Hidden History: The Japanese Bombing of Australia

Croker Island Exodus

Directed by Stephen McGregor (2011)

Film Review

Prior to watching this documentary, I had no idea Japanese bombers attacked northern Australia 97 times during World War II.* This film reenacts the evacuation of 95 Aboriginal children from Croker Island during the bombing. Members of the “Stolen Generation,” the mixed race children were forcibly removed from their mothers to be raised in Christian missionary schools. Claiming the practice would facilitate assimilation, the Australian government continued to kidnap mixed race children until 1970.

The filmmakers also interview three of the surviving children as they reminisce about their separation from their families and their 42 day journey from Croker Island to Sydney.

Darwin was evacuated (except for essential services) in 1941, shortly before the first Japanese bombing raid. The three missionary sisters running the Croker Island school had the option to evacuate but chose to remain with their students.

Once Darwin was evacuated, the school ceased to receive food shipments from the Australian mainland. This left the sisters and children no choice but to evacuate. They traveled to Barclay Point in Queensland by naval frigate. From there two trucks drove them 50 kilometers through the tropical rainforest to Oenpelli. Because the trucks kept having breakdowns, most of the children ended up walking.

From Oenpelli, they walked barefoot 344 kilometers to the army base in Pine Creek. With limited provisions, they relied on bush water holes and wild water grass (wild sugar cane) for water and supplemented their bread and butter will lizards and wild berries.

At Pine Creek they were put on a train to Sydney. The army built two portable shelters for them on a mission homestead one-half hour south of Sydney.

In 1946, 63 of them chose to return to Coker Island. They remained there until age 16, when they went to Darwin to look for work. In 2011, when this film was made, only 12 evacuees were still living. The film ends with an extremely moving reunion they held with the last surviving missionary sister.


*Between February 1942 and November 1943, during the Pacific War of World War II, the Australian mainland, domestic airspace, offshore islands and coastal shipping were attacked at least 97 times by aircraft from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force and Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. These attacks came in various forms; from large-scale raids by medium bombers, to torpedo attacks on ships, and to strafing runs by fighters.

In the first and deadliest set of attacks, 242 aircraft hit Darwin on the morning of 19 February 1942. Killing at least 235 people and causing immense damage, the attacks made hundreds of people homeless and resulted in the abandonment of Darwin as a major naval base.

The film can be viewed free at the Maori TV website:

https://www.maoritelevision.com/shows/sunday-documentaries/S01E001/croker-island-exodus

The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future

RetroSuburbia: The Downshifters Guide to a Resilient Future

by David Holmgren

Melliodora (2020)

 

The online version of the book is available for pay-what-you-feel at http://online.retrosuburbia.com/ https://retrosuburbia.com/

With the global economic crash predicted to result from the COVID-19 lockdown, the publication of RetroSuburbia earlier this month is a happy coincidence.

This book is based on the premise that our current globalized economic system is inherently unstable. Although the exact mechanism that will topple global capitalism is impossible to predict, Holmgren believes it will most likely relate to one (our more) of the following three crisis points: 1) major resource depletion (oil, water, topsoil, phosphate, collapsed fishstocks, etc); 2) catastrophic climate change; or 3) the collapse of a massive real estate or share market bubble (as occurred in 2008).

Under any of these scenarios, the vast majority of us will experience a reduced standard of living. As jobs disappear and personal income declines, people will have no choice but to downsize their consumption levels. As it becomes harder and harder to rely on the capitalist system to meet basic needs (food, water, energy, Internet, postal service, health, security, etc), they will need to become more self-sufficient and rely more on family, friends, and neighbors. As they downsize their lifestyles, more extended families and even friends and neighbors will live together in the same households and produce most of their own food.

Holmgren predicts this catastrophic event may occur so suddenly that people will have no time to prepare. Securing a fertile rural homestead won’t be an option for most of us. For the most part, we will be stuck with the land and house we live in now.

In essence, RetroSuburbia is a manual we can use to “retrofit” the space we currently occupy to help us better cope with what he describes as “our energy descent future.”

Holmgren seems to have thought of everything, covering a range of topics, including how to assess a property for optimal food production, heating your home off-grid, water harvesting, gray water systems, recycling human waste, the mechanics of shared living, soil fertility and contamination, seed saving, sustainable transport, managing our own health and security, raising self-reliant resilient children, and conflict resolution.

Holmgren is the co-originator of permaculture* technology, in my view Australia’s most important export.


*Permaculture is a set of design principles centered on whole systems thinking, simulating, or directly utilizing the patterns and resilient features observed in natural ecosystems. It uses these principles in a growing number of fields including regenerative agriculture, rewilding, and community resilience

History of the World: Global Revolution and Australian Genocide

The History of the World Part 6 – Revolution

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Episode 6 focuses mainly on attitudinal changes occurring in the 17th and 18th century that would lead to the overthrow of royal rule in the southern half of North America, France, and Haiti.

The episode links the rise of revolutionary ideas rather simplistically to Galileo’s challenge (attributed to his invention of the telescope in the early 17th century) to official Catholic dogma placing the Earth (rather than the sun) at the center of the solar system. s revolve around the earth. They neglect to mention a Catholic cleric named Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to propose a heliocentric view of the universe 100 years earlier.

The film also oversimplifies the root causes of the US War of Independence. While they accurately depict efforts by Samuel Adams and other wealthy merchants and landowners use of the hated Stamp Tax to stir up the Boston mob, historical evidence suggests their key motivation in declaring independence was George III’s ban on settler expansion into Native American territory west of the Appalachians. As Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz reveals in The Indigenous History of the United States, the main purpose of the Stamp Tax was to finance British troops to evict settlers who were illegally squatting on Native land.

By 1789, Louis XVI had bankrupted the French royal treasury by financing the American rebels. Punitive new taxes on the middle class (the nobility, typically, refused to pay tax) would trigger a mass insurrection that removed the king from power. Yet only seven years after the revolutionaries declared France a republic, the same middle class would allow Napoleon to declare himself emperor of France.

In 1791, inspired by the French Revolution, the slaves of Haiti would revolt, overthrowing their white plantations owners and declaring their independence from France.

One of the longest segments of this episode concerns the British settlement of Australia, following its “discovery” by Captain James Cook. Beginning in 1787, British judges would sentence petty criminals (many of them children) to hard labor in Australia. Thanks to the European “Enlightenment,” it was no longer politically acceptable to hang British poor who stole food to survive.

By 1900, 80% of Australia’s aboriginal population would be wiped out , thanks to colonial policies that allowed British settlers to steal their lands by hunting and massacring them.

The film ends with a bizarre segment extolling Dr Edward Jenner for his role in promoting the use of smallpox vaccine. Historic evidence reveals that inoculation for smallpox first originated in China in 1000 AD and was practiced in Turkey and Africa long before making its way to Europe.

 

 

Gurrumul

Gurrumul

Directed by Paul Damen Williams (2017)

Film Review

This documentary is a tribute to the late Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a blind singer with a hauntingly beautiful voice. It’s hard to find words to describe his music, which portrays a purity and longing that literally makes your chest ache.

Gurrumul was from the Yoinju tribe on Eicho Island, one of the most remote islands in Australia.

Despite achieving international prominence and considerable wealth, he remained close to his family and tribe his entire life. At one point, he blew off a US tour because of tribal business.

For religious reasons the Yoinju, like other Torres Strait islanders, prohibit the preservation or display of images of the dead. In Gurrumul’s case, they have made a rare exception.

He died on July 25, 2017 at age 45.

The documentary can be viewed for the next week at the Maori TV website: Gurrumul

 

Australia: A Battle to Win Back Ancestral Lands

Putuparri and the Rainmakers

Directed by Nicole Ma (2015)

Film Review

This is a very poignant documentary about the indigenous elders who led the effort to reclaim their land in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.

After years of protesting about mining in their sacred land, in 1992 aboriginal Australians won the right to claim title to their ancestral lands if they could prove their historic connection to them. In this case, the narrator Putuparri’s grandparents and other aboriginals were kidnapped (for their knowledge of hidden water holes) by white cattlemen seeking to set up outback cattle ranches. When the ranch owners moved on, they dumped their 2,000 aboriginal workers in a nearby refugee camp.

In 1992, 50 elders from four tribes submitted a giant map painting of the Great Sandy Desert to prove their connection to the lands they were claiming. It took 15 years, but in 2007 a federal court granted them title to most, but not all of the ancestral land they claimed. Because the “white fellah” only knows how to draw straight lines, the sacred land of Putuparri’s grandfather was bypassed.

His family went back to court. In 2014, three months before he died, he finally won title to his ancestral land.

Indigenous Australians Fight Nuclear Waste Dump

Protecting Country

Ngikalikarra Media (2017)

Film Review

Protecting Country is about a collection of indigenous Australian tribes who are fighting government efforts to site a uranium mine and an international nuclear waste dump on their treaty lands.

Thousands of Maralinga people have already suffered horribly due to British nuclear tests on their land in the 1950s.

The nuclear waste dump is illegal under international law. As a signatory to the UN International Treaty on Indigenous Rights, Australia is prohibited from depositing toxic waste on indigenous land without their permission.

Fracking: When Fossil Fuel Companies Turn Your Community into a Sacrifice Zone

Sacrifice Zone: The Story of a Real Australian Gas Crisis

Directed by David Lowe and Eve Jeffery (2018)

Film Review

Sacrifice Zone is a full length documentary about a vibrant resistance movement dedicated to shutting down fracking (for Coal Seam Gas) in a pristine rural area of New South Wales (Australia). My chief interest in the film stems from striking parallels in Taranaki, a comparable region in rural New Zealand. Here in Taranaki, which is also frequently described as a sacrifice zone, residents are also engaged in a similar battle against fracking for shale gas and oil.

Because NSW farmers have learned from the bitter experience of Queensland farmers (who have been fighting fracking for more than ten years), there has been much stronger opposition in NSW.

The other immediate parallels are the lies farmers were told by Santos (the oil/gas mining company), eg that fracking would create local jobs (the vast majority of workers are flown in from someplace else), that there would be no water or air contamination and that there would be no adverse health effects. As in Taranaki, Santos also deliberately misled farmers about the number of wells they planned to drill (one or two wells quickly turns into eight or more). I also strongly identified with the stress of living 200 meters from constant flaring and drilling and traffic noise, the absence of any fire safety planning and the reckless disposal of contaminated fracking waste into unlined pits and streams used for drinking water. The latter has led to the total decimation of formerly pristine Queensland forest land.

Like Taranaki farmers, NSW and Queensland farmers are unable to sell or insure their land once a fossil fuel company sinks a fracking well on or near their property.

For the most part, Australian farmers seem primarily concerned about the potential contamination of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB), an underground lake that supplies water to the majority of Australia’s agricultural land. The GAB is fed by a complex system of aquifers that interface with the coal deposits Santos is fracking (fracturing) for gas. Environmentalists and indigenous Australians are mainly concerned that fracking will destroy the Pilliga Forest, which sacred land and contains numerous endangered species. In light of the horrendous wildfires Australia has experienced over the last several years (and the extremely flammability of the methane gas they are extracting), I find it mind blogging the NSW government is allowing open flaring at Pilliga Forest well sites.

Overall I found it extremely gratifying to see conservative Aussie farmers (who have never protested against anything) uniting with environmentalists and indigenous activists.

Taranaki activists have played a similar role to Queensland activists in persuading other New Zealand communities not to open their pristine agricultural land to foreign oil and gas companies. At present Taranaki Energy Watch is battling local government and the petroleum industry in Environment Court to keep new fracking rigs away from our homes and schools. You can find out more about our case (and donate if you feel so inclined) at our Givealittle page:Taranaki Energy Watch

“If You’ve Got Dough, You Don’t Have to Go”

Episode 4 – Doubt

The Vietnam War

Directed by Ken Burn and Lyn Novick

Film Review

Maori TV showed Episode 4 of the Vietnam War series this week. 1966, Lyndon Johnson’s second year in office, saw a massive escalation of US forces in Vietnam – increasing from 200,000 in January to 500,000 in June 1967. Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and South Korea also sent troops to serve in Vietnam. Because both Australia and New Zealand had compulsory conscription until the early 1970s, there was a sizeable anti-Vietnam War movement in both countries.

The UK and Europe, in contrast, opposed the Vietnam War and called for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Johnson also substantially escalated bombing campaigns against North Korea, Laos and Cambodia (the North Vietnamese used a network of jungle roads in Laos and Cambodia to transport arms and personnel to South Vietnam). North Vietnamese civilians, most of them women, worked day and night restoring the so-called “Ho Chi Minh trail following US bombing raids.

Because the US was incapable of gaining territory in Vietnam, it used body counts to measure its success. The latter frequently included civilians and were always exaggerated. The US goal was to reach a “crossover point” – where the US killed more North Vietnamese soldiers than North Vietnam could replace. This never happened.

In May 1966, the US puppet government in South Vietnam nearly collapsed owing to mass demonstrations in Saigon demanding representative democracy and a negotiated settlement to the war.

As US forces swelled in Vietnam, the Pentagon was forced to begin drafting college students, which massively fueled the antiwar movement. It was common for well-to-do families (like the Bushes) to arrange deferments tor their kids. As the saying went, “If you’ve got dough, you don’t have to go.”

In Vietnam, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, a disproportionate number of draftees and casualties were African American.

How Neoliberalism Gave Us Brexit and Trump

Revenge of the Rich: The Neoliberal Revolution in Britain and New Zealand

by Austin Mitchell

Canterbury University Press (2017)

Book Review

Revenge of the Rich, by British economist Austin Mitchell, describes how the neoliberal revolutions of Margaret Thatcher and New Zealand finance minister Roger Douglas virtually gutted the economies of the UK and New Zealand. The result has been years of declining or negative growth rates, virtual destruction of manufacturing, massive job loss, wage stagnation and higher deficits and overseas borrowing.*

As an article of faith, neoliberals maintain that mass layoffs of public service workers will reduce government deficits. The reality, as Mitchell ably demonstrates, is the exact opposite. When you lay off 400,000 public servants (as David Cameron did between 2010 and 2016), they quit paying taxes and increase government costs by claiming unemployment and other benefits.

Britain’s EU Membership: Setting the Stage

According to Mitchell, Britain’s decision to join the EU in 1973 set the stage for the neoliberal revolution that subsequently occurred in both countries. EU membership forced Britain to end their special trading relationship with New Zealand (an other Commonwealth countries), resulting in significant economic decline in both countries. Neoliberal trade liberalization was meant to stem these losses. Instead the loss of tariff and other import protections quickly destroyed manufacturing in both countries.

New Zealand, which was fortunate in having agricultural exports to fall back on, succeeded in developing alternative trade relationships with Australia, China and other Asian countries. Nonetheless, thanks to their 1980s neoliberal experiment, New Zealand has one of the highest levels of foreign ownership (of land, homes and companies) in the developed world. It also has the highest house prices, the second highest prison population and extremely high child poverty levels (1/3 of Kiwi children grow up in poverty). Meanwhile it’s failure to provide jobs for young adults means a sizeable proportion leave New Zealand permanently for other developed countries.

Brexit and Trump: The People Rebel

Mitchell describes the rise of left and right wing extremist groups in Europe, the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as a direct popular reaction to the immense human misery caused by neoliberal policies. In New Zealand the 1996 citizens referendum adopting proportional representation was a direct reaction against both major parties (Labour and National) advancing neoliberal policies.

At this point, the traditionally pro-corporate International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have both come out against austerity and similar “deflationary” neoliberal policies. Instead they argue strongly for increased stimulus (public) spending to stabilize the world’s developed economies.


*Similar effects under American neoliberals Reagan, Bush Sr and Jr, Clinton and Obama inflicted similar damage on the US.

What Causes Civilization to Collapse?

collapse

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Jared Diamond

Penguin Books (2005)

Book Review

This book was very different from what I expected. I anticipated an account of the environmental mismanagement that caused the collapse of prehistoric civilizations such as Easter Island. Collapse is actually a detailed historical analysis of a wide spectrum of both failed and successful societies. In addition to Easter Island, Diamond also covers the vanished Anazazi civilization in New Mexico, the Mayan civilization, the Viking settlements of Iceland (which persists to the present day), Greenland and Vineland (present day Newfoundland and New Brunswick), pre-1853 Japan, the New Guinea highlands and modern day Rwanda and Australia (the modern society he describes at highest risk for collapse).

Diamond’s thesis is that the ability of any society to meet the survival needs of its members depends on certain basic preconditions. He maintains historical forest management is the most critical – deforestation features in every historical collapse he mentions. Forests are not only essential to provide fuel for cooking, heating and refining metal, but loss of forest cover leads to soil erosion and destruction of topsoil, as well as decreased rainfall and fresh water shortages.

In some societies Diamond analyzes, collapse was the direct result of environmental mismanagement. In others, the odds of survival were extremely low to begin with, due to low rainfall, a cold or windy latitude or poor soils. In many cases, a political factor such as war, lack of external supports (eg trade), overpopulation and/or a greedy ruling elite diverting resources to luxuries were important contributing factors.

The section I found most interesting concerns the New Guinea highlanders, who (prior to the arrival of Europeans) maintained an environmentally sustainable civilization via bottom up direct democracy for over 46,000 years.