Monthly Archives: April 2012

HEALING HEART – The Story of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish

*Originally featured in Good Weekend, 14 May 2011.

Two years ago, Izzeldin Abuelaish lost three beloved daughters in an Israeli tank attack, yet the famed Palestinian doctor refuses to let hate fill his soul. he explains why to David Leser.   

“My God, my God. They killed my daughters. Shlomi, I wanted to save them, but they are dead. They were hit in the head. They died on the spot. Allah, what have we done to them? Oh God.”

These were the words of Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, as he spoke to Israeli television journalist Shlomi Eldar from the ruins of his home in the Gaza Strip on January 16, 2009. More than words really, an animal cry from the depths of a father’s heart.

The war in Gaza, codenamed “Operation Cast Lead” had entered its twentieth day when Dr Abuelaish used what was left of his fading mobile phone battery to make his call.

No reporter, Israeli or otherwise, had been allowed into the heavily populated Palestinian territory since the beginning of the war, and, for many journalists, this refugee doctor’s eyewitness account had become crucial to their understanding of what was happening.

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Watch this space for updates and features on David Leser’s latest projects, stories and travels.

MARCH: David travels to New York to attend the 2012 Women In The World Summit (coming soon).

APRIL: David travels to Nepal to cover another incredible story for The Good Weekend Magazine (coming soon).

MAY: David will be conducting a live interview panel at this years Sydney Writer’s Festival.


As Christine Milne takes over from Bob Brown as the leader of the Australian Greens and attempts to forge a better relationship between the Greens movement and rural Australia – David Leser’s article in the Good Weekend is a poignant reminder of how the political ground in Australia is shifting…

*Story originally published in The Good Weekend, 13.08.2011

David and Megan Baker would like to know if you’d be interested in buying their 2600 acre property on the Darling Downs.

For half a century it’s been lovingly cared for in the face of just about everything nature and human endeavour could hurl at it – drought, flood, fire, the oil shocks of the early 1970s, commodity price crashes and escalating costs of production.

Today there are a few downsides the Bakers need to advise you of. Firstly, there’s an open cut coal mine on two adjoining boundaries, operated by Peabody Wilkie Creek, a fully-owned subsidiary of the world’s largest private sector coal company, the American giant, Peabody Energy.

There are nine gas wells on the property, managed by the coal seam gas company, Arrow Energy, acquired last year in a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and CNPC (PetroChina), China’s largest oil and gas producer. There are another 198 gas wells nearby, with drills boring 24 hours a day, up to 500 metres deep into the Great Artesian Basin.

The Bakers feel obliged to point out also that the fat lambs they used to proudly breed for domestic market have been sold. That’s because the sheep kept falling into open trenches after Arrow Energy removed sections of the fencing.

(Arrow Energy claims the property’s fencing was in poor condition when they arrived, and that at no time did they receive evidence of sheep “falling into open trenches.”)

There’s also the barrier outside the farm which is no longer shaded by eucalypts and apple pines. They were chopped down to make way for a powerline. There’s the problem, too, of gas migration. David Baker’s 79 year-old father, David Sr, was confined to the perimeter of his home for three days recently because of methane leaking from an uncommissioned pipeline. (Arrow insists it was safe for David Sr to “leave his house and drive off his property at any time.”)

One kilometre down the road, at Tom O’Connor’s cattle and grain farm, one of 12 coal seam gas wells on his property erupted, sending methane and water spewing nearly 100 metres into the air. It took Arrow Energy 27 hours to cap the well, and this was the fourth incident on O’Connor’s farm to date.

The Bakers are reluctant to admit it, but they no longer feel confident about their water or soil quality. David Senior has kept a watchful eye on the structure of the creeks for half a century, but with all the earthworks going on, the tributaries have turned murky. There’s the risk, too, he believes, that all the contaminated waste water collected from drilling deep into the Great Artesian Basin might have over-flown from ponds during recent flooding, or been re-injected into aquifers.

(Arrow Energy says that at no stage did contaminated water overflow from their holding ponds, and that the only release of water ever authorized – in response to the flooding – was treated from the company’s reverse osmosis plant. It was released across the Baker property.)

“I do have concerns about the water supply,” David Sr, tells Good Weekend when we  visit his farm on the Darling Downs, 35 kilometres west of Dalby. “Any sensible, thinking person would. I’ve been in the country all my life and I can’t see how a sane person (could think) that you can keep on taking water out (of the Great Artesian Basin) and not have something happen under the ground. The mining and coal seam industries are coming in here and doing whatever they want. We’re being attacked from all sides.”

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MERYL STREEP: The Greatest Actress of Her Time.

*Story First Published February, 2012.

There are certain privileges in life that should never be taken for granted and meeting Meryl Streep is one of them.

At this moment the woman whom fellow actress, Diane Keaton called “my generation’s genius” is sitting in her New York hotel room, more ethereal and elegant than even the most feverish imagination might have allowed for, discussing privileges of a different kind– her kind.

Like the favour of reaching old age (not that at 62 she is old yet, even though she feels it.) Like the dispensation of living an authentic life, a life of meaning. And, yes, as you might expect for an actress, the license to play full-blooded, complex women like whistle blower, Karen Silkwood, legendary chef, Julia Child and, most recently, The Iron Lady, herself, Margaret Thatcher.

“The opportunity to be these different women is a privilege, to imagine them and to open them up for view,” she says now. “And we don’t see enough older women in the movies.

“I feel I’ve gotten more chances than most actors to play really interesting characters. So to be given the chance is 90 per cent of the job and then to fill it out, and to live up to the opportunity … that’s where I try to live, in that little wedge. But to get the job is the big, big thing now. There aren’t that many places in acting, except in the theatre, for your convictions unless you produce films yourself, or write and produce them, which I don’t.”

By now most of us are aware that Meryl Streep has just managed to pull off arguably the most sublime performance of her career as Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and only female prime minister, and that she is being widely tipped to win her third Oscar in 32 years.

What we are, perhaps, less aware of is that in playing Britain’s most successful post-war leader, particularly in these years where dementia has robbed Thatcher of her once iron-clad mental faculties, Meryl Streep has come to investigate both the rewards and ravages of old age.

“I see myself old everyday,” she says, laughing joyously. “And the weird thing is when you’re in the movies you see yourself young everyday and the contrast is shocking.”

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Dame Edna Wins Over Yanks – Her Last Shows Now Selling Out.

With Dame Edna’s last Australian tour about to get underway,  David Leser recalls the nights in Denver eleven years ago when Australia’s favourite pantomime dame brought the house down… 

*Story First Published 30.09.2001.

Denver, Colorado, is the “Queen of the Plains”, the largest city in a 1000 square kilometre area. For more than 125 years, it has been the cultural and entertainment capital of a vast region once known as the Wild West. It prides itself on its contradictions: part sleepy cow-town, part chic urban enclave.

Never before, though, has it witnessed anything quite like Dame Edna Everage. On a northern summer’s night recently, Australia’s most celebrated woman, the megastar from Moonee Ponds, the woman who once said that her interior decorator and gynaecologist were one and the same person, flounced on to the stage of the Denver Auditorium Theatre and slayed them in the aisles.

“It really is me tonight,” she declared in her trademark piercing falsetto. “In
person. In the flesh … I’m not a clone.
I’m not a look-alike. I’m not genetically modified. I’m real … and in your face!”

And so she was – in a shocking pink and black sequined dress, behind enormous harlequin glasses, under a bluff of wisteria hair – for the next two-and-a-half irreverent, malicious, uproarious hours.

“I’m a little bit nervous tonight,” she confided. “Isn’t it silly? Edna nervous … I’m more nervous tonight in this little tucked-away auditorium than I would be on the stage of a Broadway theatre … (pause) … in front of nicely dressed people!” (Bang. First blow.)

And then looking up towards the
mezzanine level: “Goodness knows what the paupers are wearing up there. Probably trash bags with holes in them … Hello paupies, hello … Listen to their wistful cries. I will glance up at you from time to time. I will. I will … (pause again) … In strict proportion to the amount you’ve paid!” (Bang. Second blow.)

The people in front of me are already shaking their heads in disbelief, while the woman behind is squealing with laughter, and an old man across the aisle is nodding vigorously into his breathing apparatus.

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Welcome to the PleasureDome

There is a mysterious rock island on the southwest coast of Ibiza said to be one of the most magnetic points on the earth. It is called Es Vedra and, according to legend, this is where the sirens of Homer’s epic poems once lured sailors to their doom with songs of seduction.

After six nights of recent merry abandon, I can safely report that something is definitely happening out here in the blue sweep of the Spanish Mediterranean.

Call it natural journalistic curiosity (unlikely) or an over-developed instinct for harvesting life’s pleasures (far more plausible) but I decided that it was only fit and proper – despite the sobering realities of middle age – to test Ibiza’s infamous allure once and for all. As they say, you are in the ground a long time.

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Post Heritage

David Leser Journalist
I have been sitting in a bottle of aspic for the past ten years, curing and pickling in the world of heritage journalism. Social media? Who needs it. Facebook? Forget it. Twitter? For narcissists and Liz Hurley’s parrot. Okay, I’m washing myself down, stepping – gingerly – towards the 21st century. It feels like someone is hauling me off the horse and buggy, and pointing me toward the electric car that is parked just beyond the hill. `Come hither old man and get with the times.’
Here we go.
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