night Indil-cat and I went to the Melbourne International Film Festival to
see a brilliant Australian-Berlin collaboration by a brave new
director Brodie Higgs called 'Elixir', a working title with no particular meaning and for which no 'better' name was ever found.
surrealists from the 1920's are alive and (more or less) well in modern
day Berlin living in a communal warehouse studio called the Glasshouse, named
after André Bretons actual Parisian house where he hosted his
troublesome friends. André and his friends are reeling after the death
of Jacques Vaché (who died of an opium overdose in real life). A new
comer to the house André picks up in the streets, Bohemian Lexie, a
writer who expresses herself as a graffiti artist, becomes the catalyst for
exposing the souls of each of the Glasshouses's residents.
Tzara, one of the founders of the Dada art movement, hatches a wild
plot to sabotage Malcom MacLaren's (father of punk fashion which Brodie
says is just a rip off of Dadaism) Art Week fashion show in a way that
reminded me totally of our children's CAD fashion design performances
that were often surrealist and involved shooting the audience with guns
in a way which in hindsight was perfectly Dadaist.
India d'Scarlett CAD 2009
India d'Scarlett CAD 2009
Savannah d'Scarlett CAD 2012
movie is richly surreal and satisfying in its commentary on the
commercialism of art close to my heart - one of my pet hates is the
propensity of people to purchase art 'to match their decor' reducing it
to mere 'decoration' rather than for the art itself.
evolved out of the DADA art movement. During the war, André Breton, who
had trained in medicine and psychiatry, served in
a neurological hospital where he used Freud's psychoanalytic methods
with soldiers suffering from shell-shock. He met writer Jacques Vaché
and admired his anti-social attitude and disdain for established
in Paris, Breton joined in Dada activities and started the literary
journal Littérature. He began experimenting with automatic
writing- spontaneously writing without censoring the thoughts—and
published the writings, as well as accounts of dreams, in the magazine.
two others he began to attract more artists and writers; they came to
believe that automatism was a better tactic for societal change than the
Dada attack on existing societal values.
work with free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious held
great importance to the Surrealists in developing methods to liberate
imagination. They embraced idiosyncrasy while rejecting the idea of an
underlying madness. Salvador Dali, arguably the most well known
surrealist, later proclaimed, "There is only one difference between a
madman and me. I am not mad." (A line that gets used in the movie btw).
Salvador Dali 'The Persistence of Memory' 1931
still think Dada is one of the more intellectually interesting art
movements. Dadaists called it anti-art because it represented the
opposite of everything which art stood for. Where art was concerned with
traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics - it was intended to
offend. The movement was a protest against the bourgeois cultural and
intellectual conformity—in art and more broadly in society—that
surrounded the outbreak of WWI. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos andirrationality.
Ball - one of the Dadaists said "For us, art is not an end in itself
... but it is an opportunity for the true perception of the times we
reviewer from the American Arts Review journal said at the time that
"Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive
thing that has ever originated from the brain of man."
Dadaists would meet at soirées at a Zurich nightclub called Cabaret
Voltaire (the fantastic alternative band in the 80's was named after
this) where performances or 'happenings' of spoken word, dance and music
happened. These soirees were raucous forums for new forms of
performance, such as sound poetry and simultaneous poetry that mirrored
the maelstrom of World War I raging around it.
I love the fact that one of Tzara's writings, a melody called bizarrely Vaseline symphonique, required ten or twenty people to shout "cra" and "cri" on a rising scale when it was performed.
was hilariously subversive in performing Kokoschka's short play 'The
Sphinx and Strohmann' . Performed in total darkness, the actors in masks
that covered their whole bodies and Tzara had the part of the parrot
and proceeded to ruin the performance by making thunder and lightning
sounds in all the wrong places and maintaining that this subversion was a
deliberate part of the Dada anti-establishment intent.I think we need more performance art that extends the dimensionality of static visual art and inspires us to feel on all levels.
Oscar Kokoschka's 'The Bride of the Wind' 1914
by the way painted the famous abstract expressionist painting 'The
Bride of the Wind' a self portrait with his lover Alma Mahler, wife of
Occy's favourite composer Gustav Mahler. By the way a film was made of
Alma's life called 'The Bride of the Wind' and check out the poster art
for it - they used Gustav Klimt artwork stylisation for it! The
inhumanity of it!
In terms of painting art George
Grosz evolved from the nihilistic protest of Dada to a more focused
expression of his disgust at the cruelty and decadence of the
bourgeoisie. He exposed the hypocrisy of the politicians, the press, the
army, the ruling classes and their corrupt clergy that the DADAISTS
hated. Grosz wrote, "Man
has created an insidious system - a top and a bottom. A very few earn
millions, while thousands upon thousands are on the verge of starvation.
But what has this to do with art? Precisely this, that many painters
and writers, in a word, all the so-called 'intellectuals' still tolerate
this state of affairs without taking a stand against it......To help
shake this belief and to show the oppressed the true faces of their
masters is the purpose of my work".
George Grosz 'The Pillars of Society' 1926
'The Pillars of Society' by George Grosz 1926 shows a group portrait that manages to portray 'all the true faces of their masters'in one room.
German officer wearing a monocle and a swastika, duelling scars on his
cheek and a thin slit of a mouth aggressively exposing his teeth, the
glass of beer and sabre exposing him as a drunken warmonger. The
delusional thoughts coming out of his head show his lack of self
him on the left is a portrait of press baron Alfred Hugenberg, wearing a
chamber pot engraved with an Iron Cross as a hat symbolising the bias
of his newspapers and Grosz's opinion of them. His blood stained palm is
the bloody consequences of his newspapers' propaganda (symbolized by
him on the right is a portrait of Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the
Social Democratic Party and the first President of Germany from
1919-1925. His leaflet reads, "Socialism is Working" and a flag of the
Weimar Republic. Grosz gives him a pile of steaming faeces for brains.
the background is a clergyman whose sanctimonious face is flushed with
the long term effects of alcohol. With closed eyes he preaches from the
safety of his room, blind to the reality of the burning city outside
his window and ignoring the brutality of the civil war that unfolds
behind his back.
Raoul Haussmann 'Spirit of Our Times' 1920
Early Dada anti-art is probably best portrayed in Raoul Haussmann's 1920 ‘Spirit
of Our Time’. It is a satirical illustration for his statement that the
average supporter of what he considered to be a corrupt society “has no more capabilities than those which chance has glued to the outside of his skull; his brain remains empty”.
we'd do well to reflect on this in today's society. Cat Girl's
housemates, Dutch, German and Japanese, recently commented that their
Australian workmates 'could be so draining sometimes - all they talk
about is the weather and trivial stuff' - how many people you know have
shut themselves off in the less dangerous position of intellectual
muteness? What gets sacrificed in this numb social mindsoup is
creativity and passion - is being safe because we fear embarrassment and
humiliation for standing out worth it?
Mission – two weeks in the outback at Mt Isa hospital
E.D.; side-kick – moi; code names Doc and The Mrs. Modus operandi, go
incognito: Doc - jeans and check shirts –check; moi- I think Igot away with the usual – red lipstick –
well, it’s kind of camouflage, there’s a lot of red dust here I’ll have you
know, therefore I’ll give that a check! We flew over the mine site, a massive
5km sprawl with a huge open cut scarring the surface and landed in what locals
affectionately call The Isa. Red dust, spinifex, tin roofs of mineside and
townside homes, separated by the Leichhardt River, the giant lead chimney stack
and the smaller red and white stripped copper stack that constantly spews forth
sulphur dioxide gas dominate the town from any aspect. Fork-tailed kites soar
the thermals and at night ghost gums are silhouetted in the moonlight.
happened to be raining as we drove to our mineside house the hospital had given
us at Soldiers Hill and after a three year drought, nek minnit, the river was flooded
and all but one of the roads crossing into town and the hospital were impassable.
Road over the Leichhardt River flooded at sunset
Bloody big road trains with not
just two, not three, but FOUR trailers thundered past us carrying goods to and
from the coast. At the house they had thoughtfully supplied us with fresh ground coffee but nothing to make it in. Luckily I had brought our trusty Vietnamese coffee filters - #1 travel tip, always travel with trusty Vietnamese coffee filters!
Overnight everything around us turned green. That wasn’t the only thing that was green. It turned out The Isa was a perfect location for viewing the
comet Lovejoy as it continued on its trajectory north between Andromeda and Perseus.
Well it would have to be wouldn’t it, being in the MFN (middle of f*cking
nowhere) and therefore having minimal light pollution. Occy captured the comet with
The comet was discovered last August (2014) by
Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy – actually it’s his fifth discovery
so total brownie points to him. Oh, and did I mention it’s
green? The green glow comes from
molecules of diatomic carbon (C2) fluorescing in ultraviolet
sunlight in the near-vacuum of space. (Cyanogen (CN) can add some
violet to the green, but our eyes are fairly insensitive to violet light, which
is a shame because it makes it sound really exotic.) The gaseous tail of
the comet points directly away from the Sun and is tinted blue from fluorescing
carbon monoxide ions (CO+) but unfortunately we couldn’t see that
either which is a total poo!
Occy went off to work the next day and we regrouped in
the evening for a debriefing at ‘the Local’, the Barkly hotel, where they did a
very decent roast of the day for ten bucks. It was roast pork and veg. In fact
it turns out it was roast pork and veg every day. Occy asked for the crackling
and the cooky-boy said, ‘Sure, if the staff hasn’t eaten it all.’
I thought to
complete our incognito cover we should order beers, you know, when in Rome and
all that. I think I might have blown our cover though when Occy asked me at the
bar which one I’d like and I said, ‘Oooo, I’ll have the one with the cute Tasmanian
Devil on it?’ The barman asked me, ‘Would you like a pint or a schooner, luv?’
Schooner? I thought that was a ship!‘Just
a glass is fine,’ I replied.
‘Well,’ I asked Occy over a mouthful of pork, ‘how was
the first day?’
He squirmed a bit in his seat and said ‘I felt like Frank
Abernathy in ‘Catch me if you can’ playing
‘Really?’ I asked, ‘Why on earth was that?’
‘Well, you know how we thought there were only three
doctors here? Well there are only three senior doctors here, and there’s a
whole load of younger doctors – PHOs, registrars, interns and medical
‘Oh and what’s wrong with that?’
‘Well I’m one of the three senior doctors and I’ve got
this whole team of doctors (this said
with an almost horrified look on his face) that have to report their cases
to me and check that they’re doing the correct treatments and so on so I really
had to step up and look like I knew what I was doing, which I did, it was fine,
but I almost felt like asking them ‘So do
I just laughed my head off! Yes, it’s a bit different to
being the sole doctor in the ED department of Manji, but to his credit it only
took a few days for him to slip quite comfortably into his new role and realise
that he did actually have quite a lot of experience and knowledge.
At the back of the
hospital we discovered Australia’s only Underground Hospital.The first hospital in
Mount Isa had been nothing more than a row of tents operated by the mining
company. In fact most of the early
houses in the Isa were tent houses and apparently they were far better that the tin
roofed houses that followed them because at least you could water the canvas
down and the tent would be cooled by evaporation.
Mount Isa Mines eventually opened
a 40 bed Community Hospital mineside in 1929 and that was latter replaced with
the current state hospital townside.
as it turns out the Isa is bit of a big sneaky because it was also the catalyst
for the Royal Flying Doctor Service being set up. What happened was, in 1927, one
Dr George Simpson accompanied a Qantas flight to transport an injured Mount Isa
miner to the hospital in Cloncurry. The dramatic rescue highlighted the dangers
and struggles faced by the pioneers of the outback who didn’t have sufficient
access to medical care, and clearly demonstrated the need for an urgent
response medical service that could access these remote regions of the west,
ergo the Australian Inland Mission’s Aerial Medical Service was set up in 1928,
now known as the iconic Royal Flying Doctor Service. And, that’s not the only thing born
in the big sneaky Isa. Pat Rafter and Greg Norman were also born here, not to
mention my girlfriend Christina Callaghan!
end of the week, having sampled a few of the local eating and watering holes, (the
strangest being the Abyssinian Café – I know right, who would have thought in
the middle of the outback you’d find an Ethiopian restaurant – but surprise,
surprise, they did a very good wat, the traditional Ethiopian curry) we took up
an invitation to dine at the Irish Club with one of the other SMO’s Peter, John
the anaesthetist and his wife Pam who were from Ireland/Scotland, and chief
medical director Uli and his wife Sabina who were from Germany and subsequently
ran the hospital like a jolly friendly but firm WWII U-boat captain – no mucking
around, initiate strategy to 4 hour end targets at all times or the
self-destruct and eject will be deployed, ja! At 8pm the glasses rattled as the
nightly scheduled mine detonation went off and no one batted an eyelid.
following week we had dinner at ‘The Isa’ hotel with a bunch of nurses, doctors
and med students for one of the PHO’s who was leaving. (I asked Occy what that
stood for and he said ‘not sure what the P is, something House Officer, so I
decided it was ‘Pet House Officer’) Occy had studiously omitted to mention any
females whenever he recounted his work adventures so you can imagine I was
somewhat surprised to find myself surrounded by afore not mentioned females.
One of them, Sarah (who was not averse to telling a tall tale or two herself), expressed surprise that I followed Occy around (causing the
med students to glibly comment that that’s what they did all day too):
a lot of the SMO’s that come out here don’t seem to have very happy home lives
or relationships, you know, they come in drenched in aftershave...’ she explained as if
that was the marker for ‘I’m available’.
Occy the death stare because he ALWAYS goes in drenched in aftershave! This of
course meant I immediately went into high alert status and hoped Occy would
enjoy his lunch the next day - and every other day we were in the Isa - lovingly
prepared by moi with a mother lode of vampire warding off garlic. You're welcome!
Me with Bowie about to get all down in our crib an' all
Anyways, when I wasn’t studying I spent my time romping around
the town digging up the dirt on the Isa. I went on an underground tour of the
mine, into the belly of the beast so to speak, which was hot, noisy and interesting. Our guide Bowie had worked the mine
for 36 years, was partially deaf as a result, but full of amusing tales. I can
actually say, in my best black gangster voice of course, that ‘I got all up in
ma crib an’ all!” because we finished off in the ‘Crib Room’ where we had
coffee & biscuits, watched over by a vintage poster board of the Phantom
reminding miners to turn on switch #247, whatever that was.
Carnivorous bats of the Riversleigh area
In one of my romps I stumbled across
some fascinating information on my favourite thing – bats, and not just any
bats, CARNIVOROUS BATS!! Not that far away from here lie the Riversleigh fossil
deposits and you’ll absolutely never guess what they found there! The false vampire bat from the Middle
Miocene Gotham City site (how
Batman is that!). These prehistoric bats were about the same size as the
living Ghost Bat found in caves around here today. The Gotham City deposit
appears to have been the floor of an ancient cave. The remains of their prey have been found in the limestone of the cave
floor - frogs, fish, skinks, birds, bandicoots, and a very small koala – wholly
crap man, these bats were totally carnivorous! What’s more, the modern day ghost
bats that we thought only ate insects? Wrongo! They are also totally
carnivorous as in a big way. In fact, one was found dead with the remains of
a cane toad in its guts and scientists are now speculating that it’s this habit
of snacking on the old toxic toad that could be leading to a decline in their
Of course there were other weird fossils also discovered,
dating back 25 million years, like giant, toothed platypuses, leopard-sized
carnivorous lions that looked a bit like over-sized wombats, giant plant-eating
marsupials as big as a rhinoceros, a couple of mammals SO bizarre that no
existing names could be applied to them and they became known among the
researchers as Thingodonta
and Weirdodonta, giant
long-armed flesh-eating kangaroos dubbed "Fangaroo" (Ekaltadeta ima), who came
equipped with a set of dagger-like canines. Its skull was found in the
imaginatively-named “Camel Sputum” rock - how did they think that one up? Imagine if town planners cottoned on to that, then we might be sayig 'Oh yes, I live in Rhinoceros Rectum Road!' I mean seriusly?! They also found a giant sperm of some
mollusc thing and the sperm was longer than the male’s entire body, but tightly
coiled up inside the sexual organs, and
kindly preserved by the droppings of thousands of my Gotham city bat friends.
Top: Finnish grave at the Sunset cemetery. Bottom: Traditional Finnish wedding circa 1930
promised one of the lovely nurses in Manjimup, Karen, that we would visit the cemetery and try
to locate the graves of her grandparents who were tragically killed in the
early 70’s travelling thru the Isa when their caravan caught fire. Walking into the cemetry between an avenue of tall tress I was delighted to find them full of roosting flying foxes - my favourite bats! The hunt for the graves proved an impossible feat. Even
though we scoured all the headstones they must have been laid to rest in
unmarked graves, of which there were A LOT! We noticed that many of the headstones
belonged to Fins and this was because of the influx of post-war immigrants, in
particular a very large Irish and Finnish contingency, in the early 50s. Today
their descendants, Pekkas and Paddys, compete in their iconic Akubra hats at
the annual infamous rodeo. The main street, Rodeo Drive, which boasts a
monument to old Milesy who founded Mt Isa (his ashes are buried under it), has
plaques in the pavement, Hollywood style, commemorating rodeo greats through
Left: John Campbell Miles monument. Top: Rodeo Drive plaques. Bottom: Locals in their Akubra hats
So how did the Isa come to be
here? Well as usual there’s a nice story mixed in with a dirty tale of sordid
and violent colonialism. In 1923, lone prospector John Campbell Miles, while
travelling on a gold prospecting trip to the Northern Territory with his trusty
steed Hard Times, that the mine was first named after, camped by the banks of the
Leichhardt River. Sampling a nearby rock outcrop, he realised that it was
heavily mineralised – well this is the brochure story anyways. What really
happened was that he was taken to the deposits by a young aboriginal man by the
name of Kabalulumana of the local Kalkadoon tribe. Anyways, on with the story –
turns out old Milesy had stumbled on to one of the world's richest copper,
silver, lead and zinc ore bodies. In a fit of great imaginative creativity (I am being sarcastic here) he decided
to call his discovery "Mount Isa" after the stories he’d heard of the
Mount Ida goldfield in Western Australia and the mine was born.
On the left: John Campbell Miles with the first staff of the Mt Isa Mines
nice you might say. Well it was particularly nice of Kabalulumana because he
could have quite righteously ignored old Milesy after what the whites had done
to his people back in 1883. You see all of this land belonged to the Kalkadoons
but of course that wasn’t acknowledged back then, or today really. So as it
transpires there was this new hotshot Sub-Inspector of Native Police that had
been appointed in nearby Cloncurry; twenty-five year old Frederick Charles
Urquhart. The power obviously went to the little shit’s head because the first
thing he did was round up all the scattered horses in the area and buy or
commandeer (read steal) more. He
drilled the Native Police troopers ‘with all the vehemence of a Prussian
Sergeant-Major’, moving their camp twenty-five miles out of town to maintain
discipline. The Kalkadoon leader Mahoni
made the mistake of challenging him to come out into the hills, saying they
would finish him off. Urquhart wasn’t going to let his ultimate authorita be
questioned and was obviously just waiting for an excuse to get down and nasty,
because when James Powell, was speared to death while mustering cattle on his
station, co-owner Alexander Kennedy joined forces with Urquhart and trapped the Kalkadoon war party who had gotten wind of Urquharts intentions in a gorge. The Kalkadoons fought hard but seriously, when you’re
facing a carbine and all you've got is your best boomerang and spear, you really don’t have a
hope in hell do you? One eyewitness said that ‘men, women and children were
killed, but mainly men’.
which led to the final battle of the Kalkadoons was the murder of a Chinese
shepherd on the Granada Station. Worried about his stock, the station's owner,
Hopkins, gathered a large body of men to augment Urquhart's Native Police.
Pastoralists and farmhands
came from all over the surrounding area to take part in the in what became
known as the Battle Mountain massacre. Observing this large body of whites
gathering, messages quickly went through the Kalkadoon network for the warriors
tracked the Kalkadoons, now 600 strong and led by a man wearing a headdress of
white down, and a ‘thick possum-string hanging around his neck and attached to
another string passing around his waist’ to a spot atop a boulder-studded hill.
It was an excellent tactical manoeuvre, overlooking the plain below and the
Kalkadoons had laid in large stocks of spears and boomerangs for just such a
Urquhart started the battle in typical ‘the sun never sets on the British
Empire’ fashion by ordering the assembled warriors to ‘Stand in the Queen's
name’. The Kalkadoons, who probably didn’t give a hoot about the lady in the
funny headdress, replied with a hail of rocks and missiles and a ‘roar of
then ordered the now famous cavalry charge that finally led to the deaths of
200 of the finest Kalkadoon warriors. Not happy with the slaughter - well they didn't get all 600 did they! - Urquhart and
his troopers, who would have been right at home with the KKK, continued their
‘cleaning up’ operations for several days.
Top: Kalkadoon tribe Bottom left: Kalkadoons were famous for their stone axes which were traded all over the country Bottom right: Cave paintings at the intitiation site at Sun Rock for Kalkadoon boys
1960 it was noted that ‘for decades, the hill was littered with the bleached
gins and piccaninnies’. An
anthropologist in 1890 said of the
Kalkadoons in the area ‘I saw men and women, their faces sunken in, their
bodies so shrunken, and eyes so small and far back in their heads that at first
sight they appeared like mummies of centuries
walking about the camps.... Lake Nash has some bad cases and white travellers
do their very best to disease the black gins. I saw one poor child not 12 years
that had syphilis for 12 months or more, can anything be more horrible than
this, it is bad enough to know how they have been shot down without allowing
these things to continue'.
things did continue like this for a long time, look at this excerpt by the American birth
control campaigner Margaret
who quite casually wrote in her papers What Every Girl Should Know (1920):
"The aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family,
just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little
sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual
satisfaction on the streets".
So, what did I learn from this jaunt to 'The Isa"?
Always travel with #1 travel tip, Vietnamese coffee filters
Buy plenty of garlic to ward of potential vampires #1 WAGs tip
A schooner is not necessarily a ship!
A crib is a tea room - next time I hear some homie rapping about 'gettin' all up in ma crib' I'll know he's talking about having a nice cup of tea
Gotham City is real and if I ever see a bat from there I can get out my best Twilight line and say 'I see you brought a little snack!'
In which we make our way to the Fistula Hospital with a suitcase full of bras:-
Having had many previous experiences with shipping packages to Mother Teresa’s Leprosarium on the outskirts of Calcutta (Kolkata) and mysteriously disappearing to line the pockets of customs officials, I thought I would employ a strategic move and bring my ‘package’ with me for the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa. The ‘package’ consisted of a suitcase full of bras kindly donated by the lovely women of Cairns for the wondeful women attending the Fistula Hospital. Bras you might ask? Isn’t that the wrong end of the body? Well, after the women afflicted with a fistula have been successfully operated on and recovered they are usually able to return to their villages and take up normal lives and relationships. The Fistula Hospital encourages these women to return to the hospital if and when they are ready to give birth to their first child in order to be safely delivered and avoid any risk of a second fistula through obstructed labour. These women will sometimes have breast/nipple issues that require dressings and hence the need for bras to keep them in place easily.
Anyways, Occy and I had arrived in Addis on a cold afternoon and managed to nearly get ourselves evicted before even stepping foot outside the airport. At the security screening we put our suitcases and bags thru the x-ray machine and the heavily armed security officer started gesticulating wildly to Occy and demanding to see inside his camera bag. Occy unzipped the bag and the officer said, ‘What is this? What is this?’ pointing to his super doper telescopic lens – you know, the sort men get when they reach a mid-life crisis but are in denial about it, yet you can tell because they start buying stuff that symbolises the enormity of their penises.
‘Well that’s just my camera gear, you know for photographs,’ says Occy to the officer. The officer points an accusing finger at him and states, doesn’t suggest or ask mind you, but states as if it’s an obvious known fact, ‘You are a photojournalist, this is not allowed to come in, I must take this!’ Uh oh! This could end badly, I was thinking to myself – I’ve seen Occy in challenging confrontations with pseudo-authority figures before and he doesn’t take too well to it. To my utter astonishment in a rare turn of events Occy actually decided to try being diplomatic instead of incensed. ‘No, no, no,’ he said to the officer, ‘I’m not a photojournalist, I’m a doctor, this is just for taking holiday photos!’
‘Doctor?’ the officer asks, ‘Which hospital are you working at, where is your work visa?’
Oh dear! ‘No, no, no,’ replies Occy, ‘I am not working here, I work in Australia, I am just here for a holiday.’ ‘Huh!’ the officer grunted then rounded on me. ‘This is your suitcase?’ he asked me, pointing to a large red suitcase.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘There are many things in here shaped like this,’ he said, drawing a U-shaped curve in the air with his finger. ‘What are they?’
‘Oh, they’re bras for the Fistula Hospital,’ I replied.
‘Bras? What is ‘bras’,’ he asked in a voice that implied that it was clear to him that we were both up to no good and I was probably carrying a shipment of secret weapons. I cupped my breasts with my hands and jiggled them up and down at which I’m sad to report that he got completely the wrong idea and eyes nearly popping out of his head, screamed, ‘What! What is this you do?’
I quickly flicked the bra strap out from under my shirt and showed him that instead, repeating, ‘Bra!’
Recognition finally dawned on him and he looked at both of us disgustedly and waved his hands, shooing us away with a ‘Go, just go!’ We scampered out of there as fast as we could, astonished that we had managed to retain both the camera equipment and the offending suitcase full of bras.
On the appointed day that we were to visit the Fistula Hospital we lugged the suitcase full of bras into our 4WD and directed the driver to proceed to the Fistula Hospital.
‘First I must show you something,’ he cried, ‘then we will go to the Fistula Hospital!’ The something turned out to be Emperor Haile Selassie’s cathedral and tomb which Lion-boy was keen to see. Having travelled thru many Muslim countries, we had heard what we took to be the usual call to prayer by the muezzin, but it in fact turned out to be the call to prayer for the Christian church, the method of worship blurring the lines between the two distinct religions. Magnificent stained glass windows depict scenes from the Old and New Testament. - an Adam and Eve stand under an apple tree accompanied by an ostrich and a lion – how quintessentially African!
Women in white muslin dresses and shawls floated in through the
‘women’s’ door like so many ethereal beings in search of a pew from
which to worship.
A black garbed Coptic priest presented himself to us,
offering for us to take his photo then promptly presented his hand for
payment. Outside in the sunshine men kneel and pray, then rise and kiss
the wall of the cathedral before prostrating themselves again. A mention
of the Rastafarians triggers my memory – there was a connection with
Emperor Haile Selassie but I couldn’t quite remember what it was. Later
Indil-cat recounted that the Rastafari movement had started in Jamaica
in the 1930’s revering Haile Selassie as the returned messiah largely
due to the fact that he was crowned Emperor shortly after Marcus
Garvey’s prophecy ‘Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned,
he shall be the redeemer.’ The Rastafarians believed that God himself
was black as stated in Jeremiah 8:21 ‘For the hurt of the daughter of my
people am I hurt; I am black; as astonishment hath taken hold of me.’
Emperor Haile Selassie
Haile Selassie’s lineage can be traced back to King Solomon and the
Queen of Sheba. When he was crowned, the King of England, considered by
many to be the most powerful and important man in the world, could not
attend but sent instead the Duke of Gloucester who, upon meeting the
emperor bowed to him revealing that the new emperor was more important
than the most important man in the world!We finally left the historic cathedral and thought we would now proceed to the hospital. Well, that’s what thought did! Our driver had other ideas and insisted he take us to the National Museum where an anthropologist took it upon himself to show us through to the archaeological digs section and where the original ‘Lucy’ bones discovered by Leakey are housed. A collection of skulls dating back some 5 million years revealed excessively flat molars, the reason? Even back then they chewed chat or khat! I’d recently watched the film Captain Phillips so I knew that khat was a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa that was chewed by the Somali pirates. Khat causes excitement, loss of appetite (god, I should have been chewing it!) and euphoria and gives the pirates false courage for a raid. We did later manage to get hold of some for curiosity’s sake as we descended into the Omo Valley and it was being sold by the roadside but can’t really say we noticed much of anything, probably due to the fact that it tends to work on a slightly cumulative basis. By the time we were finished with our anthropology lessons at the National Museum we were starting to wonder whether we’d ever get to Fistula Hospital and we were in fact getting quite desperate and paranoid even. Did the driver have something against the Fistula Hospital? Did he know something we didn’t? Was he deliberately trying to keep us away from the hospital? In the end it turned out that he just didn’t know where the Fistula Hospital was and was embarrassed to say! We wound our way up and down cobbled streets, in and out of the merkato thru goats and donkeys and people and back around the way we’d come until eventually we arrived at the gates of the Fistula Hospital. We almost cried with relief we were so happy to see it. Big signs and the presence of security officers at the gate warned that the taking of photos was strictly prohibited so there would only be verbal documentation of our visit. It also stated visiting hours were strictly Tuesdays and Saturday 1-2pm only with no exceptions! It was a Friday. Undeterred Occy put on his best ‘doctor persona’ (you know, the one where they exhibit signs of a God-complex and act all omniscient & omnipotent and basically bluff their way into getting whatever they want) He wound down his window and said imperiously to the security as if he would brook no argument, ‘I’m Doctor Russell d’Scarlett, this is my family, we have come all the way from Australia and we are carrying supplies for the hospital’ – thankfully failing to mention the ‘supplies’ were a suitcase full of bras! Nek Minnit we were issued security lanyards and ushered through to see matron. We had missed Catherine Hamlin by a few days; she had had to go to England on family matters so we had an appointment with the 2CEO. The grounds were beautiful, most of the gardens having been planted by
Catherine Hamlin herself over the years, they were lush and green and
cool. We passed a group of women waiting outside a clinic and even though we had spoken to the children about fistulas and what the consequences of a fistula was (leaking urine and or faces uncontrollably) Lion-boy suddenly gasped at the strong odour and exclaimed, ‘What’s that smell?!’ Horrified, both Occy and I squeaked out, ‘Shhh! It’s the smell of urine because the poor girls have no control over their urine leaking – they are probably waiting to be assessed for operations to fix that.’
We eventually found our way into matron’s office and spent the rest of the afternoon at the hospital with her discussing the success, evolution and current needs of the hospital. It now had a staff of 500 that included 5 outreach hospitals each with 5 satellite clinics lying close to the Ethiopian borders. Each clinic had a trained fistula midwife excepting 8 of the clinics that were still waiting for specialised midwives to be trained. Because of the difficulties caused by having 83 different languages spoken within Ethiopia, midwives were chosen from the region in which they would be deployed to in the future. The hospital trains many doctors from all around the world in the fistula repair techniques developed by the Hamlin’s and the matron offered for Occy to return in some years and be trained so he could do voluntary work in the outlying hospitals where they were short-staffed. We agreed this would be a splendid idea.
Matron took us on a tour of the surgical ward where 4 surgeries can be performed simultaneously in an open operating theatre. The recovery ward was full of women recovering from their surgeries. The hospital had relied heavily on funding from AusAid but with the new Abbott government, AusAid had been disbanded and funding to the hospital downsized. I would really urge you to help the women of the Fistula Hospital by heading directly to the hospitals official donation page where you can also purchase gifts, many of them made by the women themselves, the proceeds going to fund the hospitals surgical, rehabilitation, midwifery and maternity programmes.
We rose early in our tukuls (huts)
so we could observe the sun rising over the Rift Valley. Golden fingers of
light broached the mountain top across the valley floor in front of us as we
sipped on steaming cups of Ethiopian coffee, gradually bringing the dark green
floor of the valley to life. Baboons screeched nearby and a few eagles soared,
catching thermals in ever decreasing circles as they descended over the valley.
The girls and I had to pee so we walked into a
natural circle formed by some trees. As we squatted there I suddenly had the
feeling someone was watching us. ‘Look up in the trees – baboons!’
said. These baboons had the most astonishing blue balls and peered at us
maliciously. We scampered out of there as soon as we were finished our business
to find a few military police in their blue camo grinning at us. They were
there to patrol the shore perimeter and clearly took their job quite seriously,
sitting in the shade of an Acacia tree with their AK-47’s resting across their
We bolted down some hot omelette and drove down to the shore of Lake Chomo.
A rickety tin boat with an outboard took us onto the lake to
spot its famous array of birdlife, crocodiles and hippos. Enormous herons,
pelicans and fish eagles were everywhere. The pelicans worked in teams forming
a circle in which they could herd the fish. India was particularly delighted at
the ‘pink’ hippos. Local fisherman calmly stood waist deep water fishing,
paying no mind to the potential dangers of the enormous crocs and wandering
We drove on to the town of Konso where the women’s skirts
took on an unusual peplum design. We stopped to take lunch of wat and injera at
a lookout over another section of the Rift Valley. There were a few Italian
travellers here and everyone, even the twins partook of the strong black
Occy & India eating injera & wat
After lunch we drove on til we hit dirt – 83kms of hell to
get to Turmi, the Hamer tribe town sitting close to the border with the Sudan. The closer we got the redder the earth, the
more naked the people, carrying machetes, Kalashnikovs, spears and always their
headrests that doubled as stools. Their distinctive red coloured hair was
braided and dressed with a combination of animal fat and red mud.
A Hamer man holding a headrest
Hamer woman along road with yellow water container
We eventually turned into our lodge not long before sunset.
It was literally in the MFN as my dad would say – the ‘middle of fuckin’
nowhere’! Small rooms built by the tribe to accommodate curious travellers such
as ourselves. We left our gear and walked a kilometre up a track toward a kopi
(small collection of boulders forming a hillock) where the ‘restaurant’ was. We
found our dinner companions were half a dozen shirtless Russian men, having
already noted the presence of a ‘bar’ with a selection of about 5 different
Russian vodkas and various Ethiopian beers. This Hamer tribe was quite
Lion boys photo of India taking a photo of Monkeybuns on the walk up to the restaurant hidden by the kopi