Three men in a (leaky) boat

Posted Monday, July 26, 2010 on Little Darwin

A veteran activist who often made the headlines in Darwin has driven into town pulling a Caribbean pirate’s ship disguised as an innocent fishing smack with more stickers on the hull for worthy causes and appeals for justice than barnacles on the Queen Mary. The skipper is Dr John Tomlinson, former Senior Lecturer-Social Policy, School of Humanities and Human Services, Queensland University of Technology. On arrival back in his old hunting ground, he promptly fired a broadside, via a letter to the NT News editor, at the “ rich and powerful ” over the pollution of NT waterways and plans for development of Darwin Harbour which includes blasting the bottom three times a day for 14 months to clear the way for super tankers.

From Brazil to Bobonaro , Borroloola, Bagot, Berrimah, the bush and beyond, Dr Tomlinson has campaigned long and hard for oppressed people and against the entrenched arrogance and blindness of institutions, governments, politicians and big business. Many of his Territory campaigns were carried out in company with another well-known Darwin activist, Rob Wesley-Smith.

In fact , the two were arrested by Customs when attempting to run medical supplies by boat to East Timor. Another amazing episode – their move to set up the NT Council of Civil Liberties – so upset the police that the gendarmes stacked the first meeting, elected most of the interim office bearers, and thought they had stymied those annoying twosome. What transpired is now unclear because of the passage of time and varying recollections. However, along came Cyclone Tracy, and in the chaos which ensued , a strategic advert appeared saying there would be another meeting of the NT Council of Civil Liberties in Brown’s Mart, which went unnoticed by the police. Not so John and Wes , who forced entry to the building with supporters and voted in a new committee. The present NT Administrator was somehow involved in the amusing saga .

The man-o-war which Dr Tomlinson brought to Darwin is currently careened in the leafy Wesley-Smith rural residence , waiting for the wind to drop to enable a fishing trip to the Peron Islands.

This one-eyed writer recently had the pleasure of a salty session with Dr Tomlinson and the recently doctored Wesley-Smith during which an inspection was made of the doc’s vessel, called the White Knight, which conjures up the image of a dashing crusader who, with a theatrical flourish, gallantly picks up a damsel’s stray garter from the cobblestones .

Alas and alack, there is no such honourable story behind the boat’s entry in Lloyd’s Registry of Shipping. Originally, the boat was merely painted white. Dr Tomlinson’s previous boat bore the unusual name, Yellow Peril, because it was painted in that hue. A military alert went out each time he returned from a Top End fishing trip and over the radio announced, “This is Yellow Peril about to enter Darwin Harbour.”

A feminist, who obviously delights in cutting sea-going males down to size, suggests the current vessel name is too chauvinist. As John tows the White Knight with a Toyota Troop Carrier, she maintains she should be entitled to announce, “Here comes Droopy, driving his Troopie, dragging his White Nighty.”

* Part 2 of this sea shanty shall appear before the doldrums arrive and residents begin voluntarily walking the plank. It will include details of Dr Tomlinson’s paper recently delivered to an international organisation in Brazil to advance the living conditions of a large part of the world, Darwin newspaper anecdotes, assorted Wesley-Smith inventions and the story behind the hat with a hole in the crown.