Travelling man calls it a day

Happier times: Mark Ottaway, left, at Mullumbimby, New South Wales in 2008 with former Sunday Times colleagues Roger Law, me and Tony Clifton

Travelling man Mark Ottaway calls it a day … his brother Sir Richard Ottaway keeps campaigning … apartheid Israel loses more supporters … Liberal Party plans “cash splash” in the bush to save the Nationals … Alan Jones at Festival of Dangerous Ideas … Great Crashing Bores …

Mark’s career as a traveller

In his chequered career in journalism Mark Ottaway visited hundreds of tourist destinations around the globe writing travel pieces for the London Sunday Times which were crisp, informative and alluring.

In the mid-2000s, at the close of his long career as a travel writer, Mark and his partner Clovis were obliged to decide where they would live out their retirement. He reflected on all the destinations he had visited and finally settled on Byron Bay on the far north coast of New South Wales, Australia. “It’s where I fell in love with Australia,” he said. “The beaches, the surf, the rain forests, the climate and the laid-back people.”

The couple decided to emulate the transmigratory lifestyle of the Canada Goose by travelling to the warmth of the Southern Hemisphere when it was freezing cold in the Northern Hemisphere and reversing their flight six months later. They already owned homes in trendy West London and on the Greek island of Corfu so their retirement plan was relatively easy to organise. His gift for banking wages and expenses like a squirrel hoarding chestnuts was utterly alien to me but I have to admit that Mark’s parsimony gave him a very comfy lifestyle stretching across the world.

Much to his consternation Mark discovered that the price of Byron Bay real estate had skyrocketed in the last “boom” so he settled for a bush property at the back of Mullumbimby just off the Pacific Highway. Judith and I lived about 70kms further north in the Tweed Valley so we were regularly in touch during their annual migration to the tropics.

Clovis died a few years ago and Mark struggled on without her. She had been his pillar and domestic organiser and his life became lonelier and tougher. He died in London on 22 December, aged 77. Only days before we were emailing each other about the death of Phillip Knightley, another colleague from the golden era of Sunday Times journalism.

These days it seems that my dearest friends are dying around me. A year ago it was Brian Johns and before that we lost artist Colin Lanceley, my brave niece, Helen, and one of Australia’s great leaders, Gough Whitlam.

I’m heartily over the Christian view of death as a maudlin, desolate and grief-stricken episode followed by drunken revelry at a wake. Life and death are a unity, not a tension of opposites. One is the direct and natural consequence of the other. In Oriental and indigenous cultures, death is celebrated with the same joy as birth and coming of age. Give me music, singing and dancing any time.

The Ottaway clan

Mark’s younger brother is Sir Richard Ottaway, a former lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Tory MP for Nottingham North (1983-87) and Croydon South (1997-2015). A remarkable maverick, Ottaway broke Tory ranks in the House of Commons in 2004 to criticise Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq on the basis of feebly falsified intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.

As chairman of the Commons select committee on foreign affairs, Ottaway supported the successful 2014 motion to recognise the Palestinian state. Israeli’s Zionists were enraged. They launched a campaign to destroy his reputation but the conservative burghers of Croydon were having none of it, and his popularity increased.

In his speech to MPs, Ottaway declared: “I was a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory.” He explained his growing disenchantment with the Zionist extremists saying: “Throughout all this, I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with ministers and senior Israeli politicians and urged peaceful negotiations and a proportionate response to prevarication, and I thought that they were listening.

“But I realize now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the West Bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent.”

He added: “Under normal circumstances, I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months [bombing and invading Gaza] that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.”

However, Israeli Zionists will not be losing the unalloyed support of Australian Tories like PM Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott. Both are critical of President Barack Obama’s decision not to oppose a UN Security Council resolution deploring the Israeli regime’s illegal settlement expansion on the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Rights of the terminally ill

Before he left the Commons over one year ago, Sir Richard Ottaway also championed the rights of terminally ill people. He campaigned long and hard for the right of the terminally ill to die in their own homes and not in some privately-owned, gerry-built complex of death.

In a moment of Commons history in March 2012, he tabled a backbench motion to launch a debate on assisted suicide. Rejecting the fury of god-botherers, MPs of the British Parliament agreed for the first time that it is not in the public interest to prosecute people who compassionately help a loved one to die. At a subsequent Oxford Union debate – “This House would legalise assisted dying” – the audience voted 167 to 131 in favour of legalisation.

All this added poignancy to the late news from London that his brother Mark took his own life.

Liberals spending big to save Nats

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government in Canberra and Premier Mike Baird’s government in NSW have ordered their respective Treasuries to draw up 2017 budgets which spend billions of dollars in rural and regional Australia. The purpose is purely political: to save the Liberal Party’s coalition partner, the Nationals.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, MP for New England, and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, MP for Monaro, are both facing party wipe-outs as “forgotten” bush voters take their electoral revenge on the National Party’s recent legacy of neglect and complacency.

Last November the NSW Nationals lost one of their safest NSW seats, Orange, in western NSW, in an angry 21% swing against them. If repeated in other National strongholds at the next federal election (perhaps this year?) or the 2019 NSW election, the Nats would be obliterated.

Turnbull and his (current) Treasurer Scott Morrison have decided to pour federal funds into the bush in the next two budgets to ward off a “Brexit” or “Trump” revolt by “deplorables”. With Barnaby Joyce applying the whip, Treasury plans to implement the Building Better Regions Fund and the Community Development Grants Programme to build infrastructure in key National electorates.

A similar process in under way in NSW with the Nationals demanding a massive re-allocation of funds to regional areas where the party is threatened by enraged voters whose basic services are falling behind those in Sydney.

Coalition leaders repeatedly tell voters that their “primary” task is to provide “safety” and “security” for members of the public. They are lying. Their principal purpose is to spend our taxes to protect their cushy seats in parliament from the racists of One Nation and the gun-toting Shooters party.

If Australia established a Commonwealth Independent Commission Against Corruption, as argued by the Greens, politicians who directed public funds into projects for personal or purely party political gain could be investigated. If found guilty of corruptly misusing public money they could be charged by the Commonwealth DPP, convicted and jailed. The end result would be their exclusion from public office.

Needless to say, the Liberals, Nationals and Labor are united against the creation of a Commonwealth ICAC,

Festival of Dangerous Ideas*

This is your chance to hear broadcaster Alan Jones in a dark, intimate environment. No, not a male toilet in London but at the Sydney Town Hall. It will be Alan Unplugged and Uncensored talking about the issues that made him world famous in retirement villages all over Woy Woy on the NSW Central Coast – economics, climate and immigration. Jones is not an Aussie Donald Trump who wants to grab pussy, but he does fancy a wall – a “great big wall, the biggest you’ve ever seen” from Bourke to Wagga Wagga to create a big inland lake, “the biggest inland lake you’ve ever seen”. And who will pay for it? No, not Mexico, but the Abos. Book now for the Alan Jones Ultimatum, sponsored by the John Singleton Freedom Foundation and Dick Smith’s Scouting Fellowship for boys in shorts and long socks and Leather News. Alan’s ideas aren’t just “dangerous” they’re centuries ahead of everyone else, and the prime minister and the premiers are all listening.

Great Crashing Bores*

I wish they’d just build shark nets all around Australia and then we’d save so many surfers from shark attack. It’s getting out of hand: every year hundreds of swimmers are being eaten by killer whales. There are probably more but the media covers up the true numbers: it probably runs into thousands but the tourist industry keeps the real figures out of the media. A shark net around Australia would also keep out the queue-jumping reffos; as we all know, they’ve stopped coming by boat; now they’re swimming here. We should put barbed wire on the net to keep the Mussies from swimming ashore. I think I’ll get Pauline to put my shark net plan in her manifesto for the election.

*FofDI and GCB are satirical fiction

Quote of the Week

I will never wear a suit and tie. Never. This ugly, constricting, ridiculous attire is the uniform of social misfits who are eating away at the human world of colour and difference. These lookalikes are murderers and planet destroyers. The suit and tie is how you recognise them.   –    S Sorrensen, Byron Echo, 4 January

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