If you look beneath the media and political hype, there has been quite an upturn in the work and energy of DPRK friendship societies in my local area. One is the NZ-DPRK Society. Established in 1973, the long-standing chair was the Reverend Don Borrie. After he retired, Tim Beal took over. Incidentally, by far the best book on the DPRK is Tim Beal’s North Korea: The Struggle Against American Power (Pluto 2005). It carefully pulls apart much of the sheer fake news about the DPRK.

In Australia we also have the Australia-DPRK Friendship and Cultural Society. It too has been around since the 1970s, but has recently gained renewed interest and energy.

These groups are certainly growing: in August 2017, 180 delegates from 61 countries gathered in the DPRK for a large solidarity conference.


A dubious achievement at the close of 2017: Australia was voted the least friendly country for Chinese in 2017. In an online poll, out of 14,667 respondents, 8,751 listed Australia as the least friendly, or 59.6%.

Why? Treachery or betrayal was cited as the main reason. On the one hand, bilateral ties have increased, the largest number of tourists in Australia come from China, tens of thousands of students study and work here. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, ensuring that Australia has not had a recession for 31 years. On the other hand, Chinese students have been physically attacked, leading to the Chinese Embassy issuing an official warning to Chinese students about such matters, and the all-show-and-no-substance prime minister (Malcolm Turnbull) has been whipping up Sino-phobia concerning CPC ‘influence’ in Australia.

As one commentator observed: ‘In Chinese culture, treachery is really despised, and this is a key reason why Australia received the most votes’.

So who came second and third: India and the United States (a significant rise, with many rethinking their connections to the USA).


The normal way to do business in Australia is open the cheque book and start handing over dollops of money to politicians and political parties. Soon enough, decisions will go your way and you will make even more cash. Indeed, the vast majority of those who have made their millions and billions in Australian history have done so through the government.

But – and it is a big but – you have to be the ‘right’ sort of person. I usually don’t pay much attention to this corporate news source, but there is one economist – of the neo-classical sort – who has a sharp eye. Michael Pascoe is his name, and he has penned a piece called ‘There’s five rules in the business of buying influence‘. It arose in response to a kerfuffle, in the context of a wave of Sino-phobia, of Chinese influence – specifically the generous Huang Xiangmo who is currently deemed not the ‘right’ person by some (I admire him a lot) .

So Pascoe lists not only a few of the more egregious examples of earlier influence-buying by those deemed acceptable, but also offers the following rules:

1.   Hire lobbyists to do it at arm’s length. There’s a conga line of them waiting for your direct deposit, many of them recently ex-politicians and staffers, all with excellent access to power to push your case. For example, who do you think really formulates our tax policy?

2.   Use industry bodies.  They provide tax-deductable funding for absolutely political ends just when the government is threatening charities with the loss of tax-deductible status if they indulge in “political” (i.e. anti-government) activities.

The Minerals Council comes to mind, or the National Automotive Leasing & Salary Packaging Association – McMillan Shakespeare certainly didn’t like Labor’s policy of abolishing the novated lease lurk, but it was the NALSPA that donated the $250,000 to the Liberal Party. And Labor subsequently fell into line.

3.   China links. Try and not be a successful mainland Chinese with the somewhat inevitable relationships with the Chinese government. It’s perfectly fine to organise and push Israeli or American policy of dubious value to Australia, but not Chinese.

4.  The art of disguise. Adopt an anglicised name and have your PR people start referring to you as “Aussie” e.g. “Aussie Moe” Huang will work better than “Huang Xiangmo” – and you’ll be spared Australian newsreaders being unable to pronounce it.

Become a prominent supporter of such bodies as the American Australian Association and the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce that ASIO is less likely to be bugging. And sponsor events that no politician can avoid and many will get taxpayers to fund attending – State of Origin, Melbourne Cup, Grand Prix, Grand Finals.

5. Be Rupert Murdoch, or at least own some prominent shock jocks.

Among the many intriguing delights of Pyongyang is the Juche friendship wall:

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Plaques from nearly every country in the world represent the various Juche study groups and DPRK friendship groups. I even managed to find one from Australia:

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Many of the plaques date from the 1970s and 1980s, but a few from more recent times. However, since the Australian one comes from 1976, I thought it was time to update the representation. I gathered the Australians in our group for a photograph:

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On our recent 9,000 kilometre rail journey, on one of the trains we were given a little bag with lost of interesting items. One such item had this on the back:

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The long list of items are fair enough, but ‘positive energy’? I couldn’t help wondering if it too is organic.

Australasia’s own Historical Materialism conference will meet again this year: 17-18 July at the University of Sydney. More information here, but I have copied the call for papers.

Historical Materialism Australasia 2015: Reading Capital, Class & Gender Today

The year 2015 marks a series of conspicuous anniversaries. Three books in particular celebrate significant milestones this year. Raewyn Connell and Terry Irving’s seminal Class Structure in Australian History was published thirty-five years ago, Louis Althusser and his students published Reading Capital fifty years ago, and Silvia Federici produced Wages Against Housework forty years ago. These works function at once as indices of the diversity of approaches licensed by the Marxist tradition – historical sociology, philosophical inquiry, polemical ardor – while also sharing that singularly Marxist commitment to the ruthless criticism of all that exists (including Marxism itself) in light of the real movement that abolishes the present state of things. It is in that spirit of diversity and critical engagement with the world as it is that we announce the 2015 Historical Materialism Australasia Conference.

The diversity in the works commemorated above is not limited to their methodology. The issues they address remain alive today, as questions of politics or scholarship or both: the interaction of class and race in settler colonial societies; the place of class and labour in historical inquiry; the concept of a transitional period; the philosophical status of Marx’s work and its relationship to other forms of knowledge; the concept of critique itself; the question of Capital’s continued reproduction; the relationship between feminism(s) and Marxism; the role of care labour in a theory of work; the place of the wage in capitalist society. This list does not exhaust the challenges these works undertook to address nor, of course, the specific challenges and opportunities that confront us today. But it is the wager of this conference that the vitality of historical materialism is precisely in this propensity, even bias, towards interdisciplinarity, seen not as a conference buzzword, but as the only adequate response to the society that faces us.

With that in mind, we welcome submissions of 250-word abstracts for papers on the questions above or any others that engage with this broader tradition, critically or otherwise; panel proposals should include short abstracts for each paper coupled with an outline of the panel as a whole. We especially welcome contributions from activists and scholars outside of (or peripheral to) the academy. All submissions should be emailed to hmaustralasia [at] by Friday the 15th of May.

That was the hottest ride I have ever done: 420 km in 4 days, from Armidale (up north) to Newcastle. On the hottest day, the temperature topped 45 degrees. On the others, it hovered between the high 30s and low 40s. That’s hot enough to melt the bitumen under my tyres. Day after day, I heard the clicking sound of tyres running over globules of molten bitumen. I saw strips and spots of the shiny black stuff all over the road. And from time to time, I had to stop for a while, when my vision blurred and I became light headed – drinking copious amounts of water and getting my body temperature down to reasonable levels. Today, on the last day, it was a cool 36 degrees, but only because of the gale-force headwind.

It began with a glorious train journey to Armidale:

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More than twenty years ago I lived in this town, a university town up north. The railway line to Armidale had been reopened under a Labor government, but I never had the chance to take the train. Now I had that chance:

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Beside the glorious railway station, the Gospel Hall (Brethren) still does its thing:

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I checked out old haunts, when my kids were little. At the house where we lived, I was blown away by the fully grown pine trees. I had planted two of them 23 years ago, knowing that they were slow growing. I nurtured them as seedlings and now they are grand trees:

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After a night in my tent in Armidale (where it is cool, even in summer), I set off through through countryside I still love:

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That’s an old signalman’s cottage on the railway line. After rolling up and down through the tableland, I had the breath-taking drop down the Moonbi mountain:

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Only to come across one of the highlights of the ride: the Moonbi chook (chicken):

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I have told stories about this chook, which adorns the park in the village of Moonbi. The village, you see, is a chook growing centre. I never thought I would see the big chook again, but it has a fresh coat of paint and sits there still, sagely surveying its fellows busily popping out bumnuts. After a stop in Tamworth, which boasts guitar-shaped pools (it is the country music capital of Australia), I was able to indulge in my fascination with abandoned cottages in the midst of nowhere:

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While coming to terms with the fact that the only thing blocking the blazing sun was my body and my bicycle:

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My next stop was the magical Murrurundi, which is almost as magical as Newcastle, only smaller:

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I tend to judge a place on whether I could stay a while and write. Murrurundi is such a place:

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The next day was the real scorcher: 45 degrees over 120 km. I was busted by the end. But not before I became intrigued by the regular appearance of bottles on the side of the road, filled with bright yellow or orange liquid:

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Yes, it’s piss. Drivers – truckies or whoever – seem to enjoy pissing into a bottle and tossing it out of the window. After viewing quite a number, I came to the conclusion that they either need to drink more water or see a doctor – soon.

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On the last day, with its stiff headwind, I rode on a new section of freeway – the Hunter Expressway. While I lament the fact that the billions spent on such constructions could produce some wonderful railways, I am also fascinated by the engineering. Local Aborigines were part of the planning and construction, with place names and routes marked by song lines. The treatment of water courses means they are now cleaner than they were before. And along the route much concern was given to animals and their need to cross the road. Along here there was very little road kill, for tunnels and overhead passageways had been constructed for their passing. I was intrigued by the possum bridge at one point:

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Too soon does the ride come to an end, even if you are knackered. So I tarried long in Jesmond Brush, in Newcastle itself. I had an early dinner, lit a fire and boiled a billy for tea:

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But eventually I wound my way home.

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