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What can I say about Cuba? 

In the late ‘70s I lived on the boundary of Paddington in Sydney and walked to and from work in the city.  Between my home and work there was an area of terrace housing in Darlinghurst that had been resumed by the State for the construction of a road tunnel and traffic interchanges.  Squatters had moved into some of the ‘DMR affected’ houses.  Most of these were young people, students, rock bands and radically unemployed alternative culture advocates; hippies. 

Those houses in this socially vibrant area that were not condemned by the road building were rented to people who were happy with these neighbours: artists; writers; musicians; even some younger professionals; and a number were brothels.  

Graffiti was a local art form.  ‘Disarm Rapists’ competed with ‘Lesbianism Sucks’.  A finely finished sandstone wall bore the inscription in copperplate style: ‘Eradicate Gratuitous Vandalism.  The 'red light' area was frequented, in addition to the girls, by incognito men and 'flashers'.  A sign high on the local church warned these sinners ‘Jesus is Coming’.  Below it someone had written ‘button up your raincoats’.  

This experience unwittingly prepared me for Cuba.

In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista the corrupt dictator of Cuba and installed a strict Marxist-Leninist political and economic system.  While not as radical as that of Pol Pot in Cambodia the immediate impact was the eradication of private property and the peasantry was invited to move into the homes and hotels of the rich. Thus the cities became giant squats.

 

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Many of those original squatters are now very elderly or dead but their children and grandchildren live in what has become a family tradition.

Back in Australia, the Darlinghurst squatters mostly grew-up and moved on.  Some to fame as artists; musicians or writers; some overdosed and some contracted AIDS.  Most got regular jobs and moved to better homes; their children in turn enjoying a personal bedroom, modern kitchens and bathrooms; many are now travelling the world. 

But Cuban children came to think of temporary wires as electricity services; hose pipes as plumbing; and a packing case as a table or chair.  It sort of works but it is essentially squalid.  Now the older buildings themselves are falling down and no one seems to be prepared to make major repairs or renovations to property they do not own. 

Where ownership or at least a long term lease has been allowed there are wonderful exceptions.  Tourist hotels are an example.  The restored up-market hotels are world-class, some brilliantly renovated.   There are also a few excellent restaurants. 

 

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The dining room at the Telegraph Hotel

 

But these exceptions stand out against a background of very sub-standard accommodation and food.  Cuba is not a place to back-pack or ‘do it on the cheap’; unless you like living in a squat and eating beans from a can. 

 

 


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Travel

Darwin after Europe

 

 

On our return from Europe we spent a few days in Darwin and its surrounds.  We had a strong sense of re-engagement with Australia and found ourselves saying things like: 'isn't this nice'.

We were also able to catch up with some of our extended family. 

Julia's sister Anneke was there, working on the forthcoming Darwin Festival.  Wendy's cousin Gary and his partner Son live on an off-grid property, collecting their own water and solar electricity, about 120 km out of town. 

We went to the Mindl markets with Anneke and her friend Chris; and drove out to see Gary, in our hire-car, who showed us around Dundee Beach in his more robust vehicle. Son demonstrated her excellent cooking skills.

 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Recollections of 1963

 

 

 

A Pivotal Year

 

1963 was a pivotal year for me.  It was the year I completed High School and matriculated to University;  the year Bob Dylan became big in my life; and Beatlemania began; the year JFK was assassinated. 

The year had started with a mystery the Bogle-Chandler deaths in Lane Cove National Park in Sydney that confounded Australia. Then came Buddhist immolations and a CIA supported coup and regime change in South Vietnam that was both the beginning and the begining of the end for the US effort there. 

Suddenly the Great Train Robbery in Britain was headline news there and in Australia. One of the ringleaders, Ronnie Biggs was subsequently found in Australia but stayed one step of the authorities for many years.

The 'Space Race' was well underway with the USSR still holding their lead by putting Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova into orbit for almost three days and returning her safely. The US was riven with inter-racial hostility and rioting. But the first nuclear test ban treaties were signed and Vatican 2 made early progress, the reforming Pope John 23 unfortunately dying midyear.

Towards year's end, on the 22nd of November, came the Kennedy assassination, the same day the terminally ill Aldous Huxley elected to put an end to it.

But for sex and scandal that year the Profumo Affair was unrivalled.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Australia and Empire

 

 

 

The recent Australia Day verses Invasion Day dispute made me recall yet again the late, sometimes lamented, British Empire.

Because, after all, the Empire was the genesis of Australia Day.

For a brief history of that institution I can recommend Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Scottish historian Niall Campbell Ferguson.

My choice of this book was serendipitous, unless I was subconsciously aware that Australia Day was approaching.  I was cutting through our local bookshop on my way to catch a bus and wanted something to read.  I noticed this thick tomb, a new addition to the $10 Penguin Books (actually $13). 

On the bus I began to read and very soon I was hooked when I discovered references to places I'd been and written of myself.  Several of these 'potted histories' can be found in my various travel writings on this website (follow the links): India and the Raj; Malaya; Burma (Myanmar); Hong Kong; China; Taiwan; Egypt and the Middle East; Israel; and Europe (a number).  

Over the next ten days I made time to read the remainder of the book, finishing it on the morning of Australia Day, January the 26th, with a sense that Ferguson's Empire had been more about the sub-continent than the Empire I remembered.

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