13 November 2002

Global warning

An eminent American academic came to Sydney last week to alert us to an ongoing war, one in which nothing less than our entire way of life is at stake, writes Michael Hutak.

Dr Stephen Schneider - adviser to every US president from Nixon to Clinton - arrived to spread the news not about global terror, but global warming.
With the issue of climate change hotting up, concerned citizens collected at the University of NSW in Sydney last Thursday to hear the accomplished "greenhouse guru" spell out the planetary consequences of the industrialised world's love affair with coal-fired production.
However, as one of the lead authors of the documents that formed the scientific basis for the Kyoto Protocol, Schneider is the first to admit that predictions of what will happen are not cut and dried.
"There's no statistical way to figure out what 2100 will look like," he told the audience. "The weather is a chaotic, dynamic system that cannot be predicted beyond two weeks. Instead what we have is climate models, which are inherently uncertain.
"Add to this the uncertainty of human behavioural activity and global warming by the year 2100 will range from anywhere from 1(degrees) or so to up to 6(degrees) -- from the relatively mild to the catastrophic."

23 October 2002

Matthew Collings: Strictly modern

Intriguing connections surround the recent Australian visit of British art critic and author Matthew Collings, best known here for his British Academy Award-winning television series, This is Modern Art.

Collings, who has charted the rise of the so-called Young British Artists movement of the mid-1990s, wound up a sell-out speaking tour last week with a talk at Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art, where his subject was "The Solemn and the Trivial versus the Serious and the Playful". Collings' witty, plain-speaking accounts of the works of YBA stars such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have done much to demystify art for the general public.

But now he believes that, while the popularity of modern art is on the rise (in Britain, at least), artists should have no obligation to be popular. Indeed, art is "neither democratic nor a form of entertainment but is a specialised endeavour for those willing to make the serious effort to engage with it".

17 October 2002

Australia grapples with its emotions in aftermath of Bali bombing

by Michael Hutak

672 words
17 October 2002
Agence France-Presse

SYDNEY, Oct 17 (AFP) - Australia's moods are shifting by the hour from grief to anger to compassion five days after the nation's worst terrorist incident so far.

Talk radio, acknowledged as a barometer of public opinion, has been inundated with calls about the bombing, and trends are beginning to emerge.

A national media monitoring firm, Rehame, has tracked 1,300 calls since Saturday's attack and reports that overwhelmingly people are using radio as an outlet for expressions of grief and dismay at the attacks.

However other issues are emerging, many fueled by the assumption that Islamic radicals linked to the al-Qaeda network were behind the bombing.

More than 20 percent of callers have criticised the Australian government's strong alignment with the US administration of President George W. Bush.

"People are starting to draw the link between the attacks and the prime minister's unconditional support for US-led war on terror," said Matthew Mitchell, a media analyst for Rehame. "They're now starting to say that we are paying the price for that support."

"You have to rememeber that in the six weeks leading up to the attack, feeling against support of war against Iraq has been consistently at 60 percent, so this was to be expected," he said.

"But the anti-US feeling is very strong, with many callers critical of George Bush's 'underwhelming' response to the Bali attacks, and of the US media's focus only on American casualties."

Another trend emerging is a strong anti-Muslim sentiment, underlined by an attack Tuesday night on the home of Imam Ahmed Shabbir, a prominent Sydney Muslim cleric, and the firebombing early Thursday of a mosque near Melbourne.

Mitchell said most anti-Muslim feeling was emanating from Sydney, Australia's most ethnically diverse city which has seen racial tension following a series of notorious gang rapes in 2000 perpetrated by local Lebanese youths targeting what they called "Australian" women.

The crimes inflamed prejudice against the Lebanese community.

Callers to one of Australia's best known "shock jocks", John Laws, were running strongly against Muslims, said the program's producer Stuart Bocking.

"It's reopened old sores in the community," said Bocking, who cited the Afghan refugee issue at the 2001 federal election, the September 11 attacks in the United States and this year's trials of the Sydney gang rapists as lightning rods for the racial vilification of Muslims in the country.

"All this had died down a bit recently but the Bali bomb has reignited it and brought the bigots out of the woodwork again."

Other radio programmers report that the blame game had been less prominent.

"We've been struck by how many people simply want to know how they can help," said Richard Glover, a presenter on Sydney's ABC 702.

"We've had our share of conspiracy theorists, but the main thread, and perhaps a surprising one, has been an outpouring of compassion and sorrow for the Balinese people."

"Many people are saying that it's actually bringing the Australian and Indonesian people together in a way we have never been before, and that that's a good thing," he said.

Glover said that despite much anger about the failure of Australian intelligence agencies to pass on US warnings about possible terrorism in Bali, there was also a sense that most people would still have embarked on their holidays.

"People are angry but there's been no widespread call for revenge out there," said Glover. "It's more an fatalistic attitude of the kind that says 'there but for the grace of God go I'."

Mitchell said while Prime Minister John Howard was under harsh criticism for his closeness to the United States, there was also much praise for his government's relief operations.

"But next week when the death toll is finalised, then you will see the start of some serious finger-pointing."


15 October 2002

Sydney suburb Coogee mourns the loss of six sporting sons in Bali blast

by Michael Hutak
805 words
15 October 2002
Agence France-Presse

SYDNEY, Oct 15 (AFP) - Bedecked with flags advertising a popular local beer, the Beach Palace Hotel overlooks idyllic Coogee Beach, the focus of one of Sydney's most affluent suburbs.
In a very Australian gesture, those same flags flew at half-mast Tuesday, as residents mourned the death of six local sportsmen in Saturday's bomb blast in Bali.
Like scores of sporting clubs around the nation, the Coogee Dolphins Rugby League Club -- born and bred at the Beach Palace -- began their annual end-of-season holiday in Bali last week.
Today they count their dead: club president Clint Thompson, 29, team manager, Adam Howard, 26, treasurer Shane Foley, 33, and players Joshua Iliffe, 28, Gerard Yeo, 20 and David Mavoudis, 28.
"We're all still trying to come to grips with it," said the Dolphin's secretary, Mal Ward, who was all booked to go on the trip but decided to cancel at the last minute, preferring to spend time with his son.
On Saturday night, all 11 in the Dolphins' party were in the Sari Club in Kuta. Miraculously, five decided to leave the club just minutes before the blast.
"They then had to identify the bodies of their mates," said Ward, "and I just feel for those five, for what they've endured and what they've seen. That's a memory they will have to carry for the rest of their lives."
The Dolphins are an amateur club which plays rugby league football for the love of the game -- and to raise funds for local charity.
Every year they raise more than 10,000 dollars (5,500 US) for the Sydney Childrens Hospital.
The chief executive of the Hospital's Foundation, Elizabeth Crundall said the generosity of Dolphins was "typical of the community and sporting groups we rely on to survive."
"They've paid for physiotherapy equipment, for special beds, and they also would come and visit the kids in hospital. The kids loved them," she said.
"It's appalling that those who have been so giving of themselves should be struck down so senselessly."
The Dolphins and the Beach Palace have grown up together, the club was founded in the public bar the same year the hotel opened, in 1992.
"We've backed the boys since they started," said the Beach Palace manager, Tim Crowe.
The pub sponsors the club, paying for their sporting gear and outfits and by "putting a couple of hundred bucks on the bar after a game," added Crowe.
"A lot of them are locals who drink here all year round. We had 150 Dolphins supporters in here yesterday for a wake and it was a surprisingly happy occasion, with everyone remembering the good times."
The bad times are right now, as the enormity of the tragedy sinks in.
"Some of the families of our boys were there and they were able to see how many people were at the wake offering their support and that was good," said a Dolphin member, Paul Vanni.
"I think we all took solace yesterday in the fact that we were there in numbers and everybody was able to grieve with each other.
"We're still together and I suppose if you're looking for something good amongst all this tragedy, then that was something."
Vanni said five of his mates' bodies had been identified, even though badly burned, and the sixth was presumed dead. "We know he was with the other guys at the time so there's very little hope," he said.
"We considerd having a special memorial service but we also realized that we have six funerals to attend," Vanni said. "That will be the sorriest time."
Leading Australian thoroughbred jockey Simon Marshall was close friends with Adam Howard, who was also involved in the racing scene.
"It's just devastating," Marshall told AFP. "Adam loved his football, he loved horse racing, he loved life and he lived it to the full... for a 27 year old kid in his prime to be cut down like this is, well, there's no justice, is there."
The Dophins were not alone in their grief, with several football clubs across the nation counting their casualties and awaiting news of the missing.
The suburban Australian Rules football club in Kingsley outside Perth has seven players unaccounted for and presumed dead, and in the small New South Wales town of Forbes, three members of the local football team are believed to have perished in the massacre.
Back in Coogee, Ward was adamant: "We'll definitely carry on."
"We're more determined than ever that for the memory of the blokes we've lost there's no way we'll let this club fold."


9 October 2002

Ken Burns: oxymoronic hybrid

Dubbed the world's most influential documentary film-maker, Ken Burns has made his name and fortune bringing the past to life. "I've become so influential," Burns told The Bulletin, "that one of our most respected historians said recently that more Americans get their history from me than from anywhere else, to paraphrase the [American] ABC news slogan."
Burns delivered the keynote address at the 2002 NSW Premier's History Awards last Friday. Premier Bob Carr had been trying to get Burns to Australia since he instituted the awards in 1997. He was booked to come last year but September 11 intervened. Yet the director of the most watched documentary in television history, the epic nine-part The Civil War, admits he is "completely untrained in American history".

1 February 2002

Somewhere Man: Phillip Noyce on "Rabbit Proof Fence"

“I wasn’t looking for a script to come back to Australia. I didn’t think I could come back. I thought that I had become a nowhere man, that as a migrant worker working in America I had perhaps alienated my sensibilities from the way Australia had developed in the 10 years since I had left.”
At Fox Studios in Sydney, Phillip Noyce takes a break from sound editing to talk to Australian Style about Rabbit Proof Fence, the film that after 10 years in Hollywood has brought him home; the same film that, ironically, he hopes will secure his international reputation as one of the cinema’s leading visionaries.
Back in Australia now for almost two years, Noyce has been simultaneously directing Rabbit Proof Fence, to be released nationally this month (February), and The Quiet American, based on the Graham Green novel and starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser (due for release late 2002).
A mountain of a man, unshaven and refreshingly unkempt, Noyce makes a habit of lighting up a cigarette, taking one drag then putting it out.