In the early 1950s, knowing that independence from France was not far off – like most of the European colonial overlords, France found its appetite for foreign possessions sharply curbed by World War Two – a delegation from what intended to be the newly created nation of Laos visited Melbourne. Few people were informed of the true purpose of their visit, but it was obvious to many that it had something to do with the fight against Communism. Everyone knew that French Indochina would soon be gone, and the nations of the West, led by the United States (which was in turn driven by its near-hysterical fear of communism) were making a quiet diplomatic effort to ensure that the newly independent nation (or nations – no one was quite sure how it would break) became a part of the capitalist sphere.

Thus, the Laotians were discreetly feted, showered in Western consumer goods and allowed to indulge themselves in all the capitalist glories that an unlimited expense account can provide. It soon became obvious that the Laotians had a particular interest in forests. The land of Laos is almost entirely tropical or sub-tropical jungle, and Australia’s wide open spaces were foreign to them – their handlers joked that the Laotians loved forests because they were afraid of plains.

In fact, the Laotians knew exactly what they were doing. They were looking for the right kind of wood from which to produce a durable currency for their nation, and in 1953, they found it. Certain species of gum produced hardwoods that were nigh on indestructible by anything short of fire or firepower – and the wood could be treated to help them resist the former. On the side of a hill between Broadmeadows and Tullamarine, they found it. A deal was struck and the Laotians named the placed for its intended use, to produce the materials from which their lowest denomination coin, the att, would be created.

However, upon independence a civil war broke out, complicated by the neighbouring war in Vietnam at the same time, and by 1975, the government of Laos – now the Lao People’s Democratic Republic – was communist, and not inclined to honour contracts made with the running dogs of capitalism. The wood was never harvested, and the land was instead cleared for housing. The name is all that remains, mute testimony to the unpredictable nature of international politics.

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