TOMMY

It’s been nearly thirty years since I lost Tommy. Despite that, I still have dreams about him. I dream that he hasn’t come home. I fret about him, but then he turns up; and strangely, it’s to the home where I now live, and Tommy never lived here. I get this wonderful relief, and wonder why I was so worried. Tommy always turns up. Then I wake up, and my old mate is long gone again. Despite his spectral presence, I haven’t told his story. Here it is.

I used to run a taxi service from my little country town. I’d pick up regular and irregular passengers from various spots in the Adelaide Hills, and I was always keen to see who I would meet, and what adventures might unfold. It was when I was picking up a regular, a lady who I used to ferry from her little dot on the map, to another little dot on the map, where she would do a fortnightly clean of her elderly parent’s house, when I first laid eyes on Tommy.

“Wow. What a great looking dog.”

“He’s been hanging around here for a couple of days now,” Margie told me. “Perhaps he got out of someone’s car, and they’ll come back for him.”

He certainly was a special example of dogdom. Possibly a cross between a labrador and a kelpie, he was black and trim, with feet that barely  touched the ground; a pair  of gravity-defying ears providing the magic force which kept him suspended between earth and sky.

“Give me a call if he’s still here in  a day or two.”

And that’s how Tommy, (somehow I knew straight away that was his name) after a little coaxing, jumped into the back of my cab, and into my life.

As well as having a wonderful inquisitive and friendly nature, it soon became apparent that Tommy was a dog of boundless energy (although bounding is what he did plenty of). He would race for a thrown tennis ball at lightning speed, often catching the ball on the first bounce, at the top of the bounce, with a snap of his jaws, and returning it soggily to his trained servant.

If there was no ball available, a stick did the job. Tommy also enjoyed a challenge. I could throw a ball into the longest grass, with Tommy unsighted, and he would criss-cross the terrain at lightning speed with his nose radar, and return panting for more in no time. (We fortunately had a large yard).

As much as I liked to walk with Tommy, what he really loved was the evenings I would trundle along the nearby dirt road up a steep hill in my battered old four wheel drive Toyota ute, with him running alongside. There were a couple of dams along this track, and a decent throw with a stick or ball saw Tommy leap into the water and power to his target with the same enthusiasm as his land based fetches.

This was a dog with a zest for life. No workmen could tarry on the footpath without Tommy inserting his friendly vibe. These were the days when a dog in a little country town had some freedom, so Tommy soon got to know most of the neighbours. He particularly befriended a couple who lived on the other side of the road to us, who had a couple of young girls.

When I was out with my taxi, Tommy stayed home or visited this couple. It was also the place he escaped to when I upset him, as I did one day. It hurts to recall this day, but firstly a neighbour told me that Tommy had been chasing her chooks. Then Tommy killed one of our chooks. Obviously this had to be nipped in the bud.

I read somewhere that you could hang the dead chook on their collar for a few days to cure them. I also read that if you gave the offending dog a good belting with the dead chook it would cure him. Believe me when I say that it hurt me as much as it hurt Tommy, but that’s what I forced myself to do. He ran off to sulk with the neighbours, and an hour or two later came home as pally as ever. From that day on, he never even saw a chook.

Tommy also liked to go for a ride in a car. It didn’t really matter whose car it was. If a visiting friend paused when opening their car door as they were about to leave, Tommy would leap in; and if they were true friends they would take him for a little drive before they departed.

One day Tommy disappeared. We fretted for days, thinking we had seen the last of him, when he reappeared  with a large gaping wound in his haunch, possibly indicating that he had been caught up in a fence. The vet attended to him, and we had to subject him to that great ignobility of wearing a bucket around his neck to stop him licking the wound. A dog’s life indeed.

My parents owned a small farm nearby, although they did not live there, and we used to go there to throw hay out to their cattle, much to Tommy’s delight. Here too was a variety of things which could be flung, and Tommy would clear fences with a single bound chasing sticks, with not the slightest awareness of the barbed wire wounding him as he passed. It is salutary that a dog doesn’t feel pain in such a situation.

Children were added over the years to the family which Tommy began, and one day as we were returning from the farm, I got a bright idea. We were crossing the unused railway line which ran past the farm and continued around the bend, eventually running behind the house where we lived.

“Why don’t you and Tommy walk home along the railway line Douglas? I’ll meet you at the other end.”

Off they went. But halfway back home, I remembered that there was a portion of the line which crossed a creek, a considerable distance below; and that this crossing had sleepers with gaps between them. We raced to where the line met the road, and I walked quickly to the crossing from the other end. There was no sign of Tommy or Douglas. I ran back to the car and drove towards the farm, when we spotted Douglas at a house beside  the line they had found their way to. A kindly couple were about to run Douglas and Tommy home and Tommy was ensconced on the back seat ready to go. He was so pissed off when he had to get out and ride back with us.

One day I realised that something very strange was happening to my mate. His appearance was changing, so slowly that it was unseen, until the day it suddenly hit home. One half of his head was slowly wasting away. One side had all the muscle and flesh as normal, while the other was down to the bone. The vet said that he had probably damaged a nerve when fighting with another dog, and that the damage was probably permanent.

This was very sad. There was no change in his personality, but he was a very strange looking dog indeed. Then imperceptively, as the problem had developed, one day I realised that it was going away, and gradually, his head was back to normal.

These were different times, and I can quite understand the controls on free roaming dogs which apply these days; but it was not unusual in those days for me to return from an early trip to the airport, and while passing through the nearby town, spot Tommy and a collection of other dogs answering the ‘call of the wild’ and vying for its affection.

I’d give him a call, he’d jump in the car and be chauffeured home.

The greatest trauma of all was still to unfold however. One day I heard a shot, followed by a series of yelps. I looked out the rear window in the direction of the sounds. From the house on the other side of the railway line in the slope below the house, I saw Tommy making his way towards home in an erratic course. When he arrived I could see that one of his eyes was a bloodied pulp.

I put him in the car, and raced to the nearest vet, expecting him to drop dead at any moment, but encouraged that he didn’t. The vet said that it appeared the bullet had smashed the eye then glanced off without entering the head. It was a traumatic time for all, but fortunately the neighbour moved on, and despite Tommy misjudging the occasional ball and having it bounce off his nose sometimes, he was soon back to his old self, though disfigured somewhat.

Over the years, despite changes in lifestyle, Tommy was the reliable and constant companion. He grew older, as dogs do. When circumstances led to me renting out the house, and taking off for the red centre, of course he had to come with me. But the outback, beautiful as it might be, is a harsh place, and a friendly loving pooch like Tommy suddenly finds that every other dog wants to kill you.

It was at William Creek, a corrugated iron pub, a phone box, (is it still there?)  a road used for a landing strip, and a population of six where the first outback dogs circled the campfire menacingly, teeth flashing, and their deep-throated growls signalling their resentment to intruders. Smaller and older than these mulga-muscled beasts, I was very careful to see that Tommy was kept at a safe distance from them.

Out from Marree we explored the amazing Mound Springs, where water bubbles up from under the ground from the Great Artesian Basin. Tommy had no hesitation in leaping in for a warm swim in this magic place.

Eventually we rolled into the bright colours of Alice Springs, and after a couple of weeks, out to visit a nephew of mine where he worked, at Mount Allan, a remote Aboriginal community some 300 kilometres out of town at the edge of the Tanami Desert. I was to spend the next two years there, as the arts organiser.

The nearby (only 70 kilometres) Aboriginal township of Yuendumu holds an annual sports week-end every year,  and a week after I arrived at Mount Allan, this event was due. I took Tommy along, and we slept in the back of my van at nights. Incredibly, I met up with some Aboriginal friends I had made some years earlier, when I had picked them up in the Hills in my taxi. I never thought I would ever visit their home of Yuendumu, let alone become a near neighbour.

The sports week-end was a mixture of traditional skills, (firelighting, spear throwing) and athletics, along with softball for the women, basketball, netball, and the big one; Aussie Rules Football. There was also a ‘Battle of the Sounds’  whereupon bush bands  from various settlements would play their mixture of electronic country and rock, hoping to win this coveted award.

Visiting communities would come from hundreds of kilometres away to compete, and the population of Yuendumu would swell from one thousand residents, to ten thousand; including white spectators, for a few days.

The visiting communities would each camp on the edge of town nearest to their home country. On the second day, I was walking among this huge gathering, and I realised that Tommy was no longer with me. There were hundreds of dogs to be seen, and I was at a total loss as to where to even begin looking for him.

After a half-hour or more (I had even asked a couple of cops if they had seen my dog, much to their amusement) I heard an outbreak of frenzied barking, and I spotted Tommy running for his life with a pack of dogs after him. Tommy saw the open door of a bus, and leapt in, and fortunately his pursuers didn’t follow. Unfortunately, the call of the wild, or a bitch on heat, was a life threatening scenario for this new dog in town.

Poor Tommy. We slept in my van, and I cuddled the poor old fellow  as he trembled throughout that long night. I was careful to ensure that Tommy was never in such danger again.

On the way back to Mount Allan a couple  of days later, I stopped to boil the billy. Tommy found a little clearing, where a couple of white people were sitting near their little fire.

“Shoo. Go away!” The woman said to Tommy. I approached, and told them it was Tommy, and he was nothing to worry about.

“We thought he was a wild dog.”

I looked at my old mate. Chewed up, one-eyed, and greying, he was many years away from the spritely fellow I had picked up from the road so many years ago. His friendly nature was still there, but this couple couldn’t see it.

Over the next couple of months, Tommy grew weaker. It was all he could do to follow me around. On a trip to Alice Springs, I took him to the vet. The vet convinced me that he was suffering, and that the kindest  thing to do was to put him down. I buried Tommy in the front yard of a nephew in Alice Springs.

Driving back to Mount Allan a couple of days later, there was a graded track creating a diversion from the main dirt road, under repair. As I drove along the diversion, a young black dingo darted out of the scrub. It ran in front of my van, leading the way for three or four kilometres at least. I harboured thoughts of him flopping down with exhaustion, and picking him up and taking him home with me, but eventually he deviated from the track.

I came to the conclusion that it was just Tommy, saying good-bye.

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POOR BUGGER ME: Bill LEAK

 

I am sorry that Bill Leak died so young. In deference, I deleted this entry over the week-end, but after seeing The Australian lauding him over six and a half full pages, including all the letters, all of the editorial, and by almost all of the rabid right, I have decided to restore this post. After all, free speech is what they are always on about, so I shouldn’t let the side down.

Poor Bill Leak. Now I’m not going to say that he was on the piss with one of the great dickheads of our time, and fell off a porch as pissed as a parrot  and damaged his brain, (particularly the bit which makes one funny) because that might not be true. It is a worry however, to see someone who is really struggling with their craft kept in the employ of the only national newspaper in the country, pouring out the drivel which he does, day after day after day. The poor man demonstrates the seriousness of his struggle when he latches onto a single idea, which he trots out for weeks, if not months on end. For example, he gets the idea that Kevin Rudd looks something like Tin-Tin, so he draws him like this for a couple of years. Hilarious!

And of course those who might or might not get on the piss with multi-millionaire wankers and fall arse-up off the toff’s porch would naturally hate the Labor Party and the trade union movement. So what could be funnier for someone who might or might not be suffering from irreparable brain damage, than to depict Bill Shorten as a puppet, operated  by a thuggish trade unionist with CFMEU stamped across his shirt. So funny! Especially the first time, and perhaps the second time and maybe the third and possibly the forth, and struggling the fifth, and perhaps not quite so hilarious the thirteenth or fourteenth time. This was Leak’s attempt to destroy Bill Shorten in the lead-up to the recent election. It failed miserably.

But would you believe it? After Malcolm Turnbull was left with egg on his face after the election, Mr Leak was so pissed off with his hero that he depicted him as King Louis XIV dressed in his fine regalia for day after day after day after day. So funny! Alas our hero was running out of funny, but then came the perfect opportunity for someone who might just be a wanker who gets full of piss at his rich mate’s mansion and falls off the porch and lands on his head to demonstrate just how superior he is to trash like the working people of Australia and those who fight for their rights, and those even lower, the Blackfellow. For it doesn’t matter how big  a wanker you are, you can always attack the Blackfellow if you need to convince yourself that you are superior to someone. And with the power of the most widely distributed newspaper in the country, it is just so easy.

Ah, but poor Bill. He has now depicted himself as the victim, being cruelly dragged off by a policeman, and delivered into the arms of a a vicious lefty (you can tell he is a lefty, because he has a beard) who is armed with a noose and a club, with a big nail in it. Almost as thuggish as those CFMEU terrorists. Keep it up Bill. Show us your pain for the next week or two as you try to think of something fresh, and new, and perhaps even funny to say.

Who knows, you may yet convince us that the real victims in our society are not the poor, not the dispossessed, not the imprisoned, but the upper class snobs who get pissed with their millionaire mates and fall off the porch and damage their brains. Not that this is what happened to you of course. I have heard you state that you were not drinking at the time, and I have no reason to doubt you. After all, that could be stereotyping.

Turnbull vies with John Kerr for drunken dummy-spit.

I was one of many Australians of the left, who really felt for Malcolm Turnbull when he was stabbed in the back by the repulsive thug Tony Abbot, and when he had the shit kicked out of him by Beetroot Barnaby as he lay bleeding. The Neanderthals in his party just couldn’t tolerate a leader who actually had some principles, so on behalf of the fossil fuel lobby the assassins brought out their daggers and bovva boots, and installed the most repugnant tool ever to sully the Australian Parliament. Eventually, owing to the self devouring antics of the Labor Party, this embarrassing imbecile was elected Prime Minister.

In no time, the Australian people realized what a cretin they had elected, and the man we had felt for, and feared we might lose those years before, had his sweet revenge. No-one felt sorry for the victim this time. It was more like the Atticus Finch moment, when he shoots the ravenous dog frothing at the mouth as he staggers down the road threatening all and sundry. Our lovable Malcolm of course, was a much nicer assassin. His money and charm had already ‘nicely’ done for Peter King, the sitting member for Wentworth when Turnbull decided he wanted that seat, (after all, his big house is there), and Brendon Nelson barely felt a thing when Malcolm glided up behind him and slit his throat with a thin blade.

But even though it meant almost certain defeat for the Labor Party, the whole country, (except for Eric Abetz, Andrew Bolt, and The Australian) was able to breathe in some fresh air after the great stench was removed. The Labor Party went from being ten points in front, to ten behind overnight, but at least we had a decent man in the Liberal Party for a change. The country waited for the sweep of change our hero would bestow on the country, but something happened. Nothing. And then nothing happened again. And nothing with a nice smile kept happening, until finally our hero thought he had better do something.

Suddenly he had an idea! He would manipulate the stupid Greens into changing the voting rules in the Senate, (those rat-bags on the cross benches had the temerity to stand up for the poor!) kick the trade unions with draconian legislation,  dissolve both Houses of Parliament, and with nothing but a smarmy smile, a three word slogan, and his manifest destiny, consolidate his birthright. But what about all those nasty policies the stench brought in? Well, our hero had actually made a Faustian pact. Refugees could still rot in the gulags. Cuts to health, education, legal aid, women’s shelters, renewable energy, climate change, (the principle he lost the leadership to all those years ago) and everything else the stench brought in, was still there.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party under Bill Shorten was doing what parties are supposed to do. Actually develop policy, put those policies forward, argue for them, and don’t assume the voters are stupid. A lot of people wrote Bill off, but I didn’t. He argued his case intelligently for eight weeks, and at the end, hit those sanctimonious pricks where they were most vulnerable. They had always hated Medicare. They tried to bring in co-payments, they froze Government support to force GPs to end bulk billing, they stopped support for pathology tests, then they boo-hooed when they were called out on it. So the party who ran a whole election in the past on an interest rate scare, another on a refugee scare, and another on the invasion of Iraq are crying foul. This brings us to the latest election ‘result’.

As much as Malcolm Turnbull knifed his opponents in the party with a degree of ‘niceness’ he was as ruthless as any other politician, particularly when he forced Peter King from Wentworth. And as much as Malcolm Turnbull has a nice smile, he has shown that he is willing to jettison all of his principles for the sake of holding the top job. And as much as Malcolm Turnbull fought against the monarchy all those years ago, he has emulated the most reprehensible representative of the monarchy, Sir John Kerr, and his red-faced drunken rant at the Melbourne Cup all those years ago, with his ill-tempered whinge on election night.

Good-bye Malcolm. You broke Australia’s heart. Welcome Bill. You showed how to run a decent campaign, and you didn’t treat us like idiots.

Crossing the Nullabor, 2014

Phew! The appropriate one-word summary of a journey across the Nullabor Plain. Our crossing was done from a Sunday to the following Saturday; i.e., seven straight days of driving, averaging something over 400 kilometres a day. There’s a lot to see on such a crossing, but as we had a week to do it in rather than a fortnight, most of it was observed rolling past. I should however, start at the beginning.

I was in ‘the west’ because I had a tale to tell about Captain Collet Barker; a presentation incorporating slides, a talk, and some songs. The venues were Albany in the south-west, where Barker had served as the Commandant of a rag-tag settlement for 16 months from 1829-31, and at Mount Barker, where a ‘mount’ and a town were named after him, a similar situation to the naming of a mountain and town in South Australia after the same man; the place where I make my home.

I had visited both places in 2006 as I researched Barker’s life, and thought it would be a fun challenge to take my presentation, which I have been fine-tuning for a couple of years, to the west, where they love their history, and then to ‘do’ the Nullabor on the way home. I had flown from Adelaide to Perth a couple of weeks before our return journey, and had my newly renovated 1989 Jackaroo shipped to Perth via the Indian Pacific train. Jan joined me, flying from Melbourne, where she had been with her son Skye, to celebrate his 40th birthday.

Perth was mild and sunny. Jan caught up with her cousin, a lonely lady in her late middle age who lives in isolation in a Perth suburb, and we met a niece of mine, Penny, and her fiancee Jim, at the Subiaco Pub, and went for pizzas afterwards, along with her workmates, who are all in the exploration side of the mining industry. Penny was working at the Granites Goldmine in the Tanami Desert when barely out of her teens, and has also worked in Botswana. She is a talented and beautiful lady, who juggles her career with the raising of two teen-aged children, at her house in Hobart Tasmania, while also living and working with Jim in Fremantle on the other side of the continent. Don’t know how she does it, but she do. They’re getting married in Freo in late December. Would be nice to make it.

A visit to King’s Park, the wonderful breathing space which overlooks the capital, and a journey to Fremantle (before realising Penny was in town) and a potter about Perth, and we were off to Mandura, 100ks south, to stay with Jan’s cousin, Ira. Husband Steve was in Kalgoorlie supervising a Karate tournament for the week-end (Steve is an accomplished teacher and exponent; a black belt I believe) so it was a pity not to catch up with him on this trip. We did, however have a pleasant evening with Luke, Ira’s son, and his wife Lisa and the newly born Isabelle. Ira’s daughter Elyse, partner Ryan, and son and daughter Taj and Em were also there.

On the Saturday I showed my presentation to Ira, sister Jenny, and Mum Iris, an eighty year old who still heads off into the bush in her camping van, and who is having a new house built in Mandura. It was limited to my laptop, but was a good run through to get the bugs out, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. A snack by the waters of Mandura in great company, and Sunday rolled around, with high winds and rain accompanying us on the 300k journey to Albany, where Ira and Steve had made their holiday house available to us for a week. We paused for a prize winning pie at the Mount Barker Bakery, eaten at the summit overlooking a cloudy wet day, before rolling into Albany in mid-afternoon.

The house is on Emu Point, the  headland leading out to the narrow entrance to Oyster Harbour.  From here it is an easy ten minute drive into Albany, on the road  skirting Mount Clarence, whilst providing spectacular views of King Georges Sound to the south. On Monday we  met with Malcolm Traill, curator of the Albany Museum, and did a test run with the equipment in preparation for the presentation the following Tuesday morning. I had met Malcolm in 2006 when he was in charge of the history section of the Albany Library.

On Tuesday morning I did my Barker presentation to a gathering of 87 people, many of whom are members of a historical group who meet weekly. They seemed to enjoy the talk, although I chose to drop the third song in my presentation as it went on for over an hour. Often when I do the talk I have a half-time break.

The Tower

Warning. This article contains images of Aboriginal people who have passed away.

I have long been a ‘worshipper’ of Mount Barker Summit, if that is not too strong a word. Standing aloof and dominant over the surrounding lush countryside, this sandstone based and heavily wooded outcrop has been the commanding feature of the region for the millennia of black occupation under its original names, ‘Woma Mu Kurta’ or ‘Mountain on the Plain’ for the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray and lakes, and ‘Yaktanga’, or ‘Rocky Head’ by the hills dwelling Peramangk people. But even the white-fellah name was bestowed on the peak before any European had entered the region.

Captain Charles Sturt, who journeyed down (and named) the Murray in the summer of 1829-30, was the first white man to record the sighting of Woma Mu Kurta, although he mistakenly recorded it in his journal as Mount Lofty. Flinders had named Mount Lofty when he mapped the coast in 1802, and as Sturt assumed the twin peaked summit he saw from the lakes was the twin peaked Mount Lofty, he recorded it as such. The loss of his chronometer some time earlier on the journey affected accurate calculation of the position. View more photographs here.

Captain Collet Barker, a compatriot of Sturt’s, was the next explorer to sight the summit a year later, but his view was from Mount Lofty, twenty kilometres to the north-west. It was Barker’s sighting which confirmed the existence of two separate mounts, and following Barker’s tragic death by spearing at the Murray Mouth, it was Barker’s friend Sturt who named the peak after him. Barker died on the 30th April, in 1831, and the summit was therefore named five years before the establishment of the South Australian colony.

The region was one of the first to be farmed, owing to the lush countryside and plentiful water, and the town which grew in its shadow with the same name has long been a regional centre in the sparsely populated Adelaide Hills. The summit was spared the wholesale clearing the surrounding land was subject to, owing to the steepness of its terrain, and poor soil. It therefore became a microcosm of surviving bush, and representative of what had been lost. It was also representative of the countryside the Peramangk had inhabited, and from which they traded and interacted with the Ngarrindjeri.

For more than 150 years the summit was relatively undisturbed apart from a dirt track to the top, two levels of parking, and a short walking trail to the summit proper. From here a 360 degree panorama can be observed, to the southern lakes, Mount lofty and the ranges to the north-west, Callington Hill to the east, and Brukunga to the north. A magnificent sloping valley of fertility leads the eye to the township in the near distance. View more photographs here.

On the northern tail, a quarry saw the first major assault on the mount, although this did not affect the general ambiance of the experience for those accessing via the track. All of this was to change; in 1984. One day while driving up the track I noticed that a trench had been dug along the left side of the road. I was curious about this, but became more alarmed when I read in the Mount Barker Courier that a police communications tower was to be erected. There was no further information, either of location, height, what procedure had been undertaken to allow a tower on the site, or anything at all; yet the work proceeded. One day I discussed the tower proposal with a fiery red headed lady friend of mine, who had a passion for environmental causes, and the ability to inspire both dedicated commitment, and unmitigated hatred.

We considered calling a public meeting, to which we would invite members of the State Government; in particular the Department of the Environment and Planning, the Mount Barker Council, and representatives of the Police to reveal the details of the proposed tower. Within a couple of days, Aurora was on television declaring the summit a ‘Sacred Site’.

I never had any doubt about the summit being an important and significant place for the Aboriginal People, and had in fact taken a group of Warlpiri men from the Tanami Desert community of Yuendumu (300ks north-west of Alice Springs) to the summit when I met them in Mount Barker a couple of years earlier. I had been running a taxi in Mount Barker from my Littlehampton home, and was surprised to pick up the group from the Hotel Barker one night. They had come south to accompany a group of women who were performing ceremonial dancing in Adelaide for a period. (Yuendumu being a ‘dry’ community, they were also taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a few beers.) I got to know these very traditional men quite well over the next few days, but never dreamed that I would be living and working in an adjoining community to theirs less than ten years later, but that is another story.  View more photographs here.

In 1984, eight years before the stunning Mabo decision gave recognition to land rights for Aboriginal people, Aurora’s flame-haired statement was analogous to a red rag to a bull. My determination right from the outset was to defend the summit from this intrusion as much as possible, to make the instigators answerable, and in the event that a tower did go ahead, to make such a fuss about it that no one would ever dare to try to erect another. I intended to fight the tower from a local environmental point of view, but an early rising tide of Aboriginal activism and awareness was to envelope the issue, and in the process, to reveal a deep seated sliver of racism and ignorance from a wide range of the community; a community which had never had their ‘right’ to take the land off of the original inhabitants questioned.

There was a particular night for me, which I recall as the hinge around which my reality was to swing over the next few months, but effectively for the rest of my life. I had arranged to visit Aurora this night, with the intention of formally organising the public meeting we had discussed previously. I was at home feeling totally buggered, and telling myself that I didn’t have the energy to take the issue any further, and decided to stay at home. I was still running my taxi service, and the phone rang. The customer wanted a ride from Mount Barker to Wistow, a rare destination, but one which took me past Aurora’s house. I completed my fare, but as I neared her house on my return journey, I was still intending to go straight home. As I passed the house, the headlights fell on Aurora’s cat; dead on the road – run over since I had passed by some twenty minutes earlier.

I pulled over, picked up the cat, and knocked on the door.

“I have some bad news for you.” I said.

“My cat has been run over.” she said.

We dug a hole in her yard, and as we patted the soil down, a bird whistled.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a willie wagtail, the Aboriginal harbinger of death,” she said.

“That’s not the wagtail,” I said, but even as I uttered the words the answering familiar ‘chitter’ came. We went inside, and organised a public meeting.

Over the next few days, we booked the supper room of the Littlehampton Institute, and invited the various parties to to the meeting, planned for a week or so later. I would travel up to the summit daily, and was disturbed to see that the work was continuing apace. At about this time I began writing letters to the Courier, expressing my concern for the integrity of the summit. I learnt  that the Mount Barker Council had initially knocked back the Police Department’s application to erect the tower, but they had been bullied, and informed that they might as well agree, or they would be over-ruled on the decision. The Council complied, with the proviso that the tower should be erected in the upper car park rather than on the very top.

Now on my daily visits to the mount, it became obvious that a huge concrete slab would be poured any time soon. A large square of earth had been evacuated, and steel shuttering was in place in readiness for the pour. We had had no response to our invitations from the officials, and it seemed that the slab would be in place before our meeting took place, rendering it pointless, and allowing us and the community in general to be treated with contempt.

I rang a lawyer (who is now a judge) and asked if there was any way the work could be delayed, and he said that if there was a question of it being an important Aboriginal site, one could contact the Aboriginal Legal Rights Services. He gave me the phone number, and I passed it on to Aurora.

A day or two later I called in on Aurora. She had been busy. Despite a rabid response to her television appearance, Aurora had addressed the South Australian Trades Union Council, and pleaded with them to use whatever means they could to ensure a fair go for the Aboriginal cause in regard to the Summit. The union agreed, but insisted that a picket line needed to be formed, comprising Aboriginal people. To my amazement Aurora informed me that a group which included Aboriginal artist Bluey Roberts, the famous Police tracker Jimmy James, Ngarrindjeri elder and historian Paul Kropinnyerri, and various relatives would be arriving at Mount Barker at midnight: and could I guide them up to the summit in the darkness to set up their camp when they arrived? This I did.

What mere words can express the outrage and hysteria which broke out over the next days, weeks and months? Workers who turned up the next morning found the narrow track to the upper car park blocked by two vehicles and a rough stone wall, a makeshift  ‘wurley’ next to a tree on the track, Aboriginal men, women and children, and the Aboriginal flag draped overhead.

The newspapers, television stations and local media swarmed like flies, and the issue had immediately been transformed from an environmental dispute, into literally, a black and white issue. At home my phone rang hot, and many locals told me that they were against the tower being erected, but would not get involved because of the involvement of the Aboriginals. Furthermore, a line was now being run that those Aboriginal people who were now camped on the summit for what turned out to be for months, were being manipulated by white activists. This was the prevailing climate when a crowd of around sixty people gathered  in the Littlehampton Institute a few days later. I was the mug standing up front hoping to keep order.

There were no spokespeople  of the various authorities we had invited to inform us of the dimensions and ramifications of the tower, although a couple of Mount Barker Councillors were there in an unofficial role. A day or two before the meeting, Aurora told me that a local who was active in organising slide-shows wanted to open the meeting with a presentation. I had seen a show by this man previously, which in that case was predominately focused on the threat of nuclear annihilation, and I was concerned that a slideshow might be unsuitable for the occasion, but Aurora prevailed, and I relented with the proviso it should be kept short.

The lights were dimmed, and a slide and music presentation, focused on the environment,  whatever its ascetic merits, rolled interminably on, until many members of the audience began yelling angrily that this was not what they were there for. Sensing a disastrous start to the night, I killed the show by switching on the lights, and turned to face a hall full of angry people yelling at each other.

I immediately announced that if people were going to conduct themselves in that manner there was no point in holding a meeting, and I would be walking out. The crowd quietened down, and despite the dearth of any new information due to the lack of officials, the general concept and known facts were discussed somewhat civilly for awhile, but I knew I had to introduce Aurora, the ‘spokesperson’ for the Aboriginal people, and when I did the mood changed dramatically.

Predictably, Aurora was accused of manipulating  the Aboriginal people, of being a self appointed spokesperson, and of ‘beating up a phony sacred site’. When asked why there were no Aboriginal people at the meeting, she replied that  they did not want to be subjected to white racism. The meeting eventually struggled to a finish, with little civility, more heat than light, a standard of debate and discussion set in stone, and a paucity of information which was to set the tone for the whole sorry story. More pics here.

Now it was war. The police never addressed a single public meeting throughout the dispute, and were obviously pissed off that anyone, let alone trades unions, Blackfellows, and ‘greenies’ should dare to question their authority. They quickly determined that the key to their quest for the erection of the tower was to convince the Aboriginal people to relent, whereupon the union ban would be lifted, the tower erected, and the rest could ‘go jump’.

Further complicating matters, Paul Kropinyeri asked me to pass on a letter he had written to the already hostile Mount Barker Courier, in which he referred to white people using the summit like a ‘cesspit.’ Because of the hostility I was getting on the phone and wherever I went in the community, I held the letter back. When I told him this, he went very cold on me, and we were never close after that. I submitted the letter the following week, but it was never printed.

Meanwhile, the shuttering for the base was removed, and eventually, the hole filled in.

For the next few months a motley mixture of visitors trooped up to the summit. Many were supporters, many were hostile. Mini-buses of Aboriginal kids visited, as did Northern Territory Aboriginals, politicians, louts, and everything in between. A very dominant presence was that of the police. Jimmy James of course, was a police tracker, extremely famous for the cases he had helped the police with. He had tracked lost kids, escaped convicts, criminals, and was feted in South Australian newspapers and media. He was a Pitjantjatjara man from South Australia’s far north, but had married a Ngarrindjeri woman, so became a relative by marriage to Bluey Roberts, who to some extent was taught some of Jimmy’s skills. I was disgusted therefore, to observe a police Aboriginal liaison officer telling Jimmy that the Police had ‘lost respect’ for him, because of his stand.

Now the dispute ground on, for month after month. The weather grew colder, and a small group of three local whites, (including Aurora) and the Aboriginal group negotiated with the Police. Opposition politicians flayed the Government for not getting the tower erected, the Courier editorialised mercilessly against the protesters, and when Paul and Aurora formed a relationship, even my communication with her became more remote. I continued to write letters to the Courier, all of which were printed, and even managed to get a one-on-one  meeting with the Minister for Planning and Environment. He milked me for information while he devoured some Kentucky Fried chicken, and dismissed me curtly when he had finished. The dispute was going no-where, but neither was the tower.

Eventually, having camped on the summit for months, the protesters moved back to their homes. They left in place the wurleys they had built, and the odd bits of furniture they had gathered. This stuff was soon scattered and thrown about, and  the Courier was soon on the spot, photographing the ‘mess’ and lambasting the protestors for rubbishing the summit. One day I opened the Adelaide Advertiser, and read that the Government had decided not to build a tower on the mount, and would find a suitable alternative.

I rang Aurora, to express my delight, though her response was muted. I should have paid more attention to the final paragraph in the article referring to ‘further discussions continuing’. The next day I read that a tower would be erected on the summit, but a higher one, on the lower car park. I was furious, and I let Aurora know it.

Eventually the terms of the agreement, and to some extent the pressures applied emerged. A major component of the debate revolved around the safety of the public, especially in light of the devastating Ash Wednesday bush-fires preceding the dispute. An anthropological survey was promised, and a plaque in recognition of the Aboriginal prior occupation and significance was to be erected. Areas would be landscaped, and the upper car park would be closed to vehicles. The tower was to be erected in the centre of the lower car park.

At this stage myself and some other defenders of the summit called another public meeting, this time on the mount, and to which I again invited the various parties once more to advise the public as to the size of, the use of, and the impact on the mount. All of my invitees refused to attend. In frustration I built a dummy, and dressed it in a keystone cop uniform, and covered it with a sheet. When I was attacked for having the temerity to call the meeting I explained that I simply wanted the authorities, for the first time, to address the concerned public, and I whipped the sheet off the dummy and announced that “This is the only representative we could get”, to yells of outrage.

The mayor of the day announced that he hadn’t been invited to attend, and I responded by saying that I had spoken to the council engineer who had flatly rejected my invitation earlier that day. We then tried to pass a resolution condemning the Government, the Police, and the Courier, but the resolution failed to pass. At least I had tried to utilise some semblance of democracy throughout the fight, no-one else had. During the meeting, the man responsible for the quarry which still scars the northern ridge, informed me that “The Dreamtime is over, Bob.”

There is no doubt that the pressures applied to the group were enormous, but to have come so close to stopping it then relenting, was devastating. To cap it off, I rang the copper in charge of the tower’s erection, and asked him why the old concrete base which was used near the quarry site for a tower, years earlier, was not considered a suitable alternative site. To my amazement, he did not know of this location, and had ‘thought’ the quarry tower was on the summit proper.

Parts of the agreement were kept, but there was an attempt to locate the tower not in the centre of the car park, but on a corner to one side. I noticed and reported the excavations, and the union bans were on again. Finally the tower was erected in the centre of the park. More photos can be seen here.

It looms there to this day. When it was erected there was one building, now there are three. It is now twenty metres higher than first promised. Because of the extra height, stabilising  cables were attached. The bases of the cables had to be protected, so mesh wire cages were erected around them.  But I believe there it ends. My original goal of fighting to the finish was accomplished, and I don’t believe there will ever be another attempt to erect a tower on the summit. Indeed, I sometimes hear crazy ideas about a lease running out, and the tower being removed, but that is a wish too far for me.

Today, councils fly the Aboriginal flag, and the traditional owners are acknowledged. Monuments are erected, and the respect for Aboriginal culture is greater than it has ever been. That status has been accomplished due to many battles fought long ago (especially Mabo) by brave people like Aurora, like Bluey Roberts, Paul Kropinyeri, and their families. And, god bless him, Jimmy James. He deserved better.