Sunday, 25 November 2012

They say mine

They say "mine"

Gina Rinehart. Net worth approx $29 billion

First half-year profit in 2011/12, approx $9.2 billion

Annual revenue approx $4.3 billion. Pushing to construct world's largest gas plant at James Price Point in the Kimberley region of Western Australia

Clive Palmer. Net worth approx $975 million

Market value approx $8.7 billion. Aggressive proponent of controversial coal seam gas mining throughout Australia.

We say "ours"

The Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the natural world, under threat from development of several new ports for exporting coal and coal seam gas. Courtesy of mining giants such as Rinehart and Palmer.

James Price Point, proposed site for Woodside's industrial gas development 

visit here:

Friday, 16 November 2012

Timbuktu Days, Part III

On the morning of festival day there was an exodus from Timbuktu. I negotiated a ride in the back of a truck out to Essakane, where it would all happen. It’s two hours from Timbuktu, further into the desert. My feet hung over the edge of the flatbed truck and they were whipped by low scrubby grass which grew in tussocks in our path. The track soon turned to sand and we cruised up and around dunes on the way to Essakane.

The place had an air of chaos. There were loose-robed Tuaregs riding camels here and there, the rugs and halters of the camels brightly decorated in coloured woven fabric. The riders sat on wooden seats and rested their feet comfortably at the camels’ neck.  A more modern variety of Tuareg was criss-crossing the site at breakneck speed in dusty landcruisers. Tents made of canvas and hessian were set up in rows, selling food, locally made jewellery, clothing, fabrics and artwork. I noticed one stall selling decorated swords and shields.

Tuaregs are no strangers to conflict; armed with broadswords and daggers they put up a fierce resistance to French colonisation early last century. And since independence there have been uprisings, as they have fought for recognition and justice for their nomadic way of life.

This festival is their celebration. The stage was at the base of a tall, curved dune, providing a natural amphitheatre. I sat at the top to take it all in. The aroma of spicy food wafted on the air, and I wandered amongst the softly lit tents in search of a meal. Inside crouched Berber men pouring glass after glass of sweet green tea, and women stirring large pots of hot food. I was beckoned in to one and was served a bowl of cous cous and spicy goat meat. 

As darkness fell, fires were lit in drums and the music began. The festival is a showcase for Tuareg music and there were traditional chants and dances. The stage was crowded with groups of twenty singers, swaying and clapping as they sang. There was also music from across Mali, Africa and around the world - blues, hip hop and jazz. Ouma Sangare’s bewitching voice, Toumani Diabate delicately plucking his kora – the African harp whose lilting notes drifted with the wood smoke into the night sky -  and Afel Boucomb appeared, but most anticipated was Tinariwen.

Comprised of former rebel soldiers trained by Colonel Gadaffi, the members of Tinariwen have traded their guns for guitars, and these desert poets have now captured imaginations across the world. With vocals switching between rapid-fire spoken word, harmonised haunting wails, and call and response between male and female singers, their music speaks of the struggle of the Tuaregs. Their battle for survival in harsh desert lands where they are oppressed from all sides but do not give up their spirit of resistance. Tinariwen do it all – they fight, they philosophise and they make music that breathes like wind in the dunes. The loping beat of their rhythmic electric blues is said to be based on the gait of a camel walking.  The night exploded in light and dancing.

At three I went to bed – a mosquito net hung from a branch with my sleeping bag rolled out on the sand beneath. At four the harmattan began blowing. It penetrated tents, bringing fine gritty sand into eyes, mouths and noses. People emerged in the morning brushing the sand from their hair and face, but with the wind still blowing, it was pointless. In a daze they walked around bent against the wind, turbans wrapped around heads, eyes squinted and wondering if this is what the end of the world looked like. It was grey and miserable and there was nowhere to hide. The wind blew until mid afternoon, when it finally eased. The night sky, when it came, was speckled with stars, the air was still and everyone was ready to celebrate the final night of the festival.

With the recent death of local legend Ali Farka Toure, the patron of the festival was now Habib Koite. He took to the stage with his band Bamada and played his joyous Malian griot music, with the talking drum and the harmonica, the balafon and the calabash, and the beautiful vocal harmonies brining the night to life again. The drums were beaten and the playful notes of the balafon (West African xylophone) rang out and the crowd responded with cheers and smiles. Atop a Saharan sand dune, beneath a glowing sky we danced to this music of the earth; a vibrant collection of people blown in from all corners of the globe to this desert enclave lit up in the African night.    



Habib Koite

Monday, 5 November 2012

Timbuktu Days, Part II

The buildings of Timbuktu were made of the very earth on which they stood – low, flat-roofed mud dwellings with open doorways giving a glimpse of the dark and cool within.  The streets were sand, and there was a sandy grey haze in the air.

The mosques stood tall and proud. They were spiked with wooden struts, used as steps for the re-coating of mud after the annual rains.

Here and there were large domed tents with goats ambling around. The nomadic Tuaregs used these as their homes while in the city, in between trips into the desert. The Tuaregs, in their distinctive blue robes, are nomadic desert people whose territory crosses the borders of Mali, Niger and Algeria. They walked the streets, or sat in their tents drinking sweet green tea. Some rode camels.

The African City of Gold is more humble than it was during the fifteenth century when it was a centre for Islamic scholarship -of the 100,000 population, a quarter were scholars. A mystical city, it lured European explorers many of whom died in their attempts to reach it. The Scottish Gordon Laing was the first to make it, but was murdered two days after leaving the city in 1826. The Frenchman Rene-Auguste Caillie disguised himself as an Arab to reach the city in 1828, and returned to Europe to claim the prize offered by the Geographical Society of Paris. 

At the time of my visit there were plenty of westerners around, more than usual because the Festival au Desert was on in a few days and lovers of African blues were arriving for the show.

I suspect the entire city was transformed by the coming of the festival. I arrived in Timbuktu four days before it began, in time to observe the build up of mayhem.

A cheap hotel gave me a mattress to put on the floor of their covered courtyard. I left my stuff and walked out to see what there was to see. Imposing mud mosques, carved wooden doors, an atmosphere of restrained excitement.

I was befriended by an enthusiastic local called Issa who was eager to tell me all about the city. He took me to his sand-floored house to drink tea. It was cool and dark inside and his little radio had African blues crackling out. Children wandered past the open doorway. Issa’s mum walked in and out giving me a dubious eye each time she passed - apparently she hadn’t got festival fever like Issa. Three teenage girls with large tubs of rice on their heads came in. One took off her tub to scoop some rice out for Issa’s mum, and the other two began dancing to the song on the radio. With tubs balanced neatly on their head they moved to the lilting music, spontaneous and unrestrained.

I spent hours on the flat roof of the hotel, looking down at the sandy streets. From three floors up I observed the tourists being pursued by salesmen; they were followed from their cars to their hotel, from the hotel to the bar. These days before the festival provided opportunity for the persistent businessman to make a years’ wages in a short time.

I saw Doug, another Australian I had met earlier in my travels. He told me how he’d been in the back of a truck driving into town when it occurred to him that this was no way to enter Timbuktu. He called out for the driver to stop, and jumping off with his bag he found a donkey laden with firewood, whose owner was willing to put Doug on top. So he entered the city on the back of a donkey.

With Issa and his friends we ate dinner at a makeshift restaurant on the street. There was an oil lamp on the table, and dishes of brochette, chips, salad and bread. Sharing a meal in the warm evening air, the lamp light flickering off our faces, shadows dancing on the wall behind us, people from opposite sides of the world laughing together... there was a lot to be thankful for. Afterwards we wandered the streets in the dark evening, looking for perhaps some music. We found instead a group of men watching a dubbed kung fu movie on a small tv on the street and we stood to watch with them.

Then a blackout. Lights out all over the town. Doug didn’t know how to find the place he was staying. It wasn’t a hotel, just a guy’s house and he had no name for it, only a picture on his digital camera. He showed some of the men who had been watching the kung fu, asking them if they knew where it was. They laughed, wondering how these foreigners survive in this world, but one of them recognised it and offered to take him there on his motorbike. Timbuktu days were full of the unexpected.