“This is just to say I have buried the zip disk”

This is an explainer for this Tweet. The context is Australian politics. The audience for whom this explainer is intended consists of (i) international readers and (ii) Australians who have not had the chance to peruse all the media coverage on the relative issue.

This post contains —

  1. a glossary
  2. a summary of the background preceding this story
  3. an explanation of the immediate context of the Tweet
  4. other information relating to the Tweet
  5. a list of references to which the in-text citations point


ABC — the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia’s state broadcaster.

ADM — the abbreviation signifying the Royal Australian Navy rank of Admiral.

AFP — the Australian Federal Police, Australia’s federal law enforcement agency.

Chief of the Defence Force — the head of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), the entity comprising the military forces of Australia. The Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy are components of the ADF.

CPL — the abbreviation signifying the Australian Army rank of Corporal.

MBA — Master’s in Business Administration, an academic degree.

MG — the postnominal letters denoting a recipient of the Medal for Gallantry, the third-highest award for gallantry in the Australian system.

NXT — Nick Xenophon Team, the name used from 2013 to 2018 by the party currently known as Centre Alliance.

RAN — Royal Australian Navy.

SA — South Australia.

SC — the postnominal letters denoting a Senior Counsel, a class of senior lawyer in a number of Commonwealth realms including Australia.

SGT — the abbreviation signifying the Australian Army rank of Sergeant.

VC — the postnominal letters denoting a recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia, the highest honour in the Australian system.


The person to whom this is referring is Corporal (ret.) Ben Roberts-Smith vc mg. CPL Roberts-Smith received his MG in 2006 and his VC in 2011.

In October 2013, Roberts-Smith left the Army to study an MBA at the University of Queensland.

In April 2015 (20 months prior to graduation), Roberts-Smith was appointed deputy General Manager of Seven Queensland (Law, 2015), a major regional television network operated by conservative (Gillies, 2020) media corporation Seven West Media. In July, he was promoted to General Manager (Christensen, 2015).

In October 2017, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that, according to the relevant patrol report, Roberts-Smith had hunted down and shot an unarmed Afghan teenager who had acted as a spotter for the Ṭālibān (McKenzie, 2017). In an oral account to the Australian War Memorial, Roberts-Smith reported the incident as “two armed insurgents,” and when called on it, claimed to have remembered incorrectly (Masters, 2017).

In November 2017, a contractor allegedly acting on Roberts-Smith’s instructions sent anonymous emails to the Australian Federal Police, to then-Senator Nick Xenophon (NXT—SA), and to Andrew Burrell, editor of the ultra-conservative national daily The Australian. The emails claimed that a soldier who was preparing to deliver adverse information about Roberts-Smith to the Brereton Inquiry (investigating Australian war crimes) was at grave risk of committing a massacre of civilians in Perth (McKenzie et al., 2021). The soldier in question was swatted, but nothing was turned up — which didn’t stop The Australian from running a story which could be read to imply that it had been (Burrell, 2017).

In a subsequent interview with The Australian, Roberts-Smith described Chris Masters’ revelation of his alleged killing of an unarmed Afghan teenager as “un-Australian.” he further accused Masters of sullying the memory of SGT Matthew Locke, who had joined Roberts-Smith on his, for lack of a better word, hunting trip, and who had been killed in action a year prior (Dalton & Callinan, 2017). Dan Oakes of the ABC responded that it wasn’t ‘un-Australian’ to investigate the actions of special forces in Afghanistan and that “we should be worried when legitimate questions about what is done in our name, to an impoverished people on the other side of the world, are deflected with accusations of disloyalty” (Oakes, 2017).

In June 2018, a soldier who served with Roberts-Smith and was due to testify to the Brereton Inquiry into Australian war crimes in Afghanistan received a letter threatening to kill him if he did not recant (McKenzie & Masters, 2018). While the AFP investigation into the matter quickly ended, The Age published allegations in 2021 that Roberts-Smith sent the letter (McKenzie et al., 2021).

Through July and August 2018, a joint investigation by the ABC and Nine, the parent company of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, reported that Roberts-Smith was under investigation by an inquiry into the conduct of the Australian special forces in Afghanistan, and publicised allegations of Roberts-Smith’s involvement in at least six unlawful killings (Oakes, 2018; Whitbourn, 2018), bullying of other soldiers, and domestic violence after returning to Australia (McKenzie et al., 2018). Roberts-Smith has now sued for defamation, to which Nine has responded by noting that its allegations are “substantially true” (Whitbourn, 2018).

One of the killings in question involves an unarmed, handcuffed Afghan man, Ali Jan, being kicked off a cliff by an Australian soldier, severely injuring him, and then being shot in order to “put him out of his misery” (Masters & McKenzie, 2018).

In September 2020, Sandy Dawson SC, representing Nine, told the Federal Court of Australia that the AFP have an eyewitness account and other evidence that implicates Roberts-Smith in war crimes in Afghanistan (Knaus, 2020).

In November 2020, it became public that Roberts-Smith had received an AU$1.9 million loan from Kerry Stokes, Chairman of Seven West Media and member of the board of the Australian War Memorial, and that he was using the money to fund his ongoing defamation claim (Aston, 2020). Stokes is perceived to have a conflict of interest and is under pressure to stand down as an AWM board member (Galloway, 2020), but has not yet done so.

Immediate context

In early April 2021, it became apparent that Roberts-Smith had buried a pink plastic children’s lunchbox in his backyard containing USB drives which held classified media, images and videos.

  • The Age reports the existence of photos which show an Australian soldier drinking beer from the prosthetic leg of an Afghan fighter who CPL Roberts-Smith had allegedly illegally executed on Easter Sunday 2009 (McKenzie et al., 2021).
  • Photos published by The Age show a man killed by CPL Roberts-Smith’s patrol team with challenge coins placed on his eyes bearing the emblems of the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) and Roberts-Smith’s unit, 2 Squadron SASR (McKenzie et al., op. cit.).
  • Photos published by The Age show CPL Roberts-Smith smiling and encouraging a soldier in a Ku Klux Klan outfit burning a cross in September 2012 (McKenzie et al., 2021).
  • According to ADM Chris Barrie, RAN, former Chief of the Defence Force, the classified content in question includes credible evidence of Roberts-Smith’s involvement in the desecration of a corpse (Galloway, 2021).

Regardless, it appears that Seven West Media will keep Roberts-Smith onboard and will continue to fund his defence (Down, 2021).

Other information

The format of the Tweet is a parody of William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is just to say” (1934), a format enjoying some currency in the Australian leftist community at the time it was made.


Aston, J. (2020, November 15). Ben Roberts-Smith owes Kerry Stokes $1.9m. Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Burrell, A. (2017, November 10). Australian Defence Force inquiry into SAS ‘gun smuggling’. The Australian. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Christensen, N. (2015, July 2). Seven West Media promotes VC recipient Ben Roberts-Smith to GM Queensland office. Mumbrella. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Dalton, T., & Callinan, R. (2017, October 21). VC hero Ben Roberts-Smith: I did nothing wrong in Afghanistan. The Australian. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Down, R. (2021, April 12). War hero Ben Roberts-Smith hits back at bombshell report. The Australian. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Galloway, A. (2020, November 25). ‘Discredited’: Former War Memorial historian calls for Kerry Stokes to stand down. The Age. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Galloway, A. (2021, April 12). Seven stands by senior executive Ben Roberts-Smith over new evidence he attempted to cover up alleged crimes. The Age. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Gillies, R. (2020, November 30). The effect of right-wing bias in Australia’s media. Independent Australia. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Knaus, C. (2020, September 1). Australian police told Ben Roberts-Smith they had witnesses to alleged Afghanistan war crimes, court hears. The Guardian. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Law, J. (2015, April 24). Ben Roberts-Smith takes on new battle: Managing a TV network. news.com.au. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Masters, C. (2017). No front line: Australia’s special forces at war in Afghanistan. Allen & Unwin.

Masters, C., & McKenzie, N. (2018, June 9). Special forces rookie ‘blooded’ by executing an unarmed man. The Age. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

McKenzie, N. (2017, October 19). The fog of war and politics leads to controversy over Afghan war mission. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

McKenzie, N., & Masters, C. (2018, September 23). Fresh threat to SAS soldiers assisting war crimes inquiry. The Age. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

McKenzie, N., & Masters, C. (2020, May 7). Ben Roberts-Smith may face war crimes charges after AFP probe. The Age. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

McKenzie, N., Wroe, D., & Masters, C. (2018, August 10). Beneath the bravery of our most decorated soldier. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

McKenzie, N., Masters, C., & Tozer, J. (2021, April 11). Buried evidence and threats: How Ben Roberts-Smith tried to cover up his alleged crimes. The Age. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Oakes, D. (2017, October 26). It’s not ‘un-Australian’ to investigate the actions of special forces in Afghanistan. ABC News. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Oakes, D. (2018, June 10). Death in Darwan. ABC News. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

Whitbourn, M. (2018, October 19). Fairfax defends Ben Roberts-Smith defamation claim. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 April 2021.

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