d e a n   f o r b e S                                                            w a l k i n g ,  n o t  r u n n i n g . . .

MEDIA commentary 2019


Scroll down for the text







BLOG 2019                                                       scroll down to see more 2019 blogs


Clive James was a great writer. His Unreliable Memoirs (1981) is among my favourite books; I also found his Flying Visits (1985), Falling Towards England (1986) and Latests Readings (2015) on my bookshelf but I can’t remember much about them. They weren’t given away in the down sizing of my books a few years ago.

Clive James television programs were always witty and thoughtfully penetrating. He had a unique style of humour and mixture of street Australian and Cambridge Brit attitude. And he delivered words at pace. Could the ABC possibly re-run a handful of his best TV? I enjoyed seeing Rowen Atkinson’s old Black Adder comedies. Some of Clive James television re-runs would be a hoot to see (30/11/19)   


I pull on my slightly more respectable gear and walk over to Government House. Just saying. I had an invitation to a gathering of researchers organised by the Royal Society of New South Wales. The topic was ‘Making Space for Australia’.

My mixed expectations were soon swept away. The concise opening speech by the new NSW Governor, Margaret Beazley, kicked us off. Unlike previous Royal Society events there were 13 female and 10 male presenters. The standards of the presentations were excellent. 

A few days earlier M and I had been in a small NSW town called Wollombi and we had a lengthy discussion with a man looking after an aboriginal art shop-front. In explaining the meaning of the aboriginal art on display he explained the patterns that can be traced back to massive changes in the skies over the last 60,000 years or so. He was knowledgable and convincing.

Similar observations came up again from several presenters at the Making Space for Australia event. They pointed out that the new highly sophisticated telescopes have discovered patterns in space that are remarkably similar to those depicted in some aboriginal art. This is a world-wide first, and, possibly will remain unique. Who else has such long records about the changing appearance of space?  

Australia was involved at the beginning of the modern space age in the late 1950s. The first satellite we sent into orbit in 1967, and Australia has played a significant role in tracking of space craft. However our engagement in space had been on the wain for decades. A turnaround is underway. The Australian Space Agency has been formed to shape Australia’s overall activities. It is located in Adelaide and is led by Dr Megan Clark.

High powered researchers in universities are searching for the origins of galaxies and stars and ultimately the big bang. They are accumulating new knowledge of our own galaxy the Milky Way. The moon is also of ongoing interest. NASA wants people on the moon for a lengthy stay by 2024. In parallel NASA is also pushing ahead with plans for an eventual journey of astronauts to Mars.

Space is also attractive to entrepreneurs. A growing number of businesses are engaged in space-related activities. For example, using data from satellites to monitor and manage water resources. A growing number of space industries see advantages in manufacturing in space, either because it is more efficient or more effective.

Data Cube technology has significantly expanded the ability to collect data. Elon Musk has announced that he will put 4,000 satellites into space. And there are many others like him planning more satellites. While writing this piece the east coast of Australia was facing a bushfire crisis. Satellites contributed critical data on the progress of the fires around eastern Australia.

Australia will need to be a significant contributor to the regulation of all country’s space activities. Space debris is growing and will inevitably be dangerous to both countries on earth and to their activities in space.

Competition between countries will create new risks of conflict. China has made it clear it intends to have a significant and aggressive role in space. It is also expected that criminals and terrorists will take advantage of emerging low-cost space technology to expand their criminal activities.

There is much to be done. Robust global norms, conventions and laws need to be drafted, debated and accepted in a timely fashion. To be successful all countries will need to support the new activities in space and the decisions of the global regulators. Achieving compliance will not be easy.

How will public opinion in Australia react to government and firms expanding activities in space? How will we respond to the expansion of global activity in space? It would be naive to think that all nations will peacefully cooperate with each other. My guess is space will become a contested issue of some magnitude. I hope I am wrong. (15/11/19)


Thumping landing in Hobart. I want a taxi but there aren’t many at the airport. Uber and its competitors provide most services. I join M in the Custom House Hotel. Built in 1846. Breakfast is good; opposite the harbour. 

Walk around inner Hobart. Salamanca market is busy. In the mall a frustrated man bangs his hands against the shop windows causing them to vibrate like a drum. I record my daily notes on the iPhone, a new process for me.

A browse through the Tasmanian Museum and Arts Gallery but no time to visit the Museum of Old and New Art. Another excuse to come back.

We rent a Nissan. Registration plate says ‘Tasmania – Explore the Possibilities’. Drive up Mt Wellington. Freezing weather and pockets of snow. Many Chinese tourists. The cloud begins to dissipate exposing an awesome view of Hobart.

Drive north to the Freycinet National Park. Stay in a rented house at Coles Bay overlooking Great Oyster Bay. Surfers ride the small swell which sweeps into Muris Beach. Amble around the (few) shops in Coles Bay and admire the view of the mountains to the south.

Walk over a mountain range and down to Wineglass Bay. Busy with tourists at the Lookout, but fewer when we walk to the beach. The extraordinary white sand and the orange tint on the large shoreline rocks make for a great landscape. At just under 10 kilometres it is our longest day walk.

Drive northeast through Sleepy Bay and on to Cape Tourville. Gravelly road. Climb over more orange tinted granite rocks. 

We travel by ferry to Maria Island National Park. There is some truth to the signage: ‘Maria Island cruse + walk. Hobart’s top-rated tour’. In 1825 a convict station was established on the island. Many of the buildings it still exists. The walking tracks are excellent. On the way back to St Helens we stop at a 19th Century convict made stone bridge. The hand-crafted stones stands-out in the late afternoon sun.

A coffee in The Little Patiserie in Bicheno. M tries to open the door of a car thinking it is our Nissan. It isn’t! Embarrassed we walk on quickly.

Drive towards St Helens. A ute passes us at speed while towing a boat with fishing rods. A can is thrown out the window and rolls across the road. Then another, and another. Next, plastic wrapping is discarded out the window. What next? Fish bones?

Stopping for coffee at a very modern Little Bay Fashion, Design and Patisserie. Then a short drive to the Pelican Point Wetlands Retreat. The landscape is bleak but the accommodation is newly built and excellent. After several days of warm sunshine the weather starts to cool and there are a few spots of rain.       

Head to the northern parts of the Bay of Fires to Eddystone Point and Lighthouse. On way back we drive into Ansons Bay where there are many houses scattered around and little planned infrastructure. Feels like being in a giant holiday resort. Would like to have a coffee but can’t find a shop.


The Gardens in the Bay of Fires Conservation Area are sensational. Strikingly colourful landforms. Photographs taken against a background of increasingly darker clouds. Then back to St Helens for dinner at the Wharf Bar and Kitchen overlooking George Bay. Nice place but expensive sea food, and a little plain.

Head North West turning off towards Halls Falls and Rock Pool. Next we track back towards Pyengana for coffee and lunch in a cheese factory. Then on to St Columba Falls, regarded by some as the highest waterfall in Tasmania. Steady flow of few visiting as it is a short walk from the car park.

Take the opportunity to drive on to Derby. The town is full of trail bike riders, often fathers and kids, riding all around the town. Derby is known for its bicycle scene.

The weather deteriorates. Strong winds and occasional light rain. We head out on the peninsula south east of St Helens. At the far eastern end we walk through to the wild sea and strong winds. The area is largely deserted.

Later in the day we double back through St Helens to the north coast. We are attracted to Binalong Bay and enjoy walking along the coastal formations. Coffee overlooking the ocean in Lichen and Co Restaurant.

Drive from St Helens to Launceston. It is initially cold and wet, then further inland the rain disappears. Interesting small towns and agriculture. Had a coffee at Fingal.

Arrive in Launcestan at Cataract Gorge. It is sunny and the area is busy. School holidays. We walk around the area and have lunch by the lake.

Stay in the old and somewhat cramped Art Hotel on York. Stretched our legs wandering around Launceston. I misjudge and lead us to a rather ordinary Chinese restaurant, albeit with enthusiastic staff. Our last full day. Dropped off the Nissen; its work was done.

A fast taxi ride to the airport in the late morning. Launceston is the busiest regional airport in Australia. We fly JetStar to Sydney. (7/11/19)


It was raining when the book arrived. I opened the umbrella and walked through puddles crossing to the Pyrmont collection point. I have loved Leonard Cohen’s music since I first heard his records in Port Moresby in 1972. ‘So Long Marianne’ was one of my favourite Cohen songs. Two of his albums I have kept for the nostalgia. 

I waited weeks for Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell’s Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters, 1955-1964 to arrive. I was intrigued by the thought of reading the story of Cohen and Marianne, the Australian writers George Johnston and Charmian Clift, and other less known artists and bohemians.

Johnston and Clift moved to Hydra island, off the Peloponnese Peninsula and a few hours from Athens, in 1955. They were both anxious to write but were low on money. Though highly regarded authors neither had achieved substantial financial rewards for their writings. An artistic community began to develop in Hydra, taking advantage of the low cost of living and the mild Mediterranean weather. Sid Nolan had visited Hydra in the 1950s, reflecting some Australian interest in the island.

Johnston had been a war correspondent, posted to Papua New Guinea to cover the Japanese advance. Clift was born in Kiama and moved to Sydney in 1941, meeting Johnston in 1945. Later they married in Sydney. They moved to Hydra in 1955, expecting it to be a cheap place to live but also a place to focus on their writing in a new, exotic and warm environment. They occupied a house on the island for nearly a decade, 1955-64. A scattering of artists and writers had lived on Hydra since the 1930s.

Clift’s memoir Peel Me a Lotus continues to be read and admired, though she tragically suicided after returning to Australia. Johnston eventually followed on from his earlier semi-autographical My Brother Jack publishing Clean Straw for Nothing. It was centred on Hydra and ‘the half perfect’ nature of island living. It won him the Miles Franklin Award which ‘providing the security they needed to ride out the maelstrom of a decade of frequent near-poverty, ill-health, interpersonal battles, disappointing sales and the insecurities that flowed from their unrealised creative ambitions’ (p 55).

James Burke, an Australian photographer and photojournalist, working for Life magazine, took over 1,600 photos of expatriate life in Hydra over the years but failed to get the publication go-ahead from Life’s demanding and difficult executive. Extensive photos by Burke of the day-to-day life of Hydra’s expatriate community are published in the book. Tragically, he died in 1964, falling backwards off a cliff in the Himalayas.

Leonard Cohen visited Hydra at about the same time as Johnston and Clift. He was a 26 years old little-known poet and a frequent traveller. He only intended to be on Hydra for a short time. However he became enchanted with the post-war artistic bohemians who passed through Hydra. Cohen bought a house to live in drawing on an inheritance and had a big impact on the artist communities.

His reputation was as a poet but that changed as his singing became a significant feature of life in Hydra. ‘I just got off here, and somebody spoke English and I rented a house for fourteen dollars a month. I met a girl, and I stayed for eight or ten years. Yeah, that’s the way it was in those days’ (p 231). Cohen was infatuated with Marianne Ihlen and they became a couple. His song ‘So long, Marianne’ about the breakup with Ihlen is one of his most remembered songs. Sadly, Marianne passed away a few weeks before Cohen’s death in November 2016 (p 399).

The ‘creative bohemians’ of Hydra continue to attract others. Tim Winton in 1988 spent six months on Hydra writing his book Cloudstreet. His 1994 book The Riders was partly set on Hydra (p 235). While the writing style of Half the Perfect World leans towards the academic, the story is fascinating and well researched. The many black and white photographs of life in Hydra support the narrative. It is a story of writers, musicians and travellers and the complex lives they lived. Creative bohemian communities continue to interest us. Surely the global digital culture will not undermine creative books and their writers. (25/10/19)

Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell 2019 Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964 Monash University Publishing, Melbourne


A Joni Mitchell song provided the title for a 400+ page memoir by Anne Summers. Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir is thick with stories and detail of her life as a prominent writer and journalist. She was fascinated with reading and writing from an early age. Now in her 8th decade she is still going strong.

Her starting point was Adelaide. Summers attended Adelaide University and admired the political skills of Don Dunstan and Peter Duncan. She married John Summers, a politics lecturer at Flinders University. The publication of her feminist book Damned Whores and Gods Police in 1975 brought her to the attention of the public. It was provocative, widely read, and has subsequently become a classic for feminists and supporters.

From an early age Summers had a difficult relationship with her father and it was one of the prompts that led her to move to Sydney. She undertook postgraduate study at Sydney University and flirted around the edges of the Sydney Push. She got into journalism focusing on crime and prisons and earned a Walkley Award in her first year at the National Times. In the late 1970s she joined the Financial Review in Canberra.

Summers travelled to the US with her boyfriend in the late 1970s with all the excitement of a teenager. The City Lights Bookshop in San Francisco and the Beats were making their presence felt. Feminist literature and writers headed by high profile women such as Erica Jong, Margaret Atwood, Marilyn French and Lisa Alth were creating new role models and opportunities for women. New York was fabulous but dystopian at the time. She was 32 and needed to make a decision about her life. Despite the excitement of being in the USA she realised that ‘I did not feel I belonged in New York’ (p 42).

Back in Australia Summers joined the Financial Review in Canberra. She took it on energetically reading five newspapers in the morning before going to work. At night it was dinner at Charlies the preferred restaurant for Canberra’s in-crowd. Attending events at the National Press Club was essential. On Friday nights John Stone, accompanied by select senior Treasury staff, gathered together to eat and drink. It was her job to cosy up to people and she did it well.

In the thick of it in Canberra she decided to buy a house in Yarralumla for $85,000, despite the Bank of NSW having a policy of not loaning money to women to purchase houses. She acquired a PhD and was called Doc or ‘the doctor’. To her surprise she later came across ASIO files on her activity in Adelaide in 1966.

Such was her immersion in the goings on in Canberra she was invited by (then) Deputy Prime Minister Paul Keating to become a First Assistant Secretary for the Status of Women in the Department of the Prime Minister. She discovered that her journalist colleagues had no interest in women’s affairs or policies impacting on women. All the Heads of Departments she dealt with were men. Prime Minister Bob Hawke supported the Affirmative Action Policy enacted in 1986. Summers left Canberra noting that the Opposition did not oppose the policy, but on return to power a decade later dumped the legislation and the Office.

Meanwhile, Paul Keating became PM in 1992 and Summers was attracted back to Canberra as Keating was keen to have more women on the staff of his Office. She served for 11 months in Canberra working for Keating but also noted that women didn’t have as high regard for Keating as she did.

The next step was back to New York – Gotham City – where the coffee is black, regular coffee has milk, and you need to know it!  She headed Fairfax in the USA and North American and wrote for the Natty (National Times). She loved the vibrancy of New York, the directness of people, the swagger and the chutzpa. And she found herself pregnant again.  She responded by having an abortion. Then ‘I treated myself, maxing out my credit card buying three pairs of Bruno Magli stilletos’ (p191).

After two years Summers had had enough. On a brighter note, Malcom Fraser had lost his trousers in Memphis. But she was disappointed to not have become the Editor in Charge of a major newspaper, feeling she had more than enough experience and observing that most of those jobs go to males. Yet as a high profile journalist she was in the public eye and had exposure to opportunities that others both male and female often never have.

Summers has been able to write in detail about her professional life because she could access the insights and detail in newspapers, television footage and, quite possibly, the growing number of books and biographies by journalists. In reading I skipped over one or two chapters; the detail was more than I wanted. By the time I had finished I was impressed by her achievements in journalism and, to a less degree, her contribution to public policy. Anne Summers is a high achiever writer and journalist, and in her book she writes with candor. Best read on the deck on a sunny spring afternoon. (14/9/19) 

Anne Summers 2018 Unfettered and Alive: A Memoir Allen & Unwin, Sydney


Geoffrey Blainey is a respected Australia historian. He is a prolific writer and best known for his books on The Tyranny of Distance and The Triumph of the Nomads. Such is the regard for Blainey the National Trust declared him a 'Living Treasure'.

Blainey’s new book, Before I Forget: An Early Memory comes in two parts. The first explores his life living in Victoria towns as his family followed his father, a Methodist Minister, from Geelong to Ballarat, Leongatha and Terang. Blainey attended Melbourne University and was a keen contributor to, and later Editor of, Farrago, the student newspaper. A diligent student and interested in politics and history he leaned towards the conservative side of things. Reflecting his life long belief in the value of education, his book is dedicated ‘to all who taught me’. 

In the second part Blainey describes how he learnt to be an historian, modestly adding ‘I am still learning’. In another comment he adds that ‘memory … is not a skilled worker’. Blainey’s first book was a detailed history of the Mount Lyell mine near Queenstown in Tasmania. Some 4,000 residents lived in the town and supported 11 hotels. The copper mine was located in a moonscape. The sports ground had no grass, just white gravel. He was fascinated with mines and for the following dozen years he visited and explored as many as he could. 

As a descendent of Cornish miners who made their way to South Australia in the 1840s I found myself intrigued by his often quite precise and detailed mining stories. He writes that Cornish miners belief that dwarfs would sound the alarm should mines become dangerous. I can’t recall seeing that mentioned in Poldark!

The Tyranny of Distance is his best known book. A contract was signed in 1964 and once published its success gradually grew until it become one of the most significant history books on Australia. Blainey regrets largely ignoring aboriginal Australians in outlining travel to Australia, offering the explanation that the story of aboriginal mobility had hardly been studied at the time. Penguin books had commissioned the writing of The Tyranny of Distance but ultimately decided to not publish it. It was a misjudgement of epic proportions. 

Blainey’s writing of his life story is aided by the fact he always carried a diary and wrote regular notes on visits to mines or other venues where his book writing was directed. In the early days his naivety shines through: ‘I was astonished to observe that a skilled publisher could assess a potential book in a few minutes’ (p 207).

His writing is descriptive, direct and earthy. His favourite poem was Lawson’s ‘On the Night Train’. His style of writing history has remained much the same throughout his career, and has led to him taking on roles on government committees such as the Australia Council for the Arts and the Commonwealth Literary Fund where along with figures such as Gough Whitlam and Sir Grenfell Price. Though somewhat politically conservative even stalwarts of the left, such as Phillip Adams, hold his histories in high regard.

Geoffrey Blainey has written a revealing, if sometimes unusual, autobiography that is clear, precise and a pleasure to read. Before I Forget records his story up until the time he reached forty years of age. At that point, he explains, ‘I had written enough’. We shall see. (6/9/19)  

Geoffrey Blainey 2019 Before I Forget: An Early Memory, Hamish Hamilton,


5 Sydney Sydney City Council member Christine Forester is talking to the Sydney Institute on the 6th of October. Will argue that ‘Sydney is a global city and should have tall, iconic building’. Slams the ‘agenda-driven politics’ of Mayor Clover Moore. (31/10/19)

4 Sydney Mayor Clover Moore has sent out a tweet saying emphatically that the Star’s plan should not go ahead. She includes a short film in the message ‘At 237 metres high, eight times the height of the Pyrmont planning controls, the Star Casino tower is not playing by the rules’. See it on Tweets on my front page. (12/9/19)

3 Momentum is building. The IPC Hearing is being held, hence the politicians scaling up the criticism. Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has published a letter in the Sydney Morning Herald opposing The Star’s expansion. She is supported by 80 Sydney architects, planners, designers and builders. It is also supported by NSW’s Department of Planning. Tanya Plibersek, Labor member for Sydney has tweeted that she wants a new hotel built, but not new apartments. (27/8/19)

2 NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has stepped in to the discussion on The Star’s plan for the new Ritz Carlton (scroll down to see). She has sent the proposal to the governments Independent Planning Commission for a ‘snap review’, announcing ‘Pyrmont is open for business’! I think we all know what that implies.

Critics argue there has been insufficient consultation, the height of the proposed building is out of the range for low-to-medium Pyrmont and there is a false expectation that a metro station will be built to cater for the increased residents and visitors. 

I continue to support the proposal albeit depending on the tower being reduced in hight and The Star making a more substantial attempt to discuss the plan with the local community. Though I have a feeling a discussion might be quite torrid.

Others are voicing their support. This includes the obnoxious Daily Telegraph and the equally unimpressive shock jock Alan Jones. (22/8/19)

1 Four years ago Sydney’s Pyrmont casino, The Star, started designing a tower to extend upwards over the existing casino. The $500 million project finally produced a detailed plan that was submitted to the NSW Planning Department for approval. In late July the Planning Department rejected the proposal. A full-on public brawl exploded. 

As a resident of Pyrmont I have an interest in The Star’s plans. I’m painfully aware of the human damage caused by casinos and I’m concerned that the delightful but gritty ambiance of Pyrmont will be affected negatively. There are more than enough Maserati drivers revving their engines as they drive around the neighbourhood in the early morning.

A model of the expanded building has been on display in the shopping mall below the casino. It shows a central tower extending to an extraordinary 237 metres in height, providing space for a 220 room Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 204 residential apartments, a basement car parking space for 204 vehicles and a neighbourhood centre.

According to the City of Sydney, a critic of the proposal, the tower could reach a not insignificant 64 stories. It argues that Pyrmont is a medium-high density area and not suited to exceptionally tall buildings. The City of Sydney also opposed the building of a 42 storey, 183 metre development underway at Cockle Bay Wharf. It circulated a flier to make clear its opposition to both initiatives.

Reports suggest that the NSW government is not at one on the initiative. Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet are in favour of the project but the Planning Minister, Rob Stokes, is standing with his Planning Department. I’m no political mind reader but my guess is that The Star will get most of what it wants.

The Star has made an effort to communicate with residents. The first contact I received was in August 2018 when a letter arrived announcing a plan had been submitted and inviting me to attend a public briefing. A NSW Planning and Environment summary of the proposal also arrived in the mail, adding advice on how to access more information and how to make a submission. I didn’t follow up either of these opportunities although I did have a look at the model of the development, and have done on several subsequent occasions. The hight of the block is still very confronting.

Slotting all this in to the bigger picture, we should not forget the monster Packer Crown Casino building well under way on the other side of Darling Harbour. NSW is committed to the growth of casino based gambling, and, I’m guessing, some serious competition between the two giants may keep them competitive. Not that many everyday gamblers are going to benefit from either of the two providers.

In the published discussion very little has been said about community concerns. I haven’t come across any indications that there is a strong reaction by the community in either direction. Media coverage has ignored any reporting on community concerns. Another Neighbourhood Centre would be welcomed, but Pyrmont is already quite well supported.

Gambling is ingrained in many communities. It cannot be effectively eliminated by democratic governments, but there is scope to regulate some aspects. In most communities gambling, alcohol and drug addicts are among the most in need. More Australians gamble than in most countries. So would the community centre be there to help with the rehabilitation of gambling addicts? I think not.

There is more to come. (10/8/19)


Blue Water Empire, the three part series on the Torres Strait Islanders (TSI) is an impressive program. We are familiar with the TSI flag, but most Australians know little about the history of the Torres Strait and its communities. Much of what we know comes from news reports of dislocation in some Torres Strait settlements.

Portuguese navigators sailed through the region in 1606, followed by James Cook in the mid 18th Century. He raised the Union Jack and claimed the territory for Australia. Outside interest in the region focused on its rich ocean resources.

The three programs in the series make use of a mixture of historical film footage, re-enacting past events and interviews with articulate locals. It is very well done. The acting of the Islanders (and the others) is exceptional. The islanders emotional responses are measured and realistic. I felt the truth of their story and the difficulty of the decisions they had to make, coming to turns  with maintaing their culture while at the same time recognising the inevitability of changes driven by growing contact with outsiders.  

The stories reveal a rich and complex past, and the injustices that locals have had imposed on them. It provides an intriguing and interesting take on the politics of the Torres Straits and the challenges its people still now have before them.

Blue Water Empire was produced by Bunya Productions and Lone Star Productions for ABC Television along with the Screen Australian Indigenous Department and Screen Queensland. It was distributed by Dark Matter Distribution and broadcast on the ABC.

Watching Blue Water Empire inevitability brought back my memories of the region around the Torres Straits. While living in Papua New Guinea in the early 1970s I made several visits to Daru, a PNG island to the north east of the Torres Strait, but with long term connections. My curiosity was centred on the towns of Kerema and Daru.

On one visit to Daru we were invited to go sailing out into the straits. There was little wind so after heading with the faint breeze for an our or two our colleague, the skipper, who had borrowed the cabin cruiser, thought we would need the outboard engine to get us back to Daru. He leaned over to start the outboard. As we watched he accidentally pulled the engine out of its cradle, and it fell into the water and sank.

We all stood aghast! There were no other boats in the vicinity that we could get help from and there was no communication equipment on the boat. He said we should sail and paddle back to Daru, and he would return to find the outboard engine when he could. We all wanted to believe it was possible. The mild winds and our inexperience meant it took us hours to weave our way back to Daru but we arrived before dark. I don’t remember him telling us he salvaged the engine.

A week or so ago a boat appears to have sunk in the Torres Straits with five passengers still missing. It reminds us that this waterway is dangerous even for the experienced ocean people of the region.

Every Australian should put aside a few hors and watch this three program Blue Water Empire series. (21/8/19)


Hear this! ‘Biographers are like the professional burglar, breaking into a house, rifling through certain draws that he has good reason to think contain the jewellery and money, and triumphantly bearing his loot away’, says author Janet Malcolm. The metaphor is very revealing. But what about those like me who are writing an autobiography? Breaking into your own home? Stealing your families’ jewels? The metaphor strains to stretch that far but it does help me along my long, twisted writer road. Autobiography does have to be focused, it does have to zero in on what is most meaningful and valuable and it must be stolen and given away or sold. (23/7/19)


How good is Singapore! An impressive new book on contemporary Singapore is titled Planning Singapore: The Experimental City. It is edited by Stephen Hamnett and Belinda Yuen.

It is 200 years since the British took control of Singapore and more than 50 years since it gained independence in 1965. Singapore has shifted from being a predominantly small, scattered settlements to a highly regarded global city. It is a remarkable story.

First a disclosure. I was invited to write 100 words for the back cover. My piece follows:

Planning Singapore: The Experimental City is a comprehensive expert analysis of contemporary Singapore by experienced urbanists. A democratic authoritarian government has guided Singapore’s urban development with exceptional success, transitioning Singapore into a significant global city. It has successfully provided housing to a large proportion of the population. In parallel the Singapore economy has grown steadily with the support of government firms and foreign multinationals. Challenges include a slowly emerging gig economy, housing social inequality and a need for enhanced opportunity for creativity and innovation. The authors have provided a readable, nuanced, assessment of a well planned global hub.

Stephen Hamnett and Belinda Yuen (eds)  2019 Planning Singapore: The Experimental City, Routledge, London and New York. (28/6/19)


It’s a cold day in Sydney but I warm up when I talk about a new book.

Back in the day - 2003 or thereabouts - I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book titled Understanding Contemporary Asia Pacific. Its’ Editor was Katherine Palmer Kaup, then an Associate Professor in Political Science at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. The book was published by Lynne Rienner (Boulder and London) and launched in 2007.

It must have done well because the publishers requested an updated version. Kate, a China specialist, is now the James B. Duke Professor of Asian Studies and Political and International Affairs at Furman University. 

I have recently sent her my updated Chapter that goes by the minimalist title of ‘Population, Urbanization and the City’. It was hard going. The Asia Pacifc region has changed a lot since 2007: Japan’s population is ageing quickly and leading the way, population growth has slowed in almost every country, many cities have expanded populations, the number and size of megacities have grown, and overall the Asia Pacific is much more wealthy than it was 15 years ago.

Looking forward to getting my hands on the new book. (8/6/19)


A geographer with an interest in economic development, John went on to be Deputy Head then Executive Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Flinders University. More on the Flinders web page. Vale John Browett. (2/6/19)


It is increasingly unsafe to be a journalist. 1,528 died in the line of duty between 2000 and 2017.

Peter Greste was in Cairo and embedded in the world of the foreign correspondent, along with two Al Jazeera colleagues, when he was arrested and imprisoned for over a year. Qatar based Al Jazeera is often criticised as a cause of friction in the Arab world. Yet it also has become a critical international provider of detailed analysis of events in the Middle East, along with the BBC and CNN.

His book The First Casualty was published in 2017, and follows on from a book he wrote with his family titled Freeing Peter that was published in 2016.

I was slow to read The First Casualty. It was well down my list and there had been extensive media coverage of Greste’s incarceration. Essentially it is three books in one. The major thread is his frustrating time in Egyptian jails. A second thread is on his work in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. A third strand is a discourse on journalism and the importance of a free press able to report on issues across the globe.   

The Egyptian government’s arrest of three Al Jazeera journalists came out of nowhere. Greste and his two colleagues anticipated a short period of questioning followed by release. Foreign journalists may irritate governments but surely when in jail are more trouble than they are worth.

Not so, as it happens. The new Egyptian Government was trying to rid itself of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Al Jazeera journalists were thought to have some kind of connection. So it was off to the cells followed by frequent weekly court appearances where the accusations were never clearly determined. Three students were arrested for subversion along the way and for much of the time they were held in the same cell, though there are relatively few mentions of them in the story.

Not surprisingly Greste was frustrated by the lack of clear and meaningful charges against the trio, extremely poor jail conditions and the ineptitude of the court system. The incompetence of the Government and their management of the three Al Jazeera employees reverberates throughout the book. Anyone thinking of visiting Egypt should be aware of the arbitrary arrests, the lack of information about charges, the chaotic legal system and the appalling jail conditions. 

Woven through the book are chapters on Greste’s work in Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria. He was located in Afghanistan for a year, one of three foreign correspondents living in Kabul and witness to the rise of the Taliban (the term for students). The Taliban wanted to rule the country, and no other group had the breadth and strength to do so. At first the discussions were ‘theoretical rather than political, curious but never hostile’ (p 26). But the situation deteriorated when the Taliban acquired a new foreign sponsor Osama Bin Laden. Under Bin Ladin’s influence the Taliban became more radical, better resourced and more dangerous.

Somalia in the Horn of Africa occupied Greste for a decade from 2000. The Somali government had returned after years in exile. The capital, Mogadishu, is often called the world’s most dangerous city. Journalists needed an armed guard as they travelled around. A young Australian woman journalist was shot in the street and died in the recovery ward. Greste was deeply affected by her death and concludes it was a deliberate shooting, not a random event. He wrote a lengthy analysis of Al Shabab’s killings of journalists. In response, some journalists carry guns. None of the government’s reforms were successful and violence and killing of journalists continues.

The story of the murderous attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine staff highlighted the dangers journalists face. Greste is also critical of the over done French response to Islamists. Even French green activists were caught up in the rigorous government response to the attack. It is not clear whether this is an opinion piece based on newspaper sources or ground work in France. Greste writes that Islamic State (IS) thinks in terms of black and white, whereas the west more often recognizes the grey. IS wants its way to prevail: it is ‘the hideout of the hypocrit’ (p 265).

The First Casualty is very readable. The writing is fluent with just enough detail and the inclusion of the three broad themes helps to keep it interesting and enables him to project a broad message. Regrettably, journalism can be dangerous and it is in all our interest that we know the risks journalists take in many parts of the world in trying to keep us informed. For all the dangers Greste concludes that ‘one of the most seductive reasons for becoming a reporter is the privilege of having a ringside street to history’ (p 51). 

Peter Greste 2017 The First Casualty, Penguin Random House, Sydney


# Post Election Tuesday 1/6/19

Total 151 House of Representatives

> Liberal National Party 77 (Liberal 67, National 10). 

> Labor 68.

> Other 6 (Greens 1, Centre Alliance 1, Katter 1, Independents 3).

> Eventually Macquarie, NSW, retained by Labor.

# Post Election Sunday 19/5/19

> Shock and awe across the country as the LNP has won. Disbelief that Labor, considered a certainty, appears to have lost the election, and by a considerable margin.

> Clive Palmer is said to have spent in the order of $80 million to back his United Australia Party candidates. It appears not a single candidate will win a place in either the lower or upper house. Is this an Australian record for a electoral fiasco ?

# 11.30pm Saturday 18/5/19

> A huge surprise. The polls were signalling a victory for Labor. Results for Western Australia are starting to come in, but the LNP appear to be the clear winners. Now need to know why the results are so different from what was expected.

> LNP 74 seats. ALP 66 seats. Greens 1. Other 5. Target is 76 to govern.

> LNP 41.6% Labor 33.3%

‘This was the unlosable election for Labor. What went wrong?’

# 10.00 pm pm Saturday 18/5/19

> Labor hope now is a better result in Western Australia.

> Not much change in SA so far.

> What is happening in NSW?

> Labor expected to do much a lot in Victoria.

> LNP doing well in Queensland. Labor is down across the state.

> Tasmania, LNP picked up a seat.

# 8.00 pm pm Saturday 18/5/19

> No evidence of a swing to Labor in Victoria or Queensland.

> LNP seats holding better than expected.

> Dave Sharma is ahead of Kerryn Phelps.

> Georgina Downer will again not win the seat of Mayo.

> Peter Dutton likely to be returned.

> Tony Abbott not doing well in his seat. Has lose his seat.

> Nothing significant yet. Early results.

> The counting is underway.

# 1.16 pm Saturday 18/5/19 The queue at the local polling station is about 50 meters, about 15 meters shorter than this morning when I voted. Beautiful sunny day. Labor is big on signs: ‘Sydney Deserves a fast NBN’; yes.

# 10.57 am Saturday 18/5/19 Labor leads 51.5% to 48.5% in the latest Newspoll, according to The Weekend Australian. And it will probably do even better. Bob Hawke’s passing will have a significant impact, with senior politicians from both major parties recognising his outstanding leadership during his years as PM. The emotional response is not unexpected. I have a vivid memory of the day that Hawke wrested the leadership of Labor from Bill Hayden. I was talking to Mal Logan, a Labor insider, and he confirmed the significance of the shift. 

# 8.45 am Saturday 18/5/19 Standing in a lengthy queue for 45 minutes before getting in to vote. A cold morning in Pyrmont. Questions on my identity. I naturally started to think I was not on the electoral roll until she gave me a cheery smile  and explained that she had been looking at my Drivers Licence but used my middle name instead of my first name. The Senate ballot paper is about three times longer than the booth is wide. Shuffling through it is a pain. The loudest noise in the room is that of paper being scrunched. On my way out I scan the various banners. The most prominent Labor banner said: ‘Ultimo Public School will be $270,000 better off under Labor’. After the thrill of voting I down two mugs of coffee. 

# 8.00 pm Friday 17/5/19 The ABC programs - The Drum, News and 7.30 Report - skew towards Labor. The Hawke influence and an it’s time sense. The key seats are going to be in parts of Queensland and Melbourne, particularly the leafy eastern suburbs. The bookies, we hear, have Labor as a certainty. 

# 6.00 pm Friday 17/5/19 What is the big difference as far as the universities go? It’s Labor’s commitment to return to demand driven financing. It is a $10 billion pitch. Would it be good value? The universities think so. But they would, wouldn’t they.

# 5.30 pm Friday 17/5/19 The passing of Bob Hawke continues to run on ABC radio. It is bound to be a focus of the Labor camp. But how will tonights ABC and SBS news coverage go. Hawke will be a key focus, as will the election. Curious to see what they do. Also how will The Drum and the 7.30 Report manage it. If it was not prior to an election they might well have taken up the whole program.

# 1.00 pm Friday 17/5/19 Found a one pager from Libs candidate for Sydney Jacqui Munro in my letterbox. Nothing about the candidate. Just a few words of a generic pitch and advice on how the Liberals-Coalition want the preferences listed.

> What are the the Liberal-Coalition preferences? 2 Palmer’s party. 3 Reddin, Christian Democrats. 4 Hammond, Science Party. 5 Plibersek (no surprise). 6 Thompson, Greens (The Libs really don’t like the Greens).

> And in the Senate? 2, Palmer’s party. 3, Christian Democrats. 4 Liberal Democrats. 5 The Small Business Party. 6 Australian Conservatives (Corey Banardie hangers on).

> Labor’s preferences: 2 The Greens. 3 Science party. 4 Libs. 5 UAP. 6 Christian Democrats.

> Senate? 2 Greens. 3 Animal Justice. 4 Women’s Party. 5 Independents for Climate Action. 6 Hemp Party.

# 7.50 pm Thursday 16/519 Shock news that former Prime Minister Bob Hawke has died. It is announced at the same time that Bill Shorten’s interview is scheduled on ABC TV. Shorten’s interview was probably recorded earlier in the day. Hawke was a very successful PM. It will impact on the election, but how significant will this be?

# 7.45 pm Thursday Thursday 16/519 The 7.30 Report ran its two interviews with the PM, Scott Morrison (aka Scomo) and the pretender, Bill Shorten. Both gave reasonably good speeches, though on balance I thought Morrison was more coherent than Shorten. Astonished that the 7.30 Report had expert comments by Niki Savva, a women with connections to the Liberals. 

# 6.00pm Thursday 16/5/19 Tania Plibersek is the current member for Sydney in the House of Reps. And an impressive front bencher. Five Plibersek purple colour posters came through the mail. And Pliberseck once smiled at me when we passed on an escalator at Tullamarine Airport. There is one poster from the Greens mentioning Matthew Thompson (Candidate for Sydney and Dr Mehreen Faruqi). Nothing from the Lib’s Jacqui Monro. I’m guessing they are going through the motions. The Science Party has a Candidate but I know nothing about them. Palmer’s UAP bloke will be at the bottom of the list. 

# 5.01pm Thursday 16/5/19 Some 105 names on the NSW ballot for the Senate. I’m putting Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP, sic) at the bottom, just below Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party. It is the least I can do for the nation.

# 10.38am Thursday 16/5/19 This is my election blog. I live in the Sydney electorate and will vote on Saturday. A few million voters have already lodged their vote. M is in Townsville, so I have plenty of time to follow the election through to the declaration on, I expect, some time Saturday evening.


I have been dipping into Untold Stories on and off since it was published more than a decade ago. Its diary pieces (1996-2004) and essays flow gracefully along and the humour is subtle.  

The book is eclectic. Plentiful ego is on show, but it is not overdone. It radiates an unmistakably British brand of consciousness and humour along with a British fussiness and attention to detail.   

Bennett was one of the Beyond the Fringe group with Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Jonathon Miller (p 229). Comedy royalty.

He is very negative about Rupert Murdoch’s connection to Oxford University (p 240). And critical of boring Tony Robinson for going on about uncovering old sites (p 264). And envious of the huge number of air miles earned by Andrew Lloyd Webber (p 119).

Bennett reads very widely and deftly managers to talk about high literature yet not come across as priggish.

This is all I have to say for now.

Alan Bennett 2005 Untold Stories, Faber & Faber, London


Vale Bill Standish (1944-2019). Bill was a dedicated expert on Papua New Guinea politics. His knowledge of PNG and the extraordinarily complex political machinations was built and sustained for almost 50 years. I first met him on the University of Papua New Guinea campus in 1972. He was a Lecturer in Politics from 1971-1974. I was starting out in my academic career. Bill was both a dedicated scholar and an all-round good person respected by Papua New Guineans and expatriates alike. Vale, Bill (22/4/19)


Political biographies are de rigueur for politicians late in their leadership years. Run for Your Life is Bob Carr’s musings on his time in NSW politics, especially as Premier. Carr writes with confidence and a heavy swagger as he endeavours to persuade the reader of his successes while in government.  

Carr was a good student at Matraville High and developed an interest in books. Only two students from Matraville in his year made it into UNSW where he studied Politics, History and English. He started out on a career in journalism and had a stint on The Bulletin. Carr became an expert on the Labor Party and used his journalism to support Neville Wran whom he called ‘the last of the old-style state leaders’ (p 47). However Paul Keating talked Carr out of a career in journalism saying it was a ‘rat-shit profession’ (p 35). 

Once in parliament Carr worked his way up to the top becoming Premier of New South Wales. A short stint followed in 2012 when he took on the role of Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Gillard Government. His Diary of a Foreign Minister was my favourite book of 2014 (scroll down for the review). I have also read parts of Carr’s My Reading Life (2008) but thought it nerdy; perhaps it’s time to have another look at it. 

There are plenty of achievements for Carr. He recognized the importance of a Labor Government being able to demonstrate good financial management. He was known, at least to some, as Bob the Builder for the effort he put into roads, and the use of tolls to support funding and infrastructure. He gave real support for a significant expansion of NSW national parks and acknowledged the ‘debts of honour’ due to forest activists.

Not surprisingly he was underwhelmed by John Howard who he believes held Australia back rather than nudging us towards Asia and for his failure to criticise Pauline Hanson’s anti-Asian dog whistling. Howard’s failures include insufficient progress on reconciliation with aboriginal communities.

Premiers need to stand up to Sydney’s corrosive shock jocks. Carr lashes Alan Jones for his support for the NSW police which the Royal Commission concluded that ‘its corruption and ineptness was epic’ (p 79). On another occasion Jones attacks him for not sending in police to break up a farmers’ union event. Carr writes that ‘Jones continues to vilify veraciously’. He calls the Telegraph newspaper and 2UE radio ‘those odious, wind-up mediocracies’ (p 215). Not a man to hold back.

In recent years Carr has expressed strong views on the importance of China for Australia. He retains respect for the US but is well aware that ‘the edgy, scatterbrained, white nationalist US that Trump leads’ (p 267) has weakened it internationally. Not surprisingly he wants Australia to sustain significant connections with both the USA and China.

Carr refers to China panic stories that are blowing through government and business. Stories quietly critical of Chinese billionaires Chan Chak Wing and Huang Xianhmo, for example. Fairfax and the ABC are on to it. John Garnaut says universities are tangled in ideological wars. Clive Hamilton’s book on China expresses concern about growing influence in Australia (scroll down to see my review). While dismissive of much of this stuff he boldly claims ‘I want a ringside seat to see where the experiment goes’ (p 279). It sounds very Bob Carr to me. We can expect much more vigorous discussion in Australia before this situation plays out.

The book exposes more about his self-regarding political genius than I expected. Identifying his greatest achievements can be tiresome. It is light on recognition of people actually running the government’s projects, with one or two exceptions. If politicians contribute he is more likely to gives acknowledgement. On the positives side he says ‘if successful, be kind; if beaten, avoid bitterness’ (p7).

Carr has written a book for political junkies and those, like me, who thrive on glimpses into the nitty-gritty of local politics. A reading of the book would be super-helpful for anyone with aspirations of becoming a Premier. (15/4/19)

Bob Carr 2018 Run For Your Life, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne


Asian cities have been a particular interest for me. Indeed, I have always liked cities. Perhaps it is because I was born and raised in Adelaide, a graceful, liveable city that was the centre-piece of my family’s history from the 1840s.

My first real job was in Port Moresby. It was an interesting city albeit rather small by today’s standards.  In late 1972 I visited my first Asian city – Hong Kong. It left an indelible impression. I resolved that cities, especially those in East and Southeast Asia, would become my prime research and teaching focus. And so it has been.

A very substantial book that goes by the crusty title of The Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia was published at the beginning of this year. It is edited by Rita Padawangi, Senior Lecturer in the Singapore University of Social Science, and is published by Routledge, which is a prestigious heavyweight in academic publishing. It is a monster of a book with 37 chapters and 516 pages!

Terry McGee, of the University of British Columbia, has a short commentary on the back cover. Terry was a leader in this field and someone I always looked up to. His 1967 book titled The Southeast Asian City (Bell, London) was pivotal in me pursuing research on Southeast Asian cities. He says of the Padawangi book that it ‘shifts the focus from the economic role of urban centres to concern with the “urban condition” recognizing the human challenges of the urban life which is now a reality for the majority of Southeast Asians’.

Chapters are in six sections. The first is ‘Theorising Urbanization in Southeast Asia’. My essay on ‘Knowledge, Creativity and the City’ is in this section (pp 43-53).

Section 2 is on ‘Migration, Networks and Identities’; 3 is ‘Development and Discontents’; 4 is ‘Environmental Governance’; 5 is ‘The Social Production of the Urban Fabric’; and 6 is ‘Social Change and Alternative Development’. (13/3/19)

Rita Padawangi (ed) 2019 The Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia, Routledge, Oxford.


It is not unusual for foreign correspondents to write memoirs. In my quest to read as many books by authors writing about life and public policy in the Indo Pacific region it is clear that foreign correspondents write far more biographies and memoirs than policy makers and academics.

Hugh Riminton’s Minefields. A Life in the News Game is full of substance and is a comfortable and sometimes jolting read. Each journey begins with a rapid deployment on an aircraft; a relatively short few days focusing on the problem or event and talking to people; sometimes dropping into the middle of an appalling and dangerous situations; then a quick exit and on to somewhere else.   

Riminton was born in Sri Lanka, then the family moved back to England. In his words ‘England was hell’ (p 9). They later moved to New Zealand where he attended a variety of schools but seemed to lose his way, immersing himself in coffee, scotch, cannabis and rugby. He also acquired a sense of futility and unworthiness and attempted suicide. Eventually he returned to Sydney, a city the family had visited on their way to NZ.

At 17 he got lucky. It was 1973 and he was offered a job in radio. The journalist’s life was attractive: Rothman’s cigarettes were provided to journalists in exchange for free advertising. His favourite writers included Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh and Jack Kerouac. Resonates for me, though in the 1970s I would have added Tom Wolfe to the list.

Riminton’s first foreign affairs challenge was to travel to Fiji to cover the Sitiveni Rambuka coup in 1987. He learns on the job, noting that the press in Australia often falsify the situation by including unrelated film footage. The reason is that ‘television journalism and especially current affairs, required a story to be made as much as told’ (p 94).

His journalist reports on Africa are best known, not surprisingly given the demanding situation with which he was confronted. In South Africa he reported on the disgusting violence and indignity of apartheid. So horrid was the genocide in Rwanda and the murder of the Tutsis that some called it Africa’s world war. Five million died. Somalia was a dangerous cocktail. Men were armed and reckless due to their liking of ‘qat’ a mild hallucinate. 

Sudan became particularly important to him. He was appalled watching as small malnourished children died. Slave traders were active. The odious Lord’s Resistance Army created havoc. Yet despite the horror of his trip to Sudan he came to realise the importance of Africa to the world. Back in Australia he became close friends with a Somalian John Mac and his brother. When John died he came to realise the high regard for John Mac in both Australia and Sudan.

Riminton reported on the Port Arthur massacre. It was a gut-renching experience that he writes about with clarity and emotion. He also tells of the Thredbo disaster. Those of us of a certain age are familiar with both events but his retelling of the news is emotional and well done. He seems very close to events in Port Arthur but I felt as if too much of the Thredbo details may have come from multiple press reports.

More than once he tells how good TV Channel Nine was in the years he worked there. That didn’t stop him shifting to Hong Kong to join CNN HK, then at the hight of its years. He covered the terrible Sumatra Tsunami and its dreadful impact on the Indonesian province of Aceh. It caused havoc across the Indian Ocean. Over 1,000 people died on a train in Sri Lanka. Working for CNN HK was exhausting with journalists called out at any time day or night.

In a mobile life he was looking for where to go next. Kerry Packer had lunch with him along with shock-jock Alan Jones, who was in trouble for accepting cash bribes for comment on radio. Riminton moved to Ten in Sydney to present the Late News. Then Ten dropped it. He is now National Affairs Editor for 10 News and a presenter on Radio National. I follow him on Twitter, along with 68,700 others. 

The stories of Riminton’s three marriages and children are scattered through the book. Not surprisingly the life of a foreign correspondent is particularly demanding. Married three times his first wife left and a second wife departed with their daughter not yet a year old. His third wife, works at Macquarie University and does some ABC work. Three marriages. He seems to have been away too often for too long – obsessed by work and travel. It is not only the families that find it difficult. Travelling a lot ‘I lost all friends who required reliability’ (p 373).

He had no university degree, but he writes in detail about many of his assignments, recalling places, streets, venues, conversations and feelings. How does he do that? Is it because as a journalist he has access to television footage, newspaper and radio archives, and magazine pieces? As a committed journalist he believes that nothing is truly understood unless it is wrapped into a narrative. He is very attached to detail, done well, and seems to easily empathise with the people he meets. Along with that he believes that time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. Nevertheless he is despondent about the future of traditional journalism. The man with thousands of twitter followers says rampant social media has undermined the established niche of journalists.

A journalist’s focus, of course, is largely on significant events. Not too strong, but not too weak on the horrors of life. He is fortunate that the demands associated with multiple interviews, surveys and the like are avoided. Journalists are only burdened by occasional need to delve into mundane everyday life. Overall Riminton does very well providing an abundance of credible stories to look back on. I envy the freedom of journalists, though I appreciate the rigorous demands of newspaper editors.

It would be fascinating to join him for a swim at Bondi and hear more about Champaign Cocktail Theory. (5/3/19)

Hugh Riminton 2017 Minefields. A Life in the News Game, Hachette, Sydney


An email lobbed into my laptop from Frances Parkes who works for Routledge in the UK. She was asking about a book titled Australian Overseas Aid: Future Directions that was edited by Philip Eldridge, Doug Porter and me. Croom Helm (a past imprint of Routledge) published it in 1986.

Our book was a critical follow-up to the report to government by the Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program, better known as the Jackson Report. It was delivered to the Hawke Labor Government in 1984. The report’s authors included two ANU economists, Helen Hughes and Peter McCawley.

The thrust of our concerns included the proposed reduction in aid funding, an over emphasis on following international organisations such as the World Bank with greater emphasis on ‘structural adjustment’ and a reduction of welfare spending, meaning a shift from a focus on poor people and poor communities.  

Only two of the authors in the Routledge book had made a submission to the Jackson Report: Philip Eldridge and Juliet Hunt. However all had an interest in foreign aid. Kaye Bysouth worked for Community Aid Abroad. Brian Chatterton had been a Minister and Member of the South Australian Parliament; Lyn Chatterton had been a rural policy advisor to the SA Government. John Langmore was the Member for Canberra in the national Parliament and Helen Hill worked in the Office of John Langmore. Sarah Sargent had worked for the United Nations and an Australian aid NGO. Steve Keen worked for the Department of Trade.

Others were in universities: John Connell (Sydney University), Chris Duke (University of Warwick), Cherry Gertzel (Flinders University), David Goldsworthy (Monash University), Richard Higgott (Murdoch University), Juliet Hunt (University of New South Wales), and Michael Taylor, a colleague at the Australian National University.    

An incident on the day the book was released sticks in my mind. Around that time I took leave from the Australian National University and was employed on a fulltime position in the Australian Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB for short). I needed a break from academia, and also to get more experience working on overseas aid projects. Up until then I had regularly taken on aid consultancies, but this was a full time commitment.

I was standing waiting for the AIDAB lift on the morning the book was released and had appeared in news media. The lift door opened and the entire senior staff were standing there and looking in my direction. I didn’t move, partly because it looked full, but partly because I really didn’t want to deal with the situation face-to-face. I was never spoken to or asked about the book by anyone in ADAB, and I went on to work there for almost two years, before returning to the ANU.   

Australia’s commitment to overseas aid does not get the attention it did in the 1980s and 1990s. Funding has dropped back relative to overall government spending. A partial reason might be the fast improving economies such as China and several of the ASEAN countries. But the same could not be said of the Pacific island countries, nor of places such as Timor Leste, Myanmar and Cambodia. (1/3/19)

Phillip Eldridge, Dean Forbes and Doug Porter (eds) 1986 Australian Overseas Aid: Future Directions, Croom Helm, Sydney



Tropical islands project youthful glamour, revealing swim costumes, the sun and dining out on tropical foods. Tourists, however, are diverse and swim ware is often unflattering. How does it look from a catamaran?

Thailand and Malaysia are powerful competitors to well established tropical magnets such as Bali’s Kuta Beach. M and I fly in on Air Asia, landing in Kuala Lumpur and transiting on to Langkawi. Despite being wedged into seats in full aircrafts, the flights are on time and well managed by speedy and competent cabin crews.

It is late when we arrive so we sleep at the Chenang Inn. Our room is tiny, the bathroom even smaller and there are no windows. Good practice for the next leg of the trip.  

We board a free ferry to Pulau Rebak to link up with my brother, Grant. His 13 metre, three bedroom catamaran, El Gato, had been in dry dock, but is dropped back into the water mid-afternoon. The heat onshore is stifling so it is a relief to be on our way to Telaga where we could anchor and organise for the journey.

By coincidence, an old surfing and university friend, Stephen, and his colleague Michael, both highly regarded physicists, are staying nearby before moving on to tasks in Kuala Lumpur. We eat Indian food and recall our adventures as young surfers.

The next day we set off driving into northerly winds. We are headed for Bass Harbour in Kuah to get our customs, immigration and quarantine documents before leaving Malaysia. While the staff are polite and well intentioned we shuffle from office to office to get documents approved and signed. Then we are instructed to go to the Yacht Club to print copies and bring them back to each of the offices. It is blisteringly hot outside and the tops of my feet are getting burnt and taking on a vibrant red tinge. 

Leaving Kuah we are suddenly hit from behind by a strong easterly. Small one-person yachts are out and about and almost every one of them is tipped over. A motor boat is out to provide help, but the yachties cope well with the wind. We decide to return to Telaga for the night. 

Next day we stop for lunch at Van Ao Makhan and swam in the sea. There is a strong undercurrent moving outwards from the shore, so we keep close to El Gato. We arrive at Turutao National Park late in the afternoon. We eat at the only restaurant set within a small resort. The food is bland although M has an excellent dish of fish soaked in ginger. The wind is strong during the night and I have trouble sleeping.

Mid morning we pay our fees and explore a small part of the National Park. Looking through the waterfront museum I read that the settlement was at one time a prison for Malay politicians deemed troublemakers. During dinner monkeys swooped in to aggressively demand food. Staff from the restaurant ran out with sticks and yell at the monkeys who reluctantly retreat. Signs urge  us not to feed wild life, but the monkeys are a shock.

Leaving Koh Turutao we sail slowly past Koh Phetra with its stunning massive cliff faces. Koh Muk was equally as impressive, with a beach dotted with sun umbrellas and cafes. We anchor and dive into the sea. Large orange jellyfish float by and we quickly return to El Gato. M brought along sketching paper and book and was busy drawing. Grant also regularly sketches in his small art book. I decide to make one or two quick sketches in my note book, beginning with Koh Phetra, and another later of Phang Nah Bay.

We take the dingy to shore and drag it well up the beach, knowing the speed at which the tide will come in. We are taken to a shop but we fail to get a Sim Card for M. We wait at the shop while our motorbike driver tries to find when the owner will return; we eventually leave and return the next day. The bike ride through the settlement is interesting and fun; narrow streets busy with bicycles and motorbikes. Dinner is at a good restaurant overlooking the beach.

Next morning I jump into the water early, and then relax on El Gato through the morning, updating my trip diary. Tham Morakot – the Emerald Cave – is nearby but we knew it would be crowded and decide not to bother. In the afternoon we return to the Sim Card shop. It is open and M buys her Sim Card and get some helpful support. We dine at a no-name restaurant. (10/2/19)


After Kho Muk our intention was to sail to Kho Ngai but as there was no restaurant at Kho Ngai we instead keep going to Kho Lanta. The weather is excellent, warm with a strengthening breeze. Sitting in the open air on the main steering deck of El Gato gave us the privilege of a panoramic view of the beautiful green islands of the Andaman Sea.

Travelling parallel to a long sweeping bay the shoreline is a never–ending string of accommodation, shops and restaurants. Many of them reflecting an increasingly wealthy community. Tourism is growing rapidly along this string of islands, but I am finding it difficult to capture in pictures on my iPhone.

Overnighting at Lae Nang the next morning we headed for Kho Phi Phi, another major magnet for tourists. We see many passenger speed boats with high powerful engines and longtails racing towards Phi Phi. Speed is important, it seems.

As we approach Phi Phi Grant reminded us of the huge tsunami on the day after Christmas in 2004. It caused catastrophic damage through this area. The epicentre was in the seas of northern Sumatra. It left a death toll of around 220,000. The shape of Phi Phi Island meant that the communities there were particularly badly hit. The huge swells rolled over them and then bounced back from the surrounding high ground and swamped the again.   

It is not surprising that there are many signs around the area explaining how to react if another tsunami should sweep in from the surrounding sea.

Leaving Ko Phi Phi we make our way to Ao Chalong to record our presence in Thailand. A strong breeze pushed us along at a good pace. The seas are rough but the weather is warm. I had imagined Phuket to be an island comparable to Ko Samui on the eastern coast of Thailand. I was wrong as I discovered when I looked at the map and saw how large it was.

Our first stop is to register our presence in Thailand. The Thai are generous and allow yachts several days in Thailand before they need to register. We take the dinghy into Ao Chalon, tying up at a kilometre long wharf, and walk to the government offices. It is officially lunchtime so we sit around and waite until the offices re-open. The registration process is lengthy with many sets of multiple copies and different offices to visit but as in Malaysia the officials are polite and helpful. This time we didn't need to go out to find a copier. 

We walk into the town along a hot and dusty road, made worse by extensive ongoing road-works and the absence of any thought of the needs of pedestrians. A stop for a rather nice lunch in an empty airconditioned restaurant owned by an Australian eased the pain. The icing on the cake is the discovery of an art supplies shop with some good bargains sniffed out by both M and Grant.

Back on El Gato we know the significance of the 26th of January and therefore head off into a beautiful sunset on our way to Nai Harn. (11/2/19)


What do you do when waking up in Nai Harn on the morning of the 26th of January? In Australia it may be different, but here there is a buzz as Grant hauls up the Australian flag on El Gato: it is Australia Day.

Windy overnight and a pillow from the upper deck blows away, fortunately landing in the dinghy. We take the dingy to drop off the washing and to stock up with food and drink. We purchase fruit drinks and try out the Travel Card on the local ATM. It works but the transaction costs are excessively expensive. Returning to El Gato a friend of Grant’s from Torquay who lives not far from Nai Harn paddles to us on his surfboard for a few hours of reminiscing.

In the late afternoon a group starts to gather at the eastern end of the beach. The water is placid, but in the surfing months the waves are among the best along this coast. Conversations centre around yacht adventures, yacht repairs, the best places for yacht maintenance and new places to visit. We eat, drink and take photographs. During the evening we wander along the beachfront and eat an ordinary dinner. The similarities of the Thai restaurant menus is striking.

The wind increases the following day. Grant is visited by two friends who travel regularly between Phuket and Torquay and catches up on goings on in the region around Nai Harn. M continues with her landscapes. Grant adds more sketches to his small book. Their styles are quite different but I enjoy seeing what they are achieving.

I begin to read Hugh Riminton’s book Minefield: A Life in the News Game. I write notes in my A4 moleskine. I wonder where Poo Man is now; a few days back he would sit over a bucket on his deck and defecate while grinning in our direction. Young Thai girls seemed to be helping out on his yacht.

We collect the washing and eat dinner at an expensive Italian restaurant. The bland pizzas are mildly disappointing though we enjoy the excellent views over Nai Harn Beach.   

The wind lulls so yachts’ start leaving Nai Harn heading up the east or west coasts of Phuket. We go east, passing Chalon Bay and a large American warship. The Essex is part of the Pacific 7th Fleet. It is surrounded by small boats with red flags keeping other vessels clear.

Along the coasts are local fishermen, many out at night. Their bright lanterns colour the horizon. They scatter nets and fishtraps which we must avoid, both in the interests of the hard working fishers and El Gato. Getting nets caught in propellers would be a problem for all of us.

We anchor at Phan Nah Bay off Ko Rang Yai. It is a popular day location for visitors who come in longtails and speedboats and enjoy the calm water, white sand and coconut trees. We jump in for a swim and are surprised by the ferocity of the current and stay near to El Gato. Annoying jet skiers race close to swimmers and in and around yachts before tearing across to other islands. A news report tells us a collision in the area has caused a fatality.    

Sailing from Ko Rang Yai is easy going. A slight cooling breeze, a modest amount of traffic and great views of Phuket to port and mainland Thailand to starboard. The Super Yachts dominate the view as we approach Yacht Haven. We are allocated a good berth and we plug in the mains electricity.

Several local Thai restaurants are a short walk away. Motorised three wheelers provide free transport up and down the hill. There is a modern restaurant - The Deck - overlooking the yachts. It is ideal for coffee or main meals. It has a great view, and enough mild breeze to be comfortable. There are modern showers and toilets freely available. We are transitioning into the journey back to Sydney.

Grant rents a car. We visit stores providing equipment and support for yachts. Then we drive around the island, including places we stopped at on El Gato. Phu Ket is holiday central and this is peak time so the beaches are busy. Patong, the attraction of choice for many, especially the Russians, is packed. Deck chairs, sunburnt torsos and some confronting tourists of both genders in skimpy swimming costumes has me averting my gaze at every opportunity. 

It is our last day. Grant drives us to the town of Phuket to purchase instruments. The roads are busy and not always easy to negotiate. I am surprised at the size and bustle at Phuket airport.

I am even more shocked by the super quick check-in. It is crowded inside and the food and drink is over-priced. The flights to Sydney are near to full. I sit next to a passenger who tells a woman a few seats away she must not clasp her seatbelt until the captain says so. As we approach land in Sydney he tells me M should not take photographs as the plain lands. Good luck with that, I think.

We are exhausted but thrilled with the experience. (12/2/19)


In August last year the New South Wales parliament changed the legislation on Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA).

Previously apartment buildings could block STRA. The new legislation overrides the previous ability of the apartment strata managers, and hence the residents, to have a tight hold on this kind of activity. STRA renting will be allowed in all properties for up to 180 days a year. Being close to the CBD means that STRA arrangements are popular in Pyrmont. And of some concern to me.

The NSW Government is in the process of developing a Code of Conduct that will explain and clarify the legislation. When this is completed apartment blocks will be able to draft new by-laws setting out the specific requirements of residents within apartment buildings.

The concern among residents is just how much power will they have to manage STRA. A large majority, I expect, would want the opportunity to tightly control STRA activity, if not ban it altogether.

I am conflicted.

My first response is to insist on the residents’ rights to minimise the amount of STRA activity, and even ban it altogether if the majority of residents want it to cease.

However, I am also very aware of the vibrant small gig economy businesses that are popping up throughout Pyrmont and the parallel need for moderately low cost accommodation for the owners and workers in these businesses.

Either way, the Strata committees will find it even more challenging to manage the buildings under the new laws. The new legislation allows capping STRA activity at 180 days. How could this possible be managed? We have much to do before this is all finalised. (10/1/19)


Interested in Asian cities? The Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia (Routledge, 2019), edited by Rita Padawangi, is now available. It is a monster of a book: 37 chapters and 516 pages!.

My essay on ‘Knowledge, Creativity and the City’ is chapter 3, pp 43-53.

Excellent reading for the January holidays! I will have more to say as the year progresses. In the meantime, make sure it is ordered for your library. (3/1/19)


Four years in Pyrmont and I still get a buzz from living in this high-density inner city suburb.

My regular walks criss-crossing the area and along the harbour never fail to clear my thoughts and occasionally come up with new ideas. When I need to get into the CBD it is a short walk on Pyrmont Bridge dodging speeding bicycles while looking at an evolving urban landscape dominated by restaurants and harbour walks.

Several major construction projects are underway across Pyrmont, including two nearby which have made the area noisier than usual. An Indian Mina bird nested a few metres away from my deck and added to the cacophony. So too does the yapping of a dog which regularly discards its bark control necklace. Occasional yelling on the streets through the day and at night can be annoying, but there are fewer episodes than a couple of years back. As I write this four police are chatting with a couple who regularly scream at one another.

I have enjoyed attending meetings of the Pyrmont History Group, ably managed by Donald Denoon, whom I remember from the ANU and before that the University of Papua New Guinea. The history of Pyrmont is quite fascinating and the local amateur historians are well informed. I dropped out of the NSW Writers’ Centre for the year but may well re-join in 2019.

M and I spent Christmas at Cape Hays on Phillip Island with two of my daughters and grand children. We managed stopovers in Lakes Entrance on the way down and then in Melbourne and after that Lancefield on the way back. We returned to Sydney in time to catch the spectacular New Years fireworks. (1/1/19)



Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia, edited by Rita Padawangi (Routledge, Oxford,  2019)

My Chapter: ‘Knowledge, Creativity and the City’

Planning Asian Cities: Risks and Resilience

Edited by Stephen Hamnett and Dean Forbes (Routledge, London,  2011)

paperback   eBook version

Our Chapter: ‘Risks, Reliance and Planning in Asian Cities’

Sustainable Development in China edited by Curtis Andressen, Mubarak A.R., and Wang Xiaoyi (Routledge, London,  2013)

My essay ‘China’s Cities: Reflecting on the Last 25 Years’


BLOGS 2019

Scroll down to read

  1. Bullet Vale Clive James

  2. Bullet Making space for Australia

  3. Bullet East coast Tasmania

  4. Bullet Hydra - Johnston, Clift and Cohen

  5. Bullet A Summer’s memoir

  6. Bullet Blainey on Blainey

  7. Bullet Stars and Crowns 1/2/3/4

  8. Bullet Torres Strait islanders

  9. Bullet Stars and Crowns 1

  10. Bullet On biography

  11. Bullet Singapore story

  12. Bullet Understanding Asian Pacific

  13. Bullet Vale John Browett

  14. Bullet Greste: The First Casualty

  15. Bullet Election Blog

  16. Bullet Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories

  17. Bullet Vale Bill Standish

  18. Bullet Bob Carr Run for Your Life

  19. Bullet The urban Asia book

  20. Bullet Minefields: Hugh Riminton

  21. Bullet Overseas aid 1986

  22. Bullet El Gato 1: Telaga to Kho Muk

  23. Bullet El Gato 2: Kho Lanta to Ao Cholon

  24. Bullet El Gato 3: Nai Harn to Boat Haven

  25. Bullet Inner city apartments

  26. Bullet Urbanization handbook

  27. Bullet First 2019 blog