Category Archives: People and Places

Rising Tide

The Monthly

October 2019

Dealing with sea-level rise when private property is at stake


Around 10 years ago, upon retirement, Dr Brett Stevenson started spending less time in Sydney and more in a house he owned in a town 200 kilometres south – the beginnings of the classic Australian sea change.

The region he came to is called the Shoalhaven, the kind of place where if someone says they live a stone’s throw from the coast they’re probably not exaggerating. Nearly every town there starts adjacent to a beach or clings to the edge of an estuary – evidence of the Australian ethos that the closer we live to the coast, the better.

Stevenson wanted to contribute to his new community, so he volunteered to sit on some of the local council’s natural resources and coastal management committees. He’d spent more than a decade working in policy for the New South Wales department of the environment, and before that with the state’s Environmental Protection…

Leave a comment

Filed under Climate change, Environment, People and Places, Uncategorized

Walking on Sunshine

Griffith Review

Edition 52 Imaging the Future – ‘Notes from the Frontier’


AROUND SEVEN YEARS ago I found myself in the position where, for the first time, I could consider not just owning my own home but building a new one. I had a piece of land on a mountainside on the south coast of New South Wales – a bush block my husband had bought cheap years before. I secured a line of credit with the bank, and approval from the local council to build. It was an exquisite place: sweeps of tall spotted gums rising above clusters of deep green Burrawang palms; a population of shy, darting lyrebirds and unworried swamp wallabies; a line of sight out to the Tasman Sea that would only ever skim forest canopy; all within striking distance of Sydney and Canberra.



Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, People and Places

The dispossessed

The Griffith Review

Edition 32: Wicked Problems, Exquisite Dilemmas


IN mid-afternoon just days after Christmas, finding a park in the small National Heritage town of Central Tilba, on the far South Coast of New South Wales, was proving difficult. Rows of Audis, Prados, the occasional BMW and all kinds of shining new four-wheel drives lined the narrow streets. Throngs of day-trippers surged in and out of the century-old houses now converted to shops and cafés: pretty timber-clad buildings with red tin roofs, bordered by neat gardens of hydrangeas and roses.

Central Tilba is a snapshot of a prosperous early-twentieth-century rural Australian town, captured for voracious tourists. In the Old Cheese Factory I stood shoulder to shoulder with others as cheese, ice cream, fudge, books, tea towels and a mind-numbing array of knick-knacks were sold. Devonshire teas and meat pies were gobbled as people sauntered and shopped their way through the art gallery, the leather shop, and the new-age hemp clothing and crystal store.

I caught myself gaping, astounded by the display of affluence. Just a few minutes’ drive from Central Tilba is the Wallaga Lake Aboriginal Village, a community of 180 people. Here the median weekly income plummets from Tilba’s $379 a week to just $200 a week. At the entrance to the village an Aboriginal flag flutters, and a sprawl of 1970s brick-veneer homes begins. A few are well kept, but most are in various states of disrepair: broken windows, sagging gutters, overgrown lawns littered with rubbish. There are as many decaying car bodies parked on lawns as there are cars on the road. Save for two kids fighting over a bike, the streets were deserted when I visited that same day after Christmas.

Adjacent to the village is the Umbarra Cultural Centre. If Central Tilba is a snapshot of Australian history, Umbarra is a panorama. Inside is a museum and cultural centre that tells the story of the Yuin, the people who, archaeological evidence suggests, have inhabited this region for 20,000 years. Yet on this day, with thousands of tourists nearby, the car park was deserted and the centre doors locked. Outside, a boat with ‘Wallaga Lake Cultural Tours’ emblazoned on the side sat in the dirt, covered in a film of dust.

Earlier I sat chatting with Uncle Stephen Foster on the doorstep of his house, behind us an old man coughing excruciatingly and a radio blaring. Uncle Stephen was spending the day, like most days, sitting around listening to music on the radio. At forty-four he already has the emaciated body of an old man, his face so tiny it seems all eyes and smile. Like many here, he has had a long battle with the grog. ‘I used to go seven days a week if I could. Me little girl and me diabetes slowed me down. I slowed down for me daughter – that was me main priority. I just drink once in the blue moon now.’

As we talked a voice in the near distance started yelling aggressively, the tone making me nervous, but Uncle Stephen waved away my anxious enquiries with a gentle flick of his hand. Violence, particularly drunken violence, is not unusual here; while no one likes it, most are acclimatised.

To find this pocket of disadvantage amid the rolling green farmland and tourist towns of the South Coast is incongruous, and disturbing. Like most people who live in the region, I’d never set foot in the community before. To find myself venturing in with the same sense of curiosity and trepidation I used to take into foreign countries was strange. I was motivated by a simple question, but one I suspected was unanswerable: what went so wrong here?


Leave a comment

Filed under Investigative Journalism, People and Places

Japan: Will Obama meet the survivors of Hiroshima?

New Matilda 11th November 2009

It’s amazing that Sunao Tsuboi survived the atomic bomb blast of 1945 at all — let alone the subsequent years of chronic disease, blood disorders, and two bouts of cancer. Yet he’s made it to the age of 84 possessing a remarkable vitality.

When I arrive to interview him on the third floor of the Hiroshima Peace Hall, we discover the door is locked. Tsuboi shuns the elevator, and, with startling speed, darts down the stairwell and returns with a key.

To illustrate his place in the world’s first nuclear attack he shows me a copy of one of the most iconic images of World War II: the huge billowing mushroom cloud rising above the destroyed city of Hiroshima, shortly after the Enola Gay dropped the bomb. He points to the base of the mushroom “stalk” and says, “that’s where I was”.

Tsuboi was 20-years-old and walking to university when the atomic bomb exploded above him. The intense heat tore off his clothes and burnt nearly his entire body. His ears melted down the side of his face. For the first six months, his mother was told everyday by the doctor, “your son will not make it through the night”.

The after-effects of radiation exposure are just as severe. Tsuboi has been hospitalised 10 times in his life, and three times, he not expected to survive when he was admitted. He has chronic aplastic anaemia — which means his bone marrow doesn’t make enough blood cells — and he is also undergoing treatment for cancer. His running joke during the afternoon is only the good die young, so he endures.

When I met him in October, Tsuboi, a chair of the Japan Confederation of A and H Bomb Sufferers, was focussing his considerable energy on convincing US President Barack Obama to visit Hiroshima. It was announced this week that Obama won’t include Hiroshima in this week’s one-day stopover in Japan on the way to the APEC conference — but he has declared a willingness to visit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki while in office.


Leave a comment

Filed under People and Places

The Social Investment Guide

In 2008 I teamed up with the Greenstone Group, a philanthropic advisory firm who created the  Social Investment Guide.  Effectively a “giving guide”,  it’s a tool for emerging philanthropists who are looking to invest in social change. The guide features 23 different projects from across Australia – all deemed worthy of funding.

We chose 2 of the projects for me to make a short film about. “The Healing Place”, is a project in Arnhem Land that addresses chronic health and well-being issues in a traditional way. “Boys to Men” is a program aimed at troubled young boys on the south coast of NSW.

Leave a comment

Filed under People and Places

Guam – The Tip of the Spear

“Guam – The Tip of the Spear”

Dateline, SBS Television. 21st May 2008

The tiny pacific island of Guam has been designated as the focal point for the United States military strategy in the Western Pacific; the so called “Tip of the Spear”. But with thousands of marines and military hardware about to descend upon Guam, some locals are worried that it will push already stretched public services to breaking point.



Up until now, tens of thousands of American troops have been based on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. But after rapes and other crimes by US servicemen, the angry response from the Japanese public has forced the US to look for an alternative base somewhere in the western Pacific. Enter the tiny western Pacific island of Guam. A US territory since the end of the Second World War, Guam is about to play host to the might of the US war machine. But can its indigenous people cope with what many of them regard as an invasion? Here’s Bronwyn Adcock. And please be warned you that Bronwyn’s report does contain some coarse language.

REPORTER: Bronwyn Adcock

For generations, the people of Guam have felt the impact of outside military might. Since the 17th century, this small Pacific island has been captured by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. It was retaken by the US at the end of the Second World War and remains a US territory. Today American military bases take up a third of the island. Now the people of Guam are again bracing for a massive military intrusion. America’s military planners have decided Guam will become a rapid-response platform in the Pacific. 8,000 marines and 9,000 family members will be transferred from Okinawa, Japan. There’ll be a huge build-up of military hardware, including new air force surveillance capabilities, the hosting of nuclear aircraft carriers and a ballistic missile defence task force.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice-President of the United States.

On a visit to Guam last year, Vice-President Dick Cheney outlined the importance of the move for the United States.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: By positioning forces on Guam the United States can move quickly and effectively to protect our friends, to defend our interest, to bring relief in times of emergency and to keep the sea lanes open to commerce and closed to terrorists. This island may be small but it has tremendous importance to the peace and security of the world.

Guam is strategically located for US influence in the Pacific. Some analysts say the move is a counter to Chinese military growth in the region. At one of Guam’s many tourist resorts, a cultural show by the indigenous people of Guam, the Chamorro, is under way. Years of colonisation have already diminished their numbers and the military build-up has raised fears that the Chamorro culture and population will be further diluted.

DEBBIE QUINATA: I think we as a people will become extinct, ’cause we’re certainly on the endangered species list.

Debbie Quinata is a Maga Haga, a female leader of the Chamorro. She’s not sure this tiny island of just 170,000 can cope with the military influx.

DEBBIE QUINATA: We have to be realistic. We are a very small island with limited resources, limited land space, for the love of Christ. I think the only thing that we are going to see with this build-up is a lot of misery.

At this informal meeting of Chamorros held at a local marina, a common theme is a sense of powerlessness. Guam is in a unique political situation – it’s an American territory but neither the citizens or their elected representatives have full voting rights on the US mainland.

MAN: We will never be able to have any type of sovereignty as far as governing ourselves, because that is in conflict with the US.

AL LIZAMA: It’s like in our house they don’t respect us.

Al Lizama fought for America in Vietnam and is deeply unhappy about what’s happening in his homeland.

AL LIZAMA: It’s just in the name that we are US citizens. But other than that we’re nothing. This is our island, this is our home. We have the fucking right to decide who’s to come into our island and all this, but no, fucking America treat us like fucking worse than slave and all that.

DEBBIE QUINATA: Not only were the people not consulted, I think the government officials are not consulted, they are…told.

Up at the Governor’s office in Guam local officials are scrambling to prepare for the military build-up – a decision they had no part of.

MICHAEL CRUZ, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF GUAM: Have we estimated the number of available workers that we would have on Guam currently, or within the region?

It’s estimated an extra 20,000 workers will be needed for construction – at least 16,000 more than Guam can provide.

MICHAEL CRUZ: If we think it’s all going to be coming from the Philippines, there’s already a lot… there’s significant competition with other areas such as in the Middle East and Dubai area that’s..

Lieutenant Governor Michael Cruz is a Chamorro and a committed patriot who’s served for the US in Iraq. He is welcoming the military build-up, but is wary of the impact on locals.

MICHAEL CRUZ: A magnitude increase of 25%, which is about 40,000 people, moving into our island in less than a decade will prove to be a significant challenge to our infrastructure, to our environment and through all the issues of life that affect our people.

The costs for the military build-up have been flagged at US$15 billion, but that’s all money to be spent inside the military bases. The Governor’s office is lobbying to get help for the community outside the fence line.

MICHAEL CRUZ: This is a decision made many, many echelons above us as a people here in Guam. But being patriotic Americans we welcome and we are happy to be a part of the tip of the spear. But since this was national policy, there should be a national commitment towards 170,000 American citizens that live outside the fence line here.

Outside the bases, Guam is not a wealthy place. Around 25% of the population live below the poverty line. With thousands of workers and their dependants set to descend upon Guam, there are real fears that already-stretched public services like health and education just won’t cope. In this classroom at a local primary school, the air-conditioning is broken. As with all classrooms at this school there’s only one computer – usually out-of-date hand-me-downs from the military schools.

DERRICK SANTOS, SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: When they are obsolete with them, they give it to us, and we try and make use of it as much as possible. Yeah, Uncle Sam, they got everything, they got all the money, they don’t have to worry about getting their pay cheques late.

According to Union figures, students here in the public system have $US3,000 a year spent on their education, while inside the base it’s $12,000 a year. This school is so strapped for cash that kids are rarely allowed to take home books, because if they’re not returned they can’t be replaced.

LINDA: The teachers have to use their own money to purchase items, like there is not Xerox machine – excuse me, no Xerox papers, so we have to purchase the Xerox papers. We need tissues. Children have runny nose, so we request for tissues as well. Right now we don’t have any paper towels here.

As part of the militray build-up more schools will be built on-base. Principal Derrick Santos is worried this means he’ll lose even more teachers to the military schools.

DERRICK SANTOS: Payment is one. Number two, they get supplies, materials, number three, they get support, their equipment doesn’t break down. The financial situation with the military is always there. We don’t have that kind of support, it’s not priority.

To add to his concerns, Derrick Santos is expecting extra enrolments as workers and their families start arriving on Guam. But so far there’s no commitment for any extra cash.

DERRICK SANTOS: If we don’t get any more money to help maintain our facilities, get the equipments we need, get the supplies we need, get the proper number of teachers we’re gonna need, there’s no way we can sustain the influx.

The future of Guam is being decided here in Washington DC. Retired major general David Bice is in charge of the Joint Guam program office. He says that while he can’t guarantee any money outside the fence line, it is a defence responsibility to help find solutions.

GENERAL BICE, RETIRED MAJOR GENERAL: It is our role, because we recognise that Guam is a small place, it’s a small island, and we want this to be good not just for Department of Defense, but we want this to be successful for the people of Guam.

Debbie Quinata, however, is sceptical that enough will ever be done to break down what she calls the 2-tier system.

DEBBIE QUINATA: The military and the federal government has managed to create two completely different classes of people and it really truly is us and them. You have housing that is available on base that is extremely luxurious, very self-contained little community, with everything from McDonald’s that are built on people’s family land, making money off of our population, all the way to right at the gates where they have every facility, every resource available.

GENERAL BICE: With the US military presence coming in, the 8,000 marines alone are going to be bringing in an annual payroll of about US$300 million.

Local business groups are welcoming the build-up and the price of real-estate is already on the rise. But some believe this surge in housing prices is indicative of how locals will be left behind.

DEBBIE QUINATA: It will be beyond the reach of the local wage earner, it truly will be.

Public meetings about the build-up have been well attended. Major General Bice has been coming to Guam to listen to the views of the people.

MAN: You said, this is the largest military build-up in the history of the United States, and you’re going to bring it to the littlest? Can we get some sense there?

GENERAL BICE: I certainly understand the anxieties and frustrations expressed by Guam’s elected officials and the public.

General Bice says Washington is listening to the locals. However, Guam senator Judith Won Pat, who’s followed the debate, says there’s a strong feeling that the military is just paying lip service.

JUDITH WON PAT, SENATOR: Sure they may come, they may listen, but it doesn’t go anywhere, because the military’s mission comes first, before the people in the community, that’s how I feel. And I know a lot of the grassroot people feel the same way.

The people of Guam have a long history of serving in America’s wars. It’s this history of patriotism that has some believing the US will look after Guam and not allow the military build-up to destroy the island.

MICHAEL CRUZ: But we think that as good patriotic Americans that as we continue our efforts will be rewarded.

REPORTER: You don’t have any more than the power of persuasion, though, do you?

MICHAEL CRUZ: It goes along way, though. That’s in part why the marines are leaving Japan, that’s in part why the military had to leave Viacas over in Porto Rico, so at the end of the day I think that power of persuasion will come into play if we need it.

DEBBIE QUINATA: We are a strategic location, a possession, a bounty of war, and they will do exactly what they want to do when they want to do it and how they want to do it. And if we don’t like it, I think that’s just tough.





Original Music composed by

1 Comment

Filed under People and Places

Japan’s Legal Revolution

“Japan’s Legal Revolution”

Dateline, SBS Television. 7th May 2008

The jury system is something that most Australians, Americans and Britons take for granted. But for the Japanese its introduction into their legal system is  something of a revolution that’s challenging a culture where “speaking your mind” is not always valued. Proponents hope it will go some way to strengthening justice in a country that has an incredibly high conviction rate – over 99%.



REPORTER: Bronwyn Adock

Hiroshi Yanagihara lives with the stigma of being convicted and jailed for
sexual assault.

HIROSHI YANAGIHARA (Translation): I was in jail for two years and one month. When I was released on parole I felt people looking at me coldly. Even after I started working I felt my colleagues whispering, “He’s been in prison.” So I didn’t last long at work.

But Yanagihara did not commit any crime. Rather, he was the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. His is a disturbingly common story, according to some Japanese defence lawyers.

SHUNKICHI TAKAYAMA, LAWYER (Translation) He was one of the luckier cases. In these cases the truth is revealed. But there are cases in which the wrong man is accused while the real culprit does not come forward.

REPORTER: Did you ever see people go to the gallows who you thought were perhaps not guilty?

SATORU SHINOMIYA, DEFENCE LAWYER: I believe so, I believe so.

After he was released from jail Hiroshi Yanagihara left his home town, but agrees to revisit it to tell me his story. This is Himi, on Japan’s northern coast. In 2002, two women here were sexually assaulted. One helped police draw a picture of her attacker. The image apparently resembled Yanagihara. One day six policemen turned up here, where he worked as a taxi driver.

HIROSHI YANAGIHARA (Translation): Suddenly they surrounded me. They called my name and showed their police IDs. They didn’t ask me anything or explain anything but forcibly took me to the station.

Here at the police station Yanagiraha was held for two days and interrogated for up to 12 hours at a time.

HIROSHI YANAGIHARA (Translation): When I said, “I didn’t do it,” they said, “Don’t lie, you did it.” They kept saying that. This continued and I asked them to call a lawyer for me. They said it wasn’t necessary to call a lawyer.

In Japan, police can hold a suspect for up to 23 days without charge, with only limited access to a lawyer. After days of gruelling, repetitive interrogation, Yanagihara says the room suddenly heated up.

HIROSHI YANAGIHARA (Translation): I got very hot… My mind became foggy. I couldn’t bear the heat any more. I fainted once in the interrogation room. They said, “Your mother is crying.” Then they said my sisters were saying I’d done it and left me to the police. They said this again and again. It made me think my family had given up on me.

Based solely on his forced confession, this court found Yanagihara guilty. Only after he served his jail time did another man admit to committing the crime, and Yanagihara’s name was officially cleared. Lawyer Shunkichi Takayama says it’s not unusual in Japan for suspects to be placed under intense pressure to confess.

SHUNKICHI TAKAYAMA (Translation): I would say it happens very frequently. The pressure may not be beating and kicking, it’s more psychological. But it’s almost as effective at stopping him from saying what he really thinks.

According to defence lawyers, these forced confessions are usually accepted as evidence by judges. They complain that judges are too keen to convict. Takayama knows each time he heads off to court he’ll almost certainly lose.

SHUNKICHI TAKAYAMA (Translation): It appears as though everyone is treated equally. But in practice a decision has already been made. The decision is ‘guilty’. The procedure is carried out only to make it look fair. The court has become a mere formality.

The conviction rate inside Japanese court rooms is incredibly high. Once charged, there’s a more than 99% chance of being found guilty.

SATORU SHINOMIYA: I handled many, many criminal cases, and some of them my client was not guilty because of the so-called reasonable doubts on the evidence, and I tried to persuade the professional judges, but no-one was persuaded.

Satoru Shinomiya is a leading criminal defence lawyer and professor. Like most of his colleagues, he’s rarely won a case in his entire career and he blames the attitude of judges.

SATORU SHINOMIYA: I was talking to the wall, because they were not interested in my argument and they never make question on me about the case, even the contested death penalty case.

Critics of Japanese justice are now pinning their hopes on the introduction of the biggest legal reform in Japanese history.

MOCK TRIAL OFFICIAL (Translation): I’ll say, “Stand up,” the moment the door opens. So please stand up. The judge will bow before you are allowed to sit down. Bow to the judge and sit down.

Early next year, a jury system is set to be introduced into Japanese court rooms. Across the country authorities are preparing by running mock trials like this one.

MOCK TRIAL OFFICIAL (Translation): At approximately 8pm on June 30, 2007, the accused attacked Yone Sugiura, aged 88, by pushing her backwards and knocking her down.

The proposed Japanese jury system is distinctly different to the Western system. While in the West the jury is separate to the judge, here the six jurors will sit alongside and deliberate with three judges. In today’s exercise the accused is charged with assault and theft. Advocates of the new system, called Saiban-in, have great hopes in the ability of lay people to restore some credibility to the judicial system.

SATORU SHINOMIYA: If we defence lawyers can succeed in persuading them just do the right thing, they will follow the law. The law will say to them acquit the defendant if you have reasonable doubt.

Defence lawyer Takashi Takano believes that citizens could put an end to courts accepting forced confessions.

TAKASHI TAKANO, DEFENCE LAWYER: I believe that Japanese ordinary people don’t believe the idea that even after 30 hours of custodial interrogation police can get voluntary confession.

REPORTER: So you think ordinary people will be more sceptical of these confessions?

TAKASHI TAKANO: They don’t need to be sceptical to reject those kinds of confessions. Do you believe that people can to be voluntary after 30 hours of interrogation?

The new system is striking fear into the hearts of many Japanese. Opinion polls show the vast majority do not support it and do not want to serve as jurors.

ROBERT PRECHT, US DEFENCE LAWYER: This is not just a legal reform, this is in many ways a cultural reform, or some people might even say, revolution.

Robert Precht is an American criminal defence lawyer. He’s been visiting Japan regularly for the past two years, holding workshops and meetings about the new system. He thinks Japanese are nervous because the whole concept behind a jury system is at odds with mainstream attitudes.

ROBERT PRECHT: For Americans and for Australians and for citizens of the UK a jury system is almost second nature to us because we’ve been taught from an early age that it’s healthy to distrust the government. So we view the jury system as an essential feature of our democracy in that it protects us from the government. But what’s striking to me is distrust of the government is not a widespread attitude here in Japan. Indeed most citizens, I’m told, trust the government.

For citizens to suddenly take on the role of being a watchdog on the state is a huge step.

ROBERT PRECHT: So this new system really is asking Japanese to behave in a new way and to become new citizens. And so it goes much further than simply how do we decide guilt or innocence in a particular case. The real significance is how do we, remake citizens into a more active, less passive group of people who will not just be led by government but will ultimately tell the government what to do.

MAN IN THEATRE GROUP (Translation): He was having an affair with another woman. You didn’t want to be kicked out. You loved him too much. The love turned to hatred.

WOMAN IN THEATRE GROUP (Translation): How could killing my husband make me happy? We have children together.

In a small town a few hours north of Tokyo a community theatre group is rehearsing for its latest production. It’s based on the true story of a woman falsely accused of killing her husband.

WOMAN IN THEATRE GROUP (Translation): Detective, you can’t frame me by making it look like that, because I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it!

The director and star is 73-year-old Fukiko Kimura, a veteran of Japanese theatre. A keen supporter of the Saiban-in system, Fukiko’s timed this play to coincide with its introduction.

FUKIKO KIMURA, DIRECTOR, (Translation): In Japan, judgment has been a matter for the authorities. We’ve been apathetic about justice. We watch court cases as if they were TV variety shows. When the jury system begins we’ll have to participate. We’ll have to learn what to watch out for.

Fukiko is concerned that ingrained cultural beliefs will make it difficult for Japanese jurors to speak their minds.

FUKIKO KIMURA, (Translation): In Japan we traditionally place an emphasis on harmony. In our culture we try not to stand out. We listen to others as much as possible and agree with everyone else. The great poet Basho wrote in his famous haiku, “If I speak out, my lips are chilled by the autumn wind.” If you don’t say anything, no trouble is caused.

Fukiko Kimura and others fear that these problems could be exacerbated by the unique structure of the Japanese jury system that places judges and jurors together. This requires citizens to potentially speak up against someone higher in the social hierarchy.

FUKIKO KIMURA, (Translation): We citizens have long accepted the idea, “The power above, the people below.” The officials are placed high and we’re below them. For ages that’s the way we’ve been mind-controlled.

ROBERT PRECHT: I was at a program a couple of weeks ago involving Japanese college students, and one said, “I am looking forward to deliberations, but frankly, if I had an opinion that the defendant was innocent and then the judge expressed his opinion that the defendant was guilty, even though I thought the defendant was innocent, I would have to follow the judge because the judges knows more than me, the judge is older than I am.”

In Fukiko’s play, a true story, the accused woman is convicted based on forced testimony. She dies in jail before her name is cleared. Fukiko Kimura hopes watching plays like this will encourage potential jurors to speak their mind.

FUKIKO KIMURA, (Translation): To save an innocent person we must speak out. I hope people will realise this and change their attitude. I’m really hoping for that.

Back at the mock trial, the young man accused of assaulting and robbing an old lady has failed to provide an alibi or an explanation for the money found on him. Nevertheless, there’s still no hard evidence he was at the scene. Before the jury retires, the judge outlines the case.

MOCK TRIAL JUDGE, (Translation): There’s no dispute that the attacker was a young man in a white, long-sleeved T-shirt. What’s disputed in this case is whether the attacker was the accused or not.

Inside the jury room, conversation is initially dominated by the three judges who sit at the head of the table and the male members of the jury. Eventually, some of the women jurors admit they’re finding it difficult because they were afraid to ask questions during the trial.

WOMAN, (Translation): I would’ve asked that. But I thought the judge might use his power to stop me and say that my question was irrelevant. Wouldn’t it have been embarrassing? I thought I’d hate it if I were corrected like that.

The jurors are clearly undecided about the verdict.

MAN, (Translation): After hearing the case today, we have nothing to base a verdict on but circumstantial evidence. On this evidence, the accused seems guilty and we’re moving in that direction. But we’re judging a person. The case is unclear and we’re meant to make a decision.

The chief judge suggests that the vague evidence of the accused is an indication of guilt.

MOCK TRIAL JUDGE (Translation): If the accused was telling us what really happened, would we be left with these doubts? It’s the vagueness that’s the problem.

Eventually all jurors agree on a guilty verdict. Afterwards, the juror who admitted to not speaking up says with a bit more practice she could do it in a real trial.

JUROR, (Translation): I think I could. It’s my responsibility to express my opinion. It’s the way I live my life. With my personality, I would speak up.

Another juror says he relished the chance to finally be involved in such a process.

JUROR 2, (Translation): In the past, I’d say there were no opportunities at all or very few except for the people in high positions. Now it’s open to ordinary people.

LAWYER: I want to talk to you about the purpose of an opening statement.

It’s not just civilians who need new skills, though. Until now, Japanese court cases have largely been decided on written evidence. American trial lawyers are training Japanese lawyers in the arts of presenting a case to the jury.

LAWYER: You have to remember we want to have drama and immediately capture their idea in their head that you are right.

Observers say this new dynamic will fundamentally alter the nature of the trial.

ROBERT PRECHT: For the last 60 years, trials – criminal trials in Japan have basically been non-adversarial in the sense that cases are largely decided on the basis of written records submitted by the prosecutors to the judges, and there has been very little role for defence counsel either to challenge the evidence or to complain about police misconduct. But with this new system with live witnesses and police coming to court and having to argue your case in front of citizens, the whole prosecution process will become more visible to citizens and if there is misconduct that will be more visible.

Not everyone has faith in the new jury system. This meeting is of legal professionals opposed to Saiban-in. Their spokesman is lawyer Shunkichi Takayama, an outspoken critic of the current judicial system.

SHUNKICHI TAKAYAMA (Translation): If it were a sick person, I’d say it’s in a critical condition. Because the human rights of the accused are not protected and it’s producing a great number of wrong decisions, declaring the innocent guilty.

But Takayama says the Saiban-in system is little more than window dressing, covering up but not fixing these problems.

SHUNKICHI TAKAYAMA (Translation): The new system will not change the situation. Worse than that, it will give publicity to the misleading impression that there are no problems in the current situation.

According to Takayama, because the judges and the jurors sit and deliberate together, the judges’ views in Japan will always prevail.

SHUNKICHI TAKAYAMA (Translation): The citizens are not allowed to reach a conclusion alone. They’re made to listen attentively to the views of the judges, who are professionals. They’re expected to learn how the pros think about it and then go home. There’s no idea that the state could be wrong. So the idea behind the Saiban-in system is totally different from that of the jury system.

ROBERT PRECHT: There is frankly no evidence that jury systems – whether it is the Saiban-in system or the American and Australian jury system – there is no evidence that jury systems produce better or more accurate fact-finding than professional judges, so I don’t know whether the new system will lead to fewer miscarriages of justice. However, I can say with some confidence that since the trial process is more transparent, with live witnesses, that where there are miscarriages of justice they will be visible now, and hopefully correctable, whereas under the current system, where a lot of these cases are decided by written records, miscarriages of justice go unnoticed.

Hiroshi Yanagihara, jailed for two years for a crime he didn’t commit, is sceptical that the introduction of lay people will make the judicial system any fairer.

HIROSHI YANAGIHARA (Translation): The police and the prosecutors, they fabricate statements and make it look like it’s what the suspect said. The court just swallows it. Unless we stop that, innocent people will continue to be convicted.





Local Fixer


Original Music composed by

Leave a comment

Filed under People and Places

Inner Mongolia – A Land Without Water

“Inner Mongolia – A Land Without Water”

Dateline, SBS Television. 13th February 2008

Inner Mongolia is on the front line of climate change. Already one of the driest regions in China, it is now getting progressively drier and the lack of water  is forcing entire villages to shut down. People are moving en masse to specially set up “ecological migration” villages closer to town, forcing a radical change in life upon them. However a few stubborn souls are refusing to budge.



If you’re unfamiliar with the term ecological migration, you’re not alone. Basically, it means people being forced off their land by climate change. Recently, Bronwock Adcock ventured into the seldom-visited hills and valleys of rural Inner Mongolia where she found their wells have run dry and the locals struggling to maintain their traditional way of life.

REPORTER: Bronwyn Adcock

Inner Mongolia is one of China’s largest and driest regions. It’s never had much water, but global warming is now pushing the land and its people over the edge. I’ve come here to see how the Chinese are coping with these dramatic environmental changes. My first stop is a farming village about half an hour’s drive from the town of Qingshuihe. Villagers here say their communal waterhole started drying up around 10 years ago. Since then, getting enough water to live has been a constant struggle.

WOMAN (Translation): We tried to scoop up some shallow, stagnant water. That was all we could get. It had collected after we had rain during the summer. The rain ran over the stone. The water was very muddy, like sheep’s piss. It stank so much that it was hard to swallow. But we were really thirsty and had to drink it.

Not surprisingly, the shortage of water led to conflict. This 79-year-old says he fought a man who tried to jump his turn in the queue at the waterhole.

MAN (Translation): Whoever puts down his bucket first has the first go. That time it was my brother’s turn. But he was pushed over. Then there was a big fight.

There’s now fierce competition for what’s become the village’s most valuable commodity. One man has struck the local equivalent of gold.

WOMAN, (Translation): Look, there he is!

Wan Ertang is a farmer who’s discovered a new water source and keeps it locked up.

WAN ERTANG, (Translation): I’m in charge of the key. I made the well so I’m in charge.

Wan shares his newly discovered waterhole with just three other families in the village.

WAN ERTANG (Translation): I did the hard work so I should enjoy the benefits. They didn’t work, but they want water. I lock up the well. Otherwise there’d be no water for me. It makes sense, right?

Wan thinks this hole he dug tapped into a rare source of underground water. For all his excitement, though, there’s not much inside.

REPORTER: So how much water is in there now?

WAN ERTANG (Translation): It’s one metre deep.

But every drop is precious.

WAN ERTANG (Translation): Here, water is as precious as cooking oil.

Wan says he tries to share his water with others when he can, but this isn’t always possible. To avert catastrophe here, the local government has supplied people with building materials to make their own rainwater wells. For now, the villagers are getting by. With a rainwater hole and his personal underground water supply, life is definitely better for Wan Ertang that it was before.

WAN ERTANG (Translation): We used the water only for cooking and drinking. But we couldn’t use the water for washing. To save water we didn’t wash our hands or feet very often. Now we wash what we need to wash.

Still, he’s rationed to just five buckets of water a day for his family and his numerous animals and he knows he can never take the water for granted.

WAN ERTANG (Translation): It all depends on the sky. If it rains, we’ll have enough water. There was a big drought a few months ago. We were very worried, thinking there’d be no water. That’s what we thought.

XU SHI, DIRECTOR, INNER MONGOLIA GRASSLANDS INSTITUTE (Translation): Because of global climate change, it’s getting warmer. So drought is occurring. It’s happening around the globe, Including Inner Mongolia.

The Deputy Director of Inner Mongolia’s Grasslands Institute, Xu Shu, says overfarming also plays its part, the land is becoming increasingly fragile.

XU SHU (Translation): There’s some wasteland in the region and some grassland that has been degraded due to overuse. Productivity has decreased and the ecological system is rather fragile. It’s no longer suitable to inhabit.

People are now being forced to abandon the countryside altogether. I’m heading to a remote village about half an hour’s drive from the first village I visited. It’s called Tiger Gap, and is only accessible by foot. I find a village, but no people. All the houses are deserted. Eventually I discover an elderly man, his wife, and their visiting grandson.

VILLAGER, (Translation): Now only the two of us are left. No-one else is around but us two old people.

WIFE, (Translation): There used to be people living around the hill. Now they’ve all moved away.

VILLAGER (Translation): We just keep these few goats and go on living.

REPORTER (Translation): Do you have water for farming?

VILLAGER (Translation): No, we don’t have water for the fields.

Wang Fue and Zhang Jixiang are in their late 60s. They say most people left because it’s too hard to find water. The old couple rely on a crude rainwater hole.

VILLAGER (Translation): The rainwater flows from here, and there from there. When it rains, it flows down there.

They have enough water to survive, but little else.

REPORTER, (Translation): How often do you get to wash your clothes?

VILLAGER (Translation): Every one or two months. I wash when there is water. Otherwise I don’t wash.

When there’s not enough rain their grandson helps collect water from another spot two kilometres away. It’s a long and difficult walk. And even this supply of underground water is running out. The government believes this way of life is unsustainable so it built a new village closer to town and offered subsidised housing to those who agreed to move down there.

VILLAGER (Translation): Up here it’s very difficult to get drinking water. Down there, the local officials allocated some money. They’ve built new houses for villagers to move into. But we don’t want to move down. We just want to stay up here and wait to die.

This move from remote villages into town is being made by hundreds of thousands of people as part of a massive government program. It’s called ‘ecological migration’.

PROFESSOR YONG SHIPENG, ECOLOGIST, (Translation): Ecological migration is a new term. Ecological migration means, as suggested by the term, that, due to ecological degradation, life becomes very difficult, so people migrate elsewhere to start a new life.

Professor Yong Shipeng, an ecologist from the University of Inner Mongolia says this migration is necessary.

PROFESSOR YONG SHIPENG, (Translation): In my view, there is no other alternative. Our government is for the people. When the ecosystem deteriorates in some places and people there can’t make a proper living, the government provides funds and assistance.

This village, on the outskirts of Qingshuihe, is where most of the people from Tiger Gap now live. It’s one of many purpose-built ecological migration villages. Living here is a mixed blessing. This man used to have his own farm in the old village, Now he must rent land to do his farming.

FARMER (Translation): The good thing is the road is better and we have water. But we no longer have land. For a farmer to not have land… I don’t know what to say. I’ve always worked in the fields.

The people here have houses provided by the government and running water for the first time. But, without land, many of these former farmers are struggling for a livelihood.

FARMER 2, (Translation): When I moved down here, I sold my goats and donkey.

REPORTER, (Translation): What do you now?

FARMER 2, (Translation): Nothing. I got rid of everything when I moved down.

Some of the older inhabitants admire the elderly couple who stayed put in the Tiger Gap.

MAN, (Translation): But they made up their minds. So they didn’t move down. They were right.

Ban Gou used to be farmer as well. His village was abandoned two years ago. As a single father supporting two children, he’s had no choice but to find new work.

BAN GOU (Translation): I do any job I can lay my hands on, collecting garbage, loading goods, anything that comes my way.

He’s just scored a job working at a nearby factory. Starting early in the morning, he works seven days a week for around $1.50 a day. It’s barely enough to support his family.

BAN GOU (Translation): I used to live in that house, where those trees are, those five rooms.

Occasionally Ban Gou returns to his old farm. In order to receive government compensation for giving up his land, he must plant trees here. It’s an attempt to restore the dry and degraded land.

BAN GOU (Translation): Next year all the land here will be used for growing trees. The first year the government will pay for the saplings. But the following year you’ll have to buy the saplings for your own plot of land.

While over-farming and global warming are forcing a new way of life upon many, this is also being seen as an opportunity by some entrepreneurs. Ho Jixun is the manager of a new tourist enterprise set up in an abandoned village. Backed by a businessman from Beijing, he’s redeveloping it for tourists.

HO JIXUN, TOURISM WORKER (Translation): I want to open a bar here. I will sit here and drink original Colombian coffee and smoke a Havana cigar. I’ll use these old run-down houses for my bar.

As well as restoring the old village, Ho Jixun is helping other villagers to do up their homes in the traditional style, a display for passing tourists. Private enterprise has also managed what government couldn’t, supplying the villagers with running water.

REPORTER, (Translation): You have running water here now, don’t you? What was it like before?

WOMAN (Translation): There was nothing much here.

Ho Jixun believes that visits to these remote, rural villages are the perfect antidote to the rapid development seen in the rest of China.

HO JIXUN (Translation): I’m from Beijing, the big capital city. I know the kind of environment city people need for relaxation. It will be a suitable place for rest and relaxation for busy white-collar workers from a cosmopolitan city. Are you from Beijing?

CAMERAMAN (Translation): Yes. We’re from the same city.

The tourists seem impressed.

TOURIST (Translation): We couldn’t find this kind of place in the city. Even the remote villages have changed a lot. But this place is very unique.

The only remaining residents of Tiger Gap village are certainly unique. Most experts agree that this land can no longer support humans the way it is used and migration is the only answer. But this old couple isn’t going anywhere.

TIGER GAP VILLAGER (Translation): People say if we get sick or something, alone here, there’s nothing we can do about it, except die. But that doesn’t bother me. I won’t move. No matter what happens, I’m going to live here. It’s a hard life. I’m for a hard life. I like peace and quiet.


Feature Report: Inner Mongolia – A Land without Water






Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, People and Places