Monthly Archives: August 2019

Movie: Litigante

Well that’s weird- a Spanish trailer with French subtitles that tells you absolutely nothing about the film. Despite the title – in English, the Litigant- this is not a courtroom drama. The main character, Silvia, is a lawyer, but that’s only one part of her life as a single (by choice) mother. Her own mother, Leticia, used to be a lawyer too and even though she is dying – too slowly- of lung cancer, the two women argue incessantly.  Silvia is compromised by the shady dealings of the government bureaucracy for whom she works as a lawyer, and she is embarking on an unexpected love affair.  She is stressed, stretched and so tired. It’s a real slice of life, and thoroughly convincing.  I saw it as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival in Spanish, with English subtitles.

My rating: 4 stars


I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 8-15 August 2019


Famine memorial, Dublin Source Wikimedia

In Our Time (BBC) I downloaded The Great Irish Famine months ago, and finally got round to listening to it today. My knowledge of the famine was largely shaped by Form Five British History back in 1972, and there have been advances in the historiography since then. Being BBC and all that, it was all very British (and not one word of Earl Grey’s Famine Orphan scheme to Australia that Trevor McClaughlin  has researched so extensively in his blog) but I couldn’t help thinking about ‘the caravan’ that has Trump so exercised. A very interesting episode- well worth a listen.

Today in Focus is the Guardian’s podcast service. While cleaning up all the saved podcasts that clog up my phone, I found this episode ‘Heroin and Me‘ where the Guardian’s parliamentary sketch writer John Crace, talks about his heroin addiction when he was in his 20s. He’s the writer who coined the term ‘The Maybot’ to talk about Therese May (who doesn’t seem quite so bot-y now). This is John Crace, not the author Jim Crace, although as you’ll hear, confusion between John/Jim worked in his favour. It’s a very honest

Background Briefing (ABC) I seem to be listening to/reading quite a bit about public housing estates briefly. The Birdman of Surry Hills sounds quite a character, but he has certainly kept the NSW public housing authorities on their toes, taking them to the equivalent of VCAT over repairs to public housing. Mike Duncan is continuing with his backgrounding to the Russian Revolution by looking at Marxism and Bakunism (i.e anarchism). However, because there was an upcoming unavoidable break in his podcast schedule, he decided to add an additional episode before launching into the Russian Revolution on his return (not that this matters to me, as I’m always behind anyway). So, as a bit of an ‘extra’ in Episode 10.7 he returns to the Paris Commune of 1871, which he dealt with in Series 8 in May-June 2018.  Marx, Engels, Bakunin and the International were all around to see the short-lived Commune. In Episode 10.8 The Red and the Black, he discusses the difference between Marxism (Red) and Anarchism (Black). It’s a good summary, but you really need to have listened to the earlier episodes.

Spanish Obsessed. I’m feeling a bit as if I’m cheating on Spanishland School, which is my main online Spanish learning investment, but I’ve also found these podcasts too. They are all in Spanish, at about Intermediate level (which is me, I guess). This one Intermediate 27 The Earthquake is about Rob’s trip to Mexico, where he experienced an earthquake not once but twice in the same trip.

‘The Dismissal Dossier’ by Jenny Hocking


Updated edition 2016, 75 pages & notes

Is it only Labor supporters ‘of a certain age’ who remember where they were in 1975 when they heard that the Whitlam government had been dismissed? I was in my second year at La Trobe University, and being November 11, it was in the midst of exams. I remember sitting on the brick steps at the Agora, wondering if the student troops would rally and whether there would be a march on Parliament House. But there was nothing- at least not immediately. I think that people were just stunned.

And, after reading Jenny Hocking’s small book The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know About November 1975, I’d have to add that not only were people just stunned, they were lied to as well. It has taken over forty years for the truth to trickle out, through vendettas, scribbled notes in archives, interviews, and  re-evaluations. The story isn’t over yet: Jenny Hocking, who wrote the celebrated two-part biography of Gough Whitlam, is still pursuing ‘The Palace Letters’ between the Queen and her secretaries and Australia’s then-Governor General Sir John Kerr, which have been designated ‘personal and private’ by Buckingham Palace, and thus out of the reach of Australians.

So- what weren’t we meant to know and now we do, largely through Hocking’s persistence?  We now know that the Palace did know ahead of time that Kerr was planning to sack Whitlam. Through Reg ‘Toe-Cutter’ Withers’ spilling of the beans after himself being dismissed, we know that Fraser was aware of it too.  We now know that  Sir  Anthony Mason  had been involved even before Sir Garfield Barwick (the Chief Justice) was, and that Barwick and Kerr agreed to obscure his involvement at the time and afterwards.  We also know that Kerr, fearful that Whitlam would sack him first, had shored up his position with the Queen’s secretary and Prince Charles in advance.  We now know that Kerr was anxious that a Royal Commission not be held into the Loans Affair because it would have come out that he had signed off on the minutes of the Executive Council meeting that approved the plan.

There’s a lot, too, that we have either forgotten or not realized the significance of.  The Senate had not refused Supply, but the Liberal/Country party refused to vote on it. Whitlam’s poll numbers were improving, while Fraser’s were plummeting over the stalemate in the Senate. Whitlam had already spoken with Kerr about holding the half-Senate election days earlier and had the agreed papers in his pocket, which would have brought the stalemate to a head. The House of Representatives still sat on the afternoon after the Dismissal, and passed a motion of no-confidence in Fraser as Prime Minister by a margin on 10 votes – the ultimate breakpoint in our parliamentary democracy, which should have seen Fraser stepping down immediately.  There were in effect two dismissals on 11 November: first the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, then later that afternoon, the dismissal of the House of Representatives, which Kerr prorogued to avoid having to do anything with that embarrassing vote of no confidence.

These things have been revealed over the last forty years, but because they have been drip-fed, you tend not to see the whole picture. After Reg Withers revealed that Fraser had been in on it before the Dismissal, Fraser admitted that he had lied. How did I not know that? I remember Sir Anthony Mason’s dismissive “I owe history nothing” but I’d forgotten his role. I remember news of a dinner with Prince Charles, but didn’t make the connection. That’s why this book is so important. It’s only short, but it draws the threads together. It re-kindles the rage.

I was fortunate to hear Jenny Hocking speak last week (and a recording of her presentation can be found here). She reminded us that Gough’s exhortation was to “Maintain your rage and your enthusiasm“. Reading this book reminds me why we should maintain the pressure for a republic, and why Hocking’s own persistence and assiduity has been so important.  After the Federal Court dismissed her attempt to have the Palace Letters revealed, just this afternoon she was granted Leave to Appeal to the High Court of Australia. Those letters will and must be revealed one day: I just hope that she and  I live long enough to see them.

My rating: 5/5 because it’s it’s such an important book. Read it.

Sourced from: SLV e-book. (Did you know that you can download e-books from the State Library if you have a card?)


AWW2019I have included this on the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge.


‘El León, La Bruja y El Ropero’ por C. S. Lewis

el leon

202 P. Translated into Spanish by Margarita Valdez E.

Yes! I’ve finished it!  I haven’t read this book for a long time, and believe me, it took me a long time to read it for the second time, in Spanish! However, the language was easier than Harry Potter and at times the writing was so beautiful that I almost forgot that I was reading it in Spanish. I found the Christian overtones rather heavy-handed, but perhaps I’m becoming more intolerant in my old age. I enjoyed it, but I won’t rush to read the rest in the series – in either language.

And don’t you reckon that “Bruja Blanca” sounds more threatening than “White Witch”?

Movie: Diego Maradona

I come from Melbourne. I don’t like soccer, and the only real football is AFL. I didn’t know anything about Diego Maradona beyond the name. But this film is really good, and you don’t need to know any more than I did to enjoy it. It is subtitled, and consists of a compilation of film clips, some very grainy, of Maradona and has voice-overs from interviews, but no ‘talking heads’ as such.  It’s a rags-to-riches story, and a morality tale of pride before a fall. Go see it.

My rating: 5 out of 5


I hear with my little ear: Podcasts 1-7 August 2019

99% Invisible. The episode ‘Depave Paradise‘ looks at Mexico City, which is sinking as the artesian basin under the city is drained, and yet it floods as well. But there is one place that could replenish the underground lakes and control the flooding: El Pedregal, a large lava field formed by the volcanoes that surround the city. It is formed of porous rock, which made it unpopular to build on until Mexican Modernist architect Luis Barragán began designing houses on large blocks, surrounded by the lava flows and native gardens in the 1940s. But these blocks have since been subdivided, paved and filled with lawns and introduced gardens. (There’s pictures on the link, as well as the podcast).

BBC The Documentary. The Superlinguists continues. How To Learn A Language talks about second language acquisition methods and myths. Apparently, despite my grumbling that it’s too hard to learn a language as an adult, if adults spent as much time as a young baby does in learning to speak (i.e. 12 hours a day for about three years), we’d be better at it than young children are. Apparently children at school learn better with Direct Instruction, but adults are better off getting over their fear of talking and just doing it.  Monolingual Societies argues that dialects and variants are a challenge to even the most monolingual communities.

Easy Spanish. I have no idea how to find this podcast on the internet, but I subscribed to it through Stitcher at  The podcasts have been appearing weekly since April and vary in length between about 10 minutes and 35 minutes. Some of them are retellings of fairy tales (I listened to Aladdin) while others are commentary. It says ‘easy’ Spanish but they’re not – you certainly need some Spanish, but as an intermediate student, I can follow them quite easily until my attention starts wandering.

Hoy Hablamos. This seems to be free too, and it has hundreds of podcasts. My Mexican Spanish teacher tells me that they are from Spain. They seem to produce one a day Monday to Friday. If you subscribe, you can get the transcript and exercises. It’s much cheaper than News in Slow Spanish (USD$95 per year). If I listen to it two or three times, I can generally follow it.

Earshot (ABC) You should feel uncomfortable: One family’s time in Outreach International.  I hadn’t heard of Outreach International, a religious cult led by a man called Tony Kostas, that meets all the usual criteria for a cult: domination, financial demands, separatism, guilt etc.  It’s from a podcast series called ‘Let’s Talk About Sects’.

Boris_Johnson_in_2018Rear Vision (ABC) Recorded as Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, Being Boris- Boris Johnson does not reassure. What a mess.

‘Australia’s Vietnam: Myth vs History’ by Mark Dapin


2019, 231 p.

In August 2007 an article about the Vietnam Veterans Motorcycle Club appeared in the  Good Weekend magazine insert that accompanies The Age. Written by journalist Mark Dapin, it was based on interviews with members from the Queensland chapter, hard-drinking men, many of whom suffered with PTSD. They told Dapin of seeing (and even being involved in) atrocities during their tours of duty, of being flown home in the dark in a futile attempt to avoid protestors at the airport, of being spat at, being jeered as ‘baby killers’, having paint poured on them, and smarting from the absence of welcome home marches.  He reported what he heard.

But after over 160 interviews, six years of study, a non-fiction book and a Ph.D. on the topic, Mark Dapin would no longer write that original article in the same way. In a way, this book is a long mea culpa for his easy acceptance of what he had been told. In his opening chapter ‘The myths I helped to make’, he writes

I no longer believe a significant number of people in the 1960s and early 1970s regarded Vietnam veterans as baby-killers, bludgers or morons- although negative stereotypes of the returned men existed in some circles, and those stereotypes altered, mutated and probably intensified from the late 1970s through to the mid 1980s…I do not think Australian students poured paint over returning soldiers in Australia in 1972 – or that they held any protests against returning soldiers that year. I doubt that many – if any- Australian veterans were spat upon. I do not think many – if any – Australians committed large-scale atrocities. I know no serviceman was flown home in the middle of the night specifically to ‘avoid protestors’. But I also know that I wrote my story in good faith. I believed what I was told, and I am certain the men who spoke to me felt they were telling the truth. (p.9)

Dapin’s book addresses the most prominent myths that have arisen out of the Vietnam War. Many of them are not even recognized as myths: most of them circulate in everyday commentary, propelled by politicians, journalists and historians like Paul Ham, whose Vietnam: The Australian War is too enthusiastically embraced by veterans as the definitive history of the war.

In succeeding chapters, Dapin unpacks the various myths attached to the popularly-received image of Vietnam. There have been claims, most stridently in Ham’s book but often echoed by Vietnam veterans themselves, that  no national servicemen were forced to serve in Vietnam and that, in fact, they were all given a chance not to go. In his appendix Dapin publishes the correspondence between radiographer David Wittner and the Minister for the Army Andrew Peacock that makes it clear that national servicemen were sent to Vietnam against their will.

He looks at the ballot system used for selecting National Servicemen.  One of the most widely-distributed myths is that Normie Rowe was falsely drafted into the army (still referenced on his Wikipedia page).  Dapin explains there was no conspiracy to enlist this pop singer: his birthday did come up in a supplementary ballot for men who were out of the country, as Rowe was, during their registration period.

He rebuts the idea that there were no welcome home parades as soldiers returned. It was the perception of a lack of welcome that prompted the Welcome Home Parade and National Reunion in Sydney in 1987, fourteen years after the last soldier returned.  In his appendix is a table of the sixteen welcome homes of the Vietnam Years, listing the estimated size of the crowd and the number of marchers (although I note that there are none in Melbourne?). He cites multiple newspaper articles from the time that laud the enthusiasm of the crowd and make mention, if at all, of only ‘a few’ demonstrators. At the sixteen parades he identifies, there was no blood thrown, although one protester, Nadine Jensen, did smear two men with red paint, kerosene and turpentine, at a Sydney welcome-home parade on 8 June 1966. That was the only incident of its kind. The only time an appreciable number of demonstrators confronted returning soldiers was when 20 demonstrators tried to join the end of the parade with their banners on 9 December 1969 in Adelaide.

Likewise, he could find no newspaper evidence at all of airport demonstrations against returning soldiers, although he did find evidence of a protest against the South African surf-life saving team which was heavily reported, and a small three-person protest against Dr Benjamin Spock, opponent of the Vietnam War when he arrived at Brisbane Airport in 1971. It is true that the soldiers often flew in at night, and the army’s own bureaucratic procedures delayed them until the early hours of the morning. But the nighttime scheduling was not to avoid protest but occurred instead to accommodate the daytime commercial needs of the airline companies who were providing the flights.

To the extent that there was jeering and anti-Vietnam protest, Dapin suggests that this arose later, in the 1980s onwards. There was  a report of spitting directed towards Harold Holt, and another at the May Day celebrations in Melbourne in 1972.  There were, of course, the huge Moratorium demonstrations, and in Adelaide, there was a confrontation between demonstrators and civilian- dressed soldiers from the 3RAR in May 1970.

Even the song ‘I Was Only 19’ has a complex history. Frankie Hunt, on whom the song is loosely based, changed his story about his Vietnam experience as he told it in 1987, 2005 and 2015 increasingly incorporating all the myths and tropes of thrown fruits, epithets, and calls of ‘child killers’. Yet Hunt himself did not ally himself with conservative forces and marched with the anti-nuclear movements.  Dapin does suggest that some of the so-called airport demonstrations were in fact anti-rape demonstrations of the 1980s, prompted by the women’s movement. Caution abounds as he writes:

I might feel emboldened to argue that the Vietnam-era national serviceman symbolized a certain kind of tough, disciplined, militarised masculinity that fell out of favour in the 1970s…that the later drafts of soldiers felt that Australia had shifted socially while they were away in Vietnam, and altered even further once the war ended… (p 202)

It is one thing to disprove myths: it is another to grapple with the question of why his interviewees told the narratives they did.  He cites Frank Bongiorno who notes that history has defined itself as a form of truth-telling in the face of myth (p.205). It makes it easy to condemn ‘oral history’ but he accords with the words of C. P. Stacey, the official historian of the Canadian Army in the Second World War who wrote

One very seldom encounters a deliberate liar [but] there were considerable numbers who lied to me while honestly believing they were telling the absolute truth. (cited on p. 205)

So what has happened here? He suggests that perhaps Australian veterans have incorporated the stories of American veterans, both in their homecoming response, and even the committal of atrocities. Film depictions have taken on the appearance of memory. Events from one phenomenon like the anti-rape demonstrations become merged into others, like the  homecomings. Stories, quoting unidentified sources, are published and become incorporated into individual narratives and become solidified into historical ‘fact’. Historians and journalists are squeamish about rebutting assertions presented as fact by a man sitting directly in front of them, and there is not enough rigour in fact-checking afterwards.  He is perplexed that the story of the conservative, pro-war forces, which dominated politics during the 1960s, has remained untold.

It seems to me now that mythology dogs and distorts the Australian soldier’s Vietnam experience, from its beginnings (for some) in the workings of the national servicemen’s birthdate-lottery selection process – to its end, in the lost memories of the 16 often enormous, enthusiastic wartime welcome home parades…when I talk about some veterans’ stories as mythological, I do not consider them to be mistaken or dishonest, but tales that are based on archetypes- the rejected returning serviceman; the soldier as a dupe of higher powers; the man-hating feminist; the fanatical agitator- and told to make sense of subsequent events. It has been said [by oral historian Alessandro Portelli] that ‘what informants believe is indeed a historical fact (that is, the fact they believe it) as much as what really happened’ but people believe all kinds of things, for reasons that range across the whole breadth of human experience. (p.17, 18)

In many ways, this is a brave book.  He unsettles the territory, interrogates dates, looks to contemporary rather than retrospective reports and makes things much more complex and contestable. Many people, most particularly veterans, politicians and some historians, will not like what he writes. He writes that he hopes that his book might put some of the myths of Vietnam to the sword, but he is not optimistic. Nor am I. I’m not sure that his book will challenge the big fat military history books written by authors whose names are in bigger font than the title…yet.

My rating: 8.5

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Some good reviews: David Stephens on the Honest History website and Hamish McDonald in the Saturday Paper, whose review prompted me to read this book.