By John Stapleton. The Long Read. Chapter One.


This massive edifice of evil was too complex, and, really, too elegant, to assign to just human awfulness and human inventiveness. It suggested a spiritual dimension of evil. This evil was like a giant cultural spaceship which landed on Earth, with a technology to unfold and almost at once to set foot upon the egalitarian, post-enlightenment West a global dystopia run on cruelty and cognitive dissonance. 

How could otherwise nice people have come to do such evil?  

Naomi Wolf. The Bodies of Others.


As someone long prepared for this to happen

Go firmly to the window. Drink it in

Exquisite music. Alexandra laughing

Your first commitments tangible again.

Leonard Cohen. Alexandra Leaving.

Old Alex sat on that sunlit step in an unfanciful suburb called Oak Flats; flooded with light, exhausted, perhaps, to be fanciful about it all, as if he’d just written 1984 and was basking in creative satisfaction, and the glory. Except, of course, there was no glory, and George Orwell aka Eric Blair never lived to see the stunning success of his anti-totalitarian novel. He was suffering the effects of tuberculosis even as he wrote it. There is no glory in the grave.

That most curious of books, a book which would have never have found a mainstream publisher in the 21st Century, became the most referenced work in the English Canon in 2020; and even more so in 2021, the year he sat on that step in an undistinguished suburb called Oak Flats.

The country was at the height of its totalitarian derangement, where every single aspect of life was controlled by the government. 

Half the country, 12 million people, were now officially in lockdown. His neighbours were encouraged to report him if he spent more than two hours away from home. The mainstream media delivered a blizzard of Covid fear mongering, hour in, hour out, day in, day out. The population was confused, terrified and remarkably compliant. They turned on each other, on anyone who did not comply. 

Politicians and Chief Health Officers placed themselves front and centre of the nightly news bulletins; and panic, everywhere panic. 

Hundreds of military personnel now patrolled the streets of Sydney, searching for anyone who might not have a legitimate excuse for being outside their home. 

An overweight NSW Police Commissioner, a nasty, dictatorial lunar right man known as Mick Fuller, announced with apparent delight that they had issued more than 600 fines for non-compliance the previous day, an abuse of the citizenry of which, as far as Old Alex was concerned, the Commissioner and his political masters should have been absolutely ashamed.

But of course shame wasn’t in the lexicon. Nor was honesty, proportionality, decency, compassion. 

The authoritarian derangement overtaking Australia was without precedent, and every sign of collapse came jumping out through the voices all around, the electronic blather that filled the air, a terrible threat whispered on a bed of deceit.

On  his private newsfeed there was a steady stream of outrage and scepticism. Everywhere else there was a shuttered, terrible silence, an acquiescence he struggled to understand.

Eighteen months on from the country’s first COVID death Australia was almost unrecognisable. The nation had seen the most violent demonstrations in its history, and a brutality of policing only ever seen in the first days of colonisation, when the natives were shot and the convicts whipped till blood filled their boots. 

Australians had been turned against Australians, divided by race, wealth, education, cognitive ability, and now vaccine status. 

There were hundreds of military personnel on the streets of Sydney, while police blanketing the suburbs across Australia were now enforcing the equivalent to martial law. 

All in the name of keeping Australians “safe”. 

Australia had become a laughing stock around the world, a warning of the consequences of Covid overreach. The massaged image of Australia as an egalitarian and welcoming tourist destination populated with colourful animals and equally colourful people vanished as police bashed and arrested and pepper sprayed protestors in unprecedented displays of violence. The courts would be clogged for years to come; for none of this was done with consent. Submission, sometimes, consent no.

Where was the evidence that putting millions of people under house arrest, unable to visit friends and family, unable in many cases to work, to see elderly relatives in their dying days, destroying many tens of thousands of businesses, throwing vast swathes of the population on to welfare, quadrupling the national debt, destroying the education of millions of Australian children, where was the evidence that these actions were an appropriate response to the coronavirus?

Even to question these multiple insanities was considered unpatriotic.

The mainstream media in which he had worked all his life trumpeted the government’s propaganda, while real journalism had died on the Covid altar.  

Where was the evidence that instituting curfews on millions of Australians was effective or appropriate? Or proportionate?

Australia! This really was happening in the land of kangaroos and poisonous snakes, homesteads and sprawling sheep stations. 


Australia’s public servants like to talk about “evidence based” policy. It usually meant the exact opposite, that the standard bearer of public policy was for the day, it was in fact an ideologically arrived at and imposed government policy arrived at by tertiary educated bureaucrats exhibiting the worst characteristics of herd behaviour. 

In the case of Covid, and the insane level of micromanagement recklessly imposed on long suffering suburbanites, the so-called evidence was all kept secret. Following the science or following the medical advice, as the politicians repeatedly claimed they were doing, actually meant nothing of the kind. Old Alex believed not a word they said. 


Across the country’s most populous states, in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, indeed across the entire country, there had been the same charade: the implementation of draconian law enforcement and massive restrictions on personal liberty, but state and federal governments were all refusing to release the medical evidence on which these decisions were based.

For the simple reason: It didn’t exist. Not one single Australian politician could produce the evidence that their government’s actions were appropriate.

Setting the conspiracy theorists alight, the ridiculously dictatorial NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard spoke of the New World Order, where everyone would be forced to be vaccinated, where everyone must comply, but was refusing to release the evidence he was relying on to institute a statewide lockdown.

Because, of course, Health Hazzard was off and running on his own little fascist railway. 

You can lock them up, destroy their livelihoods, businesses, mental health; but you are too arrogant, too incompetent, or perhaps just too conflicted, to reveal why you are doing it.

Reach not far to find a vaccine manufacturer. 

Let this madness wither in the light; or emerge from behind your bodyguard of tame journalists and grossly manipulated mainstream media outlets; and face your critics.  

Around Oak Flats Alex heard the eerie comment from people faced with the Hobbesian choice of getting vaccinated with a controversial vaccine they did not want, or lose their jobs. “They’re culling us”. 

Trust was zero. 

With their jobs went their homes, their mortgages, the ability to care for their children. 

While horror stories of vaccine injuries and lost employment mounted around him, the disfiguring of the society cast multiple absurdities into his own life.  Unable to go to the pub or a restaurant, forbidden to even leave his Local Government Area, the authorities and the politicians Australians so unwisely trusted had betrayed their own people, leaving a polity racked with pain, raked with a kind of frothing insanity, a consciousness of a new order. 

“The central government will collapse in 2047,” he said a number of times for no particular reason, except that he believed it to be true. 

To him, as a long observer of base human conduct, none of the politician’s conduct, their fevered, demented attempts to get the entire  population vaccinated, made any sense whatsoever; unless those who claimed the political class were in receipt of millions of dollars in bribes from vaccine manufacturers happened to be true. 

Every other conspiracy theory had come true in this benighted era. 

You couldn’t convince Old Alex these people actually cared about the welfare of their constituents, their safety and well being; the same poor bastards being imprisoned in their own homes, whose careers and businesses were being destroyed, whose voices were ignored. Punitive fines were dished out to anyone who dared to protest.

Diktat after diktat rained down on an imprisoned population. 

With Health Hazzard riding wingman at their morning press conferences, the lunatic Chief Medical Officer aka Kerry Chant, with a mad glaze in her eyes, issued an endless stream of utterly pointless but nonetheless life altering decisions: Citizens  could not leave their Local Government Area, visit their dying parents or children in hospital, go to church or go dancing, had to wear masks, practise social distancing, and for the sake of the welfare of the community, get vaccinated, once, twice, thrice. 

Lie after lie after lie; that’s what, in the end, it boiled down to, because nothing the government did worked. 

And although their decisions

Tracking the rationale for decision making back to Big Pharma wasn’t difficult; nor was uncovering the fact that everything happening “in this space”, as the public service expression went, was highly contested by some of the world’s most eminently qualified practitioners.

But power drunk apparatchiks across Australia saw no need to explain themselves to “the great unwashed”, that is, the voters.

One might have thought that as a classe there was not much point in politicians and health bureaucrats placing themselves front and centre of everybody’s life if the principal result was to leave a frustrated, angry and disillusioned population; which was exactly what Australia’s state and federal governments were doing.

“You can’t catch the virus if you just stay home,” Kerry Chant declared. 

A siren goes off in the distance and he thinks: “Another person just died of boredom.” 

And this ridiculously sad story, inside this increasingly sad and sorry country, came spiralling to a close.

It felt as if the country was breaking apart; caught in an evil rustle of insanity, the population led down the garden path by some of the most malignant personalities to ever grace the political stage.

The world’s only Pentecostal leader, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, was at the height, or the depths, of his destructive power; and while sooner or later he would have to face the electorate, right now his personality traits, his autocratic tendencies, his slithering out of all personal responsibility, his lowbrow intellectuality, his ability to play to the cheap seats, his dishonesty, as some saw the endless corporate and government rorting that went on under his watch, the funnelling of tens of billions of dollars to his corporate mates, all these factors were no in play.

Old Alex, and many others with him, were left with that deadening sensation: You know you’re being ripped off, there’s just nothing you can do about it.

Once regarded as a Federation, as one country, it had been news to him, just as it had been to most Australians, that the state’s could shut their borders at will; but that’s exactly what they had done.

He couldn’t leave Australia, now little better than a Prison Island, he couldn’t leave his home state of New South Wales, the borders to the neighbouring states of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia all being shut; and he couldn’t even legally leave his own local area. 

It was a desperately sad, desperately ridiculous situation; and he felt it most intensely as he sat on that step; behind him the broken flyscreen, and inside broken doors and broken furniture, after the tradie who had been living there rent free for six months decided to smash up his house as a thank you note. 

After having negotiated the mind paralysing complexity of Australia’s old age system, another taxpayer funded rort for the Big End of Town in a nation riven with scams from one end to the other, and got his elderly parent into an aged care facility, he had been pottering around that “sad as all fuck” house in the ruins of someone else’s life; and now, after the tradie removed virtually everything that wasn’t nailed down, from the house, the shambles of his own life. 

Messy lives, messy people. 

He had been lonely. The house was full of ghosts; and he repeatedly thought of that line: “Be careful who you pray to.”

As if all the good times were gone. And nobody would ever desire him again.

Well, that part was true!

He was heading into 70, and could only utter a febrile grasp at a more solid world, a less distinguished planet; another realm.

Humans may be able to summon the spirits, but who knew that these dark forces could be so easily stirred. 

That’s how it felt, in that freezing, miserable house; and so he had invited chaos into his life; and perhaps was well served. The tradie, Craigie, for in Oak Flats every last person had a nickname, was a good drinking buddy if nothing else, a bong and beer for breakfast kind of guy, a dispeller of ghosts, a Ghost Buster extraordinaire, and so Alex came to smile on the reasons for the chaos, and his own role in it.

The book was over, the first copies had arrived, he was proud of the effort, and in the wake of it all had declared he was giving up drinking; and had gifted a bottle of bourbon to Craig; to add to the bottle he was already drinking. 

Fast forward a few hours and Craig was out on the back verandah screaming at all the neighbours that they could all “go and get fucked”; in between smashing up his cupboards, doors and walls. 

In between the threats and violent tirades Alex made a dash between the bedroom and his car; and spent the night down at the beach. 

Needless to say, that was the end of Craig as house guest.

Meshneks. Black, insect-like creatures phasing in and out of that moment in time and place. He had been able to see them in the corridors. Summoned from the dark. Summoned from the God fearing nature of his parent; a house full of ghosts. 

They were gone now. 

And he had one mad bastard to thank for that: and that was Craig. 

So in the end he knew he should be angry but wasn’t; as in other encounters with the wrong end of town. 

Humans, a reason why the gods so loved organics; leaching life into sterile systems. Without peril, there could be no excitement. 

We had much to learn. 

That same day the NSW government announced that an easing of restrictions would begin in 18 days time; as if we should all be grateful, and kiss the hand which destroyed us.

“New freedoms for vaccinated first step on state roadmap out of COVID” read the headline on the government missive: “People across NSW who have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be allowed more freedoms next month after NSW hit the target of six million jabs. This is the first step in the roadmap and further freedoms will follow for those who have had the jab when the state hits new vaccination targets of 70 and 80 per cent.”

None of it applied to him. The unvaccinated. The new pariah class refusing to get a “jab” which didn’t stop you getting it, didn’t stop you spreading it, and was developed by some of the most scandal plagued companies on Earth. As lonely as he was, he’d take his chances.

“Following consultation with Dr Kerry Chant and her team, as well as the NSW Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright, the following individual freedoms will be allowed for adults who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

From 12.01am, Monday, 13 September:

  • For those who live outside the LGAs of concern, outdoor gatherings of up to five people (including children, all adults must be vaccinated) will be allowed in a person’s LGA or within 5km of home.
  • For those who live in the LGAs of concern households with all adults vaccinated will be able to gather outdoors for recreation (including picnics) within the existing rules (for one hour only, outside curfew hours and within 5km of home). This is in addition to the one hour allowed for exercise.”

Then Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who held a press conference each morning at 11am, making herself a feminist icon or a blight on the state, however you saw it, thanked the millions of people across NSW who came forward to receive their vaccine, helping to hit the six million doses target.

“We are so grateful for every person who comes forward to get vaccinated because the more jabs we get into arms, the sooner we can lift restrictions,” Ms Berejiklian said. “We appreciate the community’s patience in the lead up to 13 September, this additional time will allow the recent surge of vaccines to take effect.”

While it all turned out to be lies, at the time the public had no idea. 

As part of the so-called “roadmap” when the following targets were hit, the promised freedoms would be: 

  • 70 percent full vaccination: a range of family, industry, community and economic restrictions to be lifted for those who are vaccinated.
  • 80 percent full vaccination: further easing of restrictions on industry, community and the economy.

Simple as that, Australia introduced medical apartheid. It was a dangerous path, fully embraced. The terrible health fascism of the era was now in play. 

The release continued: “The government is also investigating trials of certain industries in coming months, as a proof-of-concept measure to prepare the businesses to open up and operate in a COVID-safe way.”

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the “roadmap” was our path to freedom and is our biggest incentive yet to get vaccinated so we can return to a level of normality.

“The roadmap announced today outlines a clear pathway forward in which a range of family, industry, community and economic restrictions will be lifted for those that are fully vaccinated when NSW hits 70 per cent,” Mr Barilaro said. “Having a meal with loved ones, or having a drink with friends is just around the corner, but to get there, we need to keep up momentum in the vaccination rollout.”

Snake Oil salesmen, that is all they had become. 

Was it true that Pfizer was secretly funnelling millions of dollars into their accounts, as was rumoured at the time? 

One of Australia’s richest men, un-vaccinated billionaire Clive Palmer, who had a high public profile thanks to his United Australia Party and their hefty advertising expenditure, made the claim that public figures were receiving secret kickbacks from vaccine manufacturers at a press conference; as if deliberately inviting legal action. He could afford an armada of lawyers, the extensive discovery of documents, the exposure of evidence, and the show trial that would result. It would suit his purposes down to the ground.

No such legal action was ever instituted.

Who knew the truth of the matter? 

Soon enough both the New South Wales Premier and Deputy Premier would be gone, with accusations of corruption, albeit not to do with the vaccines, buzzing around both of them.