoritively that we could not proceed. Angry voices became shouts as men jumped to their feet. Heavy wooden clubs and ancient rifles were drawn. It seemed as if battle would be declared.

In the midst of the dispute two old men, one from each village, were drawn to each other. Eyes sparkled and faces broke into broad smiles as slowly the glint of recognition grew. Nothing was said. Arms reached as a slow, elaborate handshake occurred, neither letting go. Possibly they had fought together in World War One; perhaps once they had been lovers. Their presence exuded elation, as a long extant, disrupted friendship was silently re-established.

Wanderlust: the insatiable desire for adventure and new experience that arises from deep within the human psyche.

In his ode to humanity, The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin postulated that nomadism is intrinsic to mental well-being. Just like the baby that relaxes with the movement of the mother, the rhythms of the limbs are the core of harmony within self and between self and the external world. His vision travelled from the first shouted declaration of consciousness on the African savannah, the universal ‘I am’. The vision encompassed worldly proverbs affirming walking as the cure for all ills, moved via Aristotle’s peripatetikos, to indigenous Australians who walk the track singing their Songlines to retain the presence of the world.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path

Let me be clear, wanderlust is not synonymous with nomadism. Nomads are like the Australian suburban family with the big back yard: children learning every nook and cranny, climbing the tree to build a cubby house, knowing where to hide, and where the poisonous spiders weave their web. Nomads are no different, it is just the scale is on a greater order of magnitude.

Nomads understanding of their backyard is deeply internalised – the timing of the rains, where and when certain fruits or tubers ripen, the place to harvest reeds or be at preferred hunting sites, and the locations for religious ceremonies. They read the leaves, the breeze, the flight of birds and insect trails the same way we consult a well-worn street directory. The visitor sees nothing, while the inhabitant traverses an established way bristling with life, kinships and knowledge acquired through generations of custom. The road is only less travelled by those who do not regularly tread its path.

In contrast to the circular nomadic patterns, my travel is perpetual change, seeking the new, the unknown, the places never before encountered. To go boldly and befriend people. To engage with other cultures, learning from and appreciating. To experience the full gamut of emotions and emerge smiling. To witness the intricate beauty of this, our planet Earth. To expand our place bound consciousness and be part of the timeless journey. To avoid the inevitable cliché and fail miserably.

Good morning star shine, the Earth says hello

I am. To me I am the most important being alive and every trivial chemical interaction that somehow emerges as a thought is of vital relevance. I am not a blip in the universe or a scrap of dust on the historic time line but a conscious speaking life form demanding attention.

From infinitesimal infinity comes an explosion –The Birth Pangs of Spring merges with Ode To Joy – and the journey begins, generating the warmth of the sun. Creeping, crawling, floundering first steps out of the primordial swamp and into astonishing complexity.

The climate shifts that reduced African woodlands to open savannah, caused a chimpanzee to descend from a tree to triumphantly walk upright, grow the brain and expand across the globe. Sentient beings streamed out of Africa. Climatic stability of the Holocene, in temperate zones the birthplaces of agriculture, the establishment of civilisation.

We are! Humanity. The commonality that enabled social structure, taking us from scavenging to the spaceship.

Earth Mother’s Woman Child

120,000 years past our ancestors left their mark on the shores of Lake Natron, the soda lake that is home to the pink flamingo and cadaverous calcified birds. Escaping the volcanic eruptions from the domineering Ol Doinyo Lengai, home to the Maasai creation gods, eighteen adults and children, probably dying from poison fumes, erratically running across hot lava.

The footprints are the most ancient Homo Sapien confirmation, and I cannot resist chanting from Songlines > Footprints of the Ancestors while flouting protocols to find impressions that match my own feet. My attempt to immerse myself into their mindset is irritatingly ephemeral, even though I have walked with people whose hunter-gatherer lifestyle harks back to that lineage.

The nomads roamed their backyard; a short workweek provided them with a broad based diet, yet the harsh existence meant a brief life span with no wealth accumulation. Their social order was egalitarian: dependent on collective parenting, shared food and resources, and living in intricate harmony with nature. They were the originators of the slow-food slow-travel movement, of art and emotional intelligence.

Wherever I lay my hat (that’s my home)

Could Göbekli Tepe in Turkey be the site where our hunter-gatherer ancestors’ embraced sedentarism and launched the Neolithic revolution?

The paradigm shift represented by the site overwhelms me with its complexity. It feels beyond comprehension. Temples constructed then buried. Megaliths engraved with creatures from earth, constellations beaming in the night sky, and surreal pictograms possibly of transition between the physical and spiritual worlds. Were the builders worshipping the dead or celebrating life? What origin songs did they sing and to whom? What colour sky did they see? How far removed have we become?

Of all the gin joints in the world why this particular location? Did someone recognize the seasonal regularity of rains that brought the seed to bloom, and in deliberate planting create sufficient abundance to feed a workforce? Or the opposite; did the need for numerous workers to construct temples demand increased food production, and thus the seed was planted and fed till it blossomed and spread? That seed successfully colonising the planter, till fourteen seed varieties of European origin now constitute over sixty percent of the planet’s grasslands.

Swing low sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home

When the first European sailors reached the West African coast in the fifteenth century, they glowingly described the peoples and empires they encountered. But the New World demanded a work force and enslaving a people demanded that they be dehumanised. Up to twenty million people forcibly relocated, almost twenty percent to die on the Atlantic Crossing. New Worlds founded upon the destruction of Old Worlds.

Maritime connectivity forging globalisation. Metal and weapons to Africa – slaves to the Americas – silver and gold to Asia – tea and spices to Europe.

The age of rationalism and colonisation entered, camouflaged by the veneer of spreading the Gospel. The advent of the league of independently wealthy gentleman explorers and scientists (women not permitted), whose discoveries transformed human knowledge and the planet. A European resource crisis demands new fuels and technologies, launching industrialization. Populations being restructured into new classes entranced by the locomotion of technical advancement, blissfully unaware of the poison breathe spewing from the runaway train.

Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars

Two hundred years after gentleman explorer Mungo Park, we reach Djenne, the famed market city on the confluence of the Bani and Niger rivers, home to the magnificent adobe Great Mosque. Upon arrival Park reported being offered perfume that had been transported across the Sahara from Paris; in our case on-sale were fake Nikes.

From Djenne we drive south to the Bandiagara escarpment, home of the Dogon. Centuries prior to the invention of the telescope, the Dogon recognized the dog-star Sirius as twin stars, one circling the other in a fifty-year elliptical orbit.

Five thousand years ago waves of people traversed the Pacific Ocean. Using technology and navigation skills as innovative for their time as transporting a human to Mars is today, they spent months at sea searching for habitable land. When you can steer by stars and clouds who needs a GPS? Going where no human had gone before to find new places to settle in the ‘sea of islands’. The motive for their original departure remains unclear, yet having settled, population growth within limited land space meant their young had to move yet again, first by canoe, now leaving on a jet plane.

Witnessing the abundance of whales in the Pacific, Joseph Banks, gentleman botanist on the Endeavour, may as well have said “they are as common as jet skis in the bay on a summers day”, oblivious to the forthcoming motor fleets that would decimate fish stocks.

In Tonga I have walked in atoll waters protected by gabions made from crushed beer cans, stubbing my toe on the foundations of lost houses. Then I have had to assist friends to permanently relocate their lives because the seas have washed their homes away. Meantime, in nearby deep ocean floors volcanic activity creates conditions analogous to those that led to the formation of life.

Fly like an Eagle

Alfred Russell Wallace lacked the finances of the gentlemen explorers and relished the wondrous beauties of the natural world. Capturing, stuffing and exporting animals in order to survive, he independently came to similar conclusions to Charles Darwin; Wallace’s own survival depended upon understanding natural selection. In the Indonesian archipelago bagging birds, Wallace appreciated their plumed beauty and marvelled at the splendid diversity produced by tiny shifts between biospheres.

Migratory birds

Synchronised flocks

Birds of Paradise

We thank the birds for the sensual majesty of flight and the chirruping seductiveness in their sweetest love songs.

We express the colours of life in our own songs, the poetry of movement, the soulful emotion. Travel as a metaphor for life, sung to affirm ones own existence.

I love to go a wandering. Ramblin’ on my mind. The road I must travel. Baby we are Born to Run. The Long and Winding Road. Climbing Higher Mountains. Many Rivers to Cross. These Boots Are Made For Walkin’. Further on Down the Road. Freedom Highway. Proud Mary.

Exodus – Movement of the People

Waltzing Matilda

Dreamtime Story

As a young traveller at the roadside sweltering in heat and vehicle fumes trying to hitch a lift, looked enviously at the passing air-conditioned tour bus, thinking of the shower and hotel room the occupants would enjoy that night. In maturity the comfortable bus occupant, envied the hitchhiker, recalling the freedom of movement that self-initiative and a backpack offers, still looking towards savouring a glass of fine red that evening.

A group of youthful Gypsies take a liking to this naïve traveller and allow me into their fold. I feel proud and privileged – touching the Other. The Gypsies ask people for money, acceptable in that culture. This traveller however is from a time and place where the social order prohibits people to live openly on the streets, requesting alms. Pride inhibits me from begging. They kindly wish me well and vanish in another direction to where my own path heads.

The old woman with the durian smile makes the best street pho, infused with fish sauce. When I ask if she has even been to Hanoi she laughs raucously. “Why would I want to go there? This is where my history sleeps. This is where I was born and where I raise my children. Everything I know is here.”

We set up camp at the oasis and relax on a sand dune sipping sundowners. Just as the last sparks of the sun reach up to heaven and the glow off Venus illuminates, an elegant elongated man strides out into the desert. He will walk through the night with the stars as friend and guide, reaching the next distant oasis before the warmth of the sun rises to beckon good morning.

The old man in the Ethiopian Afar desert strokes his red-hennaed cactus beard lamenting, “the weather is crazy, it does not know what to do anymore.” Weather patterns once familiar has displaced his traditional routes with unpredictable confusion.

Hellbound Train

Working in a war zone, the alarm came from an overwhelming acrid stench of burning flesh. The body had also been macheted, with deep cuts down to the bone revealing layers of flesh like steaks. His eyes pleaded with us, demanding succour. There was nothing we could do.

We are witnesses to the initial stages of another global people movement as we push the climate out of its era of stability. As the land starts to break asunder and burn, as ice walls collapse and the oceans begin to rise, as wars erupt over diminishing resources – from Syria treads the shape of things to come already begun. Movement of the People, fleeing death and desolation. There is destruction on earth and in the heavens that is approaching irredeemable.

Ocean acidification and freshwater loss

Species extinction and biodiversity depletion

Deforestation and desertification

Greenhouse gases and other pollutants

Overpopulation

Global Financial Crisis, wealth and poverty, the highest levels of inequality since the inception of capitalism

Space is the Place

I stand on ground where 3.6 million years ago an Australopithecus Afarensis bipedal female walked, wondering if she was as complexly contradicted as we are. Peasant women struggle along the roadside bent askew by bundles of firewood. A car in cruise control flashes past and overhead a jet plane leaves a long vapour trail, the occupants focused on smartphones and hash tags. The new world order instructs us to ‘innovate’ as if that is not the story of humanity.

NASA announces that lines on the Martian landscape suggest the potential of water– although they are yet to disprove the theory that the lineae are remnants of a delectable chocolate ice cream soda, and I am volunteering to journey there to investigate the veracity of this claim.

Our ever-accelerating technological advancement is outpacing the inventions of the industrialisation age: bio, nano, neuro, quantum, digital, renewable. Futurists consider the merger of humans and technology as the potentially next great Darwinian leap. Chemical and electrode brain enhancements, cloned bodies with consciousness downloaded, ultra powerful artificial limbs and sensory organs, re-stranding DNA to replace natural selection with ‘choice’. The prospect of infinite life, price non-negotiable.

From Homo Sapiens to Homo Hybridus.

SEITI, Voyager, Rosetta, New Horizons, along with the aptly named ‘Curiosity’ Mars Rover, searching for other forms of life and life sustaining planets. In anticipation private companies take passenger bookings.

Mars beckons!

What crossing will the next phase of humanity undertake?

Which passage awaits our children?

It’s After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet?

Reminiscent of a dystopian sci-fi story, I wonder if we could soon face the prospect of an A.I. operated spaceship full of immortal One Percenters, declaring “Bye, bye, planet Earth; you’re fucked so we are off to colonise a new planet”? Another movement of the people marked by size of the dollar signs rather than numerical numbers of the participants. Creating New Worlds on the death of Old Worlds.

We are on the road to somewhere.

Future routes are not pre-determined but options that compel choice. The thought arises of merging the hunter-gatherer ethos with modernity’s technological capacities. To draw back from the death throes enveloping planet Earth and to boldly go in new directions. Movement of the people becoming a people’s movement.

If it rains again tonight I can think light years ahead, I can put myself back a thousand years ago

The next day, the obstinate Chief circumvented, we reached the summit. The afternoon sun beamed through slivers of cirrus cloud while below the peaks fell away into dark forest. A hawk glided and swallows swooped to pick bugs from the grass. The gods may not be at home but the area abounded with pagan spirits. During the climb the guides had picked flowers, placing them in Elish’s hair till it bloomed like a posturing peacock.

My love with Elish is as deeply volatile as the eruptions in the Tongan trench. Elish has the flamboyant empathetic personality that people are drawn to and forges lifelong friendships. Mine is a solitary lifestyle, moving from one place to another, relationships sporadic and intense.

“You have gone silent again,” Elish says. “Your soul has departed and now your body must chase it.”

Similar to lazing on the mountain peak, we would sit on the roof of Elish’s vertical village, gazing down onto hanging gardens and over pulsating city lights, planning our next means-of-survival forage. They were the first, passionate days.

Elish declares, “Then that’s decided. At our next destination we will stay for a period, and my friends will come to visit.” The affirmation brings a smile to my face.

Babaa Maal sang of the Nomad Soul as homage to humanity, our endeavour and artistic creation, our capacity for expression and communication, the ability for independent thought to innovate and change. The unity of the spirit attained through rhythmic movement, striding into the future.

The call of the wandering heart into the big backyard.

So Long, Farewell, it’s been good to know you

Wonder what colour the grass is on Mars?

 

engerasaro footprint

 

Bibliography

‘Life is like a river …’ from Familiar Reality by Dr John (John “Mac” Rebennack), Atco Records, 1971.

The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, Vintage Books, 1987.

There is a difference …’ from The Matrix, written and directed by The Wachowski’s, 1999.

Good morning star shine …’ from Hair, by James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot, Emi Music Publishing, 1967.

Ode to Joy’ (An die Freude), Friedrich Schiller, 1785.

The Birth Pangs of Spring’ by Rip Rig & Panic, Virgin Records Ltd, 1983.

Earth Mother’s Woman Child’ by Kev Carmody, Song Cycles Pty Ltd, 2015.

Songlines > Footprints of the Ancestors’, by Zoli, Zoli Engel Bashar, 2009.

Wherever I lay my hat …’ by Marvin Gaye, Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, CBS, 1962.

Swing Low Sweet Chariot …’ traditional.

‘The Locomotion’ by Jerry Goffin and Carol King, Dimension 1000, 1962.

Fly me to the moon …’ Bart Howard, Decca, 1954.

Fly like an Eagle’, by Steve Miller, Capitol, 1976.

I love to go a wandering’ from The Happy Wanderer by Antonia Ridge and Friedrich W. Moller, Bosworth & Co., Ltd, 1953.

Ramblin’ on my mind’ by Robert Johnson, Vocalion, 1936.

The Road I must travel’ by Tom Morella, The Nightwatchman, 2007.

Born to run’ by Bruce Springsteen, Columbia, 1975.

The long and winding road’ by Lennon & McCartney, Apple, 1970.

Climbing Higher Mountains’, traditional.

Many rivers to cross’ by Jimmy Cliff, Trojan, 1969.

These boots are made for walkin’ by Lee Hazelwood, Reprise, 1965.

Further up the road’ by Don RobeyJoe Medwick Veasey, Duke, 1957.

Freedom Highway’ by Pop Staples, Epic, 1965.

Proud Mary’ by John Fogarty, Fantasy, 1969.

Exodus – Movement of the people’ by Bob Marley and Lee Perry, Blackwell Fuller Music Publishing LLC, 1977.

Waltzing Matilda’ by ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Sounds of Australia registry, 1895.

Dreamtime Story’ by Narbalek Band, SFM Publishing, 1999.

Hellbound Train’ by Kim Simmonds and Andy Silvester, Parrot, 1972.

Space is the place’ by Sun Ra, Blue Thumb, 1973.

It’s after the end of the world …’ by Sun Ra, MPS, 1970.

If it rains again tonight …’ from Hyperdrive by Grace Slick and Pete Sears, Warner-Tamerlane, 1974.

Nomad Soul’ by Baaba Maal, Palm Pictures, 1998.

So long, Farewell …’ by Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie Publications Inc, 1940.