The Great Leader


The Great Leader was worshipped by his people.

No one ever wondered about the reasons for this worship. Everyone did it. You grew up with it. It was normal. 

The Great Leader was a God, a Prophet; a Helmsman, a Brother No. 1; Father of the Nation, Great Genius, etc.

Often you heard people on the street saying: ‘I’m so glad I was born under the reign of this magnificent Leader.’

No one could criticise the Great Leader or those who profited from his regime.

The military ran the country and the Great Leader was at the top of the hierarchy. Because the universal worship of him, he never did anything for his people. The idea never occurred to him. In his own mind, he did more than enough for his people by existing.

When his decisions led to the endless suffering of his people no one protested.

No one dared to but no one wanted to; what he did was necessary. 

Hence it didn’t matter what happened, how poor the people became, how badly they were governed, how unfair, how inefficient, how brutal the nation became, the Great Leader reigned supreme and nothing ever changed.




It was really quite incredible.

This Great Leader worship wasn’t something happening centuries ago. 

It was happening now, in the 21st century. It was happening in one or another form in many nations all over the world. 

How was this possible?

This blind worship of a despot in a time of modern communications and globalism, the lightning transference of ideas and images?

Once upon a time there were people who had prophesized that this modern, high-tech age with its communications revolution would give power to the people, unleash a wave of democratisation across the globe. 

The fact was, modern communications had made tyranny easy. The TV, the internet and the social media were censored. Information was controlled more than ever before. 

There was censorship on the one hand, and propaganda on the other. The modern era offered unprecedented opportunities for thought-control.

All over the world, where ever you looked, there were nations where the people were held in bondage, like in ancient times – more, there were people who fastened the chains of oppression on their souls with smiles on their faces.

Who revelled in their submission. 

Whatever the Great Leader did or said was sacred. Even if it meant collective suicide……


Beautiful Monument

Beautiful monument.

I photographed it during a day tour to the Demilitarized Military Zone – the ‘DMZ’ as it was usually known – a four kilometre corridor of land dividing North and South Korea.

It was one of the most tension laden borders in the world, a potential flash point, in this case the division line being ideology – communist dictatorship versus democratic capitalism – instead of religion or ethnicity.

On the northern side of the DMZ, the forests have been cleared so that no one can escape Northern Korea. Guards stand ready to shoot anyone who tries. The country is one big prison ruled by a psychopath armed with long range nuclear missiles.

On the southern side, the DMZ is a lucrative cash cow as everyday hundreds of tourists go on guided bus tours – which are not cheap. With stops at restaurants and souvenir shops on the way, the income for the South Korean tourist industry is definitely not to be sneezed at.

A day trip to the DMZ is on the must-do list of everyone who visits South Korea.

I wasn’t expecting much but I went along all the same. My low expectations were amply met. I found most of the tour underwhelming.  

Except for one thing.

The monument.

As soon as I saw it, I recognised its meaning, its symbolism.

I went over there and walked around it and took photos.

It was beautiful, clever, poignant.

No one else in the group – some forty people – shared my interest.

There was a large globe cut in half, like an orange sliced right down the middle, and the two halves were teetering away from one another and on the point of falling away forever. But behind each half of the severed orange were young people (boys and girls? It wasn’t clear and it didn’t matter) striving to defy the centripetal momentum and push the two halves back together.

To bring a divided world together.

There were few monuments in the world with a story behind it like this one. It was a story which being the son of a man who had been in the Royal Australian Air Force during the 1950’s I had grown up with – as I later realised during the coming weeks was also in so many ways the essential story of South Korea, past and present….

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Walking Blind


We followed the white man’s trail but got lost in the emptiness.

We were walking blind, without maps or compass or GPS.

That was the only way to see, to really see, this country.

Nothing to distract us, nothing to measure or quantify.

Walking blind, without aims or purpose, without goals or destination.


Walking blind, our imaginations free to remember what happened.

Free to re-imagine this land as it once was.

Free to remember the enormity of the crime and what it was like when they were still here, those first pilgrims.


We followed their footprints into the desert.

We listened to the echoes of their songs, still reverberating in the narrow canyons, still alive in the night skies ablaze with glittering stars.

In the sound of bird song, we heard their poems.

In the sound gum leaves clattering on the breeze, we heard echoes of a corroboree and the haunting sound of the didgeridoo

We remembered those souls who had lived in this ancient land for thousands of years.

We went on our own kind of pilgrimage and paid homage to those pilgrims from long ago; they who knew that the only real pilgrimage was moving and never arriving.

Yes, truly, it was a beautiful journey.


But it almost killed us

No water. 

We were not them and we did not know how to survive in this hard country.

We did not know how to recite their songs and poems, their myths and their stories, and the desert was an unforgiving place for foreigners.

 Yet….we were forgiven.

We survived.

And saw the land in a new light….



One night in a small hotel in Flanders, exhausted after a long day of bike riding,  I turned on the TV and began surfing channels. It was an act of desperation.

After a long day on a bike I was in a catatonic state. I had time on my hands that is until I could justify to myself crawling into bed and passing out. I was too tired to read my e-book and I didn’t want to look at the phone which I’d seen enough of that day thanks very much after getting lost and having to constantly check google maps. 

Flemish TV looked pretty much like the same kind of rubbish as everywhere else: game shows (everyone laughing), soaps, ‘reality’ TV and blitz advertising. 

Then it happened: on one channel, I saw a black and white photo on the screen – and it caught my attention immediately. It was a great photo – of homeless poor blacks somewhere in a big city in America. It was obviously taken some time in the past, late 1950’s/1960’s? was my guess.

Then came more black and white photos, equally as incredible. More scenes from an America from decades ago.

There I was, exhausted after a long bike ride, sitting in a hotel room surfing the TV and then suddenly found myself glued to the screen and wide awake. 

Who took these photos?

I was about to find out. And her story was as incredible as her photos….

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Death of a Shopkeeper


It was in March, 2016 on a flight from Bangkok to Amsterdam, that I heard about the suicide bombing of the Brussels airport – called ‘Zaventem’.  

News of the attack had appeared on the international media a day before, but at the time I was travelling on local buses in the east of Thailand.

For the last three weeks, I’d been travelling in what were then remote areas of Asia –  north east Cambodia and the west of Vietnam. For most of that time I had been staying in small family run hotels which had no wifi. I’d been disconnected from the real world – like a hermit – and hadn’t missed it.

On the flight to Amsterdam, as chance would have it, I found myself sitting next to a Belgian man, who along with thousands of other Belgian tourists elsewhere in the world, had had his flight to Zaventem cancelled and was forced to change his flight. He was lucky enough to have gotten a seat on the flight to Amsterdam; from there it was a train trip of a few hours to Brussels.  

We made small talk and that’s how I found out about the terrorist attack at Zaventem.

At least 30 people had died and a hundred injured, he told me.    

I knew then what was waiting for me on arriving back in Europe and it wasn’t exactly something to look forward to….. Read more