As an Anzac Day special, I’m being interviewed by Graeme Kemlo this afternoon on Melbourne’s J-Air 87.8FM about a remarkable World War Two veteran we both had the privilege of knowing. Graeme talks to me about Brian Walpole, sadly no longer with us, a commando in New Guinea and undercover Z Special Unit operative who joined headhunters to wage guerrilla warfare behind Japanese lines in the Borneo jungle.

MY WARIn 2004 I collaborated with Brian on his gripping memoir, My War: Life Is For Living (ABC Books, 2004). Shortly afterwards, Graeme accompanied Brian on his first and only return visit to Borneo (Sarawak).

BROADCAST: Today (April 25), 5-7pm AEST, J-Air 87.8FM Melbourne.

PODCAST: On Soundcloud – click here

Hunt down a copy of My War if you’re interested in military, Australian or South-East Asian history, the Pacific theatre of WW2 or true adventure tales. It’s a wild ride.

Finally, the video interview with Brian I co-produced for the Australians At War Film Archive is now available to view on the internet here

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Chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, and yet…

…chances of anyone going to Mars in the next few decades are increasing. The US and China are making Mars-ward gestures of late, and the Mars Society is up to all kinds of exciting simulated missions in extreme Earth environments.

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In April’s Reader’s Digest (out now) I talk to Dr Jonathan Clarke of the Mars Society (that’s NOT him on the left!), an international outfit with an interplanetary goal – furthering the know-how that might lead to human exploration of the Red Planet. Red all about it!

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I rather like the cosmological theory of a world turtle holding the planet on its back. And I’ve no doubt the Mon Repos universe rests on a turtle’s shell.

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The latest issue of Australian Traveller magazine (Feb-Mar-Apr 18: Outback Special) carries my tale about Mon Repos Turtle Centre. A beach near Bundaberg (Queensland), Mon Repos is one of the South Pacific’s most important rookeries for endangered loggerhead sea turtles. The turtle research and conservation programs emanating from there are second to none. Read all about it!

 

You won’t have to dig too far to unearth the current issue of YOURS magazine – flip to pages 56-58 for my travel yarn on digging dinosaurs, riding an old-time stagecoach, cruising a turtle-filled river, checking out the golden years of aviation and generally digging outback hospitality in western Queensland.

IMG_8245The story focuses on the vicinity of Winton and Longreach, immortalised by bush poet Banjo Paterson as “the vision splendid of the sunset plains extended”.IMG_8243

These days Winton is the ‘Dinosaur Capital of Australia’, while Longreach is home to many heritage outback attractions, such as the Qantas Founders Museum.IMG_6052

IMGP0299Way down on the west coast of Tasmania, the world’s steepest steam-train railway takes travellers through mountainous rainforest between Strahan and Queenstown.

The current issue of Australian Traveller magazine (Nov-Dec-Jan issue) features my feature on the historic West Coast Wilderness Railway. All aboard!

PS: For more Tasmanian adventures, my story about leatherwood honey (Aug-Sep-Oct 17 issue) can bee found on the world wide hive at the Australian Traveller site.

Book review time again: here’s a round-up of impressions re H.G. Wells’ sci-fi Big Five:

THE TIME MACHINE (1895) untitledtmA not-so-cosy fireside tale to blow Victorian-era minds, with fiction’s first time machine (a term coined by Wells). The nameless Time Traveller enthrals his audience just as Wells enthrals us. Lobbing into a distant, dream-like future, he encounters the troubling consequence of deep-set societal divisions, with humanity devolved into childlike Eloi and monstrous Morlocks. The Eloi seem to enjoy a life of Edenic ease, but for all their apparent comfort lack knowledge and power. The subterranean Morlocks, it turns out, are in the opposite position.
I couldn’t help but think how social media makes Eloi of us all (albeit considerably unhappier Eloi), lost in vacuity and distraction while unseen tech-giant Morlocks harvest our data.

THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (1896) md21752596540A bleak gust of despair blows through this darkest of all mad scientist yarns. Wells traps his protagonist Prendick on a nightmarish island where a vivisectionist turns animals into sinister semi-humans for no good reason. It shocked many original reviewers; one called it ‘repulsive and purposeless’ – but Wells intended it to be. He’s riffing on a sentiment most famously expressed by Shakespeare: ‘As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport’. Moreau is the creator, or fate; the island our incomprehensible, pitiless universe. The cruelly mistreated (but hardly admirable) beast-men are us. Wells’ admiration for Swift is obvious here – just as Gulliver came home increasingly unable to tell his own kind from the Yahoos, so Prendick finds the distinction between himself and Moreau’s monsters ever murkier.

THE INVISIBLE MAN (1897) TheInvisibleManMAPBACKFRONT565Everyday life receives the alarming jolt of a scientist who has rendered himself invisible. And he’s up to no good with it, even if his transparently evil plans have already gone awry. What sort of man would do this to himself? An angry, reckless, megalomaniacal misanthrope, Wells reckons. Even so, there’s a lot of comedy amidst the mounting terror. Wells’ affectionate parody of English shopkeepers and complacent village life (the ex-drapery apprentice knew both well) is sharply observed and largely avoids condescension. This humour is well-captured in the 1933 film starring Claude Rains, the best of many Wells adaptations. In Griffin (the Invisible Man, appropriately named after a beast no-one has seen), Wells sees more than a one-dimensional villain, making him, for all that callous contempt, simply too naïve and trusting for his own good.

THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1898)2843707C00000578-3066374-image-m-64_1430674650938 The first chapter may be the best single piece of science-fiction ever written – pure prose-poetry, conveying wonder, menace and a searing critique of imperialism. Britain may have painted the map red; well, now the red planet is ready to give this puny Empire more than a taste of its own medicine. And what can humanity do about it? Not much. The writing is cleverly economical, a deft sidestep of the dreaded info dump. We follow one man who survives a couple of close encounters with the invaders, which means not only a snapshot of the chaos on a personal level, but also more about the Martians than a more typical victim could credibly supply. (drawing by Henrique Alvim Corrêa, 1906 edition.)

THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1901) IMG_7173aOf all Wells’ scientific romances – his name for what came to be called science fiction – The First Men In The Moon is the most perfectly realised as a novel. The lunar explorers Cavor and Bedford are given more personality than other protagonists, and their interactions drive the story in a more integral, vital way. Wells is clearly enjoying character and plot as much for their own sake as for his ever-present social critique, and he mines a rich vein of humour and dramatic tension from both. Later works, though he denied it, tended to surrender these elements to didacticism.
His now-impossible Moon is wonderfully described and its rulers, the quasi-insect/crustacean Selenites, are convincingly, satisfyingly alien – and without marring their satirical purpose.
PS: Wells called this book a ‘burlesque on specialisation’, but this really only emerges near the story’s end, when Selenite society is sketched. He had no idea, of course, that he was also furnishing the basic template for Dr Who – eccentric otherworldly genius leads wide-eyed, younger offsider into alien adventure via deceptively ramshackle machine. There follows separation, capture, escape… hear the BBC Radiophonic Workshop theme yet?

 

October’s READER’S DIGEST is already hitting the newsstands. Inside, my Great Barrier Reef story outlines the impact climate change is having on the Reef.

RDAOct17coverLast year’s mass bleaching sparked a global deluge of contradictory coverage. Extreme opposites were reported, from the Reef’s ‘death’ to flat-out denials that it is in any real trouble. Hopefully this story might help to clear up the confusion by plainly describing the problem and what might be done about it.

The story is based on an interview with Dr David Wachenfeld, Director of Reef Recovery at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and a visit to Heron Island Scientific Research Station on the southern Great Barrier Reef.