December 1, 2011

IN 2010 I travelled to Burma on holiday, to see for myself a country that had intrigued me for many years.

Riding in a ‘bicycle side-car’, Burma 2010

Growing up in Australia, viewers were lucky to see several minutes a month on the Government funded ABC (Australian Broadcast Corporation) nightly news devoted to coverage of Burma and the antics of its military rulers. The commercial networks, never touched it.

I decided to become a cameraman-journalist after reading a biography about an adventurous Australian journalist named Neil Davis. Davis was renowned for his coverage of the Vietnam War and filming the North Vietnamese tanks as they rolled through the gates at Saigon’s then Presidential Palace.

For me, the trip to Burma was in small part an attempt to follow in Davis’ footsteps. It was an Asian country, ruled by a military dictatorship and shut-off from the world. When Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in 2008, flooding the Ayeyarwady Delta, killing thousands of people  and left two million people without shelter – the military Government prevented foreign aid agencies from entering the country. After seeing ‘Monk’ protesters brutally attacked in 2007 and now Cyclone Nargis, I knew I had to go and see Burma for myself.

I entered Myanmar via AirAsia on a direct one hour flight from Bangkok. With my occupation, ‘carpenter’ written in my arrival card, my passport was stamped and I walked out into a muggy Friday afternoon with $500 US cash in my pocket. Although it was 2010, there were no ATM’s or credit card facilities in the country – so budgeting was key.

‘Breakfast’ – Sei Taing Kya Teashop

As I say in the video piece above – it was like stepping back into the 1980’s. There had been no foreign western investment in the country for almost three decades and it showed. No Coca-Cola or McDonald’s – it was a rare sight.

I like a can of Coke just like the other guy, but it was refreshing to see the virgin landscape free of commercialism. The downside is locals pay for it. No foreign investment meant the average Burmese had no chance of improving their standard of living. I met many friendly Yangon residents who shared a ‘Burmese Tea’ with me and never once complained about their predicament.

Two months after my trip, an election was held and it was won by former military leaders who had simply removed they uniforms to become instant honorable civilians. A week or so later, famed Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and as I write,

Crossing a river – near Ngwe Saung Beach, Burma 2010

Ms Suu Kyi in preparing to host a meeting with United States Sectary Of State Hillary Clinton.

In preparing for my trip to Burma I purchased a Lonely Planet edition about Myanmar (Burma). I was taken aback while reading a section called ‘TO GO OR NOT TO GO’ which suggested ‘you’ should ‘rethink’ your planned trip to Burma. The main argument was that it was highly likely 20% of your spending would go into the pockets of the military junta. What about the 80% which would go directly to locals? I’ve since folded that page in half.

A few years ago there was a travel commercial on local television promoting the Northern Territory of Australia as a holiday destination. The catch phrase was – “If you never never go, you’ll never never know.” That’s my advice about Burma – take a chance or you’ll never know.

Go have a look for yourself.







March 9, 2009

Is a wife who cheats on an unfaithful husband worse than him? Does it make them both now equal? Or is it ‘payback’ and the final breakdown of a once loving relationship.

Recently asked this question, I don’t think there is a simple answer.

Why did he cheat in the first place? Is it because he’s a public figure, in a position of power and ‘opportunities’ presented themselves. Some how in his mind this made it okay. Should society feel sorry from him, now he is the victim and humiliated. Did society know of her heartbreaking pain.

 I suggest it’s a private issue between a husband and wife.

What good would it do for the husband to seek revenge against the ‘other’ man – poisoning his career prospects with a company, by revealing the affair to a senior manager. A bit childish.

I doubt she would have cheated – or ‘looked’ at the ‘other’ man had she not been a victim.

Hillary Clinton suffered the greatest public humiliation – when confronted by Bill’s unfaithfulness. I’ll never forget that walk across the White House lawn to an awaiting helicopter. Chelsey in the middle holding hands with Mum while Bill held the dog Buddy’s leach. They got on with life, well publicly anyway. Hillary showed great strength and if their marriage is ‘true’ – it shows unfaithfulness can be overcome. What was her ‘payback’ .. a US Senate seat, US Presidential candidacy and now the US Secretary of State? Once again, it’s a matter between the husband and wife.

A close friend once told me she had a pact with her boyfriend not to tell the other if either had an affair. They’re no longer together.

I subscribe to the Robert Redford character’s approach to love in the movie ‘Out Of Africa’. Romantically involved with the married Merryl Streep character, Redford describes two lions as having it right when it comes to love – ‘the male lion says to the female lion – I like you, you like me .. simple uncomplicated’. Unfortunately, what works in the wild doesn’t work in the City.

Redford’s character was floored too. He would disappear in his plane, making up an excuse to escape the chains of commitment for a few days. Maybe this is why every man should have a shed in his backyard!

No one is perfect – neither the one who cheats or the other man or woman. We’re human and humans make mistakes. But, I did come up with one answer – stop and consider if the ‘payback’ is worth the price, next time you’re thinking about pulling on a rain coat and doing the ‘wild thing’.


February 18, 2009
US Air Force Band - Palmerston High School

US Air Force Band - Palmerston High School

Hillary Clinton was on ABC’s AM Radio programme this morning, defending why she wouldn’t be visiting Canberra during her first official overseas trip to Asia, as Barack Obama’s Secretry Of State. Without falter, Mrs Clinton immediately launched into the well versed and practiced statement about the US/Australia allience – a marriage between our two countries forged during the unknown days of World War Two.

“We know that Australia is one of our most trusted allies in the world” said Hillary Clinton, “.. and we remain grateful for our work together in the past and what we will do together in the future.”

Hence explains the welcoming mat shown to a seven piece band from the US Air Force at Palmerston High School. “We’re not your typical military band”, an enthusastic keyboardist spokesman Master Sergent Neill Herndon explained: “This is very exciting for us .. as a musical group it’s very exciting for us to get out and play for the younger audiences. We get to play some exciting music, more modern music. We play for a whole lot of different audiences and some of the folks that are older .. we’ll play that kind of music for them. But today, it’s the younger folks music and it’s very exciting.”  

The excitement was catching!

US Air Force Band - Palmerston High School

US Air Force Band - Palmerston High School

Within minutes of the lead male vocalist launching into “Living in America” .. some of the 200 students in the audience were on their feet and dancing to the yanky tunes.

At a time when the US military fills the daily news pages with coverage from Iraq or Afghanistan – the Band leave’s a positive impression of the US in the minds of the several hundred students, who are no doubt enjoying the chance to skip class, at least for half an hour. 

According to MSG Herndon, the Band had to go back to school too:  “We looked up Waltzing Matilda and found out a lot of different words, tucker bag – billabong and those types of things so we’re learning a lot about the culture and it’s wonderful.”

The US Air Force Band visit coinscides with Thursday’s 69th Bombing Of Darwin Ceremony. The exact number is not known – but officially 251 people were killed in the first Japenese bombing raids on the 19th of February, 1942. 91 of the dead were American sailors, onboard the USS Peary docked in Darwin Harbour.

US Air Force Band - Palmerston High School

US Air Force Band - Palmerston High School

So over five days – performing at schools, retirement homes and Royal Darwin Hospital, the Air Force crew are sharing the unspoken bond – a mix of gratitude, understanding, loss and commitment – between Australia and the United States.  Turkey’s leader Mustafa Kemal Attaturk wrote – “You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears: your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.” Like the British, Australia, New Zealand, French and other nationalities buried at Gallipoli – the 91 USS Peary sailors entombed in Darwin Harbour – are now treated as Australian’s. Explaining in part the ‘no worries’ and unconditionally welcoming additude shown to this US Air Force Band.