Flat Earth

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The Independent Online
Keating and the good colonials

THAT SHRILL babbling in the air last week. . . I know that sound. . . Oh yes, of course, that's the noise of a guilty Aussie conscience. It turns up quite regularly in fact - whenever the Australian government justifies another of its disgraceful deeds towards the people of East Timor, whom it betrayed into the hands of the Indonesians in 1975. On the latest occasion it was the PM, the oath-rich Paul Keating, refusing asylum to 18 Timorese who escaped from their terrorised island. The reason being - listen carefully now, because it's a bit difficult to follow - that their former rulers, the Portuguese, were very bad colonial masters, in fact "just about the worst colonial power".

We've heard this line before, when we once asked a senior Australian personage how he justified his country's being in cahoots with the Javanese, who are now stealing the oil from under the Timor Sea. Lifting his forefinger like Aristotle in the grove, he announced proudly that he had been personally responsible for Australia's appeasement policy, drafting it as a contingency plan when he was just a young wombat in Canberra in the 1960s. Then he went on to attack - that's right, the Portuguese. "Far worse colonial rulers of East Timor," he said, "than the Indonesians are."

"But - but - cobber," I said, quite forgetting myself in my stupefaction. "That's just not true. For one thing, the Portuguese never killed 100,000 - maybe 200,000 - Timorese, as the Indonesians have."

"They made no capital investment," droned on His Excellency, undeterred by this hecatomb of corpses. "They built no roads. Why, 10 years after the Portuguese had left, the literacy rate had risen 60 per cent!"

Well, I suppose a literacy rate might well zoom around the graph if you kill up to a third of the population. And we must remember what the remainder are literate in: Bahasa Indonesia. As Norman Lewis once pointed out in this newspaper, even hearing a Portuguese phrase on the lips of a foreign visitor makes the Timorese shudder, in case spies report that they themselves have spoken in that tongue.

Why a duck?

OTHER STRANGE noises from Down Under. A 57-year-old man has been fined $2,000 for quacking like a duck on his radio transmitter. Don Desmond Davey was convicted for the offence of broadcasting something that was not human speech, officials said. In some ways, we're on Don Desmond's side here. To acquire expensive radio equipment in order to quack down it - that is a rare, a lonely calling. On the other hand, I can see the practical uses of the law that was invoked against him. We've rushed a tape of Mr Portillo's weird utterances at Blackpool last week out to Canberra for legal analysis.

Breaking up is hard

I KNOW it's difficult dividing up your stuff when you split up with your girlfriend. We knew someone in North London who stormed around to the house a year after he'd left and demanded half the curtain pelmets. But things went too far in the Ukrainian village of Zburyevka last week when the man in question, one V Selchanin, bit off and swallowed his lady-love's nose during the division of property. She's had to provide herself with an entirely new one, using muscle tissue from her arm, skilfully sewn on at the local hospital.

Weight for me

SO IT'S probably best in the long run to stay together. That's what Pennsylvanian Juanita Wilson, 27, thought when she got out of jail and found that her honey, William Narr, 37, had been seeing someone else. She just thought it best to forgive him and save the relationship. So she went round to his place of work, picked him up, threw him onto a ramp, wrapped an apron around his neck (search me) and forced him into a chair. Then she sat on him. Juanita weighs 170 lb, William 130 lb. Juanita also "broke 23 bottles of alcohol in the confrontation", police said.

While being sat upon, William saw that he did after all want "to renew the relationship" according to court papers. But the police cannot forgive Juanita, and have charged her with "reckless endangerment" and "stalking".

Oh dear, leader

WE'RE getting worried about Kim Jong-Il, North Korea's Dear Leader, who is, after all, this column's favourite politician. He's just not looking very, well, chuffed, lately. He used to be such a light-hearted chap. Lord, the parties he used to throw! The whisky that was drunk! The East German girls who were flown in! And remember how he would so amusingly abduct S Korean film stars who took his fancy?

Nowadays you don't see him for weeks and weeks, then he turns up at a big parade and he's the only one who has to wear pyjamas and he's not allowed to speak. Some say that the army don't like him and don't trust him but they can't let him go. As the Athenians used to say, tyranny is a fine place, but there's no way down. . .