Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Promise

Besart Berisha is an Albanian footballer who recently helped Melbourne victory win the Australian A League final. I didn’t watch the final but the many stories of Barisha intrigued me.

The soccer mad youngster was born in Kosovo during tough times and when he was seven his family fled to Germany where his skill with the round ball was soon recognised. They spent some time a refugee camp and it was there that the boy developed a determined will to succeed.

So why the intrigue, the interest?

The Kosovo War was fought in the late 1990s between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, both Christian countries and the Kosovo Liberation Army, essentially a Muslim force.

The Berisha’s fled for a better life, but there was another time in the history of Kosovo-Albania when others fled to Albania in particular seeking refuge from an even greater evil – the Nazi version of Fascism.

During WWII Albania was first occupied by Italian troops and, after the collapse of Mussolini, the German army.

And only in recent times, following another collapse, that of the Iron Curtain and Enver Hoxha’s Albanian communist dictatorship, is the world hearing the remarkable story of the Albanian Muslims who saved almost the entire population of Jews in the region.

During the Nazi occupation, Muslims managed to not only save Jews, but also the lives of deserters from both occupying armies, men who could no longer obey orders from their screaming and insane leaders.

In an introduction to Besa, Muslims who saved Jews in world War II Akbar Ahmed writes: “Norman [the author] has shed light on the true nature of Islam as both a compassionate and an Abrahamic religion. For these Albanian Muslims, saving Jews was a religious calling because of the close bond between Jews and Muslims in Islam. By saving Jews they were being good Muslims.”

Given what we read today, who would have thought such people existed, but they did and they still do.

Norman H Gershman spent many years tracking down these Albanian saints and he also took part in a documentary that follows the journey of one man as he tracks down a family in Jerusalem so he can return three precious Hebrew texts left behind during the war. 

Rexhep Hoxha, a Muslim-Albanian toy shop owner, said by returning the books he was following his father’s wishes: “He only wanted me to finish what was left undone.”

These Albanians were not alone. Turkish ambassadors during the war were ordered by the country’s president, Ismet Inonu, to issue visas to Jews escaping Nazi death camps. Over 100,000 were issued in France and Germany alone.

Jews in Albania were hidden in the mountains, in basements, clothed as peasants, adopted as long lost cousins from other cities, it didn’t matter, their lives had to be saved. It was all about Besa, the promse

During the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha these stories were never told, were hidden, banned and no contact was allowed between the saved and their saviours, but now the stories have been released the world can see another kind of Islam.


Thursday, February 19, 2015


i must be honest.
i am forced.
here are some facts of my life.
my father was a member of the Liberal Party. (he resigned in the 1990s)
his father was a green man and a hippy before such things.
i was in the group that founded the WA Wilderness Society branch.
all three of us read and chatted with intense curiosity.
i have all their books and all my books in this house i share.
people died, people divorced, and so my father's father married my mother's mother and they made each other laugh.
the mother's lead the family laughter.
all these snippets and more have gone into the story that is me.

i have never, ever, been disappointed by the Liberal Party.
why not?
because i have never, ever, in my entire life, placed a first vote beside any member of that party, on any voting slip.
The Labor Party, however, has been a constant source.

an essential characteristic of humanity, one no culture can live without, is the ability, the desire, the willingness, to tell stories.
stories inform, inspire, challenge, inflame, nurture imagination, creativity, empathy and probably help us sleep, develop better language skills, and strengthen memories.

only a barbarian would slash an already meagre investment in a state's ability to tell it's story.
there was man in Queensland who killed his government's investment.
the barbarian has left the building.
by popular vote.

this story will not have a happy ending.

Thursday, November 06, 2014



Read Bill the Bastard, Roland Perry. Great tale of a horse and THE men who loved him. Caught me choking.  Also some surprising facts I didn’t know about the 10th Light Horse after Gallipoli. They took Damascus in a mad rush of revenge. Why don’t we remember that?

Coffee with me mate and psych.
Another coffee with a bloke from the city with whom I am hatching small, good and cost neutral plots.
The rest of the day: script meetings, reading more about Bill the Bastard.
Then the house filled up with women and needles. Knitting. Hatching a large and positive plot.

7am met Claire Moody from ABC 7.30 report. She is small and warm and easily distracted by me and my scattered approach so I have to walk away and allow her to focus before I come back for the serious work. She wants to talk about the Albany Anzac thing and I do, with gusto, and scatter.

I realise I am excited about the days ahead.
We drink coffee. Don Perfrement in his little waterfront box makes a good espresso.

After the interview I’m pumped and have no idea what to do. I wander aimlessly. Then I remember I have tasks to complete. I set to.

I meet old friends for lunch in Due South, huge barn like new restaurant also on the waterfront. I’m spending so much time on the waterfront I expect Marlon Brando or Rod Steiger to pop up.

I come home to read more of Charles Bean by Ross Colthart. Ross writes that “28 ships left Albany”. Most accounts say 38. Typo?

Day 3
Up early and on Radio West with Terry Siva. We have some fun and I sob when talking about Uncle Amos Doust, up and over the top but not for long because he’s dead.  You know what surprises me? My anger and sadness all mixed in together. Anger at the brass, the generals, the Winston Churchills, the pricks who sent them over, wave after wave, to be annihilated. For what? Nothing.

I have to go see my doctor, but he isn’t there. Forgot. He leaves early Wednesday. The nurse opens up my wound and we discover that it is not healed. The hole is still empty. Better take it easy over the next few days.

There’s a dog in the street, every time it see me it goes me. No reason. I like dogs.  It has an insane hatred of me.

Day 4
Bugger. It starts today.
First, the doc. He doesn’t like the hole in my leg. Says it’s time I acted my age. I ask him how old is that. He hands me a mirror.

I drive into town. Wander up York Street, limping. All looks good. The work is not yet done but nearly done, close to done, good enough done. Too late now. Oh, someone tells me a whole lot of seats were made to commemorate Anzac, artistically prepared and now will not be installed. That’s sad.
I hang around. Drink coffee.

At the main stage the MC is a nervous young women and I offer to introduce The Coynes, led by Lester. Their solid rock is damn good and I wonder why they are not on the next day when the show really starts.

Day 5
Jesus, help me.
Early in the street. A coffee. I don’t start gigs with coffee. I start with a coffee.
Can’t start without acknowledging Menang Boodja, then Uncle Amos Doust, and others.
It’s a slow start.

My co-MC Stand Shaw (ABC) eventually shows (he’s got a job) and we have fun with the Green Islanders (Flinders park Primary), a fabulous group of young singers, then the Great Southern Grammar music extravaganza which blows us all away and forces me to join a woman on the tarmac and throw a leg in the air.

Roland Perry shows and takes up most of the day leaving Adam Morris time for one song, or so he says, but when he stops grumping and sings we learn that he can, man, can be sing.
At the end, after the Peperjacks, I am exhausted and the leg hurts but we have to watch the sound and light footage on the AEC roof.

The sound and light show is all about the Lighthouse Girl. It’s a great roof-top film.

Day 6
This is supposed to be the big one.
Crowds nowhere near 60,000 so far.
I start with a coffee. I never start with a coffee. But I do.

The day is a blur. I see people from yesterday, from the day before, from a past life, people I never saw before, but I never forget Blencowe Green, the boy who signed up for a few quid, at 16, then tries to get out when war is declared, but he can’t, is sent to France, and dies.

Everyone is in town. No, not everyone, but a couple of PMS, a GG, and G. They are followed by entourages. The Turkish Defense Attache and official Turkish representative for the 100 Anzac commemorations is also in town and the word is he walked everywhere, caught busses, and was a decent and honourable man.

I stay late to introduce Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse. He plays guitar like a magician and Gina sings like an angel.

We walk down to Centenial Park where Mal Dix MCs, Katie Noonan sings, the Waifs sing, Dan Sultan plays, struts and sings and WASO and Navy play and play and play.

Day 7
Quiet day.
But I cannot forget Uncle Bill Baker, or Uncle Jim Baker. Bill served in France and my mother was named after the farming women who took him into her home. Jim went to Anzac Cove and came home radicalised. His sister, my grandmother, would speak of him as “that communist”.

At some point I realise my brain is not on task and I have to leave. I can’t, but then I can. So I do.

We drive down to Ellen Cove to see the poppies.

We drive home and collapse.

Day 8
I have nothing more to add. I am sleeping.

Someone asked a number of people for their highlights. Many said the march. I missed the march. Others said the warships. Some the sound and light shows. Others meeting the PM. Then there were the poppies, at Ellen cove and in the Albany Entertainment Centre.
The reading: All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), Bill the Bastard (Roland Perry), Charles Bean (Ross Colthart) and Gallipoli (Peter Fitzsimmons).

Then there was telling of Amos Doust’s story for a sound and light film, as though I was my Grandfather Roy Doust.

The reading, the research, the story telling, all connected me to the horror, the incompetence, the futility, the bravery, the madness, the needles deaths, and I once again became my Grandfather, a man who could not go to war because of his disability. Through him I remembered the time and all his maimed and lost friends and relatives, and I wept.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Final European post (almost)

 Oh no, I thought, not him!
(It wasn't.)

 This a cathedral.

This was my favourite dog.
I met him in Livia, a Spanish enclave in France, just over the border.
(Should be more of it.)

The morning after I arrived home from Europe I plunged into the Great Southern Ocean and stayed there until my bones clattered and my heart screamed.

I have loved this place all my life. It is as though the bit deep inside that holds my blueprint, the bit that defines me, was created here
This is not surprising, given one of my grandmothers was born and grew up here and my father’s sister lived here much of her life.

I love to travel but when home I dread leaving. As soon as I am on the road, however, I seem to grow into it. Among the wonderful aspects of travel, for me, are the learning, the regeneration and the confirmation of the blessings of this place, Kinjarling.

Here are some final observations, Paris seemed to feature a lot of people talking to themselves while Barcelona was the city in which just about everyone seemed to be talking, usually to someone else.

Whereas almost people everywhere seem offended by graffiti, I quite like it and was very disappointed by the quality all the way from Spain to France. It was as though the graffiti folk were caught in a narcissistic bubble and were only interested in writing their names. It wasn’t until Belgium and the Netherlands that artists found the art and splashed over walls, buildings and even the tops of high rise apartments and office blocks.

And now a few short final quick notes:
- Most people speaking English as a second language, Netherlands
- Most pickpockets, scammers, beggars, trinket sellers, Rome
- Best looking men, Barcelona
- Best looking women, Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Utrecht
- Best food, Lucca (Italy), Paris and Barcelona
- Most churches, Rome
- Most steps, Rome
- Most Romans, Rome.

The trip was in part book research and to attend an international conference in Utrecht – the World Humour Conference.

And where did I get the most laughs? As always, wherever I was with family, friends, or sitting on Barcelona’s La Rambla watching the passing parade.

Sponsored by Creative Albany.

Hardly saw a dog in Lucca and I was beginning to think there were none when huge door opened next to our outdoor restaurant and lady walked out with a dog on a leash. Both walked with elegance and were out with a purpose in mind.
In Paris? Dogs everywhere and not shy to leave their excreta and their handlers not shy to keep on walking.
Rome helped make clear to me a comment my father once made: Shopping centres are the new cathedrals. Not in Rome (and other European cities), in Rome the cathedrals are cathedrals and people are encourage to visit them but also to gather in open but pleasant settings, with trees and seats readily available.
Australian shopping centres are cathedrals and we are encouraged to gather in them, listen to inane music and allow ourselves to be bombarded with nonsense.

 Graffiti in Italy

Graffiti in Belgium and the Netherlands

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Netherlands

The original version of this piece first appeared in the Albany Advertiser 28/8/2014

My Netherlands is a country of memories and comfort.

When I first arrived in 1977, the airport police threw me in jail because I had no on-ward ticket, no money and no visible means of support. This caused much consternation for the family of my wife-to-be, as the banks were closed and they couldn't raise the bail money.

Her grandfather, Aage, a wise and frugal old chap, managed to find the required sum under his mattress.

Aage lived near the centre of the village and displayed all the cleverness you would expect from an old fashioned Dutchman. Every bit of available space was utilized for growing vegetables, storing vegetables, and the old house was remarkable in its confined spaciousness.

This trip the police only smiled at me and offered assistance when I looked lost and confused.

And this trip I spent most of my time in the ancient and wonderful city of Utrecht and given there is a push for Albany to be a university city there is much to learn from an historical place full of bikes, pedestrians, cafes, and open spaces.

Utrecht is built for easy movement of pedestrians and cyclists. It was a wonderful sight, walking home at 1am after the Dutch loss to Argentina in the World Cup, to the sound of bicycles clattering along over cobble stones, riders speeding home with downcast eyes and no lights. Some carried passengers perched on handlebars or rear luggage racks.

Like Albany this city has fine old historical homes and in front of many you could find a plaque and a box with eyeglasses to see photographs of how the buildings changed over the generations.

And in front of others were tiled renditions of famous artworks.

Back in Albany I have had visions of works from the fine Noongar Carrolup Collection and perhaps past Albany Art Prize winners displayed in tile form on public walls to add to visitor knowledge of the cultural depth of the region.

While in Utrecht I stayed within the old city and this made getting about simple and easy, although, like in that other ancient city I stayed in, Italy's Lucca, I did need a day or two to learn the twists and turns.

The stairs from the first to the third floors also took a degree of concentration and after three days I was able to walk their perpendicularity without tumbling either up or down.

Like Barcelona, Utrecht also has its legendary architect, Gerrit Reitvelt, a man like Gaudi well before his time and after a brief visit to one of his homes you could be forgiven for thinking we still haven’t caught up.

Sponsored by Creative Albany.

View from The Dom Tower

Street bookseller in Utrecht

Under the Dom Tower are the remains of a Roman fort.
Above: a skeleton, probably a Roman.
Below: ammunition.