‘WHAT TO EXPECT’

June 9, 2012

Multimedia Journalist Justin O’Brien interviews Cameron Diaz, Chase Crawford, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Morrision and Rodrigo Santoro about their roles in the parenthood comedy ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’.

Cameron Diaz discusses motherhood, Chase Crawford his taste for Diet Coke and Rodrigo Santoro on being Jennifer Lopez’s husband.

Runs:3’14           Video courtesy of ‘Sunrise’ Australia.


‘GUILTY’

November 8, 2011

Multimedia journalist Justin O’Brien reports from outside the Los Angeles Criminal Court House on the Doctor Conrad Murray guilty verdict. Dr Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of pop star Michael Jackson in 2009.

Reported, filmed, written and edited by Justin O’Brien.


‘LATIGO @ 158 bpm’

August 21, 2011

Turning 40 is a mile stone birthday we’re told to celebrate and celebrate big.

For my 40th, I decided to spend a week with my best mates in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, my old ‘home’. A week of eating, drinking – did I mention drinking? And riding.

My birthday present to myself was an accent of Latigo Canyon. A 9.2-mile mountain climb I’d ridden many times over the years with my buddies Johnny Smelzer, Michael Kelley and David Lee.

We are all united through a passion or self-torture for road cycling. Hours spent on two wheels, sitting on a pole,peddling, duelling with cars, legs shaved and 40 mile per hour descents protected by an armour of Lycra!

'The Boys' - Johnny Smelzer, David Lee, Justin O'Brien, Michael Kelley

There is something ‘mentally satisfying’ even ‘mystical’ about climbing Latigo Canyon. So on the day of my birthday Johnny and I rolled out with a group of cyclists and set off up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) towards Malibu and 40 minutes to the Latigo turn off.

“9.2 miles of just sheer hell”, is how Michael Kelley describes Latigo.

Michael is the ‘fastest’ out of the four of us – followed closely by David Lee. “It is a great climb, it’s like a Tour de France climb .. Minus the French crowds lining the road, spitting on you!”, says Michael cracking a smile.

I’ll never compete in the Tour de France, but climbing Latigo makes you dream you could. It’s steep, alternating from 4.7% and 12% to the summit.

David Lee, who I first met in a spinning studio is a successful working actor and the funniest of our bunch. “It’s a bit of a ball breaker if I must be honest .. It brings out the honest man in you”, David says describing Latigo.

A view of Latigo Canyon, Malibu. California USA

“The first summit is a bit of an illusion because you get up there .. you think you’re there, then you pop around the corner and then there is suddenly another five miles to go and it’s kind of a little disheartening because it kicks up a little bit”, says David.

Most cyclists take between 35 minutes to an hour to climb to Latigo’s second summit. Johnny and I are part of that latter group!

My speedo is a heart rate monitor, the title of this story. 158 bpm – 158 beats per minute. There is no cheating on the road. I know I can push/peddle 158 bpm for an hour, increase it to 170 and I’ll throw up!

After 30 minutes zig zaging our way up Latigo’s bends, Johnny and I climb through the California coastal ‘June Gloom’ and into sunshine. We pass the time chatting, putting-shit-on each other.

A climbing graph of Latigo Canyon, Malibu. California USA

“What ring are ya in Johnny?”, I ask him. “The easiest one I got”, he replies.

“How about you?”

I quickly reply, “I got one gear left.”

“Ah…. You do not!”, Johnny fires back! I laugh and we peddle on.

15 minutes later we’re at Latigo’s second summit sharing a chocolate bar and jam sandwich before the 12 minute descent back to the PCH, then dinner and margarita’s.

It was the great birthday and I wouldn’t have spent it doing anything else!


    


‘COP THAT’

January 31, 2011

On November 11, 2010 I submitted a complaint to the OmbudsmanNT about Northern Territory Police accessing my personal telephone records.

The police investigation was part of a ‘witch hunt’ to try and identify the anonymous NT Police sources I quoted while reporting for the NT News on a drug squad raid at Darwin Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer’s house.

The report can be downloaded by clicking on this link:

OmbudsmanNT final report

Or read the an edited version of  OmbudsmanNT report below.

Commissioner John McRoberts

Dear Mr O’Brien

RE: Complaint against Police

I refer to your written complaint to this Office dated 11 November 2010, regarding the Northern Territory Police accessing your mobile phone records without your permission or knowledge and your request to investigate whether that conduct was unlawful or not.

I accepted your request not to have the Ethical and Professional Standards Command (EPSC) deal with your complaint and my office made enquiries.

BACKGROUND

As you are aware on 20 October 2010 the Northern Territory Police executed a search warrant at a house situated in Wagaman. An NT News article written by you about this search, published on 21 October 2010, stated that information had been provided to the media by a police source.

That information included the identity of the owner of the house at Wagaman which was information not released to the media by NT Police.

The Police received a complaint from the home owner dated 27 October 2010 regarding leaked information. The EPSC had prior to that date launched an investigation to find the

Darwin Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer

Darwin Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer

Police Officer responsible. The Ombudsman was notified of the complaint from the homeowner on 5 November 2010.

The actions of a police officer providing information to you was a breach of Section 155 of the Police Administration Act. It was also potentially an offence under Section 76 of the Criminal Code:

’76 (1) Any person who, being employed in the public service or engaged to do any work for or render any service to the government of the Territory or any department or statutory body thereof, unlawfully communicates confidential information coming to his knowledge because of such position is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 3 years.

(2) If he does so for purposes of gain he is liable to imprisonment for 5 years.’

If an offence was committed by a police officer providing information to the NT News the person obtaining that information could also have been guilty of the same offence as an accomplice, inciter, abettor or procurer.

A155 Communication of information

(1) A member shall not, without reasonable cause, publish or communicate any fact or document to any other person which comes to the knowledge or into the possession of the member in the course of his duties as a member and which the member has not been authorised to disclose.

Justin B. O'Brien - Multimedia Journalist

Multimedia Journalist - Justin O'Brien

Penalty: $1,000 or imprisonment for 6 months or both

First CCR search — 19 October — 22 October

On 21 October 2010 a Senior Constable from the Operational Intelligence Section (015) completed a Request form which was allocated to another Senior Constable from the Drug and Intelligence Division. The Request was for CCR and RCCR records for the period

19/10/2010 to 22/10/2010 for your mobile 0401442440. On 22 October 2010 the acting Officer in Charge of 015 authorised the request.

The Authorisation was electronically sent to Optus on 22 October 2010. Unfortunately the officer completing the electronic request made a clerical error and entered incorrect information into the document citing that the CCR and RCCR information was for an investigation into offences contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Act.

This incorrect information appears to have no effect on the Police meeting the Commonwealth requirement for Authorisations. The request accurately recorded the enabling legislation (Section 178(2)).

Subsequently, Police noted their error and corrected their records identifying section 155 of the Police Administration Act as the reason for seeking the carrier (Optus) records. They also advised Optus of the mistake to ensure that no record existed linking your phone number as having some connection with the misuse of drugs.

The Police on obtaining your phone records determined the name of a Police officer believed to have breached section 155 of the Police Administration Act. Details for phone numbers showing on your records were sought from the carrier to identity the subscriber to that number.

The search of your charge records to this point was limited to a four day period during which it appeared that a Police officer provided information to you. Your records identified a Police officer’s phone number. The records showed two calls from your number to the officer’s and one call to you from the Police officer.

The first call on the records between the two numbers showed that the contact was initiated by you.

Ms Richards found NT Police acted 'unreasonably'.

I am satisfied that the records and evidence show that the first search of your call charge records was lawful and was reasonably necessary for the investigation of suspected offences. Those offences could have been breaches of Section 155 of the Police Administration Act, a breach of Section 76 of the Criminal Code and possible breaches of Sections 12, 43BG, 43BH, 43B1 or 104 of the Criminal Code. Further investigation by NT Police to find out who used the phone sets matching the subscriber numbers was warranted.

The Second CCR search — 22 September 2010 — 27 October 2010

On 28 October 2010 a Senior Constable from 01S, sent another request for your records. The request was only for your CCR records, ie, records of whom you called, not who called you. However the period was expanded seeking records from 22 September 2010 to 27 October 2010. The authorising officer was the Territory Intelligence Coordinator (TIC). The electronic Authorisation for your records was sent on 01/11/2010 to Optus. The Authorisation was given by a Senior Sergeant whom I am satisfied had a lawful delegation under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.

Also on 28 October 2010 the Police applied for and obtained CCR’s (22/09/10 to 27/10/10) for a Police officer believed to have been responsible for the information leak.On 5 November 2010 this officer was interviewed and on 8 November 2010 the officer was disciplined (section 14(c) of the Police Administration Act) for not reporting contact with you.

Investigation Outcome

This investigation revealed that the Police made two (2) applications to Optus to obtain your CCR’s, the initial application included obtaining your RCCR’s.

I have seriously considered your view that Section 180(4) of the TIAA – Authorisations for access to prospective information or documents – applies to Section 178. Section 178 is the section of the TIAA that Police relied upon to obtain your records.

Prospective information (as referred to in section 180) is not defined within the Act, however it was described by NT Police as accessing real time data. In researching a 2007 submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee I found prospective data being described as information that comes into existence during the life of an authorisation. The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 Annual Report for the year ending 30 June 2009 describes prospective data as data that comes into existence during the period for which the authorisation is in force. It does not include data that came into existence before the authorisation was in force. The disclosure of prospective data may be authorised by a criminal law-enforcement agency when it is considered reasonably necessary, by an authorising officer, for the investigation of an offence with a prison term of at least three years.

The seeking of your phone records in the second instance (starting from 22/09/2010) was in my view unnecessary. At the time of this second request the Police Officer believed to be responsible for the ‘leak’ had been identified. You had identified yourself in the article you wrote as a possible accomplice.

The Police informed me that the second search of your CCRs was to find out what communication occurred between the Officer and you before and after the calls on 20 October 2010. They said that you and the officer connected to the number you called on 20 October might have been close friends regularly in touch which would tend to dilute anything sinister about the calls on 20 October. I was also told that it was necessary to have the records to be ready to challenge the officer concerned when he was interviewed in case he claimed to be regularly in touch with you as a friend. I reject that latter explanation as a sufficient reason justifying the extent of the records requested.

The officer concerned was interviewed three days before Optus provided the CCRs which causes me to discount the “friendship” defence as a sufficient reason. I also consider that even if the CCRs for a five week period showed that your phone and the officer’s phone were connected often, such records would not prove who made the calls and what was said. Those records for a five week period were not capable of disclosing anything of probative value beyond what  had  already been obtained by the first search.

Although I am satisfied that the second search of your CCRs was lawful and authorised under Section 178 of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act that search was “unreasonable” within the meaning of Section 101 of the OA. Police have powers and they have a discretion to decide when and how to exercise those powers. They also have a duty to respect the human rights and dignity of the citizens they serve and protect. There must be a balance maintained and intrusive powers ought not to be exercised unless it is reasonably necessary to do so. In the instance of the second search of your CCRs for a period of five weeks it is my opinion that the intrusion into your privacy was not reasonable even though it was lawful.

The Commissioner of Police disagrees with my view. His view is that the second request to Optus was in accord with “standard investigative techniques … to establish whether contact between parties is an ongoing occurrence and whether there is a pattern to the conduct…”.

I have not accepted that view in your case because any contact between you and a police officer prior to the execution of the warrant, on 20 October 2010, was of no relevance to an alleged offence of unlawful disclosure of an event which happened on one occasion only, on either 20 or 21 October 2010. I have given the Commissioner of Police my reasons for the view I hold and I include an extract of my letter to him:

“In my opinion to access phone call charge records for a period of three weeks before the event which precipitated the offence under Section 155 of the Police Administration Act was unreasonable. It was in my view unreasonable because any interaction or communication between Mr O’Brien and any police officer prior to the execution of the warrant on the house in question was not capable of producing any evidence that could logically have carried any probative value. Citizens of the Northern Territory have a human right to privacy, recognised by International Conventions and Declarations, and to some extent recognised by the Common Law.

There was no proportionality between the seriousness of the offence being investigated, the value of any information likely to be obtained and the degree of invasion of Mr O’Brien’s human right to privacy. It is the failure to balance the value of his rights against the outcome sought or potentially available that amounts to the exercise of the discretion to access his records being, in my view, unreasonable. In many other cases the investigative techniques you describe might well shift the balance and make the needs of law enforcement or prevention of harm reasonably override a person’s right to privacy. I do not believe it was reasonable to do so in this instance.”

RECOMMENDATIONS

I made four recommendations to the Commissioner of Police. The Commissioner of Police has accepted two of them as follows:

1. The Commissioner of Police will issue a general order to make it patent that access to a person’s telephone call records must be authorised by a member of the rank of Superintendent or above.

2. The Commissioner of Police will issue a new authorisation under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act replacing the exiting authorisation of Commissioner Paul White authorising only officers of the rank of Superintendent and above only to make requests for telephone call records under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act.

I note that you have approached my office concerning a response from NT Police to a request by NT News under the Information Act for the release of documents. It is correct that under the Information Act documents obtained by EPSC to investigate a complaint against Police that is covered by the Ombudsman Act are exempt from disclosure. That exemption arose first when NT Police notified the Ombudsman of the Lord Mayor’s complaint on 5 November 2010. No document before that date would be covered by the exemption of documents and information created or obtained under the Ombudsman Act.

Other exemptions may be applicable but not the exemption created by Section 49C of the Information Act. I do not know what documents were requested under the Information Act and I cannot investigate any matter arising under the Information Act unless it is referred to me by the Information Commissioner.

If you require any further information please contact the Assistant Ombudsman, Bert Hofer.

I advise that the notice served relating to disclosure of the draft of this report remains valid.

It does not apply to this report.

CAROLYN RICHARDS

Ombudsman


‘A FEW EXTRA BUCKS’

August 9, 2010

When I first arrived in Los Angeles in December 1993 – almost 17 years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see a homeless person pushing a shopping cart half full of drink cans and plastic

'SORTING THE STREET GOLD'

'Sorting The Street Gold'

bottles, on their way to recycle their loot for cash.

With this knowledge – I was recently intrigued by the number of regular Angelino’s who were using the recycling facilities, once the domain of the homeless.

In June, drove to my local Rite Aid drug store to purchase five litres of coolant for my Jeep (yes, you can purchase almost anything in an American drug store), when I was distracted by the large number of people at the rear of the parking lot.

These people weren’t there to shop at the drug store – but to use the recycling centre, operating out of an old shipping container.

“It’s better than putting it in the ocean” says Maria, a woman in her twenty’s who along with boyfriend Felix and her brother Michael have spent the past month collecting and storing their used plastic bottles and cans. “.. thousands and thousands of bottles end up in the ocean every year” she continues.

But, Michael and Felix’s motivations for recycling are more honest. “Why do I recycle?” asks Felix as he answers his own question, “Cause it’s good for the environment and at the end of the month when money is low, use the extra money.” Michael then pipes in – “… it just helps make extra cash every month.”

'Loaded Up With Recyclables'

'Loaded Up With Recyclables'

During the hour I am filming at the Vine Street, Hollywood recycling facility more than fifty people pull up in cars – men and women, families and unload their recyclable trash.

“It’s 50 percent homeless and 50 percent are people who the economy sucks for them right now. So they’re doing this on the side” claims Bakri, the owner of the Vine Street centre and two additional facilities several blocks away.

With money tight, either because of the ten percent and climbing unemployment rate due to the downturn in the US economy or fall-out from the sub-prime mortgage crisis, people now realise the recycling facility is a way to supplement their income with a few tax free dollars.

Homeless men like Dan and Julian, who I met don’t worry about these people with roofs over their head muscling in on their trade. “You know when I was born in my baby crib, I dreamed that I was going to push a cart and jump in dumpsters” says Dan in a threatening frustrated manner. “We’ll recycle anything that isn’t tired down.”

Julian is friendlier when questioned about his days. Pushing a cart He and Dan work as a team – ‘We got to walk a lot of mother fuck’en miles to get a little bit of money’ says Julian.

'Sorted' - 'Cash For Cans'

'Sorted' - 'Cash For Cans'

The Rite Aid parking lot and its daily transaction of pounds to dollars, says a lot about the current state of the American economy. Gone are the days when the homeless had a monopoly on LA’s street recycling business.

NOTE: The imperial system of measurement is used in the above article. The metric conversion is: one kilo of glass = US$0.24, one kilo of aluminium = US$3.31 and one kilo of plastic = US$2.05


‘THE ASYLUM SEEKER HOTEL’

July 20, 2010

At the corner of Packard and Smith Street, Larrakeyah – less than one kilometre from the heart of Darwin City is the Asti Motel. A relaxing environment

'The Asti Motel'

'A promotional photograph from the Asti Motel website'

for guests .. Affordable and comfortable accommodation’ is how the proprietors describe the Asti, on the Motel’s website. ‘86 air-conditioned units, all with balcony .. colour television with in house movies .. saltwater swimming pool .. and ironing facilities.’ Even asylum seekers need to iron their clothes.

The Asti Motel is Darwin’s unofficial ‘Asylum Seeker Hotel’.

From dusk each night, standing on the Asti’s first and second floor balconies you can see the asylum seekers. Men, women and children looking out onto the street; watching locals and tourists walk past – unaware who the people watching them from the Motel are. The Government says the asylum seekers are not imprisoned. While they may not be surrounded by four walls and barbed wire, these Asti Motel guests can’t leave.

The 40 plus asylum seekers are the people Prime Minister Julie Gillard wants to send to a regional offshore processing centre – Gillard’s East Timor solution. Will an offshore processing centre in Dili, PNG or Nauru really stop the boats? It might take the asylum seeker issue off the ‘front page’, but while there is a chance of a new start in Australia, people will risk their lives trying to achieve the Aussie dream.

Christmas Islands overcrowding has now become Darwin’s problem. At the height of the tourist season (the dry), the three star Asti Motel is a mid-range hotel at Capital City prices. A special website rate of $150 for a double room is available, but be quick there is only one room left. Accommodation is at a peak” says Tony Clementson, the General Manager of Tourism Top End – “… we’re in the peak season, very very busy. Last night I think we were just about at capacity”.

Darwin’s room shortage, cost saving or a mistake – embarrassingly, members of the Royal Thai Air Force who are in Darwin to participate in Pitch Black 2010, a multi-national fast jet exercise are also bunking down at the ‘Asylum Seeker Hotel’. Air Commander Australia, Vice Marshall Mark Skidmore in Darwin for the launch of Pitch Black was unaware his Thai military counterparts and several dozen asylum seekers are living under the same roof. Asked if there were any security concerns about the housing arrangement, AVM Skidmore replied: That’s something we would look at, again I need to talk to the Thai and understand what the issues might be.”

'The Asti Motel'

'Promotional photograph taken inside an Asti Motel room'

The Thai pilots must not be concerned – five days later, they are still sleeping at the Asti Motel.

Like it or not, the asylum seekers are caught in the middle of a political football game called – ‘asylum seeker hard ball’. A real life match where both major parties tell potential voters they will stop the boats. A Northern Command Navy Officer whose job it is to stop the boats at sea, said to me recently – ‘we should just double our intake’ .. ‘think of the money we would save’. It’s not a bad argument.

Looking at the Asti’s booking website – ‘Extended Stay Double/Single and Studio Family rooms’ are fully booked until the first of January 2011. Promising – ‘the friendly helpful staff are always ready to welcome you and ensure a pleasant stay’ – it appears these Iraqi’s, Afghani’s and Sri Lankan’s will be calling the Asti Motel home for some time yet.


‘EXTREME MAKEOVER’

May 17, 2010

Three years after their arrival in Australia – the American built Abrams tanks are getting an extreme makeover .. Australian Army style.

Newly painted Abrams tank tn the Australian camouflage colour

Australian Abrams Tank

“We do like a Leonardo De Vinci style thing, we have a picture in one hand and a spray gun in the other” – says Peter Boscato, owner of Boscato Panel Works who won the million dollar plus contact to paint the 41 Abrams tanks based at Darwin’s Robertson Barracks.

Only eight Aussie Abrams tanks have been painted in the Australian bush camoflauge design so far, covering over the original American sandy desert colour. If there was any doubt, ‘Tankies’ at the First Armoured Regiment agree it finally makes the Abrams’ – our tank.

“It’s fantastic that they are getting painted in the Australian camouflage” according to Captain Bec Marlow. She says “The guys definitely feel they’re their tanks now.”

Painting an Australian Army Abrams Tank

'An extreme makeover underway'

Peter Boscato – estimates it takes 120 hours or three days hard ‘yacca’ to rub back, wash and then spray an Abrams in a high tech infra red reflective paint. First two grey undercoats are applied – then a bush green, followed by a sprayed free-hand uniquely designed Australian camoflage. Painting Australian Army tank’s has become a family tradition for the Boscato’s. Peter’s father spray painted the former frontline Leopard tanks when they arrived in Darwin back in the 1980’s.

“The soldier’s are all very happy. It makes them stand out in the crowd, they don’t look like American’s anymore. You can tell the tanks are Australian” said Mr Boscato.


‘NT POLICE SHAKE-UP’

May 14, 2010

Northern Territory Police Commissioner John McRoberts has moved to put his personal stamp on the organisation he took control of in December last year. Five months in and an

NT Police Commissioner John McRoberts

Northern Territory Police Commissioner John McRoberts

internal shake-up of the Northern Territory Senior Police ranks is underway.

’85 to 90 percent of people got what they wanted’ – said a source within the Senior ranks.

Commissioner McRoberts is an advocate of career development and the idea behind the shake-up is to give Superintendent’s the chance to nominate and prove themselves in jobs, they want to do.

‘You have to give the Commissioner his due’, a Superintendent said on condition of anonymity. ‘When McRoberts arrived he invited us in for a chat individually and said – What do you want to do? Tell me where you want to go.’

The style of McRoberts is in sharp contract to the former Police Commissioner Paul White. During the eight years Paul White was in-charge according to a source – ‘people were just tapped on the shoulder and told you’re going!’

‘Anything to do with White is out’ said another source. Some changes are obvious, the NT Police business cards have been changed to a more modern look, frontline Officers are now required to wear reflective vests at all times, Officers can now choose either to wear the ‘bush hat’ or traditional Police hat and six monthly ‘Operational Performance Reviews’ have been abandoned.

A winner in the restructuring is Superintendent Jamie Chalker. Currently the Officer in Charge of Darwin Police Station. Chalker is moving to become Commissioner McRoberts Chief of Staff.

Superintendent Chalker is regarded as future Police Commissioner material. Chalker’s father, Robyn Chalker was at one stage the Commander of the NT Major Crime Unit. But, importantly like it or not – Jamie Chalker has the confidence of the lower ranks.

‘.. he’s switched on .. you’re not going to be able to pull the wool over his eyes .. he’ll be able to deal with a lot of the shit’ according to an Officer at the Darwin Station.

NT Police Chief of Staff, Superintendent Jamie Chalker

NT Police Chief of Staff, Superintendent Jamie Chalker

Chalker replaces Superintendent David Pryce, the current Chief of Staff who is joining the Australian Federal Police and will be promoted to the rank of Commander. Other notable moves include Superintendent Tony Fuller the current head of Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) who is moving to run Palmerston Station and Superintendent Kris Evans will take over the Major Crime Unit.

While the shake-up by McRoberts in the Senior ranks is significant, a review being undertaken by Assistant Commissioner Mark Payne and Commander Rob Kendrick has the potential to cause a mutiny within the serving ranks.

Payne and Kendrick are undertaking a review that will restructure the way Police in the Darwin Region operate. Ideas include: amalgamating the newly reformed traffic branch within another Unit, combing the Commanders Tactical Team, Youth Crime and Domestic Violence Unit into one Unit overseen by a Senior Sergeant who reports to a Superintendent and joining the Casuarina, Palmerston and Darwin Detectives into one Unit based in the City.

Creating one Detective Unit could undermine the street knowledge and experience of Investigators who would be required to chase bad guys in suburbs they’re not familiar with, thus undermining their effectiveness.

One Detective said the proposed changes ‘would share the work load at night, but it’s been tried before and it didn’t work.’

Assistant Commissioner Mark Payne has reportedly been on a listening tour around the three main stations – Casuarina, Darwin and Palmerston. Payne allegedly told one meeting – ‘.. we (the Commissioner) want to implement these changes in a month’. The response from a 15 year veteran was ‘hold on .. we’ll need six months at least’.

Commissioner John McRoberts has hit the ground running. So far it’s been a Carl Lewis performance over the first 100 metres, but only time and the clock will tell if he finishes the marathon without suffering a few blisters along the way.


‘CHEAP CHARLIE’

April 30, 2010

‘Uc dai loi, Cheap Charlie .. He no buy me Saigon tea ..’ is the first verse of a song sang in Vietnam by Australian soldiers and bar girls going about their trade.‘.. Saigon tea costs many

'Long Tan Memorial'

'Long Tan Memorial Cross'

many P … Uc dai loi he Cheap Charlie ..’. It was with this song running around in my head, that I made my own‘Cheap Charlie’ dash from Vung Tau to the site of the Australian war time base at Nui Dat and the memorial cross at Long Tan.

Long Tan – two words etched into ANZAC folk law alongside names like Gallipoli, Fromelle, Changi and Kokoda.

I visited Gallipoli in 1997 and being in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this month, I felt the same attraction to see Long Tan – the site of our bloodiest battle during the Vietnam War.

It was a ‘Cheap Charlie’ trip because I didn’t want to take the official $48US Long Tan tour. (Four hours departing at eight o’clock, air-conditioned coach, lunch included along with a collectors edition embroided hat!!!) It wasn’t the money, I just wanted to see and experience Long Tan at my pace. I’d read online that the Long Tan Memorial was on a private property and access is granted only with an official guide. But, I thought: “..this is Vietnam, I’ll take my chances”.

So, arriving in Vung Tau by hydrofoil from Ho Chi Minh City I first rented a motorbike for 200,000 Dong ($11US) and enquired with the taxi drivers about Long Tan? Immediately a guy said Australian soldier’s, then a moto-taxi driver named Trin said he knew where it was and in two minutes we’d negotiated a private tour for 300,000 Dong ($16US). Then we were off … on a ‘Cheap Charlie’ run, without the limited edition hat and no time limits.

Site of the former Australian Army Base at Nui Dat, Vietnam

'Nui Dat' - site of the 1st Australian Task Force base

Thumping along at 50 to 60 kilometres an hour, passing the scenery not too unlike the diggers would have seen minus the paved roads and satellite dishes, in around 45 minutes we’d covered the 30 kilometres to Nui Dat. Now open fields and rubber plantations, there isn’t much to see. Two brown brick columns mark the entrance to the old Australian base. Buried in rubber trees are a couple of brick bunkers and gun emplacements. Trin said later, a cement company called ‘Long Dat Cement’ now owns the area. He says the plan is to remove the soil and gravel to manufacture cement.

Several kilometres away is the Long Tan battlefield.

Riding on, navigating the dirt tracks .. crossing the former base and 20 minutes later a large sign appears in the distance – ‘THAP TU GIA LONG TAN’ – with an arrow pointing to the left it says ‘Long Tan Cross’. The area is rubber plantation country – trees as far as the eye can see. A few minutes along another dirt road and Trin pulls over – pointing into the trees he says: ‘there .. there it is’. 150 metres from the road, is a lone white cross standing tall protected by a metal chain barrier, concrete wall and gate – surrounded by thousands of rubber trees.

Once the bikes are turned off – deep in the middle of the rubber plantation it’s dead quite and in an odd way peaceful. Trin, in broken English says: ‘.. many fighters .. Long Tan fighters .. many were Nui Dat and then Long Tan here .. VC here and ‘Uc dai lam’ (Australian) Army over there .. fighting you know .. boom boom boom .. very very sad .. before .. very sad’. I invite Trin to join us at the memorial, but he declines. Either he’d seen it one time to many or it just wasn’t his thing, it’s a memorial to foreign soldiers.

'Long Tan On Two Wheels'

'Long Tan On Two Wheels'

Walking the short distance from the road, my mind began to think about what the men on both sides went through that afternoon in August 1966. Where did they hide? Did they cover behind that tree or in that ditch? Officially, 108 diggers including three New Zealander’s from D Company 6RAR repelled attack after attack of between 700 and 1500 Viet Cong soldiers. For five hours, frightened, staring death down a gun barrel – they fought for their lives until reinforcements arrived from Nui Dat as night fell on the battlefield.

18 Australian’s were killed during the battle – all between 19 and 22 years old. 40 diggers were wounded. Three of the dead were married, the rest single, seven were National Servicemen called up for duty and the 11 other men were volunteers. Estimates to the number of Viet Cong dead range between 47 to 245, the official number. This higher number is disputed by Terry Burstall, a Private who survived the battle. Burstall claims only 47 VC were killed and around 700 North Vietnamese soldiers took part in the battle, half the official account.

But, do the numbers really matter? Saying we killed 29 or 227 more Vietnamese than Australian’s, does it make the victory more palatable or justified? People were killed – men who had lovers, wives, kids, families, friends and parents. There is one constant is all the battlefields I’ve visited and the same goes for Long Tan too. Years after the fighting’s ended, I always end up asking myself; What was so important about this ground that cost so many lives? Was it worth it?

Trin - Freelance Moto Guide

'Trin' - the freelance moto guide

On the way back to Vung Tau – we stop and grab a ‘café su-nap’ (Vietnamese coffee). I learn Trin is 48, a father of two grown boys and a girl. We talk about life. He tells me how good things are now compared to during the War. ‘We had very little to eat ..’ He says his father was killed by a mortar or bomb, leaving him to fend for himself with his mother. Never given the opportunity to go to school, Trin is now happy – his children are working and studying in Ho Chi Minh City, he tells me. I ask if he has an email address, ‘No’ he replies, ‘but I’ll give you my son’s ..’ . He writes it down and I promise to email his son a few photos and this story.

I saw Long Tan the way I wanted to see it – the wind in my face surrounded by the smells and noises of South Vietnam. Meeting Trin was a bonus. But as I said goodbye and rode off I could almost hear him hymning – ‘Uc dai loi, Cheap Charlie ..’ at the 100,000 Dong tip I’d given him!

————————————————————–

This article first appeared on Ninemsn:      http://travel.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=1043483 

—————————————————————

TRAVEL ADVICE – VUNG TAU AND LONG TAN

In Ho Chi Minh City, board the hydrofoil to Vung Tau. Cost is 180,000 Dong ($10US), trip takes one an a half hours. If you plan to return that afternoon to Ho Chi Minh City, it’s worthwhile for peace of mind to buy the return ticket at the same time.

In Vung Tau, you’ll be offered a motorbike to rent by moto-taxi riders as you walk out of the port arrivals building.

Motorbike rental is around 200,000 Dong ($11US) per day.

Enquire with the rental guy or the moto-taxi riders across the road about Long Tan, ask for directions and then offer to pay for someone to guide you there.

It is worth paying the 300,000 Dong ($16US) for a guide. Then you can ride along enjoying the sights without the worry of getting lost!

The old Australian Army base at Nui Dat is approximately 30 kilometres from Vung Tau, less than 45 minutes on a motorbike. The Long Tan Memorial is a few kilometres further on from the base. Allow between three to four hours for the Nui Dat-Long Tan tour. Wear a helmet and don’t be a ‘Cheap Charlie’ , make sure you have travel insurance!

———————————————————————————————-

The multi-media video clip ‘Long Tan on two wheels’ was filmed with a Olympus 6 megapixels stills camera using the movie mode.

The photographs and movie clips were first imported into a folder on the desktop and then the folder was imported into Final Cut Express 4.

‘Long Tan On Two Wheels’ was edited in Final Cut Express 4. A sepia effect was added to the finished timeline to compensate for the washed out quality of the original video images, as well as to create a 1960’s era feel to the multi-media clip.

Road To Long Tan

'dirt road enroute to Long Tan Battlefield' Site of the Battle of Long Tan, 16th of August 1966

 

 

Site of the Battle of Long Tan, 16th of August 1966

Site of the Battle of Long Tan, 16th of August 1966

 

Long Tan rubber plantation

'milking a rubber tree'

 

'Long Tan Memorial Cross'

'Long Tan Memorial Cross'

 

Poppies at the Long Tan Memorial Cross

Poppies at the 'Long Tan Memorial Cross'

 

Directions to the Long Tan Memorial Cross

'Sign directing visitors to the Long Tan Memorial Cross'

 

Trin - Freelance Moto Guide

'Trin' - the freelance moto guide


‘THE BOAT DRIVERS’

March 18, 2010
PEOPLE SMUGGLER - BOAT CREW

Illegal Boat Crew - Photo Courtesy Channel Nine

22 alleged people smuggles were flown by a charted plane from Christmas Island to Darwin last night, arriving just after midnight.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans spokesperson Simon Dowding denied the men were being move to the Darwin Immigration Detention Centre to relieve overcrowding at the Christmas Island facility.

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship responed with a statement saying – “No, Christmas Island has not reached capacity. Crew transfers to the mainland are normal procedure and happen as needed.”

The men who said the were from Indonesia were escorted by five minders as they walked from the Customs arrivals area at Darwin Airport to a coach parked near a side exit.

Questioned about the conditions at the Christmas Island Detention Centre – one of the alleged people smuggles said .. “It’s pretty good, it’s very good .. (where are you from?) .. From Indonesia.”

The men, believed aged in their late teens to mid-30’s were driven from Darwin Airport to the Darwin Immigration Detention Centre at around 1:30am.

Australia Federal Police will interview the men to determine if they have committed people smuggling offences under Australian law.

According to the AFP website, 118 people have been charged with people smuggling since September 2008.

The offence carried a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and/or a $220,000 fine.