This is now the official name for our home:

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Given the interest in an earlier picture of me on a tropical throne, I thought I would add a few to fill out the scene. It is not so often that one takes a camera to the toilet, but then this is no ordinary affair.

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My only regret is not having the camera with me on the occasion when I was joined by some others. First, a horse meandered over, became curious, walked towards me and then looked directly at me from about a metre away. We began a conversation about many things (I will not elaborate here). As we were conversing, a chicken came around the corner, stopped and cocked its head while looking at me. Close behind the chicken came another horse, and it too stopped close by and joined the audience.

Stalin on Time Magazine 1939 and 1942

The first was in 1939, although the reason was ambivalent: ‘Whether Europe’s new era will end in nationalist chaos, good or bad internationalism, or what not, the era will be new—and the end of the old era will have been finally precipitated by a man whose domain lies mostly outside Europe. This Joseph Stalin did by dramatically switching the power balance of Europe one August night. It made Joseph Stalin man of 1939. History may not like him but history cannot forget him.’

By the end of 1942, the magazine was echoing the growing world-wide acclaim of Stalin, especially as the victory at Stalingrad and turning point of the Second World War was becoming clear: ‘The year 1942 was a year of blood and strength. The man whose name means steel in Russian, whose few words of English include the American expression ‘tough guy’ was the man of 1942. Only Joseph Stalin fully knew how close Russia stood to defeat in 1942, and only Joseph Stalin fully knew how he brought Russia through. But the whole world knew what the alternative would have been. The man who knew it best of all was Adolf Hitler, who found his past accomplishments turning into dust.’

Up in Kuranda, near Cairns in the tropics, I was sitting in an old reclining chair. As I did so, my brother’s partner said, ‘That chair is the same as your wok’.

‘What do you mean?’ I said.

‘He [my brother] said, “If the chair goes, I go.”‘

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Fortunately, they had not come to that point. As for the wok, well, in two former relationships when the wok appeared in the bin I knew that the relationship was over. On each occasion, the wok and I moved on.

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As you can see, it’s a glorious wok. I found it while camping in New England National Park more than twenty years ago. It has cooked more meals than I care to remember. So it has become very much a case of ‘love me, love my wok’.

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What a glorious few days it has been: the state member for Newcastle – Tim Owens – has resigned from parliament after admitting to receiving bribes and lying to the Independent Commission Against Corruption about it. The member for the neighbouring seat of Charlestown – Andrew Cornwall – has also resigned. And now our much-hated Lord Mayor – Jeff McCloy – has resigned before being pushed. He was the millionaire property developer doling out paper bags stuffed full of thousands of dollars to the above-mentioned ‘pro-business’ politicians. Nice to see the doyens of the ruling class – the ‘Newcastle Godfathers’ – copping a few bleeding noses and black eyes. Actually, it merely makes it obvious that the business of capital is no different from organised crime.

2,500 km over two and a half days – from Newcastle to Cairns in the tropical north and all the way in a regular train seat. One of the best rail journeys in a long time. A few highlights, from the journey and around Cairns itself (Kuranda to be exact). It was on the old Sunlander, which is being ‘retired’ at the end of the year, after more than 60 years of service.???????????????????????????????

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In Kuranda and hereabouts, it was difficult to decide on the best of the many highlights:

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A couple of months ago, I suggested that Newcastle had come up with a novel way to avoid corruption: instead of having developers hand over wads of cash to politicians in order to influence decisions, some of us (not me) elected a mayor who is a developer. Simple solution? No need for any corruption, since the developer becomes the politician and doesn’t need to influence anyone. It seemed so at the time. Now I take it all back. It turns out that the – ‘I don’t want to hear the word “community”‘ – mayor has been tooling around town in his expensive Bentley, doling out large bundles of cash in brown paper bags to – yes – other politicians who are part of the state government. I kid you not, even though it sounds like the plot of a C-grade movie. And over the last few days before the Independent Commission Against Corruption, it has all come unstuck. The two politicians ended up confessing that they had accepted the cash from our generous mayor, and then used it either for personal purposes or for their election campaigns. By pure coincidence, the state government promptly made some decisions concerning the city: cutting the railway line and approving a high-rise residential development in the middle of town. Both have been wanted by developers for some time and both are widely resented by the townsfolk.

The delicious feature of all this is that the corrupt politicians are both Liberals: at the last election (2011) Andrew Cornwall and Tim Owen snatched the seats of Newcastle and Charlestown for the first time for the Liberal-National coalition, which was able to form government almost four years ago. Cornwall, a vet, accepted money from more than one politician. But Owen in particular has come crashing down: he was earlier an air commodore and received an Order of Australia for his service. So he campaigned on ‘integrity.’ Now he has admitted to giving false evidence under oath, to meeting our dearly-beloved mayor to conspire to do so, and to accepting bribes. Both he and Cornwall have now ‘resigned’ from the state parliament and the seats are set for by-elections. No prizes for guessing who will win these normally safe Labor seats. (To add spice to the story, they are now the sixth and seventh members of the Liberal-National Government found to have acted corruptly – and even more seem to be in line.)

I can’t wait to see how the mayor goes when it is his turn before the Independent Commission Against Corruption. It will be quite a story, especially since he maintains that the law which prevents developers handing out brown paper bags stuffed full of $100 bills is unfair. After all, that’s what honest citizens do with politicians.