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Monday, February 28, 2011

A year of progress

Bougainville Copper's mine production was suspended on 15 May 1989 because of attacks on employees. Following repeated instances of damage to mine facilities and the power line and further attacks on employees, it became necessary to evacuate all remaining company personnel from Bougainville early in 1990. There continues to be uncertainty surrounding the future of the Panguna mine. Since the withdrawal of company personnel from Bougainville was completed on 24 March 1990, there has been no care and maintenance of the company's assets. Considerable deterioration of the assets has occurred in the intervening period, because of this lack of care and maintenance, their exposure to the elements, vandalism, pilferage and militant action. With the passage of time, it has become clear that a major write-down of assets will be required.

However, 2010 was another year of positive development leading to the re-commencement of operations at Bougainville Copper's Panguna mine.

With copper reserves estimated at almost 3 million tonnes and gold production in the range of 400,000 ounces per annum, Panguna is one of the world’s largest potential producers of both metals. Unexplored neighbouring tenements are also very prospective, and will be explored when a moratorium on exploration is lifted.

Present market values for both copper and gold are significantly higher than at the time of mine closure in 1990. The political situation within the Autonomous Bougainville Region has stabilised, and there is considerable appetite for development being expressed by the people. BCL is seen by many as the preferred operator of a re-started mine, and holds a very large bank of mine data.

For auld lang syne and my many fond memeories of Bougainville Island, I have taken a small position in the stock.

Latest Price:

Last Share Price
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Share Price Chart

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Last Confession

Giordano Bruno, Dominican monk and rationalist philosopher, was burnt at the stake in Rome's Campo dei Fiori on 17 February 1600. Bruno's beliefs and writings were considered heretical by the Catholic Church which had lost millions of its members to the whirlwind Reformation, and was thus not in an expansive mood. Investigated and tortured by the Holy Office of the Inquisition, and incarcerated for seven years in Rome's worst prison, Bruno was given the opportunity to recant but chose instead to die for his beliefs.

Four hundred years later, Morris West brought back to life Bruno's story in The Last Confession. Morris West himself had joined the Order of the Christian Brothers and spent eight years as a teaching monk. In 1941, aged twenty-six, he decided against taken final vows and left the Order. He wrote more than twenty-five novels, including The Shoes of the Fisherman and The Devil's Advocate. The novel The Last Confession was his last book. He died during its final stages in October 1999.

I have had my own brush with the same religious Order that burnt Bruno:    in 1997, at the end of a very successful and financially rewarding business career, when I found myself at a crossroads of what to do with my life, the Order called on me to rescue their bankrupt university college from certain collapse. Feeling my age and wanting to "give something back", I abandoned my thriving accountancy practice and computer consultancy to devote myself to the all-absorbing and seemingly impossible task of keeping the college afloat. And I agreed to do so on an almost pro bono basis in the belief - mistaken, as it turned out - that the Order could not afford to pay me a proper fee as they had cried poor all along.

The expression "24/7" had not yet become common usage. If it had, it could scarcely have sufficed to describe the total dedication required to carry out the task, and I even moved into the college to "live on the job". Twelve months later the college's operations were back in the black, and two years later it had repaid the millions of dollars it owed to the Order who had kept it financially afloat for many years. When I left at the end of the third year, it was totally debt-free, had half a million dollars in the bank, and was more profitable than at any time in its thirty-year history.

The realisation came far too late to me of just how much the Order had played on my ego in wanting to show them that I could do the impossible. Those withered old men had been great manipulators but shown very little concern and appreciation for anything outside their introspective and intrigue-ridden little world of ritual and dogma. The college's motto was "VERITAS VI VERITATIS". Perhaps it will.

I may be a fool to have taken on so thankless a task but thank God I am still an atheist!

Anyway, I quite like the riddle of Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

A Dream of Islands

The South Seas ... the islands of Tahiti, Hawaii, Samoa, the Marquesas ... the most seductive places on earth.

A Dream of Islands tells the stories of five famous figures who found their fate in the islands: Paul Gauguin, a bourgeois Frenchman who declares himself a white savage; Robert Louis Stevenson, the most famous author of his day, who goes into picturesque personal exile in Samoa; Herman Melville, whalerman out of New England, deserter, mutineer, beachcomber, who ultimately flees the islands for civilisation; Walter Murray Gibson, political adventurer, who dreams of a Polynesian empire of islands and ends his days in exile; and John Williams, a driven missionary, the Livingstone of the South Seas, who builds his own ship to carry the word of God to all the islands of the ocean and who is clubbed to death and eaten by cannibals.

"The South Seas" refers not so much to a place on the map as to a state of mind - a dream of islands where the white man was shown the other side of his own civilised humanity. A voyage to the South Seas was likely to turn out to be a journey into the self, and that is what this book is about.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is Gaddafi dead? He looks half-dead already!

Gaddafi has been in power since 1969! With more than four decades of corruption and terrorism behind him, he is probably one of the most hated politician in history.

Libya produces a tiny amount of the world's oil, and the spike in oil price is more about the possibility that Saudi Arabia, Iran, or even Iraq could be the next shoe to drop.

To persuade the people of Saudi Arabia not to get their pitchforks out, the Saudi king has announced a $35 billion handout to the masses, which amounts to $1300 per person. Will it keep them quiet? Will it be enough to keep you quiet, Suhail?

It's fun to charter an accountant and sail the wide accountancy ...

... and to think I used to sing this song for almost forty years!!!

It's fun to charter an accountant
And sail the wide accountancy,
To find, explore the funds offshore
And skirt the shoals of bankruptcy!

It can be manly in insurance.
We'll up your premium semi-annually.
It's all tax deductible.
We're fairly incorruptible,
We're sailing on the wide accountancy!

I did try to break away from it but must've picked the wrong career counsellor.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

He was a bold man that first ate an oyster

And Jonathan Swift was right! I mean who could eat something of which there is no way of telling whether they're male or female and which may change sex one or more times during their life span?

And yet, the Clyde River has the best oysters in New South Wales, if not Australia, and this movie is a ripping good yarn about oyster farmers. Not on the Clyde but on the Hawkesbury River but the scenery is almost identical.


Travelling North

My old mate Noel Butler had spent a whole lifetime in tropical New Guinea. After his return in the late seventies he unsuccessfully tried to settle back into Australia. First at Caboolture north of Brisbane, then at Mt Perry west of his hometown Bundaberg, and finally at nearby Childers where he eventually passed away in 1995. As he used to say, "My spiritual home will always be in the tropics."

As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, "Day after day the sun flamed; night after night the moon beaconed, or the stars paraded their lustrous regiment. I was aware of a spiritual change, or perhaps rather a molecular reconstitution. My bones were sweeter to me. I had come home to my own climate, and looked back with pity on those damp and wintry zones, miscalled the temperate."

I could relate to this as I also always hankered for the tropical lifestyle, conveniently forgetting all those tropical critters that can sting and bite you, the enervating heat, the heatrashes and tropical ulcers, the rainy season, the floods and cyclones ...

Real estate agents in tropical Port Douglas, just north of Cairns, keep sending me details of beachside and rainforest properties for sale. Here's one that I could easily live in: Daintree Treetops.

Currently let as holiday accommodation with its own website, it is located 10 minutes' walk from Cow Bay Beach which I know well from my last stay at Crocodylus Village.

Well, I can't see any buyer for "Riverbend" turning up any time soon so you go ahead and buy Daintree Treetops. Just don't forget to invite me!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A tall tile

The bathroom renovation is dragging along: the tiler has finished the bathroom floor and ALMOST finished the walls but he hasn't even started on the toilet yet.

After the tiling is completed, the plasterer puts up the cornices and the plumber instals the toilet pan, hangs the vanity, and screws on all the taps. Then the glazier hangs the shower screen and the electrician connects the spa bath pump, exhaust fan, downlights, power points, and light switches. And then comes the painter for the final touch ...

The tiler has now developed a dicky knee and needs to see a doctor and possibly a surgeon. His offsider - his daughter whose name I have forgotten; I just call her 'Elizabeth Tiler', get it? - cannot carry on without him. More delays.

This renovation started before last Christmas. At this rate, I may be able to enjoy my first spa bath next Christmas!


Cruise of the Janet Nicol in 1890

One of my favourite books, which I discovered totally by chance in a local op-shop, is AN ISLAND TO ONESELF which is something of a South Seas classic. It is one of those books which is quite capable of leaving a mark on you for life. (Read the book [online])

In it, Tom Neale describes his years spent alone on a tiny atoll in the South Pacific. He mentions living in an old hut built by the wartime coast-watchers who had previously lived on the island but there is no other mention of earlier habitation.

Imagine my surprise when I recently read in the diary by Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson, The Cruise of the Janet Nicol among the South Sea Islands, of their visit to Suwarrow in May 1890 which was then quite a bustling place. Here's an abstract from the diary:

13 May 1890 I awoke at six, after a night's struggle with my mats, which the wind nearly wrested from me several times, to find we are just off Suwarrow. At breakfast Captain Henry presented me with a gorgeous hibiscus flower and Mr. Henderson laid beside my plate a couple of bananas and a vi-apple, products of the island. At present there are only six people living on Suwarrow; our three passengers, counting the boy, will make nine.

I went on deck to look at the island and was told that the flag was at half-mast. Sure enough, the trader was dead; the date of his death tallied with that of Mr. Hird's vision. The poor fellow was most anxious to be relieved the last time the ship was here, wherefore one of the native passengers was brought to take his place. A neat white paling fence enclosed the grave. I asked from what disease he died. ''Sickness in here," was the answer, indicating the liver; "a long time he no stand up; all the time lie down. Pain - cry out - cry out - then die."

Suwarrow and its attendant isles have been planted in cocoanuts by Mr. Henderson. A few pandanus are here and there and more varieties of small weeds than is usual in low islands. There is, also, a great deal of fine, feathery grass, worthless, unfortunately, for feeding animals. Mr. Henderson tried goats upon it, and sheep, also, I believe; they ate the grass greedily but did not thrive, and soon dwindled and died. It was found, on examination, that the grass did not digest but remained in balls in the intestines. The cocoanuts, though most of them were planted eight years ago, do not bear very heavily; Mr. Henderson thinks they were not planted deep enough. He says they should be planted four feet under the soil, the sprouts being about five feet high. Bananas planted in imported earth are growing well, and some have taken kindly to the native soil; also chilli peppers from the high islands. Vi-trees are in full bearing, the hibiscus is gaudy with blossoms, and cotton-plants, not indigenous, but now become wild, flourish luxuriantly.

Suwarrow at some former period must have been a thriving and important settlement. One has the feeling that stirring events have happened here and that its history should be wild and romantic. At present it is very like the desert stronghold of a pirate. The pier is a very fine one and must have cost much money and labour; a number of houses are clustered near it, giving at first sight the impression of a village; there are beacons to guide the mariner and a "lookout" on the opposite side of the island. Turtles are caught occasionally, and large crabs and excellent fish. There are also birds, very good eating, and in the season innumerable eggs of a fine flavour may be gathered. One bird, no larger than a dove, lays an egg as big as a hen's, out of all proportion to her size.

I first walked over to the weather side; here I .found it delightfully cool, but the tide was high, forcing me to the shingle, so I returned, marking on the way a fine, clear pool where I mean to have a bath to-morrow. The room where I am writing looks as though it were meant for a church or a schoolhouse; but of course that is only conjecture. It is a large room, long and narrow, with double doors at each side, a single door at one end, and four unglazed windows. The windows are protected by foot-wide slats arranged to move up and down like Venetian blinds; both doors and slats are painted green. The roof, open to the peak, is neatly thatched with either pandanus or cocoanut leaves, I am not sure which. A table, originally very sturdy, but now fallen into the rickets, large parcel of a native woman's hair. Mildewed maps hang on the walls, the ceiling is adorned with ten rusty cutlasses, old ledgers lie about, and a bag of cotton lies on the floor as though it had just been dropped there. On one of the sides of the room is a broad, white band with painted black letters "Peerless wrecked on Suwarrow Island." In one comer stands a box of bits of old iron which are put in with cocoanuts when they are planted. It is called "cocoanut manure." This reminds me that the Paumotuans plant with their cocoanuts a rusty nail and a ship's biscuit. In the outer room sixteen decaying muskets are ranged in a rack. Shelves are filled with all sorts of tools, nails, axes, bush knives, tins of sardines and salmon, and a quantity of mouldy shoes in children's sizes only; among the shoes were a toy chest of drawers and a box of moulting feathers.

Passing another building containing miscellaneous wreckage, blue and white china among the rest, I came to the manager's house, a large, wooden-floored structure with a thatched roof. Here I found a native man at work on accounts, his old dog at his feet, which were wrapped up in the Union Jack to keep them warm. This room was evidently designed by a sailor and gave one quite the feeling of being on board ship. Instead of windows there were port-holes, three on either side, with a couple flanking the front door. Covers, painted black to imitate iron, could be screwed over the ports like deadlights on shipboard. The doors, one in either end, opened in two parts, being divided across the middle. The furniture consisted of two bedsteads of native wood with cocoa sennit laced across them to serve for mattresses. A couple of bunches of bananas hung from the roof. Against the wall hung the death certificate of the dead man, which, in such cases, must be the only proof that the death was due to natural causes, and not a crime. I copied the certificate.

Samuli lee aho 2 ...
he motu nai mate he malu va he tau
fro ia gauali 2 1889 Ka Papu
Ko Maro tolu ne ha nie ne tamu
Ka Patiti ma miti San ma
J ketiti ma Paemani Koe tau wine
Kwenia kia mounina kelie iki lagi ke
he tan ban nei kua hobooko kiai a tautala
June ati 2-- 1890

Next comes "government house", as Louis calls it, neatly thatched, the floors of wood, and separated into two rooms by panelled wood from a wreck; the rooms are connected by a wide, open doorway, the arched top and sides edged with brass. In one room is a table with a Bible and other books lying on it, a home-made sofa covered with a mat; two comer shelves, spread with newspapers cut in points where they hang over, are filled with miscellaneous books; chests, a compass-box, and a water-monkey with its neck gone stand about. On the walls are some rather pretty engravings, a few framed and one glazed. On each side of the house are small, square windows protected by solid wooden shutters that drop down when not upheld by a stick. The front and back doors are strong and divided across the middle. In the back room are two home-made bedsteads, sennit crossed, one with a mosquito curtain. Chests are on the floor, mats lie about, and a roll of fine mats is lashed to the ceiling. In front of the house, the gable end, are two large, rusty, iron boilers such as are used on ships. Inside the compound, which is neatly fenced with whitewashed palings, are two small, mounted cannon with a couple of vi-trees growing beside them. Returning to what I call the church, I passed a tool house, a large room filled with rusting tools. Two small casks of fresh water lie waiting there in case a boat should come ashore in distress for water. There is also an immense cistern sunk in the ground, filled with rain-water caught on the iron roofs, but that, I believe is kept locked.

Leaving the dog that boarded us at Auckland, and some cats, we departed from the most romantic island in the world, regretting that to us its history must always remain a mystery unsolved.

After some GOOGLEing, I found the following entry:

Suwarrow Atoll

Adventurer and explorer of the Pacific, Handley Bathhurst Sterndale came to see Mr. Henderson after hearing of the firms expansion into the Pacific islands for trade. Sterndale had written several articles for the NZ HERALD about his exploits over the years as a trader. His article included information about how in May 1873, a young English sailor named Richard Chave, had become stranded on the small uninhabited atoll of Suwarrow for two years with his Penryn islander companion called Barney. Together they lived a 'Robinson Crusoe' type existence. Chave was rescued by a Captain Ellicott who's schooner was forced into the lagoon to repair damage he had sustained during a violent storm.

Suwarrow Atoll is ... barely two and a half square kilometres in area and lies 800 kilometres due east of Samoa and 3,200 kilometres north-east of New Zealand. It has no fresh water or fruit and because of this remained uninhabited for many years. It was uncharted on earlier maps and charts and gained its name during the visit of a Russian vessel, the SUVOROV. The atoll was a likely place to hide ill-gotten gains from plundered ships plying the trade routes across the Pacific Ocean. Lime fortifications and pottery, found in the sand by Sterndale, showed that at some previous time Spanish and Portugese ships had called there.

It is on record, Sterndale related, that in 1850 a Tahitian schooner went to salvage oil from the stranded American vessel GEM and the captain had searched around the tall palm trees near the beach of Anchorage Island and dug up a small buried treasure chest containing gold and silver coin. He had heard of a German trader working in Apia, Samoa, who had become the next treasure hunter on Suwarrow after purchasing an old map from a drunken sailor. He found an old iron chest containing Spanish pieces of eight and silver of Mexican origin valued at US$22,000. The last known treasure find was in 1876 when the atoll was occupied by Sterndale, his wife and several Chinese workers.

Mr. Henderson carefully considered Sterndale's proposition of setting up a trading post and base on Suwarrow Atoll. It was well situated and could be used by small vessels to store the cargo of copra, shell, pearl and other commodities brought in from the other islands and atolls in the adjacent areas. Additionally, Sterndale's previous experience soon convinced Mr. Henderson that this could become a paying proposition. The partners agreed that Sterndale should become their Manager for the Pacific region and that he would be based on Suwarrow atoll.

With the aid of the crew of the firms 85 ton brigantine RYNO, Sterndale put together the house in frames that they had brought with them from Auckland close to the beach on Anchorage Island, Suwarrow. They built a small coral wall in front to form a fortress and laid in the two cannons facing out into the lagoon to ward off unwanted visitors. Nearby they built a brick reservoir to catch rainwater and a long coral wharf out into the deeper water so vessels could load and unload provisions, supplies and cargo's. The operation began well and the partners in Auckland were well pleased with his efforts and organising abilities. An ambitious man, Sterndale convinced himself that he was now eligible to become a partner in the firm. This was disputed by Mr.Henderson who informed him that he was nothing more than an employee of the company.

The dispute continued into 1876 and the partners decided they must end the matter once and for all and ordered Sterndale and his wife to return to Auckland on the first available vessel. He flatly refused to leave. By October, Mr. Henderson took matters into his own hands and dispatched the company vessel KREIMHELDA, under Captain Fernandez, with orders to sail to Suwarrow to bring them back. When they anchored off the wharf at the atoll, Captain Fernandez found Sterndale had barricaded himself, his wife and Chinese workers in the house. He appeared at the door, brandishing a revolver, and fired shots at Captain Fernandez as he approached the house.

Retreating to the ship, the captain and crew placed the house under siege, firing rifle shots into the walls and into the water tank to try to force him to surrender. The Circular Saw Line brigantine RYNO was close by and arrived to find the position in stalemate. On board was a close friend of Sterndale named Captain Mair. Forbidden by the ships captain to leave the vessel, Mair slipped quietly overboard that night into the dark waters of the lagoon. He swam strongly for the distant shoreline, aware that in these waters lurked many large man-eating sharks. As he lay gasping for breath on the white sands, the faint sounds of a scuffle nearby caught his attention and he found a turtle digging frantically in the sand, having chosen this spot to lay her eggs.

Hearing the sound of metal chinking, he decided to investigate further. Disturbed, the turtle scuttled away back into the dark waters, Mair dug around in the hole she had made with his bare hands. Finally he had cleared enough sand to see the dark outline of a rusty metal box, broken on one end, where necklaces and brooches in gold and silver lay in the sand in the pale moonlight. Glancing down he recalled he only had on his underclothes. He had nothing to carry it away in. Exposing the box, Mair dragged it along the sand, aiming to re-bury it at another spot so he could return on another occasion to claim his find. Into his vest he slipped a few gold coins and rings and having carefully noted the position he had re-buried the treasure, made his way to Sterndale's house.

At first Sterndale thought it was some trick to get him out, but finally convinced of the identity of his night caller, opened the door and let Henry Mair inside. Mair was unable to convince Sterndale to surrender and the matter was finally brought to a conclusion when Captain Fernandez and his crew decided to smoke Sterndale out of the house with green pandanus leaves. Sterndale surrendered as smoke billowed through the small house. In the company of Captain Fernandez, Sterndale was placed on board the KREIMHELDA and she set sail for Auckland. Sterndale was later charged by the police with 'discharging a firearm with intent to kill', but Captain Fernandez spoke on his behalf in court, and the judge ruled the matter to be out of his jurisdiction. Sterndale and his wife left Auckland shortly after for the west coast of America.

Henry Mair left his hoard on Suwarrow and continued to work around the Pacific islands. In a letter, dated 1878, to his brother Gilbert Mair in New Zealand, he wrote:

"People have been talking to me about my plant on Suwarrow, but they all want the lion's share. I am not afraid of anyone finding it. A letter has been in my box for two years, to be forwarded in case I come to grief, giving an accurate description of the place, with the camp as bearings and distances from various points, so anyone with ordinary care could not fail to hit it......."

The box was never to reach his brother. In 1881, Henry Mair was clubbed to death by the suspicious natives of Cape Lisbon, on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, where he had called there as a recuiting agent on board the Scooner ISABELLA. His box and its contents were never found.

These stories must've been known to Robert Louis Stevenson and probably formed the basis of his tale TREASURE ISLAND.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pay-back time!

BHP Billiton has just announced a $5 BILLION off-market share buy-back!

Pay-back time!

The share price immediately spiked on opening, up $1.57 to $47.42, although it has since settled just below the $47-mark.

BHP will repurchase its own shares at a discount of at least 10% to the volume-weighted average price (VWAP) over the five trading days up to and including the closing date (25 February) of the buy-back offer (I anticipate the discounted price to be in the range of $40.00 to $41.50.) Shareholders may offer some or all of their shares at discounts of between 10% and 14% or as a final price tender. Read more about the buy-back [here].

The final buy-back price, as determined by BHP Billiton at the end of the tender process, will comprise:

a) a capital component of $0.28 per share; and
b) a fully franked deemed dividend equal to the final buy-back price less $0.28 per share.

For purposes of capital gains tax calculations, the capital proceeds will be the $0.28 capital component plus an amount equal to the excess of the tax value over the final buy-back price. The tax value will be the five-day VWAP up to and including 21 February 2011.

However, the real tax benefit to me is in the franking credit on the dividend!

For argument's sake, let's assume the final buy-back price comes in at the lower end of the scale at just over $40. For ease of calculation, let's further assume it's $40.28. $0.28 is the capital component and $40 is the fully franked dividend component. The $40 carries with it a franking credit of $17.14.

If you are like me and a self-funded and TAXFREE retiree, not only is the whole $40 taxfree but the franking credit of $17.14 is also refunded to you by the taxman. Every share bought back by BHP at $40.28 is already worth to me $57.42 ($40.28+$17.14) - even though the share price is still around $47.

Thank you, Paul Keating, for introducing franking credits, and thank you, Peter Costello, for making pensions taxfree!

For a full explanation of how tax on dividends and franking credits operate, click [here].

Uke'n sing it too

Learning to play the ukulele also involves learning to sing. I've just picked up this new song. It was especially written for me.

I know you want to copy down the lyrics. Here they are:

Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Man Song!

(He's the man!)
(He's the man!)

I don't take no crap from anybody
[else but you]
I wear the pants around here
[when I finish with your laundry]
Coz I'm a guy you don't wanna fight
[When I say "Jump", you say "Yeah right!"]
I'm the man of this house
[until you get home]

(He's the man!)
(He's the man!)

What I say goes around here
[right out the window]
and I don't wanna hear a lot of whining
[so I'll shut up]
The sooner you learn who's Boss around here
[The sooner you can give me my orders, dear]
Coz I'm Head-Honcho around here
[but it's all in my head]

(He's the man!)
(He's the man!)

And I can have sex anytime
[that you want it]
Coz I'm a man who has needs
[but they're not that important]
And don't expect any flowers from me
[Coz if I'm not mistaken you prefer jewellery]
I'm the King of my castle
[when you're not around]

(He's the man!)
(He's the man!)

And I'll drink and watch sports whenever I wanna
[get in trouble]
And I'll come home when I'm good and ready
[to sleep on the couch]
Coz a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do
[And I'm gonna do what you tell me to]
Because I'm Top dog around here
[but I've been neutered]

(He's the man!)
(He's the man!)

(You the man!)

Here's my rendition of it:

The dogs seem to like it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Big, Healthy and Prosperous

BHP Billiton reported a very good first-half 2011 result on Wednesday. The shares fell almost 2 per cent after the result however, as the market had hoped a larger-than-expected share buy-back or dividend might be announced.

In the end, the company announced a strong, clean result, with numbers largely in line with consensus.

Things have never been better for BHP, with booming commodity prices, strong demand and an improving world economy.

All of the big divisions performed well, again demonstrating the benefits of a diversified business model.

It's medium and long-term outlook still looks very robust, with the two main threats being rising costs and a potential for slower commodity price growth versus the past 12 months.

The BHP story remains one of growth, and the shares remain a BUY with a 12-month price target of $52.20 on the stock.

Friday's closing price was $46.56.

Tales of Unrest

It's a Josep-Conrad-kind-of Sunday morning: sultry, humid, peaceful and yet pensive. I've opened one of my favourite Joseph Conrad volumes and started reading "An Outpost of Progress":

There were two white men in charge of the trading station. Kayerts, the chief, was short and fat; Carlier, the assistant, was tall, with a large head and a very broad trunk perched upon a long pair of thin legs. The third man on the staff was a Sierra Leone nigger, who maintained that his name was Henry Price. However, for some reason or other, the natives down the river had given him the name of Makola, and it stuck to him through all his wanderings about the country. He spoke English and French with a warbling accent, wrote a beautiful hand, understood bookkeeping, and cherished in his innermost heart the worship of evil spirits. His wife was a negress from Loanda, very large and very noisy. Three children rolled about in sunshine before the door of his low, shed-like dwelling. Makola, taciturn and impenetrable, despised the two white men. He had charge of a small clay storehouse with a dried-grass roof, and pretended to keep a correct account of beads, cotton cloth, red kerchiefs, brass wire, and other trade goods it contained. Besides the storehouse and Makola's hut, there was only one large building in the cleared ground of the station. It was built neatly of reeds, with a verandah on all the four sides. There were three rooms in it. The one in the middle was the living-room, and had two rough tables and a few stools in it. The other two were the bedrooms for the white men. Each had a bedstead and a mosquito net for all furniture. The plank floor was littered with the belongings of the white men; open half-empty boxes, torn wearing apparel, old boots; all the things dirty, and all the things broken, that accumulate mysteriously round untidy men. There was also another dwelling-place some distance away from the buildings. In it, under a tall cross much out of the perpendicular, slept the man who had seen the beginning of all this; who had planned and had watched the construction of this outpost of progress. He had been, at home, an unsuccessful painter who, weary of pursuing fame on an empty stomach, had gone out there through high protections. He had been the first chief of that station. Makola had watched the energetic artist die of fever in the just finished house with his usual kind of "I told you so" indifference. Then, for a time, he dwelt alone with his family, his account books, and the Evil Spirit that rules the lands under the equator. He got on very well with his god. Perhaps he had propitiated him by a promise of more white men to play with, by and by. At any rate the director of the Great Trading Company, coming up in a steamer that resembled an enormous sardine box with a flat-roofed shed erected on it, found the station in good order, and Makola as usual quietly diligent. The director had the cross put up over the first agent's grave, and appointed Kayerts to the post. Carlier was told off as second in charge. The director was a man ruthless and efficient, who at times, but very imperceptibly, indulged in grim humour. He made a speech to Kayerts and Carlier, pointing out to them the promising aspect of their station. The nearest trading-post was about three hundred miles away. It was an exceptional opportunity for them to distinguish themselves and to earn percentages on the trade. This appointment was a favour done to beginners. Kayerts was moved almost to tears by his director's kindness. He would, he said, by doing his best, try to justify the flattering confidence, &c., &c. Kayerts had been in the Administration of the Telegraphs, and knew how to express himself correctly. Carlier, an ex-non-commissioned officer of cavalry in an army guaranteed from harm by several European Powers, was less impressed. If there were commissions to get, so much the better; and, trailing a sulky glance over the river, the forests, the impenetrable bush that seemed to cut off the station from the rest of the world, he muttered between his teeth, "We shall see, very soon." [Continue reading here]

I discovered Jospeh Conrad rather late in life. I wished I had started reading him many, many years ago. You're luckier as I've just whetted your appetite. For more of Joseph Conrad's stories, click [here] and [here].

Friday, February 18, 2011

Another beautiful morning at "Riverbend"

Peaceful "Riverbend" with my little motorsailer looking its best
in the early-morning sunlight

Another yacht, QUEST II, with Peter and Janette on board, anchored off "Riverbend" yesterday. Originally from Sydney, they have lived aboard their yacht since 2009 and sailed through Fiji (yes, Rob, including Savusavu) and are now on their way to Tasmania, after which they head for South Africa and then the Baltic Sea in Europe.

They don't know it yet but this evening they will be guests of the Nelligen Yacht Club and treated to dinner and a showing of the English version of the film The Riddle of the Sands to prepare them for the fury of the Baltic Sea. (Read the book [online].)

The intrepid tradesmen who were supposed to continue with our bathroom renovation today have so far not been seen or heard from.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Books, glorious books

Despite kindle and other e-book readers, books will be with us for a very long time, if not forever.

However, they, too, had a difficult start:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Uke'n Play Ukulele

Just four chords - F, C7, G7, and C -, three songs - Singing In The Rain, Clementine, and Rock My Soul -, and a colourful Hawaiian shirt later and I'm well on my way with my little ukulele.

Mind you, making my left hand play the chords while using my right hand to play the melody is as devillishly hard to do on a uke as it is on my button-accordion. I would give my right arm to be ambidextrous!

For more on the mighty uke, click [here]?

And then there's always Dr. Uke if you need help!

Monday, February 14, 2011

We are Australians ...

On Saturday just gone, at Karrinyup Shopping Centre (yes, Western Australia) the Variety Club Youth Choir organized a FLASH MOB where they all were incognito in the Food Hall, and started standing up in groups singing "We are Australians"

The purpose was to raise money for the Queensland floods. Each time it is clicked on, money is raised through Google ads, SO PLEASE WATCH!!!!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Women under Islam

We all remember Bibi Aisha.

The Afghan teenager on the cover of Time magazine became the heartbreaking image to the world of the barbarism of Islam towards its women. Forced at age 12 to marry a Taliban soldier to settle a family debt, she tried to run away when she was abused. Her husband cut off her nose and ears.

Read the TIME article [here].

Now Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai wants to negotiate with his "upset brothers," as he calls the Taliban.

Friday, February 11, 2011

There's a place called Kokomo ...

Remember the Beach Boys and "Kokomo"?

Well, real-estate-spruiker extraordinaire Robert Bryce, formerly of Tonga where I met him in 2006 but now residing in Fiji, must have been a Beach Boy fan as he named his latest 'brainchild' on the God-forsaken island of Hunga in Tonga COCOMO VILLAGE.

Nice one, Robert! I visited Hunga Village on Hunga Island for just a day and a more depressing place I cannot imagine.

High cliffs of Hunga Island
If I had looked down those cliffs any longer, I am sure I would have thrown myself off them as did Steve McQueen in "PAPILLON" - with or without a coconut raft!

Anyway, as always, CAVEAT EMPTOR ! (or try here before you even THINK of putting money into Tongan real estate!)

And, as always, there's more.

P.S. More on Cocomo here and here and here and here and here and here. And here is a list of future 'Kokomoans'.

P.P.S. Looks like good ol' Robert Bryce is running out of steam on Cocomo and has started up another dream scheme, this time nearer to his new hide-out in Fiji: see www.gonativefiji.com.

P.P.P.S. And there's much more here: www.tongarealestate.blogspot.com.

P.P.P.P.S. Sorry, Cocomo Village's company has been de-registered:

Check it out for yourself: Click on Tonga Business Registry, then on 'Register Services', then on 'Register Search', then type in HUNGA ISLAND ESTATE, then hit 'Search' button. When 'Hunga Island Estate Limited (9005017) comes up, click on it. Click on 'Filings', then on 'Registrar's Notice of Removal'.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Port Hinchinbrook residents return home after Yasi

Bewildered boat owners have begun searching through the enormous piles of debris at Port Hinchinbrook to find their battered vessels.

The port south of Cardwell suffered some of the worst damage during category 5 cyclone Yasi, with million-dollar yachts driven up into the marina car park and into houses by the seven-metre storm surge.

Most residents in homes along the waterfront evacuated prior to the cyclone hitting with full force, however some chose to stay behind and were confronted with frightening scenes as the boats ploughed towards them.

Hinchinbrook couple Lindsay and Jennifer Hallam , who self-evacuated further inland, came back to their waterfront home yesterday to find a 55 ft yacht resting on their pool, its bow almost inside their home.

"One of the greatest scandals ever seen in this country"

Friday, February 4, 2011

Malodorous Malawi

The government of Malawi has introduced a new law to try and stop people breaking wind in public. The legislation punishes repeat offenders who choose to release their foul-smelling bodily gases in public places. It prosecutes those “who foul the air” in an effort to “mould responsible and disciplined citizens”. The bill states: “Any person who voluntarily [impairs] the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the health of persons in general, dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

The bill has created a lot of anger among Malawians, who feel the country has more serious problems than trying to criminalize a natural bodily function. They also say it is causing embarrassment to the country internationally, with foreign media reporting on “Malawi’s farting law”. People are also worried about how fairly the law will be administered on the streets. Taxi driver Chikosi Nyondo said: “How on Earth will the police know who passed gas? I’m sure there’ll be people arrested for false farting.” The Afrik-News website quoted another angry Malawian who said: “Everyone does that, even if it’s in public or it has an accompanying sound, making it criminal is a joke of democracy.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Yasi, that's my baby

Yasi made landfall at Tully which bore the brunt of the impact. The major population centres of Cairns and Townsville escaped relatively unscathed and life is slowly returning to normal.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



You MUST click the link at the end of this IMPORTANT message.......

Police are warning all men who frequent clubs, parties & local pubs to be alert and stay cautious when offered a drink from any woman. Many females use a date rape drug on the market called "Beer." The drug is found in liquid form and is available anywhere. It comes in bottles, cans, or from taps and in large "kegs". Beer is used by female sexual predators at parties and bars to persuade their male victims to go home and sleep with them. A woman needs only to get a guy to consume a few units of Beer and then simply ask him home for no-strings-attached sex.

Men are rendered helpless against this approach. After several beers, men will often succumb to the desires to sleep with horrific-looking women whom they would never normally be attracted to. After drinking beer, men often awaken with only
hazy memories of exactly what happened to them the night before, often with just a vague feeling that "something bad" occurred.

At other times, these unfortunate men are swindled out of their life's savings, in a familiar scam known as "a relationship."

In extreme cases, the female may even be shrewd enough to entrap the unsuspecting male into a longer-term form of servitude and punishment referred to as "marriage." Men are much more susceptible to this scam after beer is
administered and sex is offered by the predatory females.

If you fall victim to this "Beer" scam and the women administering it, there are male support groups where you can discuss the details of your shocking encounter with similarly victimised men. For the support group nearest you, just look up
"Golf Courses" in the phone book. For a video to see how beer works, click here:


PLEASE! Forward this warning to every male you know.


42 degrees in the shade of the horseshed ...

... and climbing!

Floods, cyclones, heatwaves! I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of drought and flooding rains ...

While every flight leaving Cairns, Townsville, and Mackay is booked out as people flee south to escape Cyclone Yasi, nothing stirs down here as New South Wales suffers under a heatwave.

I'm slaking my thirst with copious Lemon Lime & Bitters with a dash of gin - for medicinal reasons, of course!

Monster Tropical Cyclone Yasi

Entire suburbs in three North Queensland cities will be evacuated today as Cyclone Yasi powers towards the coast, bringing destructive winds, torrential rain, and massive storm surges.

Yasi is expected to be packing winds of up to 280 kilometres per hour when it makes landfall as a category four system somewhere between Cairns and Innisfail at around midnight on Wednesday.

Back in 1981, for just on eight months I lived in a cosy little beach house in Bay Street at idyllic Cape Pallarenda just north of Townsville. I had always dreamt of a tropical lifstyle by the sea, and there I had it all: a comfortable home overlooking the ocean, an enjoyable social life, and a well-paid and oh-so-easy permanent accounting job with a large national company.

Somehow my constant dissatisfaction with the status quo that had been my driving force for as long as I could remember made me throw it all in again when I received a single phone call asking me if I wanted to go back to contract work in Papua New Guinea. After New Guinea came Saudi Arabia and then Greece before I eventually returned to Cape Pallarenda in 1985. But there was no way I could recapture what I had left behind three years earlier and lack of employment forced me to leave for Sydney - and, as they say, the rest is history!

For many years I hankered to return to Queensland's tropical north and my spiritual home is still somewhere up there even though I sold the little beach house in early 2000.

Now I read that residents of Cape Pallarenda and other low-lying parts of Townsville are being evacuated and moved to higher ground as Yasi may bring with it storm surges and powerful flash floodings of up to four metres. I seem to have got out just in time by the tiniest of margins of a mere 25 years!

[Here] is more news on the cyclone preparations.