Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Guess whose Osama’s got a whirlpool?

Osama bin Laden’s “burial” at sea – presumably the dumping of his corpse from a plane into the Indian Ocean (update: minutes after posting this, a TV news report had it that the body was instead thrown from a ship (aircraft carrier) into the Arabian Sea) – completes a strange cycle of parallel events from 1974, 1979 and 2011.

In late 1974, bin Laden was a newly married 17 year-old. Shortly before Christmas that year, a Gija woman was critically injured in a flood-related car accident near Warmun (then called Turkey Creek), Western Australia. This woman, a skin mother to celebrated artist Rover Thomas, died in a medivac plane above a whirlpool (Tawurrkurima/Jintiripul), off the Indian Ocean coast near Derby, in the West Kimberley.

In November 1979, bin Laden was a 22 year-old university drop-out getting increasingly radicalised by the fundamentalist revolutions that shook the Middle-East that year. He found his ideal cause soon afterwards, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan the next month. Meanwhile, in Warmun, Rover Thomas’ Krill Krill ceremony reached its zenith, almost five years after its dual origins in the Gija woman’s death and the destruction of Darwin on Christmas Day 1974.

In March 2011, Warmun was destroyed by a flood that spared only the people. Now, that’s an intervention. As precisely choreographed, you might say, as the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May Day 2011. But that’s only one side of it – downstream of, and joining up, both events is the messy flotsam (Warmun flood debris) and jetsam (bin Laden’s jettisoned corpse) of the Indian Ocean. The whirlpool begins where it ends, across time and space.


Rover Thomas et al, Roads Cross: The Paintings of Rover Thomas (1994) National Gallery of Australia pp 22-25.

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