Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Navy

N is for Navy

“In no time, Mark was in position at one of the two 12.7mm mounted machine guns should he be given the order. The Albany was also equipped with an ATK Bushmaster cannon which was operated remotely from the bridge. Each man knew his job. The well oiled machinery of this patrol boat was matched by the men and women who crewed her. With everyone at their respective stations, the countdown began. Mission parameters for Armidale Class patrol boats allowed for the provision of naval support for civilian authorities such as fisheries protection, customs patrol and in protection against illegal immigration.

Unidentified vessels were most likely foreign fishing boats, trespassing in Australian territorial waters or leaking, overcrowded people smugglers. There was a potential for hostility in either case, as well as the chance that pirates were plying their wicked trade. Piracy was a new phenomenon in Australian waters. Formerly ignored by maritime criminals, the popularity of the Great Southland had ballooned following the much publicized campaigns of the colourful Indonesian buccaneer Porampu Satu.”  from chapter 1, Ashmore Grief

The Royal Australian Navy consists of 53 vessels and over 16 000 personnel. It is one of the largest and most sophisticated naval forces in the Pacific region, with a significant presence in the Indian Ocean and worldwide operations in support of military campaigns and peacekeeping missions. The RAN currently uses the Armidale class patrol boat. Boats are named after Australian cities and towns with close links to Navy heritage. Armidale class patrol boats provide the RAN with an improved ability to intercept and apprehend vessels in a greater range of sea conditions than earlier patrol boat classes.

Author's note: I did much more research for Ashmore Grief than for either of my previous novels. Authenticity was important, and I hope I managed to convey a realistic feel to the novel with respect to the RAN. HMS Albany is the main Armidale class patrol, boat featured in the novel.

My extreme distaste for the Australian government's policy on "boat people" is no reflection at all on RAN service personnel who do their jobs well and proudly serve this great nation.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Migrants

M is for Migrants

“‘I understand the strength of emotion that causes people to behave improperly, to use rash, angry words and to resort to violent actions. I understand the deep empathy which brought you all here today. I also understand what drives people from their homes to risk their lives on such uncertain promises as made by unscrupulous smugglers, exposing themselves to untold dangers. Do not forget that I am a boat person. I arrived in this beautiful country as an illegal immigrant, a queue jumper, courtesy of the money my father paid to a smuggler. I do understand the issues. The concern of course it how to get the balance right. Neither an open door policy, or a turn the boats around policy will suffice to humanely and justly manage this complex problem.’

He paused, and inhaled the anticipation of the audience. With the protestors long gone, and the juice stains drying nicely on his suit, the time had come to close his address. It was vital that he leave them hungry because he had more to feed them later, when he was ready.”   from chapter 6, Ashmore Grief

Australia is a migrant nation. We have been dependent on migration for growth since Arthur Phillip led the First Fleet into Sydney Cove in 1788. Beginning with convicts and a smattering of free settlers, through the Gold Rush which saw 600 000 people come to Australia from all over the world, to federation in 1901, when migration policy began to be dominated by the infamous “White Australia Policy” which effectively ended Asian migration for fifty years. 

The end of the second world war caused another dramatic shift with then Prime Minister, Ben Chifley declaring that we should “populate or perish” (my paraphrase). A Department of Immigration was established and Australia began to accept significant numbers of refugees from Europe. In 1972 with the coming to power of the first Labour government since 1946, the racist quota system was replaced by something called ‘structured selection’ whereby migrants would be chosen according to social and personal attributes, and occupational group rather than country of origin. Three years later the first ‘boat people arrived and Australia experienced a wave of refugees from Southeast Asia, principally Vietnam and Cambodia.

Despite Australia’s incredible ethnic diversity, (around 50 statistically significant ethnic groups) and our continued record of successful and peaceful multiculturalism, the hysteria surrounding our current crop of illegal boat arrivals demonstrates the xenophobia which lies beneath the surface of our smiles. Roughly one in four Australians were born overseas, and sadly, this still bothers too many people.

Photograph sources:

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lazing About

L is for Lazing Around

“After a week of lounging around his apartment, watching movies, eating and drinking too much, Mark decided he needed a change of scenery. The prospect of a long rest with nothing to do, no place to be, no uniform to wear, and no orders to follow had seemed very appealing until boredom gate crashed his party.

He rolled over and stared at the clock. It was six thirty, and so far, his longest sleep in. He stayed in bed longer than he needed to because there was no reason to get up. He was supposed to be recuperating so his indolence was entirely justified but it troubled him, nonetheless. He tossed himself around on the bed, as much as his broken ribs would allow. The odd twinge was all he experienced now. He banged his hand against the bed, then against the pillow. Then he let it fall rather than thrusting it down. He squeezed his hand, bent his legs.”   from chapter 6, Ashmore Grief

If you are an active person, if your life is full of numerous activities and responsibilities which  demand your attention, your time and your energy, then you need a vacation. If you are such a person who frets over time wasted, and the inefficient use of resources then you need to chill. You push hard to cram as much as you can into your twenty four hours whilst always wishing for an extension, and you need to achieve your goals, to get things done. You have a to do list, and you motivate yourself with self improvement quotes. You love to work. Paid work, voluntary work, any sort of work. You are always on the go, and you can find time for everything.

It makes me tired just thinking about it. Rest is severely underrated by people like you, and I know because there is a little bit of you in me. I’m fighting it because I don’t want to live life at one hundred miles an hour. I don’t want to be so driven that I cannot enjoy anything. Cliche alert: I want to be able to stop and smell the roses. I’m learning to relax. I’m learning to appreciate quietness and slowness.

Take a vacation, and if it’s been a while since your last one, then make it a long one. Unwind. Relax. Enjoy. It may be very difficult, as it was for Mark in Ashmore Grief, who liked the idea but found the practice of rest uncomfortable and unsatisfying, but please try. If you work hard, you deserve rest. Don’t begrudge yourself this simple pleasure.

Photo source:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Killing

K is for Killing

“His hand moved fast to grasp the edge of her robe and he tugged, causing the robe to come away from her, and drag her to the floor with it. He was strong. She panicked. Maybe he was too strong. He towered over her. There was no time to waste. If he had not already seen the scissors he would soon and he might use them on her. She thrust the scissors into his foot, then scrambled to her feet as he fell. She pounced on him and stabbed repeatedly at his chest. She could hear his roaring but she ignored it and the breakneck speed of her heart, and keep penetrating his chest with the blades. Each strike a payback for every violent thrust of his penis.

She stopped when she exhausted her energy, and it was only then that she heard the urgent knocking on the bathroom door and the anguished cries which vainly attempted to open it.”
-from chapter 13, Ashmore Grief

Death is an unavoidable part of life. Sometimes we know it’s coming, sometimes we do not. We recognize the frightening randomness and fragility of life, and we respond with feigned indifference. We accept it in its startling and disturbing diversity on our screens and in the books we read. Gruesome and heinous murders are popular. Excruciating and sickening details are savoured by morbid and voracious viewers and readers. Death even amuses and cause us to rejoice in the case of the demise of characters we despise. Our thirst for vengeance, for justice is slaked vicariously, and we love it.

In reality, most people fear death, and for those lives have been destroyed by violent acts against them or their loved ones, it is a terminal excoriation of the soul. Death hurts. It can be cruel, and it is certainly indiscriminate. When someone takes another person’s life we are morally offended, and demand justice or retribution. Yet we recognize situations in which it is necessary for people to be killed. Many support just wars, capital punishment and self defence is recognized by the law as a valid defense.

Most of us cannot conceive of a circumstance in which we would kill someone, but that is only because most of us have not had the misfortune to find ourselves in such a situation. Think about it carefully and ask yourself if you had to kill someone, could you? Would you? God forbid it should ever happen, but it’s worth consideration.

Photograph sources: 

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Journalists

J is for Journalist

"Wittaya noted that it was a print out of an e-mail which was addressed to Prime Minister, Cadogan. He quickly skimmed to the end of the e-mail where he saw a name which immediately made his chest tighten. Ellen Barlow. He looked up at Gillard, and raised his eyebrows.

‘Read it,’ she said.

I am writing to give you advance notice of a story which will be published in the Australian on Thursday. It concerns the Immigration Minister, Wittaya Keawwanna. At the Asylum Seekers Conference in Sydney earlier in the week, the Minister was pelted with fruit by protestors. This has already been broadcast, as you know. However, what has not been revealed as yet, is what took place in the minister’s hotel room following the conference.

Wittaya felt sick, and wanted to stop reading. Such a hurricane of emotion raged within that he feared he would explode, but by a tremendous exertion of his will, he continued reading.

Two young women who were attendees at the conference were invited to the Minister’s room by the minster himself, whereupon he plied them with alcohol and attempted to force himself on them.

‘This I total bullshit!’

Cadogan leaned forward, ‘Total or partial, Wit?’" 
from chapter 10, Ashmore Grief.

Is a journalist’s job to report the news, or to make it? Sometimes you really have to wonder. Reporters write stories and editors decide what goes to print, or to air in the case of television. What motivates these decisions? The right of the public to know the truth about a matter, to have the facts? The desire to sell copies or attract viewers? The wish to push their own agendas? The media campaign against former Australian Prime Minster, Julia Gillard, was disgraceful, as was the coverage of political issues leading into the most recent election which saw tony Abbott installed in the top job much to the dismay of this writer. The reporting was unbalanced and embarrassingly superficial. 

Journalists with personal axes to grind can use their positions to grandstand, and they often do. Editors use misleading and sensationalist headlines and stories to attract attention to themselves, their issues and their media platforms.

What about truth? Most people only accept those facts which support their prejudices. If we have something against a person, we like to hear stories of how bad they are because it reinforces our low opinion of them. How many contrary facts would it take to convince someone that they were wrong? How long is a piece of string? The selective use of truth, or what masquerades as truth, is an epidemic in society, and the media is society’s champion. Who can we trust?

Who do you trust?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for IDCs

I is for Immigration Detention Centres

Today I will allow the story to speak for itself. Here are two excerpts from chapter 6 of Ashmore Grief.

"‘It’s time to have a look around your new home. Your temporary home.’

Thuza did not like the fact that the adjective temporary was an afterthought. ‘How long will I be here?’

The smile she was given did not answer her question but she declined to repeat it for fear of the answer.

As they walked, her guide talked. Thuza saw cages everywhere, big cages, and small cages, even cages around the lights. It was sterile and inhospitable. The commentary began with an introduction:
‘The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre, IDC, has permanent, purpose built facilities including accommodation compounds, a medical centre and first-aid rooms, a commercial kitchen, a laundry, educational and recreational facilities and a range of sporting facilities. It has a regular use capacity of 400 adults. Recently the contingency capacity has been increased to give a total capacity of 1 116 people.’

Thuza furtively studied the faces of the people she passed. She saw no children and few women. The inmates were mostly young men. ‘Where are the children?’ she asked."


"'It is possible for Australia to be a compassionate and just 

country whilst still presenting an effective deterrent to people smugglers and potential irregular immigrants”.

The Blaxland ballroom hummed with muffled cheers and a couple of deep here, here’s accompanied Wittaya’s opening comment. He continued, glancing down at the speech which he had written himself, from time to time, ‘The government does not support turning boats around because it is a dangerous policy. The opposition would have people believe, rather simplistically, that illegal maritime arrivals can be stopped and sent back. Would we ask our defense personnel to ignore the cries of desperate people? And should they compel the boats to turn around with threats of force, or actual force. There are some ignorant and cruel people who would have us sink these boats and allow those aboard to die. To drown to death. This would be laughable if it were not horrific, and monstrously inhuman. Most boats are unseaworthy when found. Many of the asylum seekers are hungry and dehydrated. A better option would be being able to return the individuals to their port of origin after safely bringing them to the Australian mainland or Christmas Island. It is our humanitarian duty to ensure the safety of all those who enter Australian territory. We must care, and do what we can for those who seek our help.’"

Share your views on this hot topic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Hardhearted.

H is for Hardhearted

“‘No! No!No!’ protested Jenny. ‘All my girls have visa. Or Australian citizen.’

The stony faced officer repeated his assertion that Roses are Red, of which she was the manager, was being investigated for conducting a business involving sexual servitude, and of employing and exploiting non-citizens in breach of the visas, and in contravention of Australia’s immigration laws.’

‘What is servitude?’


‘No slave! Girls like sex.’

‘Are you going to cooperate with our investigation or am I going to have to arrest you?’

‘No arrest. I do nothing wrong.’

Jenny and the officer held each other’s gaze as they engaged in a battle of wills.”
From chapter 14, Ashmore Grief

It is so easy to judge. We make assessments of people and situations all the time, often subconsciously: filtering them through the lenses of our preconceived ideas and our dearly beloved worldviews of which again most people are unaware. We have this urgent propensity to categorizeand to label. Even as we describe ourselves as open-minded and generous, we readily demonstrate bigotry and parsimony. We can be selectively narrow minded and stingy, and while we happily think of ourselves as good people, we may only require the wrong set of circumstances, to manifest darkness.

We kid ourselves if we think we are incapable of behaving the same way as the various objects of our scorn and disapproval. Life is very complicated but our solutions to the many problems which assail us testify of our naivety. We use band-aids to treat cancer. Honesty, mercy, generosity and self sacrifice surprise us. The soft and open hearted are seen as weaklings, so we cultivate hard heartedness.

Protection is the justification for hard heartedness, and fear underpins it. Those who are different from me, somehow pose a threat to me, so I must defend myself, my people and my territory. Ashmore Grief is the story of the fight to overcome coldness and prejudice. One of the most profound statements in the Bible is this: mercy triumphs over judgment.

What was your initial reaction to the above excerpt from Ashmore Grief?

Photo source: