Australasia and World War II – things you may not have known

 

world-war-ii-new-zealand
World War 11 and impact on New Zealand

I grew up in the backblocks of New Zealand, ignorant until quite recently about the impact of World War II at home, particularly friction between American and Kiwi servicemen.

Prior to the 90th birthday of a family member in New Zealand, I did a modicum of research to find out what it was like for a Kiwi lad growing up in the World War II years. Amongst other things, I discovered that when this fellow was 15 (April 1943), a brawl broke out between American and New Zealand servicemen in Wellington in what became known as “The Battle of Manners Street”. The brawl, which has been greatly exaggerated over the years, lasted about four hours and was eventually quelled by civil and military police. There were other antagonistic affrays between soldiers and sailors in Auckland and a second incident, in Wellington’s Cuba Street.

As happened in Brisbane and other Australian capital cities, women formed romantic liaisons with American troops. About 1,500 Kiwi women married Americans during World War II. As recounted in New Zealand History online: “The soldiers were starved of female company, and many Kiwi women were charmed by the Americans (sic) good manners and ability to afford taxi rides, ice-cream sodas and gifts of flowers.”

Between 1942 and 1944 up to 45,000 American soldiers and sailors were based in New Zealand, before or after the war in the Pacific.

Most readers would be familiar with the much-chronicled “Battle of Brisbane” – a vicious World War II brawl between US and Australian troops on November 26 and 27, 1942, an incident army censors sought to supress. The fracas was sparked by tension between US and Australian servicemen over the former’s extra-curricular activities with local women. American troops were better paid, better turned out and had access to luxuries like chocolates, nylons and cigarettes (Or as the saying apparently went ‘Over-sexed, over-paid and over here’ Ed). Smokes were available to US troops duty free from a canteen in Queen Street. Australian troops complained about the unfairness of this and, after briefly being given access to the canteen, the practice was deemed illegal.

In New Zealand as in Australia, allied troops engaging in public brawls was certainly not what the top brass wanted to read in newspapers. There is evidence that much of the detail about the three-hour Battle of Brisbane was hushed up at the time, likewise the Manners Street incident. Censorship was loosened in 2013 with the release of previously classified CIA documents. In one of these documents, a 1942 report by US war correspondent J Edward Angly (which I downloaded from the CIA website), observed that resentment was rife among Australian troops during World War II. The Americans were more affluent and by reasons of their manners and appearance, more attractive to local women. There was also some tension in that the Australian militia could not be sent to a Pacific theatre of war beyond their mandated territory. “The Americans know this and are inclined to rib the Australians about it,” Angly observed.

The “Battle of Brisbane,” where up to 4,000 people slugged it out on the streets, resulted in one fatality and eight serious injuries.

Anyone who has seen Queensland Ballet’s evocative production of ‘Cloudland’ would recall the tension between American and Australian servicemen, out for a night of drinking and dancing at Brisbane’s once famous dance hall.

On the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Brisbane, Dr Judith Powell said in a blog the incident had become such a part of Brisbane folklore that when Queenslander Jeff Horn met reigning welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao in the boxing ring at Lang Park, the event was billed as “The Battle of Brisbane”.

The Battle of Manners Street does not hold that kind of mystique, but looking into it allowed me to discover that World War II had more of an impact on Kiwis at home than we might realise.

On June 19, 1941, the liner RMS Niagara was sunk by a mine laid by the German auxiliary cruiser Orion off the coast of Whangarei, north of Auckland.  Everyone aboard escaped and was transported to shore.  But a large consignment of gold from the Bank of England worth £2.5 million pounds went down with the ship. The gold was a (then secret), payment from the UK to the US for munitions supplies.

German surface raiders operated in New Zealand waters in 1940 and 1941, sinking four ships. Japanese submarines also operated in New Zealand waters in 1942 and 1943. They sent reconnaissance aircraft over Auckland and Wellington, but did not carry out any attacks.

For all of that, Kiwis tend to remember the more emotive brawl between (inebriated) soldiers in Wellington’s streets and laneways. There were racial elements to both brawls, with the presence of African American sailors and soldiers in Australian cities a challenge to the then ‘White Australia’ policy. Various sources say the Battle of Manners Street was sparked by US servicemen and sailors complaining about Maori servicemen being served alcohol in the Allied Services Club. The Maori soldiers in turn complained the Yanks were getting preferential treatment.

Up to 1,000 people, including some civilians, were involved in skirmishes which were quelled by civil and military police three or four hours after the violence started. No reference to the riots appeared at the time in local newspapers or on the radio.

According to a 2013 update by stuff.co.nz, false rumours that two American serviceman had died that evening persisted for decades.

It is worth pointing out that servicemen on furlough typically went on drinking binges and in New Zealand at the time, pubs closed at 6pm.

The ‘Six O’Clock Swill’ was notorious for prompting binge drinking and bad behaviour in general.

Hard to imagine the Australian and US military having such antipathy today, drunk or sober, especially when it appears that we are still able and willing to support the American military when the occasion arises. Although Australia was not directly involved in missile strikes on Syrian targets, PM Malcolm Turnbull has not ruled out joining the US, UK and France in future military action if Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad again uses chemical weapons.

Never mind that, you say, what happened to the gold?

Oh, the gold? Yes, 94% of it was salvaged for HM Government by an old ship that found the wreck by dragging its anchor back and forth across the Whangarei harbour (exploding the occasional mine). According to this Wikipedia entry, there are still five gold bars down there – somewhere.

Even after 78 years, the legacies of war keep surfacing. Kiwi environmentalists are pressuring the government to assess the risk of a major oil leak from the Niagara.

Auckland Conservation Board chair Lyn Mayes told the New Zealand Herald last year that the rusting hulk was a ‘ticking time bomb’. While only sporadically leaking oil over the years, the Niagara’s two main oil tanks still contain 2000 litres of oil.

Which makes you wonder about the wrecks of 30 ships sunk by German and Japanese submarines around Australia’s coastline between 1942-1945.

I  don’t like the use of the word ‘famous’ in this list of shipwrecks as so many of them represent lives tragically lost at sea. But it is a fascinating peek into our war-time history.

 

 

Junk Drawer Quest For Missing Key

junk-drawer-quest
Photo: The junk drawer (after), by Bob Wilson

The small stuff autumn clean-up starts with a simple search of the junk drawer for a missing filing cabinet key. I recently shifted my office downstairs and in the shifting, all the things which were in places known to recent memory have been displaced. But it gives me a good chance to clear out what we call ‘the drawer of drawers’ – a small, deep drawer in which we throw stuff which has no particular home.

The first item in the junk drawer is an electronic button in a plastic pouch. I don’t remember what it is until squeezing it. A tune immediately begins to play, ‘Love Me Tender’, the A and B parts, faintly, reedily and slightly flat. Ah yes, that would be the satin sleep shorts from Valentine’s Day 1990-something. I surmise the idea was that one’s lover slides their hand inside the waistband (into which the button is sewn). You get the picture?

“Do you want to keep this?” I ask She Who Must Always Be Consulted.

“Aw sweet – I remember that…chuck it!”

The next items in the junk drawer are various jeweller’s screwdrivers, Allen keys and plugs you put in hardboard walls when you want to hang a picture. Then there are plastic bags full of assorted screws, nails and other wall attachments.

There are many batteries of various sizes. I set them aside to later test with the battery tester which must be in some other drawer.

Did I mention Blu-Tack? There is quite a bit of that, given our habit of posting music promo flyers all over town. I’m consolidating it into one packet clearly labelled Blu-Tack. You can see how insidiously a brand name worms its way into the language.

There are small padlocks (3) and padlock keys (7), none of which fit any padlock I can find thus far. There are 17 other keys which do not appear to have a match anywhere in the house. The old Camry key goes back quite a few vehicles. There are six plastic dimmer switch caps which became redundant last time the electrician was here.

“Do we really need to keep those?” I ask SWMABC (derisive snort).

At the bottom of the (empty) junk drawer, a tiny cockroach scrambles its way to liberty. I get the vacuum out and hoover up the cockroach grit in the bottom of the drawer. The remaining contents sit on the kitchen table awaiting re-distribution or disposal.

There’s a birthday candle, (5), which causes puzzlement until I realise there was also once a 6, which probably got thrown out after my landmark birthday. There’s a GetUp Action for Australia sticker which I just now stuck on my choir folder. There’s a Maleny Music Festival 2015 volunteer’s badge, a reminder to sign up for this year’s festival starting Friday 31st of August (and score points for being a volunteer promoter).

There’s a ball of green twine (with a strip of Blu-Tack attached), an eraser, a Niagara Falls keyring and a recipe label for Palm Street Choko Chutney. There are also quite a few small butterfly spring clips.

“Most of this shit belongs in the office,” I yell down the hall.

“There’s too much shit in the office drawers already,” comes the rejoinder. “And don’t say shit in your column.”

Motivated, I take some Bank of Queensland coin bags and separate pins, nails, screws and ‘other fasteners’ then stow them in the shed.

Will get around to that one day too, I mutter, soto voce.

So then I get stuck into the office desk drawer. There’s two paper knives (never use them), several magnifying glasses (useful), two boxes of rubber bands and lots of address labels I can’t use anymore because, as I wrote in this blog last April, I stopped paying for a private mail box.

Having drawn a blank in both drawers, I rummage through the three-drawer plastic storage container on my desk, one of which is full of USB drives, each helpfully labelled with a key tag. Oh, yes, and one of these tags is attached to the missing filing cabinet key! ‘Incroyable’ as the French would so foppishly say.

The drawer or box full of USB drives is the scourge of 21st century hoarders. Someone gives you one – “Oh you have to watch (bootlegged series)” and of course it is never returned. I still have my first USB drive, 256MB capacity (it cost $125). But if I tell you that you’ll think I’m a hoarder.

There’s a rarely-used Telstra internet dongle in this drawer, which gives me an angry hot flush when I think about Telstra’s plummeting share price, at $3.10 the lowest point since October 2011.

On Sunday I got onto Telstra’s ‘customer’ chat room to ask why it was that Telstra’s NRL app is charging data to my phone when it is supposed to be free. Incredibly, the customer service consultant told me her remit was for billing inquiries only so she’d have to transfer me to someone else. You know the story. I ended up on the ‘Crowd forum’, which is Telstra’s way of getting customers to solve their own irritating issues. A retired Telstra avatar suggested that perhaps I had not fully completed the installation process which links the NRL.com Live Pass to my mobile phone (very common, if you have the same issue – I could have told you that. Ed).

I know from reader research that 67% of you have no interest at all in rugby league, but I just want to say this one thing.

I remember when a TV reporter asked former Broncos captain Corey Parker what the Brisbane Broncos had to do to beat the Storm.

“Score more points,” was Corey’s laconic reply. He’s now a commentator with Fox Sports.

Miraculously, it seems, I feel freer and less anxious since (a) getting those unrelated issues off my chest and (b) completing the junk drawer declutter exercise.

But as happens with hoarders, the Love Me Tender button now sits on the office window sill, along with a strip of black and white negatives of uncertain provenance, a wooden frog with a fishing pole, a rabbit with one leg, a dumb-looking frog, a groovy ceramic frog with a dobro, a small concrete rabbit, a small pottery elephant, a pink piggybank, a faded postcard from Montreal, a weather station that needs a new battery and a lovely photo of SWMABC looking sweet and harmless. (Just goes to prove photos don’t always tell the truth. Ed)

junk-drawer-missing
The winning post

There is one more item on the window sill – a chrome-plated star picket section, ‘The Winning Post’ (pictured left). It was a souvenir from the late George Stratigos, one of the few people in the world to ever sue BHP and win. I wrote (several) news stories in the 1980s about how it took Queensland Wire Industries six years to win a Trade Practices case over BHP’s refusal to sell Y-bar to QWI, which would allow it to make star pickets, thereby competing with a BHP subsidiary. After the High Court ruling, George had a batch of ‘Winning Posts’ cast and gave them to away to remind people how sometimes the little guy can win.

Call me sentimental, but I’m hanging on to the Winning Post, tarnished as it is by age and neglect. Like life itself, even.

FOMM back pages:

and another

 

Facebook – does it really matter if they share our data?

first-facebook-postSince we’re discussing Facebook and who has the rights to personal information you’ve posted, I wanted to show you my ‘Wall.’  People used to call their Facebook page their ‘Wall’, though that has become passe. As walls go, this one would be ‘liked’ by Shirley Valentine fans (cultural reference), as it suggests romance and sun-bleached beaches.

    I joined Facebook in 2009 (apparently) as this is the first image I posted. At the time we were renovating the downstairs bedroom, rumpus room laundry and ensuite. Apart from hiring a guy to lay tiles throughout, we did all the work ourselves. If I’d known better, I’d have first put a coat of sealer on the besser brick wall as it took four coats of paint until it matched the hardboard on the opposite wall.

    I resisted joining Facebook for such a long time and then when I did, my posts were few and sufficiently opaque to resist understanding by all but my inner circle.

    Facebook has proved handy in terms of keeping in touch with younger family members around the world because, as we know, they don’t write letters. So too I’ve formed loose ties with musicians around the world, which can either be a way of sharing the passion or fishing for a gig.

    Later, Facebook became a good way of spreading the news about folk music events in our small town, some of which we promote.

    Dani Fankhauser’s history of Facebook on mashable.com charts the development of Facebook from its launch in 2004 and the 18 features it used to have and either changed or discontinued. I had no idea the original idea of the ‘wall’ was that people could use it like a whiteboard, leaving messages for their friends. You could change or delete what was there and replace it with your own messages. As Dani says, at one stage it was cool to ‘de-virgin’ someone (be first to post on their wall).

    The wall disappeared and Timeline took its place. Other critical changes since Facebook was launched includes the controversial and constantly changing News Feed and the over-weaning Like button which turned social interaction into a competition.

    Dani writes that Facebook used to be like a journey down the Rabbithole, being diverted down unexpected paths to discover new and interesting worlds. Now it’s like standing in front of the fridge with the door open, not quite sure what you’re looking for. Five years ago she wrote that – has anything changed?

    The hoo-haa about fake news and private data being manipulated by computer data experts should surprise no-one. If you are on Facebook, you are the content.

    You have probably read one version or another of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The Guardian Weekly ran a two-page expose this week so if you really want to delve into it, here’s the ultimate link.

    The fall-out when this news broke was most noticeable on Wall Street. When the Observer revealed that Cambridge Analytica had harvested millions of people’s user data for political profiling, Facebook’s stock plummeted. It fell 17% between March 17 and Easter, wiping $US50 billion off the company’s value. Regulators in several countries are investigating Facebook and may try to limit how the company makes money from data.

    Meanwhile,Google, Apple and Amazon are like little kids who played a joke on someone and are now hiding behind a tree, giggling. The laugh might be on them, according to this broader story.

    There is a social movement (#DeleteFacebook), but social media analyst Andy Swan, writing for Forbes magazine, said the spike in Facebook deletions – the highest since 2004 – peaked on March 21 and has been in decline ever since.

    Most of the outrage stems from reports that Donald Trump’s campaign consultants, Cambridge Analytica, used ‘psychographics’ which allows personality traits to be manipulated.

    But what about our music pages, Mark?

    In January this year Facebook began changing the algorithms that influence what users/members see in their news feed. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said the changes were made because of feedback that public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – was ‘crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other’.

    Changes started last year and as Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post, will take months to implement. “As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content (in your Newsfeed) like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard – it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

    This must be a deeply disturbing trend for mainstream media, which has hooked its disintegrating business model to the hems of social media’s skirts.

    Our local paper, the Sunshine Coast Daily (now owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd), recently ran a 150-word ‘news story’ – Keep News #1 in your Facebook feed. The article suggested Daily readers keep up with the latest local news by ‘making a simple adjustment’.

    This means first find the SCD page on Facebook, like, click ‘follow’ then click ‘see first’.

    Well yes, it works, but it didn’t take long for the stream of sensationalist stories to ‘clutter up’ my news feed and the same could be said of choosing this option for other media outlets. Beware the Paywall!

    Just for the mental exercise, I downloaded my Facebook data. It has always been possible to download your own data and if we were smart, we’d all do it every year so we at least can find copies of the photos we posted then forgot about. Just go to your profile page and click on settings (the link is at the bottom of the page).

    Just downloading your data file does not mean you are deleting your information from Facebook. Leaving, closing your account and demanding the return of the original data is not so easy.

    But it was illuminating to trawl through this 136MB file. There is an exchange (a thread) between me and a former colleague. I wished to write something about him in my blog, about the merits of academic ambition when one is supposedly past student age. Within the conversation, my former colleague revealed quite a lot of detail about his school years, what work he did on leaving school and how he came to study journalism. I used hardly any of this information in the blog which was eventually published. But it is sitting there quietly, within my (private) Facebook data files. Let’s hope it stays that way.

    So what does the Cambridge Analytica privacy furore mean for folk who just want to post photos of their cats, dogs, partners and kids? Not much, I suspect, unless you have a ‘brand’ page like the ones I use for pur stage name, The Goodwills and this blog.

    I thought it would be fair play to share Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook post. It is interesting for his over-use of marketing-speak and the sometimes snarky comments which follow his ‘community-oriented’ explanation for making business, brands and media pages less visible.

    I’m with the people who asked why couldn’t Facebook users simply curate their own news feed without having it dictated by algorithms.

    Meanwhile, if you want to keep the Bobwords brand page at the top of your news feed, click on the link, like and follow.

    Or not!

     

     

    Housing affordability and the empty homes scandal

    housing-affordability-empty-houses
    Housing affordability in world capitals. Photo of Melbourne’s Southbank by Ashley Rambukwella flickr CC https://flic.kr/p/KfdUMR

    The inspiration to start writing (again) about housing affordability came from left field. I was sitting back enjoying an American roots band, The Brothers Comatose, at the Blue Mountains Music Festival in Katoomba. Lead singer and front man Ben Morrison introduced the band, saying they were from San Francisco but maybe not for long. “The price of houses is crazy there (man) and most of the musicians I know are moving out because they can’t afford to live in the area.”

    “Maybe we could move here,” he suggested, and the audience groaned, knowing that housing affordability is just as big a problem in Sydney and surrounds as in San Francisco, Vancouver, New York or Paris.

    “Can we sleep on your couch?’’ he jested, before doing what musicians do to avoid thinking about the cost of living. Great band, by the way (check out this bluegrass old-style tune around one microphone).

    Morrison’s complaint rang true – I did a modicum of housing affordability research which quickly showed that the median price of a house in San Francisco’s Bay area clipped $US1.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. The California Association of Realtors Housing Affordability Index shows that it would cost $US7, 580 a month to service the mortgage. The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $US3, 441.

    Housing affordability is a myth in Vancouver, Canada’s biggest West coast city. The 14th annual Demographia affordability study ranked Vancouver the least affordable among 50 American and Canadian cities. Internationally, it is ranked the third least affordable city among 293 locations around the world (Sydney was 2nd). The British Columbia Provincial Government has made several attempts to rein in the city’s galloping real estate prices, including a 15% tax on foreign nationals purchasing metropolitan real estate. Another new measure attempts to tackle a problem that plagues Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s housing affordability problem cities.

    The BC government conducted a survey which found that 8,481 houses in Vancouver were unoccupied during a six-month period. That’s 4.6% of the housing stock. Now the government is going to levy a tax on people who own houses and don’t occupy or rent them. The tax will be calculated at 1% of the assessed value. So the owner of a two-bedroom condo in Vancouver valued at $900,000 and deemed to be unoccupied will pay the BC government $9,000 a year.

    Meanwhile, the housing boom in Vancouver is on the downturn, according to the Vancouver Courier, and they should know. Still, with a median house price around $3 million (Dec 2017) and condos going at $1 million apiece, it’s maybe time for that bubble to lose some air.

    Meanwhile Down Under, house prices keep rising

    Melbourne and Sydney made into Demographia’s top 10 list of the least affordable cities in the world. Sydney’s median house price of $1.11 million assured it of that invidious claim. Demographia ranks middle income affordability using a price-to-income ratio. Anything over 3 is rated unaffordable. On this basis, some of the world’s most affordable towns included Youngston, Ohio (1.9), Moncton, New Brunswick (2.1) and Limerick, Ireland (2.2). There are no affordable Australian cities on Demographia’s watch.

    The least affordable city is Hong Kong (19.4) then a gap to Sydney (12.9) and Vancouver (12.6). Melbourne (9.9) is slightly more unaffordable than the aforementioned San Francisco (9.1).

    Studies have shown that Melbourne is one of the big culprits in hiding empty houses among its residential property stock.

    Australia’s 2016 Census showed that 11.2% of Australia’s housing stock was described as unoccupied on Census night. Empty property numbers were up 19% in Melbourne and 15% in Sydney compared with the 2011 Census. This growing anomaly is a global trend in the world’s biggest cities which have allowed rapid apartment developments.

    Just why 1.089 million houses and units were unoccupied on Census night is hard to explain. But it probably suggests the owner/s were not in need of rental income and would rather keep the place in mothballs for use when the wealthy owners or friends and relatives visit (for the Australian Open, Melbourne Cup or the Grand Prix) or are relying on capital gain without the need to bother with tenants.

    Hal Pawson of the University of NSW wrote in The Conversation that the spectre of unlit apartments in Melbourne’s night sky prompted the Victorian government to introduce an empty homes tax. Like Vancouver, this is levied at 1% of the property’s value. Similar taxes have been introduced in Paris and Ontario. Mr Pawson, Associate Director – City Futures – Urban Policy and Strategy, City Futures Research Centre, Housing Policy and Practice, UNSW, (try getting an acronym out of that. Ed.)  says the Melbourne tax only applies to inner city and middle suburbs and, there are ‘curious’ exemptions for foreign nationals with under-used second homes.

    The flaw in the scheme is that it relies on self-reporting. Pawson says the lack of reliable data on empty homes is a major problem in Australia.

    Census figures substantially overstate the true number of long-term vacant habitable properties because they include temporarily empty dwellings (including second homes).

    Prosper Australia uses Victorian water records to estimate that about half of Melbourne’s census-recorded vacant properties are long-term “speculative vacancies”. That’s 82,000 homes. A similar “conversion factor” to Sydney’s census numbers would indicate around 68,000 speculative vacancies.

    Labor Opposition shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has proposed a national tax on homes left empty for six months or more.

    Pawson says these “cruel and immoral revelations” come at a time when 400 people sleep rough in Sydney every night and hundreds of thousands more face overcrowded homes or unaffordable rents.

    He says Australia has a bigger problem in terms of under-utilised occupied housing. Australian Bureau of Statistics survey data shows that, across Australia, more than a million homes (mainly owner-occupied) have three or more spare (read unused) bedrooms. A comparison of the latest statistics (for 2013-14) with those for 2007-2008 suggests this body of “grossly under-utilised” properties grew by more than 250,000 in the last six years.

    While authorities are grappling with the issue and how to perhaps tighten foreign ownership laws, the ANZ Bank did its own survey. Foreign buyers were playing an increasing role in spurring demand for new houses and apartments, it found. The ANZ analysed Reserve Bank data to conclude that in 2015-2016, foreign investors bought between 30,000 and 60,000 dwellings in Australia. This equates to 15% to 25% of all new dwellings, 80% of which were apartments, which can be bought ‘off-the-plan’.

    There is good reason to suspect that the new apartment markets in Hong Kong, Vancouver, London, Paris and other desirable world capitals are underwritten to some extent by foreign nationals (including Australians).

    The problem which could arise, say in the case of a global recession, is what happens in cities like Melbourne and Brisbane where foreign investors have bought up to 35% of new stock, if these owners are forced to sell.

    Not to worry, most big box discount stores will give you a large cardboard box in which to live. The dumpster bins behind shopping centres have perfectly good food that’s just been chucked out because it has passed the use-by date.

    Trust me.

    FOMM back pages

    Travel safe this weekend, people