Category Archives: Politics

Australia Needs a New Damien Parer

The first Australian film to ever achieve the honour of collecting an Oscar from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was ‘Kokoda Front Line’ , which shared with three other winners the 1942 Best Documentary award. A Ken G Hall produced and directed feature length newsreel film, this iconic part of Australian cinema and military history relied upon the footage shot by one of our greatest cameramen, Damien Parer. Much like his static film predecessor Frank Hurley and the later Australian combat cameraman Neil Davis Parer was able to combine a true artist’s eye with personal bravery and a connection with his subject, giving Australians a better than expected insight into what happened to men before, during and after battle. There would be hardly any person who has not observed Anzac Day in Australia who would be unfamiliar with iconic images such as this one from ‘Kokoda Front Line’:Parer was able to do something that the founder of the Australian War Memorial and the man who did more than anyone else to create the legend of the Aussie digger, C.E.W. Bean could never do with his words and his official histories. Damien Parer showed not just the people back home but a world wide audience moving images of Australian men fighting a cruel and rapacious enemy. Yes, it may have been propaganda but the work of Damien Parer gave a world wide audience the opportunity to see how Australia was defending what it believed in, and how our soldiers fought and died battling the Axis forces. Arguably consigned to a certain anonymity whilst operating with the British in the European and North African theatres of war, the men of the AIF (as well as those of the RAN and RAAF) were properly given their own cinematic face in movies such as ‘Kokoda Front Line’, ‘Men of Timor’ and ‘The Battle of Bismarck Sea’.

Sadly Damien Parer was killed filming US Marines during the Pelielu campaign in September 1944, suffering a fate innumerable combat cameramen have both before and after his death. Other Australians contributed to the filming of war after Parer, firstly for the newsreels and then with the advent of TV their footage was made available for the nightly news. The aforementioned Neil Davis was the next cameraman to get up close and personal to the soldier fighting a war, in his case the South Vietnamese and Cambodian troops of the Vietnam War. It was Davis who took the footage of an ARVN police chief executing a VC insurgent during the Tet Offensive, then at the war’s end he filmed an NVA tank crashing through the Saigon Presidential Palace gates.

Davis would die filming a Thai Army coup, leaving the succeeding generations of Australian film makers and TV journalists struggling to match his and Parer’s legacy. Partially (and thankfully) for last quarter of the Twentieth Century Australian soldiers did not fight in any wars. Our cameramen did watch, film and (as in the case of the Balibo Five) sometimes suffer the cruel fate of becoming the victims of other countries’ wars. However no one was able to do what Parer did for the diggers of Kokoda or Salamaua on the big or small screen.

In itself this would not be something to be too concerned about except within media and film making circles. However the environment has changed since September 11th 2001. The commencement of the so-called War on Terror’ has seen Australian troops fighting in two major theatres of that war, Iraq and Kuwait. And so far, aside from Department of Defence footage, some YouTube video and the occasional ABC current affairs report the work of our fighting men and women has been woefully under-reported in film:

This isn’t a reflection on the abilities or desires of the Australian combat cameraman or film/TV maker to get deep into the heart of the 21st century digger’s war experiences. It is however an indictment of the failure of the Australian government, no matter its political persuasion to trust people at home with something more than micromanaged minutes of footage authorised by the Department of Defence. I would not call it censorship, although others almost certainly would. Nor would I say that the vision that has been released is utterly worthless propaganda (as the likes of a John Pilger may say). However the manner in which our vision of the war in Afghanistan has been conveyed since the almost total withdrawal of Australian ground forces in the Iraq theatre must be considered utterly unsatisfactory. There have been two VC’s awarded since January 2009 and our casualties there have risen steadily. Brave men have fought and become casualties in a war that supposedly is on our behalf and yet through governmental deflection (at best) or misdirection (at worst) we have not been given the moving images to properly dignify our troop’s efforts nor their sacrifices. For too long there has been a huge gulf between the occasional DoD news briefing and the almost stock scenes of our political leaders attending the funerals of those who have fallen in combat.

I’m not saying that we need to be shown a myth-making paean to our men and women in the war zone of Afghanistan, and I know that contemporary media cynicism means we won’t be able to accept a new ‘Kokoda Front Line’ set this time in Tarin Kowt. However there are effective and meaningful precedents from other countries and their film and TV journalists, who have brought back from the war on terror significant movies that actually go some way to reflecting a combat reality we don’t get in government coverage of embedded ‘Four Corners’ type reports. My prima facie evidence is the much lauded US film ‘Restrepo’:

‘Restrepo’ gets into the FOB of a company of US troops and doesn’t just go out on patrol with the men then scoots back to Bagram air base for hot meals, cold beers and an editing suite. It’s classic combat documentary cinema, insofar as the men in battle aren’t mythic heroes, they are soldiers who can do things no civilian would ever want to and yet at the same time they are fallible and vulnerable. There are mistakes and casualties, bravura and boredom, however one thing there is not is the BS factor of a micromanaged government sponsored film crew. This is a film that is a great example of how embedding with the troops to film their war actually adds depth and reality to something we civilians are almost utterly divorced from.

It has been utterly remiss of our media, our film and TV producers, our government and even those of us home here in Australia not to ask for more realism, more access to our men and women as they are engaged in a war on our behalf. We can’t all be expected to read Department of Defence media releases, nor can we seek truths that are at best relative and at worst not possible to find. We can however ask why no one has been able to put together for more than the length of a sound bite an independent documentary film or TV production that gets behind the barbed wire, goes out on patrol or nestles in underneath the OHP of a firing pit with the current generation of diggers. Marshall McLuhan said that the Vietnam War was lost in the living rooms of America; that may be true. For Australia the Afghanistan War is invisible not just from our lounge rooms, but also from our streets, our cinemas, our worplace discussions and our political debates. Let’s hope a new Damien Parer or the production team behind such a combat film maker can emerge before too late.

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Bob & The PRC: Tangled Up In Red (Tape)

I read this morning that the artist who arguably defined the Sixties and its progression from the conservative safety of Eisenhower, Menzies and Macmillan into the radical, free-love, Ban The Bomb, Make Love Not War, Yasgur’s farm counterculture has bowed to the Chinese government and performed a censored list of songs at his recent Beijing concert. Yep…Bob Dylan, the man who sang ‘The Times Are a Changing’, who mused on how ‘With God On Our Side’ and told us that the ‘…answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind’ did the right thing by the regime that brought you such freedom loving activities as the invasion and occupation of Tibet and the repression of Tienanmen Square and didn’t sing classics that would have offended the local political sensibilities.

It could be said that in the spirit of openness having Dylan and his somewhat lifeless concert performance occurring at all is a start. You can’t expect a Jasmine Revolution to start with one riff from ‘Chimes of Freedom’. Also considering Dylan is Dylan, and the crotchetty old man has every right in the spirit of personal wealth accrual to swoop down on Beijing, grab the loot from a gig then exploit a few more wealthy locals and foreigners in Shanghai before making back for home, then who are we to complain. Other performers of a similar age have been to Beijing and kow-towed to local sensitivities (yes, I’m looking at you The Rolling Stones). Hell untold thousands of hugely successful international companies as well as foreign governments and autonomous world bodies have made sure that they’re on their best political behaviour when in the Middle Kingdom. Is it fair to have a dig at a veteran folkie who is after all just a singer/songwriter changing his tune when picking up the acoustic guitar and warbling into a microphone in front of a mainly Chinese live audience?

Of course it is…this is Bob fucking Dylan after all!

This is the same man who sat at Woody Guthrie’s bedside as the musical voice for the downtrodden of America’s Great Depression slowly slipped away? This is the same man who walked out on an Ed Sullivan Show complaining of censorship? How can one not feel disappointed that in Taiwan he could perform ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, however when he reaches the mainland the same classic gets left out?

Let’s look at it from another angle; in 1987 Billy Joel went to the USSR. This was in the era of Perestroika, and whilst the then Leningrad concerts may have had a goodly proportion of foreigners in the audience there were thousands of Soviet youths exposed to Joel’s Western pop music. In what we now know to be the declining years of the Communist regime of Soviet Russia Billy Joel was arguably brave enough, and his political minders relaxed enough to allow the American to perform a Dylan song. It was ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’; and as recorded Joel was explicit in associating the political context of Dylan’s masterpiece from the 60’s era US to the Gorbachev era USSR.

It would be fatuous to say that Dylan is a less noble troubadour for human rights than Billy Joel. It would be stupid to say that the USSR in 1987 is the same as the People’s Republic of China in 2011. These are two different countries with two different political systems at two different times with two different performers. Perhaps the Soviet minders felt that Billy Joel was far less threatening than the likes of a Bob Dylan could ever be, no matter the material. Perhaps Bob Dylan’s presence in Beijing is more politically charged than his actual music.

Then again if a glorified piano man with a successful but hardly legendary presence can sing a song that is redolent with themes of change, or revolution, of people doing something about their lack of individual rights and exerting their free will, why the fuck doesn’t the man who wrote the bloody song have the same conviction? What happened to the same man who went electric and then ignored the hard core folk fans who called him Judas? Why doesn’t he want to thumb his nose at the same regime that has just recently jailed the man partly responsible for the Bird’s Nest Olympic stadium, artist and dissident Ai Weiwei? Is the wad of money the Chinese promoters giving Dylan that large he can’t but use it to metaphorically gag himself? Has Dylan really sold himself out that much?

I guess Bob himself doesn’t give a damn about it all; in his seventieth year like all grumpy old men he can tell anyone younger than him to shut up and stop trying to tell him what to do. The problem is when you create your own identity as a man willing to use music and art to inspire people to think about what is right and wrong, how to live a better life and do what you should do and not what the government enforces you to do, you sometimes have to actually live to that standard. Otherwise your work is negated and all the hyperbole from critics and fans alike becomes nought but empty rhetoric. Frankly I’d rather see an honest Billy Joel sing ‘Just The Way You Are’ or ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ knowing full well the guy is entertainer pure and simple, than a Bob Dylan undercut his own gravitas by playing into the censoring hands of the ruthlessly corrupt dictatorial bastards who keep about a quarter of the world’s population under tight controls.

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The Decline and Fall of the NSW ALP (or How I Became Eddie Obeid’s Rejected Love Child)

It’s been over a week now since the teetering edifice that the Sussex Street machinery built with the rejected ex-premier Kristina Keneally as its American-tongued perky leader has come crashing down here in New South Wales. Destroyed in a tsunami of electoral hate that would barely shade the wrath of rebel anger across many despotic Arab states, the regime that gave more seductive promises than a $10 hooker¬† (and left every customer with a used and dirty feeling afterwards) was left with a rump of seats in the NSW parliament barely large enough to warrant a ticket allocation to the next Legislative Assembly disco. Seats previously considered cast iron rusted on Labor were snatched away with bigger swings than a hyperactive gymnast on a kiddy’s play-set, giving the coalition of Liberal and National parties enough electorates to run around with a well-credentialed ‘Look at the size of my mandate’ holler. Meanwhile in Canberra our esteemed Madame Prime Minister gallantly places her red coiffure in the CO2 filled bucket of unsold policy trying to make any positive light from the destruction of those same elemental ALP forces that raised her upon high during last year’s Rudd d’etat.


Not happy Eddie, Eric, Sam, Mark...

Now before we get carried away and start looking to the Coalition under Barry O’Farrell to sort out the inchoate mess that this state has become, I think it is only fair I too sink the slipper into the corpulent corpse that is the state Australian Labor Party, as run out of 337 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2001. I think it only proper to ponder the past before hurtling down the clogged M4 that is the political future of this once convict settled state, where Olympics were held with great popular acclaim and no government minister knew how to simulate breast intercourse with a colleague.

The first and biggest misnomer about the ALP’s malaise in the post mortems after the election is that the split in the party over the privatization of our electricity suppliers and infrastructure was the Achilles heel that nobbled what could have been a stable run to the polls. The recently elevated leader of the opposition John Robertson had led the anti-privatization charge within the membership which in turn led to the removal of Morris Iemma, and whilst he represented one strand of the ALP’s policy approach, the likes of the Eddie & Eric foisted Premier Keneally wanted to grab the money and run by flogging off anything bigger than a D sized battery from the NSW ledger. The clusterfuck that was the partial sell off in December followed by the almost immediate proroguing of the NSW parliament was a farce that even an episode of ‘Are You Being Served’ could never match. As Eric ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ Roozendaal and his vapid leader-ette Kristina Keneally dodged and weaved questions relating to probity and the economic benefits like punch drunk geriatric boxers on a trampoline the ALP mired itself further and further into self-destructive navel gazing.

However it wasn’t the privatization itself nor the supposed ideological battle within the once great social democratic party that drove the humoungous bloody nail into the plywood and cardboard coffin that was the now punted state government. There was a single cause that had festered and oozed like a sucking chest wound under the boils of the ALP’s body politic. This was the simple shocking fact that the ALP are no longer relevant to the vast majority of the people in NSW to whom it either looks to as its natural supporters (the voters in Western Sydney, the Hunter, Illawarra and certain ethnic groupings). Additionally their progressive appeal to the chardonnay set and the chattering classes has dispersed amongst the ravings of the Greens (who find council boycotts of Israel more productive than understanding the misery of Sydney’s crap transport infrastructure) and the disengagement from the party itself by some of its so called leading likes (yes, Carmen Tebbutt and Verity Firth the finger is pointing at you).

Keep long as the ALP is minimized

The party that for over a century that has been touting itself as the worker’s party, the disadvantaged person’s party, the party of social justice, of equality, of strong public infrastructure investment, of the battler and the person with a social conscience took every single one of these standards, every one of these clarion calls to their supporters and flushed them down the political shitter at Sussex Street quicker than a development involving a hotel and pokie machines would get clearance from their hopelessly compromised public service. If you were a commuter traveling between Sydney’s western and northern suburbs you could well be sitting in traffic for almost 4 hours a day, whilst the much mooted Epping to Chatswood train line became a story of if not now when, and only if Julia can get some mileage to save the seats won in the Ruddslide of 2007 (which she didn’t). Nurses (a key constituency of the ALP) as well as teachers (ditto) were swamped by the growth in demand for their services whilst infrastructure and support was left to wither and rot. Billions were pissed against the wall in such travesties as the inner west metro, the V8 races at Homebush and the almost diabolically decrepitude of regional and city hospitals (join the dots between the Bathurst swing and the abysmal construction standards of the new hospital).¬† Your average voter who had to deal with the real world of life in NSW saw what all bar the likes of Obeid, Sam Dastyari,, Eric Roozendaal etc etc knew was the reality of NSW after 16 years of ALP misgovernment. NSW’s government was being run by a party with no connection to people or ideals beyond whatever got the most benefits either politically or financially for a chosen few in Sussez and Macquarie Streets.

To make matters worse the stench of gangrenous self-interest and political corruption saw ALP parliamentarian after parliamentarian stinking of an inability to keep their pants on, properly account for their financial arrangements (and then lie to a court convened to investigate their misdemeanours), claim they couldn’t achieve what they knew was best for those they represented in cabinet whilst staying in that very same government…the list goes on. Between marital strife, assaults, drug charges for leading advisors and council level corruption the NSW ALP made The Sopranos look like pillars of society.

So at the end of the day, when so many ALP state members had sated themselves on parliamentary largesse and then sat back stunned as the public verdict was brought down on their incompetent and unscrupulous behaviour the soul searching has begun by putting into the leadership a member of the self-obsessed gang that has brought the NSW Labor party to such a nadir. The echoes of Arbib, Tripodi, Obeid, Roozendaal etc still resonate for the now state opposition, and in so called traditional Labor seats such as Penrith, Newcastle, Kiama and Campbelltown there is no hope for a roots revival. The disconnect and the ideological waywardness will continue as no one in ALP headquarters is willing to return to the credible Labor ideals of a Jack Lang or a Joe Cahill. Instead the spivs and the opportunists, the excuse makers and the indolent run the ALP in New South Wales.

Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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