2013 in review (Blog stats)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,400 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

That Island home. #ChristmasIsland

This is the sixth post in series of the Christmas Island trip.

With just over two thousand local residents Christmas Island is a strange place. Closer to Jakarta than any other part on the Australian landmass, it, like northern Australia is privileged enough to only have two seasons, wet and dry. No Indigenous population and since 1988, no births permitted on the island see an intricate community structure of tropical regionalism and multicultural multi-faith community sensibilities.

It’s crab migration time, with specially crafted bespoke ‘beware of the crabs’ signs the island that until the 1990s was governed by Singapore, is amazing. The school excursions consist of visiting that tree in that guys backyard where the Japanese used to hang people. The local bus service only costs $2.10 per trip and the local school has specialist teachers that stretch from pre-Kindergarten to year 12.

The people here are very friendly for someone who’s fresh milk costs $12 a litre and is as rare as hens teeth as there are no cows or dairy on the island. The joys of UHT milk see cereal consumption as a rarity and the prevalence of wild purebred chickens roaming the island see their slaughter by the local Malay community as common.

Lovers of gardening surely struggle with living on this island, if the microscopic nematode worm doesn’t destroy your plants either the heat or the giant crickets will. The balmy temperature of 28°c and the water temperature heated by strong Indian ocean currents sees the weather a stable constant.

The discovery of the Island on Christmas Day sees its name the catalyst for local residents disdain of the commercialized Santa with a notable gossip topic consisting of why the Shire installed modest Christmas lights on the round-a-bout. Positioned on the buildings around the round-a-bout is the locals idea of a notice board, twelve blackboards where anything from rooms to rent, chicken cages to buy and death notices are chalked up when required.

The local hardware proprietor runs the outdoor cinema, a local institution with oodles of room and relatively current movies being displayed. The cinema’s patronage sees one of the islands core businesses sponsor its air freight over for the nominal benefit of deck chairs, a red carpet and a catered dinner.

Having only twelve locations for food is a pain for those that crave variety and difference, the best meal afforded is the aptly named ‘Chinese Literary Society’ a strange name for a restaurant but a great location for water side analysis of the weather, the waves and the naval vessels.

The island’s only taxation being income tax sees that cigarettes and alcohol are extraordinarily cheap, often cheaper than a bottle of water or coke. And this onsets to the Immigration department’s policy of cigarettes being the same cost as the local price, a massive health issue for detainees.

The chief of the local police, the AFP, told me that the biggest issues that they have to deal with are domestic grievances and drink driving. Something to do with the price and ease of availability of alcohol. Though the police officers arrest people when needed, like everywhere else, the magistrate only comes to the island every two months and works in a small ramshackle building in the centre of the ‘Canberra district’. With the remoteness of the island and requirement to take a passport to travel to the destination bail conditions for serious crimes, like aggravated assault or car theft are often set so the offender must remain in Perth.

With two RAMSAR treaty recognized wetlands of International Significance as well as several endemic species, the worlds largest collection of land crabs and sheltered beaches it is the perfect place for eco-conscious travelers. Having goshawks, boobies and golden boson birds all a flutter on the island it too is a great place for any bird watcher, especially those adept at spotting the illusive and endangered Abbott’s Booby.

The crabs saturate the island like little red freckles on the face of a red-head. Native red crabs, during their migration, see that roads are closed and that specially constructed crab barriers, road tunnels and bridges are put in place for their movement. The Robber, or Coconut crab too floods the island, it’s very existence sees an astonishingly morbid census of road fatalities take place and the ‘Scene of the collision’ spray painted on the roads with a pretty pink circle and adjoining X. This data is regularly crunched and tabulated then displayed for all to see, on notice boards across the island.

Federally this island is in the Northern Territory electorate of Lingiarri with a high percentage of Labor voters at the last election. However the Island’s funding mainly comes out of the hemorrhaging pool of resources that the Department of Regional Australia (DORA) provides, with wasteful requests for resources frequently made (there is a full operating theatre at the local hospital and yet it doesn’t have a safe particle extraction system so it can’t be used). The island is administered by a federally appointed administrator that is unaccountable to the public.

Local residents are a cultural mix of Malay, Chinese and Anglo, with the local school breaking for Islamic and Chinese holidays as well as all those anachronistic state sanctioned religious ones. The whole community celebrates three New Years, one for each community and there are temples to different deities and gods littered across the tropical paradise.

As everything is shipped in the prices are inflated exponentially, expect to pay through the nose for most of your usual mainland necessities but apart from that the Island is friendly, easy-going and a great holiday destination. It’s ok, because I’m a Plane person.

When a love of Soccer turns into a major incident. #ChristmasIsland

This is the fifth post in series of the Christmas Island trip.
All the names in this story have been changed in order to protect their identities.

The Cricket grounds and Rec Centre are closely positioned to dehumanised suffering and inhumanity. The Family detention camp, Phosphate Hill is Christmas Island’s version of Belsen or Auswitz or something else reasonably miserable.

The detainees, accompanied with security passes (I saw one small child about four carrying around his orange pass like those in Mosman with the key to their boats), were playing soccer in the basketball court. The older guys had a good handle on the game and I wondered over to have a look at their prowess after hearing that a refugee team carved up against the SERCO guards at a local soccer tournament the other week.

After exchanging smiles and pleasantries, my knowledge of “Salam Alikom” (Peace be Upon you) went down like a charm, I approached the fence and began watching the game. At first the adults were wary of my presence, concerned about my being their but, not being an Arabic speaker I was unable to understand what they were saying when they were talking about me. The kids, being a family prison…I mean detention centre, were the first ones to approach me. Saying hello and rolling out their best English, Sam, the Lebanese boy that I was talking to had proceeded to tell me that he had learnt English for eight years in school back home, he was a great speaker and acted as an interpreter.

I got chatting to Sam, he’s only thirteen and has been cooped up in the detention network for three weeks. His friend, Ali, from Afghanistan has been in and out of detention centre’s over the past three months, having arrived in Darwin originally and being detained there he was recently moved on to Christmas Island with his family. Ali’s uncle having been locked up for an extra two years on top of his stay.

After chatting about Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Messi and some of the other modern greats of the world game we exchanged names and an older gentleman with his wife and very young baby approached. He asked, after we were chatting about Soccer, what I thought about the draw. At first I questioned what he was referring to, then it clicked, he wanted to know my opinions of Australia’s Pool in the upcoming Soccer World cup in Brazil. We chatted about where Iran was, it’s world ranking and Australia and our world ranking.

One of the boys who was playing Soccer with the adults came over and introduced himself, lets call him Scott (after our Immigration Minister), he was a thirteen year old Hazara who’s mother is currently in Darwin with his sister who has a sore foot. This was all garnered and conversed through a fence. You can stop movement but you can’t stop thought.

After a decent conversation and my throwing the ball back in to the court/compound Scott asked for my name in which I told him I didn’t have a pen and would be unable to pass anything through the fence. He scurried off and ended up asking one of the SERCO guards for a pen, that raised alarm bells on a Friday afternoon with most of their skeleton staff running to the basketball court to remove everyone as well as question my intentions.

One small lady, she must have done really bad in her police exam to have failed that and failed at attaining a security guard’s license must have built up all the anguish that she wanted to let out on me. She approached and was clearly used to dealing with passive, obedient and compliant people; those who know me know that I am none of those things. I questioned her authority to move me on (she had one) I then questioned if she was going to have a conversation with me or had “anything else to say” in which she assured me that her manager was on his way and wanted to speak to me (in which they don’t actually have any power to compel me to do anything).

The stocky manager came up to me with his proud display of OC (Capsicum) spray on his tool-belt, he was so worried about me being a journalist and insisted to me that “You have to understand the politically charged nature of this” In which I assured him that I wasn’t a journalist and I was well aware of the political nature of locking babies away behind fences. I instead informed the gentleman that I was a mere seventeen year old, I did not break any rules and was more than willing to show him my phone and camera. He then took a look at my (School) ID and then uttered that he was “going to report this, this is serious”. I instead asked how I would be able to obtain entry into the cage, in which he begrudgingly informed me that I would be able to through the front gate.

My interest in soccer caused an interagency incident. I intend to rock the boat, after all, I am a plane person.

My first day on #ChristmasIsland

This is the fourth post in series of the Christmas Island trip.

Today has seen me ponder the island lifestyle, Colleen McCullough loves it and I understand that now. The prices of everything is rightfully inflated due to the tremendous distance everything must travel with my Governor Burger (perhaps named because of John Stanhope’s love for Chutney) costing $18. The multicultural melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Indonesians and English heritage lays down community ares filled with faith and belief, the call to prayer echoes across the port precinct and the temples litter the countryside.

The beach, a perfect 28°c all year round sees the red crabs (usually seen squashed on the road) come together with humans and ships alike. Swimming in the precarious Stonefish riddled waters sees phosphate ships loaded on one end, naval frigates being restocked with human life at the other and a decently attractive swimmer with the same idea.

The food and requirement of such saw the feeling of calm before the storm smashed out of me courtesy of the very loud television playing country music hits. The waft of frying chips drowns out the call of “We’re fresh out of beef now” and the Ashes and my ability to understand what’s going on distances me from most on this Island. After all, I am a plane person.

My first thoughts of #ChristmasIsland.

This is the third post in series of the Christmas Island trip.

Next to the makeshift morgue, only used when people get smashed up on the limestone, only when people’s hopes, dreams and families get smashed up. This island is a tropical oasis with 85% of it’s landmass National Park (Barry O’Farrell doesn’t administer this one, so there’s no feral hunting). This island is one where your names soon become irrelevant, instead the community refers to you by the embroidered patch on your shirt. DIAC, SERCO, IHMS, Navy.

When we came down on the plane we were met with the dense green rainforest hugging the side of the smallest International airport in the world (I read that somewhere, I’m not sure if it’s true). It’s closer to fly to Jakarta than it is to Perth, and if you’re in a sea-going fishing boat it seems like a logical port of call. Stepping off the plane I was hit with the humidity, sort of like a freight train of sweat, it was bearable until we, all hundred or so, were kettled in a small room waiting for our check in luggage to arrive and our bags to be X-rayed. I was unable to fully fill out my overseas passenger card as the questions of ‘Emigrating to a foreign land’ didn’t apply, I was simply just hopping on a domestic flight from an international airport.

Once off the plane I was taken around on a small tour of my home for the next two weeks, down to Flying Fish cove (where the barges are brought on land and the ABC gets their ‘refugee’ file footage from), over to a crab (they’re quite literally everywhere and take the role of a dog in the ecosystem), to the notice boards that ring the most isolated round-a-bout in the world. My tour was short and I have not yet had a chance to be well equated with the rest of the island. I have time, I’m a plane person after all.

As I decended. #ChristmasIsland

This is the second post in series of the Christmas Island trip.

I am writing this as I listen to Ben Lee’s latest album and the 737 I’m on is descending. The destinatIon is of course Christmas Island, the logical Christmas holiday location of choice. As I ended my last post, I am a plane person. I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel to the North-Westernmost outpost that Australia’s sovereignty administers. My mode of travel wasn’t leaky, there was no co-opted Indonesian teenager to enable my passage just overpriced bottled water and a caramelized beef wrap.

It is highly ironic that I, an Australian citizen required a passport to gain such safe passage to the island, I had to have my whole body scanned, throw away my liquids and have my genitalia swabbed for explosive residue. I even had to fill out both a departure and arrivals card, joking with the Customs officer at Perth airport about what ‘Country’ I list as my destination. We both agreed that ‘Australia’ was where I was going and we both agreed that I was going to get there by one of the twice weekly Virgin Australia flights. This plane carries in the mail, not parcels they take six weeks at minimum, if one wants to send a parcel from Christmas Island it will arrive by boat, usually unexpected, usually really late, they often blame weather in some sort of SIEV mirroring coincidence.

I am off to a Tropical wonderland, it’s great for snorkeling and diving, it’s great for walking and reading, it’s great for locking up people out of sight and out of mind.

My plane is filled with tired eyes, the lady next to me having finished writing several pages of something that looked important for tertiary studies and the gentleman behind me having finished his loud roaring nap (he snores louder than the plane’s engines). After a while I have been able to tell who the locals are, the DIAC staff, the doctors, the interpreters, the ex-army SERCO guards. It has sort of been like an aeronautical Where’s Wally, or as those in the industry refer to it, ‘racial profiling’.

Mothers notice everything. #ChristmasIsland

This is the first post in series of the Christmas Island trip.

After I had endured the relatively easy check-in process at the boarding gate in Kingsford Smith, after going through the security checks and having of all things, my aerosol dry shampoo (yes, I was baffled that shampoo could be dry too) checked for national security reasons I was off. Well not really, I had one other thing to do before I flew out, I had to call mum. She noticed that something was up “Are you nervous? I can hear it in your voice”, I brushed that off as the jitters of waiting in a queue for a terribly tasting but relatively inexpensive sausage roll, with sauce of course because this is Australia.

But I was nervous over the phone, and writing this in the plane now sitting next to an avid beach going Western Australian and two very sleepy Korean tourists, I am still nervous, why you may ask? Because my eventual holiday destination will see me arrive in Christmas Island. Of course it’s a strange place to go for a holiday in but then again is the Aztec sacrificial ziggurats in Cuzco. I chose Christmas Island in a similar way a refugee has chosen it as a desired destination except I am covering the trip in reverse, and in case I end in Jakarta due to the festive monsoon season, with a passport. I chose to go to Australia’s most North-Westerly territory, the home of the most isolated set of traffic lights in the world and the location of sexually charged red crabs because my family are there.

I have the option, an albeit costly one, to visit Christmas Island, not for work or for necessity but rather for a holiday. I picked myself up a book to read (The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson),
I went on a hunt for illusive ‘Reef Shoes’ that began with my original googling of what one was after seeing it suggested on an Australian Government website and I too have two pairs of boardies and one of thongs just in case I do t look like I’m holidaying enough.

This is a far cry from those conditions written about in the New York Times or shown on SBS’s ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’. I have it lucky, those on the other side of the SERCO run detention ‘camps’ on the island itself don’t, why is this so? Because of the way we treat them as shoplifters of our sovereignty, successive governments made decisions to lock people up on an outpost so far flung that it only has one ATM and no Optus reception, every day necessities that hipsters using the Commonwealth Bank’s Kaching App and Paypass will see themselves pay glorious bank fees or run dry like the Greek economy.

For the last two months I have had these flights and this trip booked, when friends and family have enquired into where I was spending my Christmas holidays I hastily replied with “Christmas Island” to their amazement and after a common follow up question of “How, by boat?” they were often opened up to the fact that it is a place where people can go, not that many people do go but they can, and by plane.

Having defended the honor of the Stanhope administered guano island I now intend to visit, with butterflies in my stomach and a Pictionary game in toe. And Mum, it’ll be fine, I’m a plane person.