Chapter 17 – Chicago and Sydney, January 2018
The boys from U.C. Inc. travel to Sydney
“I am afraid that we'll have to draw the seminar to a close," Hersch Freckel announced. "We have to catch the shuttle to Sydney in ninety minutes." Bullock, Watson, and Freckel put their papers away and carried their luggage to the waiting car. The gradstudes shuffled off to the library for a pleasant evening's work.
"Do you think we will make it Harry?" worried Freckel. "The traffic is not looking good."
“Should do Hersch. But remember, as Marty Feldmann once said, if you’ve never missed a plane you’ve spent too much time waiting in airport lounges. Anyway we can probably get on the British Airways flight if we miss EastWest."
"Do British Airways serve kosher food?" asked Freckel.
"Only on the Damascus run," quipped Big Harry. Herschel smiled weakly and exhorted the driver to speed up. The driver merely said, "Leab de drivin' to me man."
Harry had done the Sydney trip many times before. He wasn't about to be hassled by airline schedules.
"Who are these East-West crowd anyway?" Freckel asked.
"They started the Aussie airline deregulation in the '80s, or was it the ‘90s," Watson explained. "We used to have something called the Two Airline Policy. What it amounted to was a government-private enterprise carve-up that made it just about impossible to fly unless someone else was paying the bill. But East-West managed to turn a small regional airline into the third national carrier. When the economy collapsed in '91 they made a killing. Now they are number one in Australia and expanding rapidly in the international scene."
"What happened to the members of the original duopoly?" Freckel asked, always keen to collect another example to use for his class in business management.
"The government airline was sold to the Koreans," Watson went on, "and the private one now ekes out a miserable existence with a no-frills service between Sydney and Melbourne. The East-West service isn't the most elegant either. But they have a good safety record and their mechanics are expert at keeping the old 747s flying."
Hersch Freckel’s thoughts turned to Australian passport control. “Have you Aussies adopted Harry’s UK system?” he asked anxiously. “”Will I be forced to wait in the non-premium lane for hours?”
“No probs, mate” Watson replied. “Everyone gets a good run. We have a system that is even better than the Bullock plan. Generates less money, but it’s much fairer.”
Harry Bullock settled back to enjoy the story he knew was coming.
“Dear old John Howard, three PMs ago, famously said ‘We shall decide who comes to Australia and under what terms’ or words to that effect.” Watson began his unsettling story.
“Howard had planned a new system, using advanced technology developed by the boffins at the Australian Notional University. It was based on retinal scanning, far more reliable than fingerprints, as the bad guys had learned how to graft onto their fingers original computer-generated fingerprints. But Howard got rolled before he could implement this system”.
“Luckily, the bureaucrats liked the idea, and so did the new Minister for Immigration. He slipped it through cabinet at one of Kevin Rudd’s famous all-night sittings. By the time the PM had worked out he’d been dudded, the system had proved its worth by pinging a real bad bloke, a Saudi intent on detonating a small thermonuclear device close enough to Kirribilli House to wipe out the PM and his family. So the system stayed in place and we have the fairest and most foolproof immigration control system in the world.”
“Anyway, this is the point. When you applied for your visa your right eyeball was scanned, probably without you noticing. When you swipe your passport in Sydney, another retinal scan will be taken. Here’s the neat bit – if your scan does not match your name, a short-focus laser beam will immediately burn out your eyeball.”
“This is barbaric!” Freckel exclaimed. “Everyone knows technology is never foolproof. What if the system stuffs up?”
“We’ve thought of that,” Watson replied. “There is a very good eye clinic at every airport or seaport where immigrants land, and an accidental victim gets a free eyeball replacement operation and free hospital accommodation until he is able to see from both eyes again. There's a catch. Most of the available eyeballs here have blue irises, Hersch, so in your case a good match may be difficult. But cheer up, there is only one chance in 10,000 of a mistake. About the same as the odds on flying the Pacific, by the way.”
“We'll have to go through Redfern," Norbitt explained to Bullock, Freckel and Watson. Our two intrepid American visitors had passed through passport control without incident, but now Hersh Freckel had something new to worry about.
Norbitt continued: "It should be safe enough. I've paid the toll, including a handsome tip. You might be searched but if you don't say the wrong thing it should be okay”.
"Bloody Blacks” growled Harry. "Still, I suppose they have to earn a living”.
"That's right Harry," Norbitt agreed. "The latest peace settlement included the right to charge tolls on the airport traffic. Premier Bolivar had no choice but to settle. The costs were getting too high."
The People's Republic of Redfern had been declared in '93, but in such a low-key way – a bit of graffiti on the wall of a trendy terrace house - that almost no-one noticed.
European settlement of Australia was initially to establish a convict settlement and to create a supply of masts and sails for the ships of the eighteenth century. From the time of European settlement Australia’s indigenous people were known initially as “natives” or even “Indians”. This became “aborigines” or, among miners or farmers, “abos” or even “abs”.
Respectful whites now used the phrase "traditional owners" to describe their koori colleagues.
Needless to say, the traditional owners were given a rough time, as an old story of dispossession and murder was played out. European diseases decimated the native population and those not carried off by disease were driven into marginal areas or in some cases hunted down and shot in retaliation for real or imagined atrocities, such as killing the settlers’ sheep.
In Watson’s native Taswegia, a line of soldiers and their dogs across the island drove the natives into a trap, and this sorry remnant were banished to an off-shore mini-Island.
Eventually, a vastly reduced population became tolerated in the growing towns of the colonies or driven into the parts of Australia – the “Great Outback” – that no white man wanted.
A key legal case eventually established land rights for the traditional owners - the description favoured by the trendy latte sippers of inner Sydney. Land rights were extended on an increasing scale. Naturally, the courts were quicker to grant rights over areas that had been occupied more or less continuously by aboriginal Australians, and this did not generally include highly desirable parts of a generally arid island-continent.
Effective aboriginal protest during Australia's bicentennial celebrations in '88 had generated sympathy for Australia’s traditional but disposessed owners. Their living standards were generally poor, and their life expectancy was up to 20 years less than that of white Australians. The economic depression which hit Australia in 1991 – named “the recession we had to have” by Treasurer Keating - greatly added to the ranks of the disaffected, and produced some concessions for aboriginal Australians.
Land rights turned into real money during the resources boom of the early twenty-first century. Arid wastelands turned out to hide vast deposits of alumina, iron ore and uranium. Suddenly, some of the traditional owners were wealthy. They quickly learned from white Australians that if you’ve got it, you should flaunt it.
With “freeloading blacks" - as those who began to spend money freely were described - becoming prominent, electoral backlash had halted progress. The economic depression at the end of the boom-time decade created much aggravation and ethnic conflict.
Economic sabotage broke out - at first it seemed random but a pattern began to emerge. Bands of urban guerrillas – in reality gangs of disaffected teenage aboriginal boys - coalesced into a group that styled itself the “Redfern Liberation Mob”. A riot at a football match sparked a wave of looting and burning in the gentrified area to the east of Redfern.
By the time the police had driven the rioters out of Paddington, the leaders had occupied the old Redfern Mail Exchange and (once again, this time for real) proclaimed the People's Republic of Redfern.
The NSW government had decided that the cost of re-establishing its authority would be too high. It rushed an act through parliament granting land rights to "The Koori of Redfern and Surry Hills", as the revolutionaries prefer to be called.
There had been several outbreaks of violence as the Koori raided surrounding suburbs, but use of the Australian Army had quickly thwarted any further territorial ambitions. But in defending their territory the Kooris of Redfern were as hard to subdue as were the Turks at Gallipoli, and an uneasy peace had only recently been established.
The Federal government agreed to pay an annual grant equivalent to the amount estimated to have been paid previously in unemployment benefits to residents of the area. In addition, the right to charge a toll on travelers to and from the airport had been granted.
U.C. Inc. had been retained by the NSW government to advise on what, if any, further action should be carried out. Sensing some lucrative possibilities, Harry Bullock had agreed to take a first look at the problem. Hersch Freckel and John Watson had come along for the ride. As well as helping on the Redfern project, they were scheduled to give papers at a conference in Hobart.
Watson would be able to visit his old Mum and be plied with bacon and eggs in the morning and roast lamb at night for several days.
The driver expertly maneuvered the limo through the narrow streets of Redfern. It was a balmy evening and the residents were sitting and strolling. Many were quite pale complexioned but there were sufficient of traditional dusky hue to remind the travelers that they were not in Waspland.
The terraces were painted brightly, many in the vivid red, yellow and black of the shining aboriginal flag. These colours predominated in the women's saris (the year's fashion among both kooris and trendier whites). The men generally wore traditional bush gear, with riding boots and the famous Akubra hats. “The 'noble savage' has certainly come a long way," Watson remarked to Bullock.
"It's happening everywhere," Bullock explained. "The key is self-assertion. Until these people demanded their rights they had no chance at all. They were stuck in a cycle of dependency and misery. But once they got radicalized the power-brokers had to take them seriously. It's a common story - I saw it first with the Canadian Eskimos."
"Is it safe to come this way?" Herschel Freckel asked nervously.
"I've got an arrangement man," retorted the driver. Watson looked at him more closely - come to think of it, his nose was just a bit flatter than that of most whites. "Are you a Koori?" Watson asked.
"Sure am mate," the driver replied. "I wouldn't recommend that you try to drive through here on your Pat Malone though. The brothers keep a pretty close eye on the traffic."
“I wouldn't dream of it," Watson commented. "In any case I am no longer used to driving on the left hand side of the road. It's a long while since I lived in this part of the world."
"Bloody hell," Watson exploded. “What does this bastard think he's doing?"
Bullock and Freckel had been dropped at the Sydney Intercontinental, but Watson had gone straight to U.C.'s Sydney office. He was discussing an e-mail from London with Dick Saxon, a local colleague.
"Calm down John," Saxon advised. "You can't respond right after a flight from the US. You'll have to sleep on it".
"But this bastard doesn't understand the first thing about the work. We've had all these issues out before. He just doesn't listen to reasoned argument. Boskins still thinks I'm a gradstude. Can you get him on the line?"
"If you insist. But don't get too carried away while you’re jet lagged. Can I get you a Fosters, or a cup of tea?"
"A cold Fosters would be great Dick. My mouth feels like the bottom of a cocky's cage. Could use a shower too, but that can wait."
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