Alex Mitchell’s Notebook

Murdoch-free current affairs, free of charge, with independent opinion: Donald Trump reflects America’s madness; Queensland Premier versus Rupert Murdoch; Edna Ryan, trail-blazing feminist and socialist, remembered; Labor’s right-wing salutes Susan Ryan (no relation whatsoever to Edna Ryan); Pages from history: attempted assassination of Arthur Calwell recalled by Bob Gould and Wayne Haylen; plus Quotes of the Week and Famous Sayings.

America’s sickness is on trial

Americans planning to vote for US President Donald Trump in the presidential election in six weeks’ time need health care and long-term treatment. They are either sociopaths or psychopaths; some are both.

Anyone who watched the first televised debate saw Trump ranting and raving, often incoherently, and arguing illogically and desperately with his Democratic opponent, adjudicator Chris Wallace (son of the late Mike Wallace), and the audience in the room, in America, and across the world.

American voters are being presented with a fake choice between Donald Trump (Republican) and Joe Biden (Democrat). Both are ageing, male, white multi-millionaires.

At last count, there were more than 40 candidates in the ballot. Not all candidates are on every ballot paper in every US State. But many are, including environmentalists and socialists.

It means that voters aren’t restricted to voting Trump or Biden, they can vote for an array of alternatives. None of the “alternatives” can win because they won’t gain enough states to form a government.

But voters can register their total disapproval of Trump (and Biden) by voting for a planet-saving environmentalist or a socialist.

A couple of things are clear:

  1. The US will be more divided after the election than before.
  2. The US will be at war within a year after the election.

If it is an overseas war, the US war machine is ready to attack Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador or Nicaragua. (Lebanon, P-alest-ine and Yemen are other candidates, but many US militarists warn against going back to the shifting sands of the Middle East). The only criterion is the country chosen for “humanitarian” invasion must be small and the opposition poorly armed.

If civil war breaks out in the US itself, that’s another story for another time …

Murdoch media demands regime change in Queensland

Traditionally, Queensland’s State Election is fought between the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Nationals. However, the next Queensland election on Saturday 31 October will be a contest between Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Murdoch family media.

Every major newspaper in Queensland is own by the Murdochs – from Brisbane’s Courier-Mail to the Cairns Post. Newspapers such as the Gold Coast Bulletin and the Townsville Bulletin are Murdoch-owned and all of them are spouting the same anti-Labor message.

Their target is Ms Palaszczuk (pronounced “Palla-shay”). Not since the Murdoch media waged its campaign of destruction against Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s government in 1975 have voters seen anything like it.

Day-in and day-out Premier Palaszczuk is being subjected to regime-change vitriol, some of which is supplied by columnists, commentators, cartoonists and editorial writers who don’t live in Queensland and won’t be voting in the election.

The anti-Whitlam offensive in 1975 led to a journalists’ strike but there is no sign that the spineless hacks in Queensland will challenge the well-funded campaign against their Premier.

The election of Queensland’s 57th Parliament on 31 October involves a Melbourne Cup field of candidates for all 93 seats in the State’s single house, the Legislative Assembly. Labor currently holds power with 48 seats, the LNP holds 38 seats (and needs to win nine seats to form a government), Robbie Katter of Katter’s Australia has three seats and the remainder are Independents or One Nation.

If Murdoch wins in Queensland, the political map of Australia will shift to screaming reaction – climate change denial will become an article of national policy, fracking and the exploitation of underground water will be approved, homeland security will be enhanced as the new “FBI”, universities, schools, the ABC and the arts will be further crippled by funding cuts while banks, mining monopolies and the gambling industry will be encouraged by legalised tax rorts.

Premier Palaszczuk has two things going for her:

  1. The LNP is led by Deb Frecklington who has a hopeless record as Opposition Leader. Her deputy Tim Mander, a crazed Christian evangelist and former NRL referee, is waiting to take over.
  2. Queensland women voters in Brisbane and other parts of the State are loyal to the Premier. As a female voter in Mackay said: “Annastacia is a woman and she stands up for Queensland. I’ll be sticking with her.”

It is too early to make any predictions, but if Queensland wins the 2020 State of Origin she will be re-elected. If the Maroons lose, she will be cactus. Who would have thought that a rugby league match could decide the fate of an election? We live in strange times …

Tribute to a feminist, socialist trail-blazer

Edna Ryan, 1904 -1997, was a member of the Communist Party of Australia and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). One of her sisters married the “Wobbly” leader Vivian Mackay, who became one of her political mentors.

While still at high school, she participated in protest marches through Sydney in support of the 1917 General Strike. In 1928 she took part in the first International Women’s Day.

She was expelled from the Communist Party in 1929 for supporting Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition against Stalin.

In 1935 she joined the Labor Party to oppose Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power in Germany and the mass persecution of trade unionists, communists, Jews, Catholics and eminent cultural figures. She joined the anti-Stalinist Militant Women’s Movement, founded by Hetty Weitzel (Ross).

In 1956 she was elected to Fairfield Municipal Council and became the first female deputy mayor in NSW. The ALP endorsed her as a candidate for Federal (Phillip) and State (Mosman) seats and twice put her on unwinnable places on its Senate ticket.

In retirement, she joined the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL), attending its founding conference in 1973. She campaigned at the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission for a national minimum wage and equal pay. In 1987, the ALP awarded her Life Membership.

In 1998, the “Ednas” were created in memory of her tireless advocacy of women’s causes, including a book on the long campaign for equal pay which she co-authored with Anne Conlon.

In 1985 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sydney followed by the Macquarie University in 1995.

“Throughout life her concerns were for women, class and a multi-faceted and socially just society,” wrote Rosemary Webb of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. In one of her last campaigns she condemned John Howard’s attack on cultural budgets, writing: “How can artists have the time they need to develop when the grants system is abolished?”

Born the 10th child in a family of 10, she died in Canberra aged 92.

In the footsteps of her mother

Author and academic Lyndall Ryan described her mother Edna as “a true revolutionary”…  “ living in the present and thinking about the future”.

After studying in Sydney, Queensland and Newcastle Lyndall Ryan became globally acclaimed for her detailed study of the extermination of Tasmania’s indigenous people by the police, army and white settler mercenaries.

“The more research I do, the more dumbfounded I am by the amount of violence and brutality that actually took place. Sadly, there is still so little known, especially in NSW. There are snippets of information but no one has yet pieced together the overall picture.”

Her dogged research aroused intellectual enemies: “I was accused of fabricating frontier massacres in my research and my career was severely under the gun. It was a traumatising experience and generated enormous publicity. I thought for some time why I was in this line of work if I am going to be treated like this. But it taught me that you have to be prepared to be criticised as a historian because you are exposing information and truths many do not want to hear. The distance of the past gives you a sense that you can stand back and look at it. As historians, we have the luxury if working outside the heat of the moment, and it allow us to be sceptical, to look at things with a piercing eye. It’s more like detective work and it’s always very interesting to explore the context in which these incidents occurred. It is the past, and that helps, and once you’ve found a few clues, of course, you have to stay on the scent.”

Postscript to political history

Susan Ryan, former Labor senator from NSW, was gifted a series of highly-paid political appointments after quitting politics in 1987. She was not a relation of the great Edna Ryan who was a lifelong feminist and socialist activist.

She served as education minister in the first Hawke Cabinet but when Hawke-Keating-Dawkins began dismantling Gough Whitlam’s massive reforms she was persuaded to quit. Over the next few years she was given a series of well-paid government jobs. She disastrously persuaded women to put their life savings into superannuation schemes where many paid extortionate fees and lost everything in the Global Financial Crisis (GFC); she hailed the takeover of aged care homes by the Anglican, Catholic and other faith charities which amounted to privatisation, shocking treatment of old aged people, and vast profits for organised religion. Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to her as a “trail blazer”. She married former diplomat and gravy-train rider Richard Butler. Enough said.

From the pages of Labor history

On 21 June 1966 Labor leader Arthur Calwell was the target of an assassination attempt at Mosman Town Hall on Sydney’s North Shore. He had finished addressing a rowdy meeting – stacked with reactionaries – to speak against the Menzies government’s policy of conscription by rigged ballot for the US-led war in Vietnam. Sitting in the front seat of his Commonwealth car after the meeting, Calwell was shot at point-blank range by 19-year-old Peter Kocan. Presented as a “lone wolf” Kocan is alleged to have told arresting police: “Unless I did something out of the ordinary, I realised I would remain a nobody all my life. I came to the conclusion that however hard it was I would have to do something that would set me apart from other nobodies.” Kocan’s police statement was widely regarded as a piece of fiction. Kocan was sentenced to 10 years’ jail. He spent most of his time at Morriset Psychiatric Hospital where he studied literature, philosophy and history. It later emerged that Calwell visited Kocan in Morriset but what they discussed has never been disclosed. Calwell wrote to Kocan forgiving him for the shooting. The people who set up Kocan and turned him into a “patsy” have never been exposed.

Bob Gould, a leading Trotskyist, later wrote an account of the shooting:

“Way back then, when Kocan was a very disturbed young right-winger indeed, he attempted to assassinate Arthur Calwell during the bitterly contested ‘Vietnam’ federal election of 1966. In my lifelong ‘Forrest Gump’ persona, I happened to be standing nearby, at the back of a meeting against the War in Vietnam, which Calwell had been addressing at Mosman Town Hall, talking to Barry Robinson and Wayne Haylen, when Kocan fired the shot at Calwell. Kocan ran away; Robinson, Haylen and I gave chase, hurtled off down the hill and finally caught him. We then handed Kocan over to the coppers. Wayne was actually the bloke who tackled him, as I remember it, but I am immortalised in the caption of a photograph of myself in Russell Ward’s book, Australia Since the Coming of Man, as the bloke who captured Kocan.”

Gould’s eye witness account differs widely from the official police story.  In sentencing, the trial judge, Leslie Herron, stuck to the official police narrative of a disturbed “lone wolf”, saying: “I am satisfied your motive was to acquire notoriety or, as you thought, the fame perhaps of assassinating a public figure. In this you were, I am absolutely satisfied, influenced by the publicity attending the assassination of President Kennedy.” Next day’s headlines were delivered by His Honour.

Wayne Haylen, son of the highly-regarded Federal MP Les Haylen, became a distinguished judge. He retired as a judge in October 2013 after 12 years on the Bench of the NSW Industrial Court. He departed when workers’ rights and conditions, equal pay, and advocacy for a minimum wage were no longer a judicial and political priority. Freed from the bench, Wayne Haylen continued an active legal career in the horse racing industry and recently signed an all-party open letter to Scott Morrison calling for a National Integrity Commission.

He gained fame in the anti-war movement by founding the Youth Campaign Against Conscription and burning his national service registration card at a Belmore Park rally in 1966. In 1967 he was awarded a BA at Sydney University and a Law Degree in 1971.

In 1973 he married Joan Evatt and they have two grown-up children – a daughter Sophie and a son Darcy. One of Wayne Haylen’s relatives is Jo Haylen, NSW Labor MP for Summer Hill and a member of Labor’s shadow ministry.

Column of the Month

Alex Lo, leading columnist for Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post since 2012, began his recent MY TAKE column with the following:

“Americans! Washington is a far greater threat to your own health and life than anything that we Chinese can do to you.”

Memorable quotes recalled

“Margaret Thatcher was the most divisive and destructive Prime Minister of modern times. Mass unemployment, factory closures, communities destroyed – this is her legacy. How should we honour her? Let’s privatise her funeral. Put it out to competitive tender and accept the cheapest bid. It’s what she would have wanted.” – Ken Loach, British film director and winner of multiple awards

Great letters sent by post

Harold Pinter, playwright, political activist and cricket-lover, who died in 2008, wrote a poem dedicated to his hero Len Hutton, the great opening batsman from Yorkshire. Pinter considered Hutton’s cricket bat was “an extension of his nervous system”. Pinter’s poem read:

I saw Hutton in his prime / Another time, another time   

He sent the poem to his friend Simon Gray, another cricket lover. After several weeks had elapsed and he had heard nothing, Pinter wrote to Gray demanding to know what he had thought of the poem.

Gray replied: Harold, I haven’t finished reading it yet.

Our list of famous sayings continues to grow

  1. “The clever scoundrels are all outside. The moneyless mugs in jail.” – Henry Lawson, poet and writer
  1. “Today, Australia is a vassal state bar none: its politics, intelligence agencies, military and much of its media are integrated into Washington’s ‘sphere of dominance’ and war plans. In Donald Trump’s current provocations of China, the US bases in Australia are described as the ‘tip of the spear’.”  – John Pilger, Australian journalist and film-maker
  2. “Possibly there is nothing wrong with going all the way with LBJ, if you know where LBJ is going.” – Gough Whitlam replying to Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt’s grovelling commitment to go “all the way with LBJ”.


  1. I have several times sent to Lyndall Ryan and team references to the early 19th century massacre of Worimi people at Soldiers Point in Port Stephens but it has never yet been acknowledged – nor does it appear as a place of massacre on the mapping project map. It disturbs my sense of justice. Maybe my note here might bring some acknowledgement. The Worimi woman who pointed it out to me around 30+ years ago is still very much alive – and we share a kinship connection…

    I relish your famous sayings!

  2. Alex…in the paragraph above headed: “If (Rupert) Murdoch wins in Queensland” I think you have been a fraction too expansive in asserting that the ABC will be further crippled by funding cuts”. Being as the funding of the ABC is a Federal matter, that domain probably will be the quarter from where funding cuts shall emanate (from).

    I wonder if I may tender a ‘Famous Saying? I have a whole library of ’em…I think it is apposite, at this juncture, to quote the twice-awarded Best Actress in the American Academy Awards’ stakes, BETTE DAVIS, who is renowned for being the first to utter the saying: “Getting Old Ain’t for Sissies”!

    Regards, Peter Consandine of Castle Hill in Greater Sydney

  3. Giving us a treasure trove of biographical records is another Alex gift, but his most rewarding present appears in tributes to unique Edna Ryan. In total contrast to that humanitarian is the latest wretched Murdoch campaign – ‘let’s bully as much as we can’- against the Premier of Queensland. Democracy so eroded by poison from News Corp that Annastacia’s ( is that spelling correct ) re-election imperative. Thanks Alex, Good job you are still a young man!

  4. Thanks Alex, always a good read with the right Ducks lined up. Peter I will share a moment relating the competition between Bette David and Joan Crawford. Two witty bitches. When asked by a reporter about the talent of Joan Crawford and her ability to cry on time in a scene, Bette replied “Yes, that’s because her bladder is so close to her tear ducts”. Not politically correct eh? but wickedly timed, witty and naughty!

  5. A bulletin full of interesting information . Some great history recalled. Good that you sorted out the Ryans, although I wouldn’t have been so hard on Susan Ryan. Women were notoriously under represented in Super Schemes. If she encouraged them to go anywhere but public sector schemes and industry schemes she was very unwise. Could anyone forsee the disaster that aged care was going to become? Health unions warned but who listens to them in government. Much of what has happened in aged care goes down to the Howard Govts Aged Care Act and Abbott and Morrison cutting billions out of aged care. Her marriage to Butler didn’t last long as I understand it . Would we comment on the marriage if she were a man. Most likely not.

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