how will history remember Gough Whitlam?

One day in high school my friend and I were being naughty and listening to an iPod during Maths class. Our teacher tapped us on the shoulder and pointed out this poor behaviour and, being cheeky, we replied “but this band is named after our favourite politician”. When our teacher asked about the band and we told him they were called the Whitlams, he was so excited. Gough, he said, had saved his life. You see, the day Gough Whitlam was elected (the 2nd December 1972), our wonderful Maths teacher was due to be shipped off to Vietnam to join the most unpopular war effort. Number one on Whitlam’s agenda as Prime Minister was to withdraw our troops, and he did.

I read more about Whitlam and his time as leader of our country but of course at the height of my interest I was only 16 or 17 years old and hardly able to comprehend the complexities of his term and the time period in which he was leading our country (he was elected 16 years before I was born and dismissed three years later). I once brought him up in conversation with my grandparents, staunch Liberal voters their whole lives, and learnt that our relationship would be better off if I never spoke of the despicable Gough Whitlam again. He was a mongrel who nearly ruined us all.

Two generations of people with totally different opinions, and yet they really do represent the divisiveness of Whitlam’s term. Mired by scandal, intrigue and possible corruption, I can now understand where my grandparents were coming from. However as an admittedly left-leaning individual myself (not far left, just a little!) I do still have a lot of admiration for the reforms Whitlam and his government implemented, particularly with regard to the working environment they had to do it in.

His legacy includes so many turning points in our nation’s evolution but the ones that speak to me are the ones that show a degree of humanity: introduction of universal healthcare, improved access to tertiary education, abolition of conscription and the death penalty, the introduction of no-fault divorces and welfare payments for the homeless and disadvantaged. Some of these social justice issues are currently in Australian political news again as they are under threat and I can only hope that, upon reflection of Mr Whitlam’s life, we are reminded of why his Government brought these policies in to begin with.

A few years ago I read an interview with Mr Whitlam in the Sunday paper where he was asked where he wanted to be buried when he died. His answer? “It doesn’t matter – I’ll only be in there for three days.”

A funny bastard too – that’s how I’d like to remember him.

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image courtesy of SBS/Getty

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Business Class pyjamas: Bob Carr says yes!

There’s no doubt flying Business Class, or hell, First Class, affords you a certain set of luxuries. For most of us, we’ll take what we can get because we know anything’s better than cattle class and indeed, many of us can only dream of turning left instead of right when boarding.
Not Bob Carr. Let’s call him an aficionado, shall we? He knows what he likes, and he likes only the best. If you run an airline that doesn’t offer pyjamas in Business Class, Bob Carr doesn’t like you.
For my non-Australian friends, Bob Carr is our former Foreign Minister and he has recently released his memoirs, Diaries of a Foreign Minister, to… well, country-wide mockery I guess. I’m yet to see anything other than that.
Rather than focus on Bob Carr though, I’m going to address one very specific gripe he has with life: that there are no pyjamas offered in Business Class. Ummm…. That’s not actually true.
For the Bob Carr’s of the world, I’m going to help you out. I’m nice like that. So here’s a little list of airlines who will give you a set of PJs for your trouble.
  •           Qantas
  •           American Airlines
  •           Qatar Airways
  •           All Nippon Airways
  •           Virgin Atlantic

voting for change

So elections are under way in Zimbabwe as I write this. Robert Mugabe, who has been in power for 33 years so far, is facing off against Morgan Tsvangirai in a competition that’s heating up.

I don’t really think I ever expected Mugabe to be ousted before he died, and I would hazard a guess that there are many out there who feel the same. However this election is so different from the last one five years ago, in that there has been very little violence this time in the lead up to polling. For a start, Tsvangirai is actually still in the running, unlike last time where violence caused him to withdraw his nomination.

Mugabe has promised to retire should he lose this election and it would be surprising if he genuinely had the people’s blessing to continue his (mis)management of the country. Tsvangirai and his party have accused Mugabe of doctoring the electoral roll in order to win the election, a claim Mugabe has of course denied. What remains to be seen is of course whether Tsvangirai’s claims are true and, if so, whether it worked.

This really could be the dawn of a new era for Zimbabwe, or it could be a blistering disappointment for the international community who will end up waiting another good five years for the opportunity for change. Fingers crossed!

Find out more here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-23512279

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-31/zimbabwe-election—choice-again-between-mugabe-and-tsvangirai/4854826

Election rally in Zimbabwe. Photo courtesy of AP

north korea WILL happen



I’m not going to get all romantic or nostalgic and say, “it’s a place I’ve always dreamed of” because it’s not. It’s not my Galapagos Holy Grail; it’s not even close. It is, however, an important piece of my World Puzzle. And one day, I’m determined to put that piece in place.

I figure, the world is what it is. As with anything, you take the good with the bad. There are two sides to every story and whatnot. But the key is always to form one’s own opinion. I understand that in North Korea, travellers are subject to propaganda and only propaganda, and it could be very hard to see how the ‘99%’ live in such a place. But even so, to witness whatever I could with my own eyes would be fantastic.

I know some people who agree with me and I certainly know some who don’t. I completely understand why it wouldn’t be on everyone’s list and I realise that timing is key. I won’t, for example, be heading there on my honeymoon or at a time where I can only take a week or when I just “need a holiday”. I’m sure it’s not that kind of place.

I guess half of the appeal is to be able to say I’ve done it, and to have the passport stamp to prove it. Plus, the following excerpt from the DFAT Smart Traveller website makes the whole thing feel a little James Bond-esque:

“Showing disrespect, including in jest, to the country’s current or former leadership or their families is a crime in the DPRK. Foreigners in the DPRK are closely observed by the authorities, which may include searching belongings in hotel rooms and monitoring telephone and facsimile services…

Photographing roads, bridges, airports, rail stations, seaports, or anything other than designated public tourist sites can be perceived as espionage and may result in confiscation of cameras and film, and/or detention. Photographing scenes of poverty or other things that may cause a negative impression of the DPRK may also result in confiscation. You should ask permission before taking photographs in the DPRK, including of officials, soldiers or other people. DPRK guides can provide permission to take photographs. Attempts to engage in unauthorised conversation with DPRK citizens may be viewed by security personnel as espionage.

My ignorant 15-year-old self would say, “pretty cool, huh?”


photo courtesy of flickr/Joseph A Ferris III and this article from businessinsider.com

perspective



Does anyone remember Couchsurfing? For those who don’t, it’s a website where you can meet other backpackers and the basic concept is that anywhere in the world you have a couch to crash on. It’s a great way of seeing the world for those on a budget, and offers the chance to hang out with locals in each place you visit. For more insight read Brian Thacker’s Sleeping Around; it’s great.

The reason I bring it up is because once, a long time ago, a young guy wrote to me from Aleppo, Syria, via the site. He was the “Ambassador” for Aleppo, which basically meant he had hosted a lot of couch surfers in his time, had a really good rating, and his passion was to show tourists around his hometown. Being 19 or however old I was, Syria wasn’t really on my to-do list yet, but I was really interested in what he had to say and I was fascinated and inspired by the passion he had for his home.

Of course, I can’t turn on the television, radio or internet now without hearing about the violence currently occurring in Syria and more recently Aleppo in particular. It always saddens me when these things go on, as they always do, and I have followed news on the Arab Spring closely (I’ve had to anyway because of my job). However, I think it’s so easy for us to be vaguely saddened by what’s happening but then to be able to ignore it because we have more important things to deal with right here.

I find myself thinking about this young man, so ecstatic about the city he was lucky enough to call home, and wondering where he is now and what he’s doing. I can only hope and pray he’s okay, and that he’s either fighting the good fight if that’s what he feels is right, or he’s in a much safer place. Either way, I hope he’s still teaching people about his country and reminding them of its place in the world.

He gave me a different perspective on a part of the world that was unknown to me, and for that I will be forever grateful. I hope thousands more are lucky enough to be given the same opportunity.

photo courtesy of Reuters

the lucky country

(slight language warning)
Today I was lucky enough to hear about the journey one of my clients had been on before he reached Australia. It’s disjointed, it has big holes where I didn’t pry to get further information, and I have no proof of any of it. I don’t care. I consider it a privilege that he told me.
Born to a Turkish father and an Iraqi mother, he was born in Iran but denied a birth certificate or passport in Iran because of his mother’s nationality.
At age 12, his parents passed away in an accident.
He travelled through Turkey to Malaysia, who sent him to Thailand, who sent him to Indonesia. He then ended up on a boat headed to Christmas Island.  It was a 12 day voyage but after seven days, all the food and water supplies were gone. People died on the boat, and many were ill.
When he arrived on Christmas Island, he repeatedly asked for water, but his request was denied until processing was finished. He then remained in detention for nearly three years.
He’s here now, working hard and studying to make a better life for himself. He’s friendly, funny and a little bit flirty too. Yet a lot of the time, the reaction he gets when he strikes up a conversation is “We speak English here, so fuck off until you can talk properly”.
So many things about this story break my heart.  I guess the main thing though is that after everything, this young man was bounced around from country to country like a pinball only to be held like a prisoner in a country that values freedom as highly as ours – and that doesn’t sit right with me. I also hate that we are lucky enough to have political stability, a bicameral parliament with representatives of all citizens sitting in it, and an unalienable right to vote, yet we have a bunch of clowns running our country who are incapable of doing anything about this issue.
I find it incredible how opposite the two of us are. He spent his whole life travelling, trying to find a home, while I continually leave my home in search of something greater. I hope I can continue to remember this next time I have my passport stamped (after all, I’m one of the lucky ones just to have a passport).