‘THE LONG GRASSERS’

February 21, 2010

As a 17 year old college student – I signed up for a major in American Literature. The two classroom novels were ‘Slaughter House Five’ by Kurt Vonnegut and John Steinbeck’s, ‘The

'The Homeless Camp'

'Home Sweet Home'

Grapes of Wrath’.

I mention this because at 619 pages in length – ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ is a heavy read. It wasn’t John Steinbeck’s story about Tom Joad and his family’s fight to survive the Great Depression that concerned me, but the six hundred odd pages which lay ahead. So, I put my head down and got through it.

Last week, wandering through an illegal Aboriginal tent camp near the centre of Darwin – I could see similarities between the Joad’s and the ‘Long Grassers’ who called the camp home.

‘The word for Long Grasser mean we homeless people – homeless … but we like to use the word Long Grasser’ – is how 45 year old Bob Gallagher describes himself and the dozen Aborigines who live there.

Like the Joad’s – the men and women have no permanent place to stay. Fast forward eighty years since the Great Depression and home for these people is anywhere there is a vacant patch of ground to put up a tent.

However, the ‘Long Grassers’ have money. The Joad’s were penniless when they were driven off their Oklahoma farm by drought – while the ‘Long Grassers’ have access to regular payments from the Federal Government.

LORD MAYOR WITH LONG GRASSER

'VISITING THE LONG GRASSERS'

This ‘sit down money’ has bred a generation of first Australians – who fairly or unfairly, the majority do not contribute to society. At the Darwin camp, the ‘Long Grassers’ play cards, gambling with the ‘federal cash’. The winner does what the ‘Long Grassers’ call – ‘the rabbit run’, it’s his or her job to walk to the bottle shop and purchase more grog.

Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer believes the influx of hundreds of ‘Long Grassers’ to Darwin is an unanticipated outcome from the 2007 Federal Intervention into Aboriginal Communities. Major General David Chalmers who headed up the Federal Response disagrees – telling me at the recent Bombing of Darwin Ceremony: “People were already on the move .. people are transient .. you can’t blame the Intervention for people wanting to move to the City”.

Shoot the messenger or do something about the problem.

The Lord Mayor wants to build camps with showers and toilets at locations around Darwin, where ‘Long Grassers’ like Bob Gallagher and his friends can live. According to Sawyer: “The various levels of Government need to get together and provide some space where these sorts of camps can be facilitated”.

Known for his passion to defeat cane toads – Graeme Sawyer is willing to stake his reputation to solve the ‘Long Grassers’ problem: “We have the same problem with backpacker’s when the dry season comes” – the Lord Mayor says, continuing: “Pretending it’s not happening is not a solution .. the reality is the system we’ve got at the moment is just creating more and more problems”.       

Northern Territory Police, Darwin City Council and the Aboriginal ‘First Patrol’ know the illegal camp exists. However, with the backdrop of Darwin’s housing shortage and skyrocketing rents – everyone allows the campers to stay.

The camp can only be described as basic – rough living, there is no running water and the toilet or bathroom is the tall grass surrounding the tents. Bob enjoys a drink, is a diabetic and he recently had his left big toe amputated. He worries he’ll get sick if he continues to live rough.

AMPUTATED BIG TOE - A LONG GRASSER

'MISSING LEFT BIG TOE'

“I’ve got to go to the hospital for a check up, because I’m living in the bush .. It’s not a nice place to stay, we put in for a house last year and we’re still waiting” – Bob says as he holds a plastic measuring cup filled with ‘watered down’ Port.

Australia is often referred to as the lucky country – I don’t think Bob considers himself lucky.

Maybe one day – the ‘Long Grassers’ will find a home or society will persuade these modern day ‘Okies’ to change. It’s not going to be easy. As someone once said to me, if you can read you can cook. My reply was, try reading ‘The Grapes of Wrath’.

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DARWIN ‘FIRE BOMBING’

February 6, 2010

Link to a ‘Live Cross’ with Sky News Australia – while covering the ‘Fire Bombing’ of a Territory Insurance Office in Darwin NT, Australia.

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'Firemen'

'Mopping Up After The Blast'

The first emergency workers to arrive were confronted with a horrible scene.  A dozen badly burnt victims .. clearly in a lot of pain.

(A woman screams) Ahhhh…. it’s hurting even more…

The concrete pavement became a make-shift medical clinic.

(Another woman with burnt arms screams) ‘…. I want to kill him .. ‘

 “I want to kill him” – yelled this woman .. as bystanders tried to comfort her .. frozen peas on her shoulders, trying to cool her down.

 (A Police Officer orders people back) ‘.. Behind over there behind the shelter ..’

 Around 11 o’clock .. witnesses say the fire and explosion occurred – when a man pushed a shopping trolley loaded with three ‘jerry cans’ full of petrol and fireworks through the front door of the TIO Office.

(Water is pouring out of the Territory Insurance Office sprinklers) ‘ .. Shhhhhhhhhh … ‘

The man .. lit the firecrackers and then ran.

(Tim Ryan – Witness) “It was like a number of fireworks going off, maybe like ten twenty like – bang bang bang.”

Six TIO staff and several customers were inside when the home made bomb went off.

Near-by Woolworths employees and shoppers raced to rescue those trapped.

(Steve Cordona – Witness) “.. hectic, hectic, people didn’t know what was going on just waiting for people to walk out the door ..”

Fire fighter’s using breathing apparatus searched the burning office – after reports, someone was still inside.

(Bradley Fong – NT Fire Service) “The jerry cans were still burning as we were entering the building.”

The Crime Scene

'The Crime Scene'

(Phil Rout – NT Fire Service) “Very limited visibility .. um probably only a foot in front of your face.”

St John Ambulance Officers transported 14 people to Royal Darwin Hospital.

Most suffering burns and severe injures to their lungs from inhaling the toxic smoke.

(Dr Len Notaras – Royal Darwin Hospital) “We have 4 people in the high dependency ward suffering burns, the worst to 15% of her body – another half dozen are being treated for smoke inhalation.”

As a precaution ..

(Sound of bomb detection robot driving along) ‘Vhhhhhh…..”

.. the Territory’s Response Section bomb detection unit inspected the area – and gave the all clear.

(Justin O’Brien – piece to camera) “Immediately after the explosion – a local man turned himself into Police at the near-by Darwin Station. He was uninjured – Investigator’s describe him as a disgruntled customer.”

(Commander Colleen Gwynne – NT Police) “This is not a terrorist incident – it was definitely a dissatisfied claimant. We have that person in custody at the moment.”

The Territory Insurance Office is reviewing it’s security procedures .. at the three other Darwin Offices.

(Richard Harding – CEO, Territory Insurance Office) “The key message I want to leave with people is this appears to be an isolated incident. It doesn’t appear to be any ongoing threat as the suspect is in custody.”

Late this afternoon .. forensic investigators removed the shopping trolleys used in the fire bombing.

Police are yet to question a 45 year old man in relation to the fire bombing.