TQR Confidential

Friday, April 21, 2006

Insider Trading: Winter Issue '06

Draw a north-south line through the center of Australia. In the north, where it meets the Arafura Sea (with New Guinea as the opposite shore) is Arnhem Land. Range along the coastline to the east for a while, and you may find a village called Ramingining. You may also find a certain dwelling constructed mainly of found materials, with no wires or pipes leading to it, lying within sight of Castlerea Bay. On a certain day in late February a Land Rover arrived after the long trek from Darwin, bearing a generator, a satellite telephone setup, and a high-end laptop… which is how I was able to conduct the following interview with Paddy Ukai, whose pragmatic, light-heartedly sarcastic yet spiritually rich personality the reader will have met in the pages of Tribal Convictions.

HAL: G'day, Mr. Ukai. Thank you for agreeing to this interview, and for allowing the temporary electronic facilities to invade your life and make it possible. If you'll excuse my forwardness, I want to try to get right at the heart of things.

As miraculous as it would seem, even to a scientifically-trained balanda, to travel backward in time for approximately 20,000 years, you appear to take it in stride. To what do you attribute that ability?

Ukai: Because, in a way, it was like coming home. The actual time travelling is when you go, as a very young man, from your people's land in the centre of the desert to a modern city like Sydney. Now that is future shock for you. Compared to that, going back in time to your forefathers is a walk in the park.

And the technical gizmos? Have you ever been on a film set? After that a time machine and a solar eclipse nerd almost seem normal.

Keep in mind that I said 'almost'...

Your professional background very closely parallels that of the Aboriginal actor and dancer, David Gulpilil -- who, I have read, had much difficulty reconciling his abrupt exposure to the modern world, while still a teenager, with his personal and cultural history. In Tribal Convictions, there is little hint of that, beyond the description of your home. Have you been more successful than Gulpilil in this regard, or is there more that we haven't read?

Ukai: This is an ongoing struggle, one that will possibly last the rest of my life. I am constantly torn between both worlds: sometimes the old world wins, sometimes the new, but neither prevails for long. It is also difficult to find balance when the two contradict each other so much. Still, this strange trip to the past of my people has given me a lot to think about, but has also given me a bit more, well, peace of mind.

You see, when working in the modern world, I often had the impression that we -- the indigenous people of Australia -- were often considered to be nothing more than savages. I ran across that attitude so much I came to doubt myself, and my people. But this adventure has made me see what I already knew in my heart: we are not savages: we have a cultural tradition that is at least as old and rich as that of the whitefellas. The main difference is that their technology is much more developed, and even that may not be an advantage.

In this aspect, the white man seemed to become separated from nature. However, then there is Jan Coen: a high-tech gadget man if there ever was one, and he still is fascinated by a natural phenomenon. In his crazy way he showed me that technology and nature do not need to be antagonists (apart from the fact that he got me hooked on solar eclipses).

In our own way, we are tribes that view the world at large from our own convictions. And while neither of these convictions is probably the truth (maybe there is not even such a thing as a Universal truth, at least not in matters of belief), but they are still necessary for us to stay sane.

We live in a very complex world, and I'm slowly coming to grips with that.

On a more personal level, I had two marriages: one with a woman of my tribe, and one with a white woman. Both marriages failed, and were childless. It drove me to drinking, and the grog brings up the worst in me. I have quit drinking, and I have a feeling that I have the worst behind me. I am also still searching for answers, but I have the good hope that this strange trip has helped me ask the right questions.

HAL: In reading Tribal Convictions during its travel toward publication, I was particularly struck with the method you used to explain a solar eclipse to the boy, Jakstah. In fact, I found it near-perfect, and I wondered if you had given the concept some forethought, or if the explanation came to you at that moment.

Ukai: My original intent in this crazy expedition was to meet my ancestors, and maybe even stay with them, in an Australia free from balandas. However, when you travel together through the desert, you get a certain bond. Kuni Yan -- as I still call that crazy Dutchman -- could never survive on his own in our lands. However, he is a very smart scientist with a gift for explaining difficult concepts. So he explained how a solar eclipse worked to me in very plain terms.

Then, when we chanced upon Jakstah, my heart broke. He looked like the son I never had, and how could I not explain this upcoming event to him? So I improvised as well as I could. Keep in mind, that I am also an elder of my people -- the A nangu -- so I need to explain a lot of things to the freshly initiated. But I'm happy to hear that I pulled it off well, although, if I may be so honest, it was mostly improvising.

On the subject of Jan Coen, or Kuni Yan as I inadvertently called him: in retrospect I think that he got caught up in one of our Creation Time stories. (by the way, we call our legends Creation Time stories. Whitefellas insist on calling them "Dreamtime" stories, but that is wrong, as our stories have nothing to do with dreams.)

The story I refer to is that of the Python Woman, Kuniya, who had a fight with the poisonous Liru Snake man. I will quote:

"Now Kuniya took her wana, or digging stick, and hit the Liru man on the head." (You can see the cut in the rock where she hit him. You can even see the stain left by the blood from the cut.)

Her anger was so great that she hit him again. This time the Liru man fell down dead. His shield tumbled down over the rocks and is still there today." (The piece of rock that fell down when the alien perentis fired at Kuni Yan.)

Of course, you might ask, does it not make me feel awkward, or maybe even blasphemous, to have been partial to something that involved one of the main Creation Time stories of our people?

My answer would be that for one, the stories we tell to the whitefella may not necessarily be the real stories we tell when we initiate our young. Furthermore, most of the Christians do not take all the stories in the Bible literally. So why should we take our own legends literally? It is the lesson in the story that counts, not the absolute historical truthfullness.

In this way, I feel proud that my ancestors have taken this very strange incident in stride, and made it part of our heritage.

HAL: In his controversial book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, the historian Jared Diamond expends a lot of time and pages on his theory of why some Neolithic peoples developed beyond the culture they brought with them when first settling a new region, and others did not -- including among the latter the Indigenous Australians. Diamond concludes in Australia's case that the resources your remote ancestors found here were too meager -- he includes climate, and a lack of domesticable plants and animals. With a direct line, so to speak, to your collective past through the Creation Time stories, do you care to comment?

Ukai: On the one hand, Diamond is right that Australia has a very unforgiving climate: one needs to know the lay of the land very well in order to survive. That's why our culture and our rituals are of such vital importance: they give us the knowledge to survive in this very harsh environment.

On the other hand, we did not stand still, either: through the use of so-called 'firestick farming' we promoted the well-being of certain eco-systems. Practically, firestick farming includes getting rid of long grass and grass seeds which impede travel. You're able to see animal tracks, and can hunt better. You can see snakes and snake tracks, so that you can avoid them (and our snakes are the most poisonous in the world).

More importantly, firestick farming can spread the harvest of bush tucker over a long period of time. With our firestick farming patterns, we burn different areas at different times. This improves the food chain. Smoke brings on flowering. Take for example the fruiting of the apple and plum trees. For those that have been burnt earlier, fruiting comes earlier, and as the fruit is on its way out in one place, the next patch of burning will produce plums and apples in the next place.

This gives us a way to live off the land in a more reliable way, less dependent on the weather and the seasons. Also, it helps keep the land's biodiversity intact. This is -- as the white man is now finding out -- because fresh growth, after a burning, is up to five times as rich in nutrients as old growth. So animals can forage better. In this way, controlled burning improves biodiversity.

Finally, firestick farming prevents the forming of huge bush fires. Left untended, enormous swaths of bush can catch fire in the dry season, and then kill off many animals, and even threaten whole suburbs… as you may have seen in recent years, down around Sydney.

So while my people did not develop massive agriculture and an industrial revolution, I think we did very well considering the land we live in. Actually, we have learned to live in harmony with the land through our system of controlled burns, without causing ecological catastrophes. We can live off the land indefinitely, and the white man, culturally superior as he seems, still has to prove that he can. I think they can learn a lot from us.

HAL: Though I am technically (in all senses of that word), merely an observer, I cannot but agree.

Thank you, again, for this opportunity. I hope we have a chance to read more of your adventures, in or out of the company of Kuni Yan.

He survived the relentless attack of the seemingly indestructible soldier born of a meteor in Slayground. Now TQR correspondent Susan DiPlacido wants to know all about the newest member of the elite armed response unit SO19. By the end of the interview, it seems Susan just wants a date! That's another plot line to follow, but meanwhile...

Susan DiPlacido: So Gary, you were a relative newbie to the Red Team when the proverbial shit hit the fan. But you'd had six years on the police force. In those six years, had you ever even had to draw your gun before?

Gary: I didn't have a gun to draw. All British police officers have basic firearms training, but very few are permitted or even qualified to carry guns on duty. The only place in the UK where cops are routinely armed is at the airports. This may change in the future, but for the moment the British police rely on armed response units like S019. Having said that, I was shot at twice in my early days on the job.

Once, I attended a block of rundown apartments where there'd been a report of a man threatening people with a handgun. He turned out to be a very old guy who was also a mental patient. The weapon he'd been using was an air-pistol. It didn't seem like much at the time, but he shot me in the leg with it and it hurt like hell.

The other occasion was more serious. I was patrolling in the area-car when a call came over the radio about a robbery in progress at a building society office. I happened to be nearby, so I attended. The robbery was still going on when I got there. One of the hoodlums came out and fired at my car with a shotgun. It did a lot of damage, but mainly to the car I'm glad to say. All I could do was wait for them to run, tail them, and finally see them run to ground by armed units who were specially called in.

SDP: Even though you were new to this force, you were able to physically rise to the challenge. Was this more a matter of will, or did you have extensive physical conditioning in your corner?

Gary: Youth was undoubtedly on my side. The officers who join SO19 are usually one of two things. They're either slightly older guys who had military experience before they joined the police. Or they're young officers with good arrest records, who were able to meet the physical requirements of the selection course. I was one of the latter. In the British police, all officers under the age of 35 must undergo regular fitness assessments anyway, and if they're not up to it they can be backsquadded until they are.

But I never had a problem with exercise. At school I boxed and played rugby. After leaving school, I joined a martial arts club and continued to work out regularly in the gym. I also played squash, and even now try to run at least five miles every other day. I'm not a complete health freak - I like a drink at the weekends, and maybe I'm not as diet-conscious as I should be, though for the moment that doesn't seem to be problem. The good thing about S019 is, once you're in it, you maintain your fitness levels naturally because, parallel with your normal duties, there's an ongoing programme of physical training that never lets up.

SDP: Moving along, you showed a great deal of bravery while your own life was in serious danger. You were under attack, but still had the presence of mind to not go running into a crowd for help. Instead, you made sure to keep the attacker away from other crowds of people to try and reduce the carnage. Looking back, do you think this was more due to instinct or your SO19 training?

Gary: It was a panic situation, so it's difficult to say. These days it's all about minimising collateral damage. In Britain, if a cop accidentally hits a civilian while he's in pursuit of a felon in his car, he'll have a lot of explaining to do. If his driving was deemed reckless or negligent, he could lose his job, his pension, maybe even his liberty. So you can imagine the kind of trouble if a cop manages to get civilians embroiled in a fire-fight. I'm what's called an SFO, that's a Specialist Firearms Officers; loosely, that means that my training is such high level that I'd have no excuse at all if I created a situation where people on the street were dying from gunshot wounds. If a shoot-out is endangering innocent citizens in any way, we're normally under orders to disengage and step back from the action. Of course, the situation we're discussing here was pretty well unique in British history. In this case, the perp's sole intention seemed to be to take down as many innocent people as he could, so when I saw that line of people in front of me, I knew I had to go the other way. That shooter was ready and able to take hundreds if not thousands of lives. I don't think I was especially brave. I reckon anyone else in that position would have done the same thing.

SDP: Can we assume that you're chivalrous in other situations?

Gary: I like to think so, though I'm not saying I'm a knight in shining armour. In armed response units our job is to confront the worst elements in society, and if they won't come quietly, to shoot and kill them. That's a nasty way to put it, but it's basically the truth. But if a guy puts his gun down and sticks his hands up, will I take him alive? Of course I will. Would I tell lies in court to make sure someone got convicted even if I wasn't certain of his guilt? No. I believe in playing it tough but fair.

In recreation time ... well, I must admit, when we're all out together, we probably come over as a fairly uncouth bunch. But we don't intimidate people or start fights. Politeness and civility cost nothing. We particularly make sure to behave if there are ladies around, and I think that's an attitude that extends right across the police service. In our line of work you see too many women who are treated like garbage. It gets on your nerves after a while, makes you want to overcompensate for it in your own behaviour. Plus, in my case, there was the example of my dad. He was a steelworker, and a big guy who could look after himself. But he came from the generation before political correctness, when women were treated - or were supposed to be treated - like they were something special. He wouldn't hesitate to stand up for a lady if there was no spare seat on the bus, or open a shop door for her even if she wasn't loaded down with packages. There's a bit of that in me too, I suppose, though I know it's not too fashionable these days.

SDP: Now, I never noticed that you had desperate thoughts about one particular person, such as a wife. Were you so overwhelmed with the immediate danger that it wasn't yet a concern, or can we women dare to hope that you're single?

Gary: I'm single, yeah. I've had girlfriends but nothing that lasted. To be honest, in my line of work you don't get a lot of time for romance. It happens, sure, but quite often - because you work such odd hours - it's with female officers. If I ever met a girl who became so special to me that I'd want to marry her, I'd probably request a transfer from SO19 to more routine duties.

Armed response is an extremely dangerous job, and I wouldn't want to inflict it on any woman who had strong feelings for me. Now that you mention it, that shoot-out in central London was terrifying enough - but if I'd been concerned about leaving a wife and kids behind, as some of the other guys did, it would have been truly nightmarish.

TQR sits down with Adam Littleton of the current Capital Gain: The Knowledge

Perched on his brother's friend's shoulders, Adam saw it all through the glass: what happened after Gordy Johns read the letter, before the blood began seeping through the planks of the shed, and the fire caught, and the shed and the man succumbed to this strange and terrible conflagration. Now, years later, Adam Littleton has agreed to talk about what he saw that night, how it has effected the rest of his life, and how he copes -- with what has become for him a strange and terrible conflagration of memory.

Theodore Q. Rorschalk: I realize this is hard for you, speaking of which, did you manage to hook up with any bride's maids at your brother Bruce's wedding?

Adam Littleton: I don't really get along with women. Don't get me wrong, I talk to them and they talk to me, but if you're talking about relationships then I'm just not really there. I'm pleased for my brother, pleased he's found Amy and they seem to be doing okay together, I mean getting married and all that, it doesn't get much more serious! But all that scares me. I prefer to be on my own. I'm not all that comfortable talking about it.

TQR: What is it about crowds, large numbers of people, that's got you so spooked?

Adam Littleton: All I remember is the hut, being lifted to the window and seeing their faces behind me; the crowd at the dog track pressing forwards as the flames took hold. I am wary of dogs too. Sometimes just their barking can set me off. Panic attacks are common. If you haven't suffered them you won't know what I'm talking about.

TQR: As I recall, during the events leading up to the horrific incident at the shed, you were the one voice of reason, imploring your brother and his mate to cease and desist. Of course, they didn't. Do you hold this against them? And were you the one voicing concern about what you all were doing because you had a premonition of the horror it was leading up to?

Adam Littleton: I could never blame them or hold a grudge. They didn't know. Nobody could have known. I just remember I was six years old and I knew it was wrong to take something that wasn't ours. Call that a premonition if you want, but I'd have probably done the same if it was somebody's milk bottle on a doorstep or money from my mother's purse. In fact I know I would, at six years old.

TQR: This incident happened how many years ago? ... and it is still affecting your daily life. Have you ever thought about getting psychological help? Or, if you have, has it helped?

Adam Littleton: Twenty Years. It does not affect me daily. I've gone weeks or months without thinking about it. It's buried deep. But you go to your brother's wedding, everybody's there, it's all around you. Psychological help? I think that's for a certain type of person. It's not for me.

TQR: Since you are mostly over it, what exactly did you see through that shed window the night Gordy Johns died?

Adam Littleton: A person does not 'get over' something like that. It's still there. It raises its head. Like at the wedding. Mostly it comes at night. I still have nightmares but I don't bring the things I see there into the light of day. I usually awake knowing I've been somewhere else, at the window maybe, or in the shed by the tracks, but the details are always too vague, too distant. I've learned to contain it I guess, or supress it. That's what the psychologists would say, that I've suppressed the past. But if I could remember, if I could sit here now and tell you what I saw, do you honestly think I would? The others call me sometimes. They tell me they walk alone and that they go to places like Grafty Heath in the early hours of morning. And they saw nothing. Remember that.

TQR: Come now, Mr Littleton, you have an audience before you that wants a detail, a scrap, a corner torn from the bigger picture even, of that fateful night; what you saw of how Gordy Johns died, or, dare I say, what killed him.

Adam Littleton: All I can say is that I saw death that day, death in many different forms, many different stages of death, too much death for a six year old. But it's all very unconnected and splintered, perhaps because that's how I've learned to cope with what I saw. I simply cannot offer you the answer you're driving at. It does not exist in any real state, just fractured memories. Listen to me talking like this. It really isn't any of those things. Not really.

Is that all 'The Knowledge' is then? The repressed, suppressed and basically forgotten knowledge that one day we all must die?

Adam Littleton: It might be that. And it might be what awaits each of us if we choose to lead our lives in a certain way. Once again I'm struggling to make something of clarity out of nothing. I wasn't meant to be in that window, I know that much, and I know that Gordy must have had secrets, otherwise...

TQR: What do you want to do with the rest of your life?

Adam Littleton: I'm just happy getting along with one day after another. I'm twenty six and I've had more jobs than I care to think about so I'd like to find something steady, something I can enjoy, something I can wake up to in the mornings without worrying if there are going to be surprises. There's a job going at the forestry commission. I've applied for it. Maybe that'll be the one. I like the idea of manual work without anybody on my back telling me what to do. I like the idea of being out there in the forest.

TQR: Are you a hunter?

Adam Littleton: Definitely not.

TQR: Well then, Mr. Littleton, you seem somewhat well adjusted. I still don't believe you're not on Prozac, though. Thank you for sitting down to chat.

Adam Littleton: Well adjusted? Well adjusted to what? It really doesn't matter how adjusted somebody is. You're looking for answers that I can't give you, but perhaps you'll discover them in time...

Afterword: This kid has some heavy duty secrets. Seems to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During the entire interview, he was biting his nails and would not look me in the eye. That last answer of his sent a chill down my spine, but damned if I know why. I don’t envy him his burden. Judging from the current CG from whence came Mr Littleton, too much knowledge kills. Read The Knowledge, if you dare...


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