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Christmas Jottings from North Queensland

A ridiculous spectacle: Christmas in North Queensland, an event held in a land so prehistoric it makes a mockery of its human inhabitants. Cartoons and cardboard cut-outs of snow flecked reindeer stranded upon water-hungry lawns, irrelevant and incapable of surviving in these climes; the occasional defiance by the inhabitants who replace the reindeer with kangaroos as Santa’s recruits dragging his sleigh.

Another matter that is equally ridiculous: a desert religion’s celebration in the conifer-covered land masses of northern Europe, where pagan spirits fight with dedicated stubbornness against clerics and monotheistic dogma. The single god head struggles there, as it does in the heat of northern Australia, where song lines chart themselves across the land in pantheistic richness.

To have a forested backyard this part of the world is to preside over a merry bazaar of activities. Not far is an army base that is one of Australia’s largest and bound to be immolated in acts of stupidity bound to be committed by the Commonwealth government. The country is becoming a garrison state, soon to be occupied by an even greater number of US military personnel.

There are blue faced honeyeaters squeaking, the metallic churrs of the bower birds, peaceful doves cooing sweetly, Indian mynas hated for their invasive initiative and supreme guile. (The latter have inspired murderous instincts in the locals, who enjoy placing them in car boots to poison with carbon monoxide.) Then, the absurdly aristocratic spectacle of the sulphur-crested cockatoo, intruding with its mass upon the bird bowl, seizing the day, and everything else. Initially, the bird’s thick frame is accommodated; then, the bowl upturns, dropping its bounty upon the ground. All other birds are joyful: they finally can have a hack.

Rainbow lorikeets are flashes of kaleidoscopic colours hopping across the lawn like failed ballerinas. On the bird bowl, where they congregate in the absence of the cockatoos and corellas, squabbles become raging battles, rainbows aligned against each other over sunflower seed and grievance. The squawking, the screeching, the war cries stream out of their delicate beaks. And then, moments of silence – bird treaty and accord, avian solitude, feathery understanding. Munch and crunch, before the next round of bickering.

Such scenes prove therapeutic. You can take your mind off the pedestrian horrors that inhabit the screens, crowd the radio waves, and saturate the news feeds. It’s a selfish indulgence; conflicts continue to rumble along in distant geography: Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, and a number of hapless African states inured to warring misery. In Canberra, Australian politicians are readying the country for the next futile, needless intervention in which citizens can be sent to die in ignorance.

But the news, for want of a better term, remains news. On December 17, a number of supermarket chains released near hysterical warnings about contaminated baby spinach in a number of food lines. Coles recalled 11 of its Own Brand products; Woolworths did the same with two salad products. Aldi took precautions with its fresh stir-fry ingredients.

The national broadcaster reported a number of symptoms for those admitted to hospital: nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, dilated pupils, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations and confusion. Hallucinogenic salads seem to combine the anticipation of nutrition with a narcotised hit, but few seemed to be laughing.

Local news is demagogic, personal and cringingly desperate. The Townsville Bulletin is reliably all of these. There are the predictable drug busts (“Huge stash of drugs flown into NQ prison”), fears of youth crime and reports of minor thefts and local break-ins.

Encounters with crocodiles and sharks seem mandatory copy, a reminder of the estranging discomfort many in this part of the world feel with their environment. “Dehydrated, clinging to a piece of wood less than half his size,” the paper writes in hushed tones of reverence, “a fisherman has spoken of the lengths he went in order to stay alive in the Torres Strait for 24 hours.” During that time, you will not be surprised about how “sharks circled him”. Spared by sharks, the fisherman was not spared the attention of North Queensland’s infamous rag.

Then come the accidents to excite any bored voyeur. “Big hole in his leg,” screams one headline. “Listen to the Triple-0 call that saved Ted after horror ATV flip.” Another item features a brave mother who “grabbed kids and ran” fleeing an “explosive fire” that destroyed their home. If you wish for some heart-warming cheer for the holiday season, you can read about reunion celebrations for a man honoured with a commemorative jersey for founding a touch football club five decades ago.

Foreign news is only run in such publications to emphasise the strangeness of another world. The French are depicted as protest-hungry freaks prone to violence in one news item. Overseas travel is seen as dangerously unpredictable in another. “Passengers were stunned to find themselves in Azerbaijan after a Qantas flight to London was dramatically forced to change route.”

Best get back to viewing the spectacle of nature in the backyard, the rustling canopy of life, the slow and sure descent of tired palm leaves, the lawn hungering for moisture, and anticipate the next raid for seed.


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  1. Roswell

    It has always amused me that many of the Christmas cards I receive have snow scenes.

  2. Anne Naomi Byam

    A beautifully written treatise on the joys ( or not ) of Christmas – particularly in the North.

    I suspect much of Australia can relate, or would have related to your article at some stage – depending I guess on how observant the populace are, of their surroundings and nature that abounds.

    Happy Yuletide to you.

  3. Claudio Pompili

    OMG Binoy at your poetic extreme. Best wishes for the festive season and holiday in FNQ?

  4. Anthony Judge

    Great observations of natural dynamics — but with curiously unexplored systemic implications. Living as I do in the Clare valley, next to vineyards frequented by a mob of 1,000 strident corellas, it is the learning they evoke which is of seeming relevance to the times. The use of cannons as bird scarers is a particular reminder of ongoing frontline warfare in this Christmas period. Is there a case for a collective noun for Aussie politicians — a “correlation ot politicians”? Would insight into the dynamics of a 1,000-member mob complement the modelling excercises by which policy is now purportedly guided? What did the Roman Empire derive from dependence on augury as the equivalent to modelling ( How many species make for a sustainable ecosystem? As concluded by the author, how might anticipating “the next raid for seed” then be interpreted?.

  5. Barry Cooke

    Thank you Binoy for your view of Christmas from the northern parts of Queensland.

    I find Christmas with all its trappings a little different from you. Yes I love the birds and I sit out each morning with a coffee and afternoon with a wine and enjoy the solitude that living in a country environment brings.

    Above all however I love the sounds that the my great grandchildren bring to us as they look forward to the visit of Santa. I remember well, albeit 70 years ago, when my grandpop used to set up the stockings around the fireplace and of course his having to leave a bottle of beer for Santa.

    Yes those days have well gone now and reality has taken their place. Nonetheless I would not take away the hope and belief that children have in this mystical time of year.

  6. wam

    Thanks, Dr Kampmark, for describing the y=mx+c of Australian journalism.

    Clare Valley, not far from Balaklava? Some of my darwin friends were evacuated there before the bombing. They camped in the oval grandstand. Ruth’s parents died when she was a toddler and she returned with relatives and never knew where they were buried.
    Michael, Taylor’s make a great drop of plonk.

  7. New England Cocky

    Binoy …. a ruthless eye for detail combined with a sensitive almost poetic flow of language. Arguably one of your most appealing offerings. Merry Christmas.

  8. Steve Davis

    Well said Binoy.

    The birds here are wonderful as you say, but the most therapeutic for me is the curlew, a delightful creature.

    Yes, the Townsville Bulletin was once one of the best provincial newspapers in the country, until you-know-who took over.

    And yes, the country is becoming a garrison state. The sad thing is, many welcome that process.

    Will the army base in Townsville be immolated?

    I console myself with the thought that warfare today is so high-tech that an army base will be low on the priority list of targets. Hopefully the US bases in NT and WA would be considered far more important.

    Thanks for all your articles.

  9. Clakka

    A timely reminder good Doctor,

    Once from forests surrounding streams, now from the ploughed regions, it is not the ever-passing machinery that sees me here, but the enrichment of a journey, new horizons, the remnant bush and its flashy inhabitants, its slitherers, burrowers and beige grazers.

    Would I be still, bound by ownership and glued by the rantings of monoculture and its two-dimensional theists? Nah, they’re everywhere, and being unattached provides for me the freedom to turn them off before they affect my dreams.

    What would I be should I laze on wet rocks gazing out to sea? What would I be flying high looking down at the lay of the land and the water? What would I be darting from tree to tree seeking shadows and shelter?

    Beyond the bush telegraph, hungry and dreaming or in any language doing art

    And next in my orbit? The whims of Mother Nature and Father Time.

    Good goings to you all.

  10. Michael Taylor

    Wow. What a wonderful read.

  11. Terence Mills

    Christmas in the Far north wouldn’t be the same without the whiff of mosquito coils and with people around the house coming and going, today and with a humid Northerly influence, this year is no different.

    I was up first the morning and sitting down to my computer to see what AIMN folks had to say, there were two mozzies annoyingly treating my legs like pincushions. I hadn’t set any coils overnight for obvious fire risk reasons, apart from which I don’t really think that breathing in coil smoke is all that good for you overnight. But I lit a coil before breakfast anyhow and put it on the veranda where it quickly drove away those marauding dawn mozzies.

    Not everybody is partial to the delights of a mozzie coil. I recall when I and my family were working as volunteers at an elephant refuge outside of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. We slept under mosquito nets and took our chances during the day and the early evening although I had noted that the locals were generally covered from head to toe unlike us visitors. I also noted that the locals who ate their evening meal and watched TV separately were burning coils after dusk and during the evening. I asked one of the mahouts why we expats didn’t have any coils, he told me that they had had complaints from American visitors about the smell so we had to go without : as luck would have it I went down with a dose of dengue but, hey ! that’s life, innit ?

    Michael and Carol and all at AIMN, have a lovely Christmas and a sparkling 2023.

  12. leefe

    Thank you for such a wonderful piece, Dr Kampmark.. Surely even AC would be unable to carp at it.

    I do miss the blue-faced honeyeaters and friarbirds.

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