THIS WEEKS FEATURE ARTICLES
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In the line of fire...
...and the line of duty
Did Saddam Hussein have those weapons of mass destruction? What really happened when Osama Bin Laden was killed? Was that actually Saran gas in Syria? The familiar saying that truth is the first thing to go by the wayside when war breaks out trips fairly glibly off the tongue. Who said it first? Some Americans have claimed it as their own, attributing it to Senator Hiram Warren Johnson at the end of the First World War. To quote him, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” In 1928 Englishman Arthur Ponsonby’s book, Falsehood in Wartime, listed and refuted propaganda supposedly used against the enemy by the Allied Forces. In this he wrote, “When war is declared, truth is the first casualty.” However, as early as 1758 Samuel Johnson – ‘perhaps the most distinguished man of letters in English history’ – wrote in a series of essays called The Idler, “Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages”. So it would seem that to Dr Johnson must go the honours. Whilst all right-thinking people are keen to know the truth, sometimes it’s hard to find: we can’t be there; we can’t see with our own eyes, hear with our own ears. With Anzac Day behind us, along with our commemoration of those who have given their lives, their health, their sanity, and their futures to make ours a safer world, it’s appropriate also to remember others who can be our eyes and ears. They are our war correspondents, who try to bring us the truth, palatable or unsavoury, and who, no less than many a combatant, are in the line of fire daily.
A journalist needs to have keen powers of observation, an analytical mind, and a talent for finding words that make sense to the ordinary reader. Who better than one of our most popular bards, A.B. (Banjo) Patterson? Both bushman and city solicitor, by the end of the 1890s Patterson had given us The Man from Snowy River, and Waltzing Matilda. In 1899 he was sent to South Africa by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Melbourne Age to cover the Second Boer War as their war correspondent. He sailed with the first Australian contingents and his graphic accounts of the war won him accolades in Britain as well as at home. In 1901 he went to China for the Herald to report on the Boxer Rebellion. Although he left for the First World War with the first AIF convoy as a press representative, he wasn’t used as a correspondent, but instead turned his efforts to ambulance driving, later returning as a soldier valued for his experience as a horseman. He had the true insight of the soldier when he wrote his poem We’re All Australians Now about the landing at Gallipoli.
First official, appointed and anointed
While reports on the war in Sudan in 1885 had come home to Australia from an unnamed reporter, and although he did the job during the Boer War, The Banjo was not our first officially appointed war correspondent. That honour goes to Charles Bean, a former junior reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald who landed at Gallipoli on April 25 just hours after the dawn landing. Only two weeks later he was recommended for a decoration for bravery and a few months later, despite being shot in the leg, remained to file reports, filling 226 notebooks by the end of the war. From overseas he urged the government to maintain an official collection of records, and initiated the idea of a display of memorabilia, relics and photographs – a suggestion that eventuated in the development of the Australian War Memorial. In 2015 Charles Bean was honoured in Australia Post’s Centenary of WWI stamp series. Not appointed officially, but writing nevertheless, was Keith Murdoch, who would have liked Bean’s job. Determined to avoid the censors, Murdoch managed to get some critical, unexpurgated material home becoming the first to avoid the official ‘propaganda machine’, as he saw it. In 1945 war correspondents, previously part of the forces, were ‘civilianised’ – and became independent.
Their own memorial
Since the tradition begun by Patterson and Bean, nearly 30 Australian correspondents have been killed in conflict zones all over the world, including our own Tasmanian Neil Davis, killed in Bangkok in 1985 covering a Thai coup. In 2015 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opened a memorial dedicated to war correspondents in the sculpture garden of the Australian War Memorial. Recalling names like Damien Parer, the Balibo Five, Stephen Dupont and Paul Moran, Mr Turnbull spoke of correspondents’ courage and their ability to hold up the truth to power saying, “Our democracy depends on many institutions … but none is more important than a free and courageous press.” Keeping the Truth alive and well is, after all, the only way the human race will ever find its way down that tortuous path whose destiny is Peace.
Winnie the Pooh and other childhood fun
(NOTE: the following is an expanded version of Stage Whispers theatre magazine review – used with permission)
As a theatrical reviewer for national theatre magazine (and online website) Stage Whispers, I have been longing for the day when I can take a little one to see a children’s stage show. What better performance than a version of Winnie the Pooh as my first theatrical 'Grandma duty' adventure with a three–year old grandson? The version of Winnie the Pooh by Hamley Productions at Pear Ridge Gardens Margate, Tasmania, was a delight on so many levels. A good way to see a children’s classic come to life is in the company of and through the eyes of a child. Pooh Bear and friends glowed as stage characters in this adapted work written by British playwright Glyn Robbins. Many generations of children who grew up reading the work of Alan Alexander Milne have passed on that love to children and grandchildren. The show of Winnie the Pooh I saw with my young grandson was well attended by children and parents, grandparents and friends. Some fortunate parents/grandparents had several children in tow, and it was hard to say who enjoyed the show most – adults or children. Staged in a lovely setting, complete with levee bank/running path and a nearby rivulet, tall poplars, abundant shrubbery, clipped hedges, smooth lawns and an espaliered fruit-tree trellis/walk for coming and going, the set was minimal. All of our favourite A. A. Milne characters were there, as they played with boats and balloons, hunted for heffalumps and went on exciting expeditions in the 100 ‘Aker’ Wood.
Christopher Robin (Ellen Roe) and Piglet (Emma Skalicky), Eeyore (Matt Wilson), Tigger (Chris Hamley), Rabbit (Andrew Casey), Owl (Sarah Phillips), Kanga/nanny (Samantha Sangston), Roo (Kate Vosper) and of course, Winnie the Pooh grabbed our attention from the start. David Gilkes was a delightful Pooh, Ellen Roe a charming and convincing Christopher Robin and Emma Skalicky such an adorable Piglet, I wanted to pick her up and put her in my pocket. There was energy and enthusiasm from all actors and strong voice production from all actors, especially Gilkes (Pooh), Casey (Rabbit) and Hamley (Tigger). Matt Wilson was the most Eeyor-ish Eeyore I have ever seen – the audience loved him. The character effect of the costumes, achieved with clothes young audiences can relate to without making full animal costumes, were put together by Kath Chapman and Samantha Sangston. Sam Hunt did the make-up design, although the actors do their own for the shows. It was so effective, the characters looked as if they had just stepped out of a book. The real test came from the audience – the children, mostly quite young, coped with the wordiness of the play, following the action and joining in on the jokes and laughter and occasional applause. I was struck with the attention with which the young audience followed the words. My little partner, listening intently to the words, particularly noticed the scene where the gang of friends went on “an expedition to the north pole” with associated word-play around the word “north pole” and the prop of a pole. “Where’s Santa?” he asked. “Santa’s not in this play,” I responded. My grandson said: “Santa’s from the North Pole.” How can you argue with that logic. Winnie the Pooh is on until Sunday 30 April, if you can still get bookings!
Children’s production in the Valley – Babes in
Another school holiday entertainment feature for children and families is a production by Huon Valley Theatre. Babes in the Wood is by kids... for families. Written by the same playwright (Geoff Bamber), and by the same director that brought you Jack and His Amazing Multi-coloured Beanstalk (Michael Fewings), this is another very funny pantomime. It features the talented youth from in and around the Huon area, performing in a show suitable for the whole family. The show runs from 26 April until 29 April. It’s on at the Huonville Town Hall, 40 Main Road, Huonville. Don’t forget to book and leave plenty of time to get settled. Half of the fun of a show is the anticipation, and pre-show chats are always enjoyed. Matinee performances (Wednesday to Saturday) start at 2pm and the evening performance on Saturday 29 starts at 7.30pm. Make sure you book. https://www.trybooking.com/book/sessions?eid=265859. Have fun at the theatre, wherever you go.
Missives from the seas
In the third of an occasional series of missives from a cruise to the UK, Marian Hearn shares a tale of three gardens
Because of our love of gardens the Botanical Gardens of our first three ports have been the places we have headed for. With only a limited time in each port they have each, in their own way, been an oasis of peace and tranquillity.
The first was on the island of Mauritius and its full name is Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. We shared a taxi with other passengers and, apart from a stop at an ATM for local currency, went straight there.
On arrival we hired a local guide to show us around, very necessary with so many different plants, not to mention a maze of tracks to follow. This garden claims to be the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere as it was built in 1770. They have an impressive collection of palms – 85 varieties from all around the world.
These gardens are famous for their massive pond of giant water lilies (Victoria Amazinica). As we arrived we saw the gardeners actually wading in the pond in order to clear out the weeds and leaves. These leaves were interesting as the underside had vicious spikes and we were told these were to “stop the fish eating the leaves”. The lilies had tall stalks and white flowers which turned pink as they aged.
Another attraction in this garden is the giant tortoises, very slow moving there were quite a few in a large enclosure.
Our second garden was found by accident, this time on Reunion Island. We had heard about a Botanical Garden at an on-board lecture so again joined with others in a taxi. Not speaking French there obviously was some confusion as we were dropped off at a beautiful garden called (in French) ‘The Garden of Eden’. Not our intended destination but a real ‘find’.
We had the gardens to ourselves so were able to enjoy the peace and beauty of the place – the only sounds being the numerous birds. It really was beautiful. We were impressed by the number of seats provided in shady spots and by the way they had constructed their raised garden beds using stakes and interwoven twigs, similar to how one weaves baskets, to form the outside – a method we could all use. To wander around this beautiful place was a real joy.
The third of our Botanical Gardens was in Durban. The intention was to go straight there in a taxi and ‘do our own thing’. But there were so many warnings about safety issues (confirmed later by those who did not heed the warnings) that we joined a cruise-organised coach tour which included the gardens.
Our first stop was the Victoria Market, a blast to eyes and noses with the very colourful garments and the many spices on sale. Then on to the gardens where I took a ‘golf cart tour’ – much easier than walking and with a very knowledgeable personal guide. The orchid house was small but had beautiful plants again with vibrant colours. One thing I will never forget is a particular tree Myrtaceae Eucalyptus Deglupta – the New Guinea Kamerere Gum. As the grey bark peels off it is lime green underneath then that colour changes through all shades of orange, quite amazing. My guide said he took photos and enlarged them as ‘abstract art’ for Christmas gifts last year. The coffee sold from a ‘coffee cart’ was also the best so far on this trip!
After leaving the gardens in Durban we had a tour of the city with its inevitable contrast between the wealthy areas and the poorer ones. The former with razor wire and electric fences surrounding their properties.
Durban is well catered for with sporting facilities. A new stadium was built for a recent world cup and the closer we got to it the more amazing it became. Full of symbolism it has a couple of arches rising up from one side of the stadium which meet and become one down the other side. We did not have time to do so but I would have liked to take the ‘skycar’ up to the very top.
Our final drive was along the water front – called the ‘Golden Mile’ with beautiful beaches, luxury waterfront hotels and as always the colourful street stalls.
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