Sunday, April 17, 2011
Three weeks ago I was on Christmas Island. First, let me tell you how I got there.
I flew, naturally, from Perth, but on the way flight attendants handed out immigration and customs forms. Why? Good question. Don’t ask me.
Christmas Island was bought from Singapore in 1957 and since then has been an Australian Island Territory. It has two tiers of government, local and Federal. The local government must sometimes wonder why it exists, given the dominance of the Federales.
The Federal Government seems to think, for bureaucratic purposes, that when you fly over the Indian Ocean for a long stretch that you have left Australia, even though you have not touched ground and that you must, therefore, re-enter.
It is possible, apparently, while high in the sky, to pick up objectionable objects and, hard to believe I know, to exchange your nationality. In other words, l flew out of Perth Australian, but by mid flight I may well have become Mexican.
In addition, there’s a lot of shopping to be done mid flight and I’m not talking trolley-shop, I’m talking extra-terrestrial retail and all these goods must be checked and, if necessary, quarantined.
All this means that by the time you hit wet land, for in those climes rain is inevitable, you are pretty well over bureaucracy but there’s more, because Christmas Island is overrun with the creepy bastards.
Yes, they not only check you in, they also check you out all the time you are there and when you attempt to get a table at one of the local restaurants you are competing with short plump desk bound bureaucrats and tall buffed agents of control, or as we call them in Mexico, the Federales.
In all my days on the island I met many local community leaders, including executives from the Christmas Island Phosphate Company and not one single resident expressed any fondness for the Detention Centre. This is not to say there are not such locals, but all those I spoke to were keen for a return to fame for the wondrous and migrating red crab.
I could not agree more.
Christmas Island is a tropical paradise, a living breathing thing of beauty. What madness would want to transform it into a prison and contain folk deeply traumatised by their past, their present and, increasingly, their future?
It is the madness of disconnected governing. It is endemic. It belongs to all sides of all houses. The detention centre is a festering boil on the rump of a natural wonderland.
If we as a nation decide that we cannot turn these boats back from our shores, then we should bring them all the way to the mainland, to a place closer to us. Ideal locations, I believe, can be found in our national capital.
My local Canberra source, a highly credentialed chap I shall call Brian to protect his identity, has suggested a number of places.
His first choice was the Department of Climate Change Building in the city’s heart because “the government doesn’t seem to use it anymore”.
“And then there’s the new ASIO building,” Brian said. “It’s still under construction, but, let’s face it, spooks should be invisible anyway.”
Last on his list and my favourite is the old Parliament House, very close to the New Parliament House, a quick hop and step for a daily dose of how a truly thriving, vibrant, creative and sophisticated democracy works.
My guess is that in no time at all most of them would be screaming for a return ticket home.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Friday, April 01, 2011
Yes, I am on Facebook, and Twitter, but not Myspace. I drew the line at that space.
Thanks for the question, yes, why would a man of this age be on such a new world, hi-tech, conversational stopping, human interaction distorting, internet jungle thing?
I wasn’t sure in the beginning, but now I am. Let me explain myself.
It all happened because of a man who married a cousin and he seemed so worldly by comparison to me, born and raised in Bridgetown, Manjimup and still raising in Albany. This cousin by marriage lives in the high flying world of Blackberries and iPhones. He said to me: “Get on Facebook, Jon, get on Twitter, it will help you sell your books.”
That was enough to get me excited, the prospect of pushing book sales into the stratosphere, all the way up the ladder to “Best Seller”.
To be fair, the book has sold well. To be honest, I don’t think Facebook and Twitter have done much. Although I am sure it resulted in at least three sales, but to three people I already knew.
Now here’s the real plus, a big one, and it all came to a head recently when I got this message: “Are you the Jon Doust who worked on a hop-farm out of Worcester, England, in 1972?”
My face exploded because I was that very same Jon Doust. There was no other Jon Doust but me. I was him. I couldn’t believe it was me. Sorry, I couldn’t believe it was her, Sarah, she found me, after all these years.
What would it all mean? The end of my current marriage? The rejection of all that had taken place in the interim, between when we met and now?
No, of course not, because we weren’t lovers, we were just the very best of friends. Sit back, relax, let me tell you the tale.
In 1972 I was madly in love with an Israeli soldier, but her parents pushed me away and I went all the way to the rolling green hills of Worcester, where I found work on a hop-farm run by a delightful and decidedly English family.
I lived in an old workers cottage with an Irish chap who only drank beer, only ate hazelnuts, and only washed the top half of his body. There was no electricity, no hot water, but there was a gas stove with one plate in working order. Outside our yard was a forest of stinging nettles and underneath the growth, a horse trough.
Stung, screaming, but determined, I cleaned out the horse trough and once a week I filled it with hot water I boiled on the single plate. I then removed all my clothes in front of a fire I built in the downstairs fireplace, ran for the trough, plunged, lay there until the cold hit, then ran back to the fire.
The police were called and I was incarcerated for sixteen years.
No, of course not, but Sarah and her mother were the kindest of folk and when the harvest was over they invited me into their 16th century home where they plied me with scones, tea and all sorts of fresh and exuberant foods.
I stayed with them until the Israeli called me back. I never forgot their kindness.
And that’s why I love Facebook, because Sarah found me on it, and so did Debra, the New Yorker and Graciela, the Argentinean, Tania, the Israeli, and on and on the list goes and all these people who impacted my life, who I was sure I would never see again, are with me, every day I turn on my computer.
It’s a nightmare come true. And I enjoy every minute of it.
Every so often I have a cup of tea with my old mate, Pete. But before I tell you about our last conversation, which got pretty low down and dirty, let me tell you about Pete.
Pete’s a Noongar and he’s crawled through a few mills in his time and been dragged through a couple as well.
There’s a lot I like about the old bugger, but, in particular, as is common with most of my friends, he has an over active sense of humour.
In his day he was a fine footballer, boxer, and charmer. He would, of course, still lay claim to at least the last.
Anyway, when Pete and I chat, we don’t beat around the bush, we get straight to it, whatever it is and this time it was about our health.
Earlier in the day I had spotted Len, another of my old mates, a retired farmer from Bruce Rock, but he didn’t want to talk. To be fair, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to talk, rather he didn’t want to talk about what I wanted to talk about – men’s business.
The thing was, that very day I was due a visit to the Big Clinic, you know the one along Stirling Terrace opposite the Police Station.
I suppose I shouldn’t have walked right up to Len and said: “Hey, Len, you ever had the ultra sound run over your private parts? Or your head examined?”
Frightened the hell out of him and he made a dash for the sand hills, with me yelling out at him: “What about a colonoscopy?” A lot of blokes are like that, like to keep that sort of thing to themselves. Not me and Pete.
We ordered our tea, had to be tea, we’re off coffee and sat back in what little sun was left in the day.
“So,” said Pete, “You’ve had your scrotum squeezed?”
See what I mean, he gets right to it.
I have to tell you, when we parted I felt a whole lot better, because Pete has also had the full range of men’s probes and both of us agreed it all came as a bit of a shock to hit the Big 50, because up until then we thought all the probing and squeezing belonged to women’s business.
As blokes we’d had it easy, right up to that first day when the doctor asked us to set a position on the table we had never set before and before we could say “Jack Thomson” the man you thought was your friend and confidant was invading your very being.
“I nearly hit him,” said Pete.
“What stopped you?” I asked.
“He was the footy club doctor and I took it all thinking I was doing it for the team. I was, but not for the Kangas, it was for us, manhood. I decided that from then on I would insist all my mates got the same treatment.”
Len, are you listening? It’s for the Man Team, all of us, not just you. So make an appointment, you grumpy old bugger.