We returned to Melbourne with mixed feelings, although by now we were used to being uprooted and moved. It is the same whenever you leave any city, any house where you have been happy. In every move you die just a little. Melbourne in the 1950s and 1980s was a curious, inhibited city, suffering from an inferiority complex. It had never quite overcome the shock, the trauma of those terrible days in 1893 when the banks closed their doors and so-called Marvellous Melbourne went into depression. In the first half of the twentieth century its suburbs had sprawled outwards but, apart from the Manchester Unity building, the Hotel Australia and the illustrious picture palaces, there had been few new public buildings in the city itself. Furthermore, its politicians and its moral attitudes were still utterly Victorian.
The Melbourne Sunday was world famous. Where else on earth, with the possible exception of Adelaide, could one find a city in which absolutely nothing happened on a Sunday, in which the biggest excitement was to go either to the Botanic Gardens or to Essendon Airport - an alternative of gazing in composed decorum at the swans or at the aeroplanes. Brian Fitzpatrick, the historian, wrote sardonically that the Melbourne Sunday had a tranquillity, a pure beauty. Why, it was a work of art, like the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Two Minutes' Silence or La Gioconda! Our Winged Victory meant no sport, no movies, no theatre, no hotels, no human activity that would interfere with church going.
It was a shock also to return to the agony of 6 o'clock closing. In Queensland the hotels closed at 10 p.m. and we couldn't help but notice the contrast. Melbourne was a city of drunks. Any night at 6.15 p.m. the scene was the same: ejected drunks vomiting in the gutter outside Young and Jackson's Hotel, opposite St Paul's Cathedral.
The favoured drinking pubs for reporters on the Herald and the Sun were the Astoria on the corner of Flinders Lane and Exhibition Street, where Collins Place now is, and the Phoenix in Flinders Street. They were both classics of their time: dung-coloured lino on the floor, dung-coloured lino on the bar and no furniture or creature comforts. They seemed to be affected by the government attitude that hotels were immoral: too many comforts would encourage drinking. In the late afternoon there was a terrible urgency. A male would leave the office at, say, 5.20 p.m., gather four or five friends and reach the hotel bar at 5.30 p.m. It was a male world; in keeping with the Victorian morality of Melbourne females were not permitted in public bars. For women there was the apartheid of the ladies' lounge where drinks were much more expensive.
Picture the scene. There was a large clock on the wall, invariably set fast because the police came round at 6 p.m. to make sure the bar was cleared. Yes, time was desperate. It was part of the male code of honour for everyone in a school to buy a round of drinks, but there was the time problem. There was only one solution: all the rounds had to be bought in one hit. The bar was as crowded as a peak-hour train; nowhere to put your five or six beers. If there was no windowsill or ledge available they went on the floor between your feet. You had to down those beers before the barmaid or barman started to shriek for everybody out at 6 p.m. No easy task that. By 6.05 or 6.10 he or she would be shrieking, `For Chrissake gentlemen, do you wan' us to lose our licence'.
Ah, but there was nevertheless a charm and Victorian elegance about the Melbourne of the 1950s, a comfortable, opulent, very English elegance. After all, the land had been settled by the English, all homesick for 'home', so they planted English trees and English shrubs and put up public buildings that looked as if they belonged in Manchester or Birmingham. The Fitzroy Gardens was all elms, planted on either side of public paths, that, would you believe, were to the design of the Union Jack. Six o'clock closing came to an end in February 1966. Already a new building boom was under way and the old Melbourne steadily began to disappear. At first it was exciting getting new buildings. The ICI building was the first to go up, in about 1980, followed by the CRA building in 1962. For a brief period we gloried in the thought that these were the tallest in the country and even called them skyscrapers.
Too late we realised that many of the great old buildings that had come down should have been saved. I would like to think that I had a hand in rescuing the Windsor Hotel, the Princess Theatre, the Regent Theatre and at least the facades of the Rialto and the Olderfleet buildings, but for twenty-five years it seemed as if I was always standing by for the death of another building, the Requiem Mass for another piece of history. I had a curious ally, big, bluff old Jim Whelan. His father, also called Jim, had founded Whelan The Wrecker in 1892. Whenever another building received its death sentence and was due to be wrecked Jim gave me the tip. He knew as much about old Melbourne as anyone alive. He loved the place and went about his wrecking with an air of sadness; he enjoyed wrecking the horrid and the ugly, but lovely pieces of history, that was a different matter. It caused him genuine pain to pull them down and he carefully preserved sacred relics, windows, doors, cornices, sculptured heads, exquisitely carved pieces of marble.
It was in 1962, when the CRA building in Collins Street was brand new, that I said to Jim: 'How would you like to pull down one of these awful modern filing cabinets? Take the CRA building in Collins Street. Would it be difficult?'. His eyes shone. 'It'd be easy', he answered. 'I'd put up a scaffolding all round, then just start from the top and work down, floor by floor.'
It was a prophetic discussion. In 1987 the next generation of Whelans, Tony, Owen and Myles, did exactly that. The CRA became the first of the post-war generation of office towers to feel the wrecker's hammer. Nobody missed the CRA, an extremely ugly building that looked like a long drawer that had been pulled out of the ground. The construction of that tower was really the death of the old Collins Street because it replaced the stately Melbourne Mansions, one of the last establishments in the city where people actually lived.
Melbourne used to be a city of little hotels on every corner, all with good counter lunches. For example, there was the Port Phillip Club Hotel in Flinders Street opposite the railway station, which dated right back to the 1880s. It had a marvellous oyster bar, where one could buy a dozen oysters plus bread and butter for 2 shillings and 6 pence. It did have at least half a dozen beds made up, as the law decreed for hotels, but this was a venerable establishment, dedicated almost entirely to the drinking man, and it contained a labyrinth of bars. In the public bar there were great punkahs, mechanically operated. In the summer they creaked back and forth, making little ripples across the surface of the beer.
The Cathedral Hotel, the noble home of the Anglican drinkers, was another. Down it came, as, too, did Scotts in Collins Street, so beloved by all the graziers. Up the so-called Paris end of Collins Street we lost the Occidental, on the corner of Collins and Exhibition streets. Legend had it that Nellie Melba once slept at the Occidental. Its counter lunch of liver and onions was utterly famous. The bar from the Occidental was used in the movie On the Beach, and Ava Gardner actually placed her pretty elbow upon it. The Occidental was replaced with - to my mind - the quite useless Reserve Bank.
The Oriental opposite was more illustrious. In the old days the owner was Pearson Tewksbury, who made a fortune out of gold. The story goes that he was a guest at the Oriental in 1910. When the manager insulted his wife Tewksbury stormed out of the hotel, bought it and returned some time later, presumably with the statement, 'I have news for you'.
Dame Nellie Melba actually did sleep at the Oriental. There is a suspicion that Dame Nellie spent a night in every resting place, bar the Melbourne Club. Alas, poor Oriental, she came down in 1972 to make way for the Collins Place towers. The most grievous loss of all was Menzies Hotel at the corner of Bourke and William streets. When it was rebuilt in 1867 the Argus described it as absolutely the finest in the colonies, 'unique but by no means outré'. It remained the finest in the colonies until Mr Whelan had to wreck it in 1969. Everybody stayed there - George Augustus Sala, Alexander Graham Bell, Toti Dal Monte, Fritz Kreisler, Ignaz Paderewski, Herbert Hoover, General MacArthur, Yehudi Menuhin and Danny Kaye. In 1904 Paderewski called over the head waiter and demanded: 'Tell me, who is your chef? Is he a chef, is he a tailor or is he a carpenter?'.
Down a side lane there was the Governor's Entrance. Very private. You see, it was not done for the governor to be seen entering an establishment that sold spirituous liquors. Menzies became the black tower of the BHP headquarters. Why there? They could have built their headquarters just as easily down at Mordialloc.
I grieved also for the Federal Hotel at the corner of Collins and King streets. Mr Whelan pulled that down in March 1972. What a crime it was. No sane government should have allowed it. The Federal was our most extraordinary piece of Victorian. It was originally the Federal Coffee Palace, built for the Centenary Exhibition of 1888. It was to be the greatest, most exotic hotel Australia had seen. It had seven floors, an iron-framed dome, 400 rooms, its own ice plant, gaslight on all floors and an electric bell in every room. The exterior was remarkable in that not a square millimetre went undecorated; there were marvellous twiddly bits and sculptured figures of all kinds, including massive ladies who represented every State except, curiously, Western Australia. High up was a mixed-up sculptured scene of plump, naked girls and bearded boys. Over the grand portico there were two female figures arm in arm like gigantic lesbians. One had a breast exposed, and written below was the message, 'Restez Ici - Soyez le Bienvenu'.
And what did we get in place of the Federal Hotel? - twenty-four storeys of the very dull Enterprise House, which actually housed the Victorian Health Department. Like BHP the Health Department could have been just as happy in Mordialloc. There were so many other buildings that I loved. There was the Eastern Market in Exhibition Street. Here there were important shops that sold second-hand books. Down below there was a sedate, spacious, superbly untidy hardware store. Behind its counters were assistants who could answer incredible queries such as: 'I would like some screws about that long and this wide, and I want some cement and steel plates and things to build a barbecue. What have you got?'. The Eastern Market, which at one time housed phrenologists, fortune-tellers and magicians, was replaced with the Southern Cross Hotel. Never again did we have phrenologists or a good hardware store in the city of Melbourne, only hardware supermarkets that had no interest in the helpless do-it-yourself amateur.
In 1967 we lost Cliveden Mansions in Wellington Parade. What a crime. It came down without a whimper. Sir Rupert Clarke had built it in 1887 for 91 117 pounds, an unbelievable sum when you consider that the working wage was 2 pounds a week. The immensely rich Sir Rupert had even kept a private regiment, the Rupertswood Battery. Cliveden Mansions had an enormous ballroom, a billiard-room, dining-rooms, twenty-eight bedrooms and, what was sensational in 1887, five bathrooms. There were seventeen rooms for servants. Its oak panelling had come from London and its expanses of stained glass from Italy. One huge stained-glass window depicted a gorgeous, plump Italian lady inviting all to enter, with the words, 'None Come Too Early - None Leave Too Late'. Alas, Cliveden came down to make way for a modern hotel, the Melbourne Hilton.
So that was Melbourne, a city going through a great metamorphosis when we arrived back in late 1957. There was much more for me to write about than in Brisbane and unquestionably it was a good time to return.
The job as columnist on Melbourne's Sun News-Pictorial began on New Year's Day 1958. Very naively I called on the Sun Editor, Frank Daly, and told him I was delighted to write this column, 'A Place in the Sun', but could we get rid of the corny title? Frank Daly looked at me sourly. He gave me the names of distinguished people who had written the column, such as Howard Palmer, Stewart Legge and Peter Golding, and said: 'Mr Dunstan, "A Place in the Sun" is a column that started on the first day of the first issue of this newspaper back on II September 1922. We do not intend to change the title'.
I went upstairs to the archives and turned up the very first issue of the Sun. It was a tabloid in 1922, with plenty of pictures - a revolution in Australian journalism, when newspapers were broadsheets and front pages mostly carried classified ads. I turned up this column, 'A Place in the Sun', and a good column it was, too. It started with a paragraph about the Prime Minister, Mr W. M. Hughes. A shopkeeper in Carlton had put a peanut in his window and labelled it 'Billy Hughes'. One of the parliamentary Members pointed this out to the Prime Minister and said: 'It is a simply marvellous resemblance to you, Sir. None of the caricaturists have ever done you so well'. 'Are you sure it was a peanut?', growled Mr Hughes. 'I was in Carlton this afternoon.'
Noel Hawken of the Herald, a thoughtful journalist and perhaps the most graceful writer I encountered, filled my column for me many times in the next twenty-five years. Noel had graduated from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Argus. He was the leader writer for the Herald and an omnivorous reader, but unlike most of us he retained what he read. Had he been given his head what a different paper it would have been. He was far superior in intellect and wisdom to all his editors and managing directors. Hawken, with all his imagination and ideas, should have been editor of the Herald from the mid-I960s on. Critics have offered many reasons for the decline of the Herald, but I believe it was the consistent promotion of the wrong people. It was Noel who coined the acronym APITS for the column. One could have confused it with a disease or perhaps aninsecticide used to kill aphids on roses, but I always thought it sounded better than 'A Place in the Sun'.
Column writing was far more difficult then. It is not generally realised that huge social changes have taken place in the last thirty years. Mention drink in the column and there would be complaints to the editor. Sex is the funniest, most absurd of all human activities, but no one could mention it in a daily column. Human beings did not even copulate. The Sun ran a lively comic strip called 'Jane' that was syndicated from London. Jane liked to get her clothes off at least once a week, so we had artists forever busy putting bras back on Jane's naked breasts. Melburnians would be affronted at the sight of nipples, therefore they had to go. However, modesty went further than that. Every navel that appeared in a photograph had to be erased. There was a famous case in Brisbane where a farmer sued a newspaper after it painted out the genitals on a bull. It is surprising some proud young female did not sue the Sun over the loss of her navel.
One also had to be careful with references to the Almighty. Any appeals to God could be considered blasphemy. 'Damn' was a forbidden word. Put one 'damn' in the paper and there would be a thousand letters of protest. People were sensitive, too, about false teeth. I had a story about a farmer at Mansfield who left his teeth in a glass of water overnight. It was so cold that night, he awakened to find his teeth frozen in the glass. The editor killed the story. It was not right to suggest that people did not have their own teeth.
Every evening my column had to be inspected for social purity. Covering court stories was difficult. In court vile words were written down and handed up to the judge, who winced at the sight of them. 'Whore', 'harlot' and 'courtesan' were too awful for our newspaper. 'Lavatory' was never used; we could get away with 'toilet' but often the paper would resort to 'outhouse' or 'the smallest room in the house'.
The process of calling things what they are was slow. I can give you a timetable. 'Lavatories' and 'prostitutes' came in around 1963. We dropped 'houses of ill fame' in 1966 and started calling them 'brothels'. We were having 'sexual intercourse' by 1967 and we even wrote 'sodomy', which had been in the Bible for 2000 years. The show 'Hair' changed much of our thinking. By 1971 the word 'bloody' began to appear in print. What a shock that was. 'Bullshit' did not get there until 1974, and after that we descended to 'bugger'.
The ultimate breakthrough came in June 1979. The first paragraph of the Age's coverage of a court case read: 'A magistrate found yesterday that a Skyhooks song with the refrain "Why don't you all get fucked" was not obscene'. Michael Davie, the Age Editor, received a visit from the vice squad, who said the police had received complaints from the public and the Age was liable for prosecution under Section 172 of the Police Offences Act. Davie was unabashed. He pointed out that almost every milk bar was selling paperbacks that contained this word, and he had the impression even children in the street were using it. I announced all this in triumph in a column for the Bulletin, pointing out that 'fuck' was in John Ash's Complete Dictionary of the English Language in 1775, and pushed it home with A. P. Herbert's famous 'Ode to Four Letter Words': Let us banish the use of four letter words Whose meanings are never obscure. The Angles and Saxons, those bawdy old birds, Were vulgar, obscene and impure.
But cherish the use of the wheedling phrase Which never says quite what you mean. You'd better be known for your hypocrite ways Than be vulgar, obscure or obscene.
However, the Bulletin did not have the courage of the Age, and my story on the history of 'fuck' appeared with the word given very carefully as 'fuck'. At the height of all this moral purity a letter arrived from a nun. She was a Presentation nun who taught children at a convent in Moe, Victoria. She said that she liked reading the column every day but, even more astonishing, she liked to read it to her class as an example of good English. This left me in a more parlous plight than ever. As I wrote the column I kept thinking of not only the nun - would she approve what I am saying now? - but of her English class. English grammar was never my strong point. Finally I wrote back to the nun and said: You have ruined me. You now sit on top of my typewriter and I find it difficult to write a word'.
'I wouldn't worry too much about that', she replied. 'I am not easily shocked. I used to teach Germaine Greer.' This was the start of a correspondence that went for twenty years. Sister C. was a born correspondent. She wrote warm, marvellous, entertaining letters. Yet we never met. One time she wrote that she was coming to the city and would be at St Patrick's Cathedral at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. I went looking for Sister C. but never found her. In 1979 Marie and I went to live in California for three years and still we corresponded with Sister C., now living in the city. Our daughter Kate thought it appropriate to send her a copy of 84 Charing Cross Road, the tale of a writer in New York who spent a lifetime corresponding with her bookseller in London. There was just one terrible flaw in this analogy. The bookseller, the male in the tale, died before the two had a chance to meet.
Marie and I returned to Melbourne, and this time we tried in earnest to arrange a meeting with Sister C. We set a date for dinner in South Yarra. The night came, 7.30 p.m. arrived. Sister C. should have been at our house. She rang to apologise. She could only leave the convent if she came with her 'minder' and the minder was ill. Fate had stepped in again. However, Kate insisted; she said she would be the minder. She picked her up from the convent and at last Sister C. came to dinner. She was nearly 70 years old. She had come to Melbourne from Ireland. Marie and I loved her instantly. She had a wild, fey sense of humour and was clearly a born teacher.
There was one other close association with the clergy. In 1984 the Anglican Church in Melbourne was taking an unconscionable time to find a new archbishop. Archbishop Dann had announced his pending retirement on 29 June 1983, but a year had gone by and still the selection board had not found a successor. The board could not make up its mind about David Penman, the 47-year old Bishop for the Western Region of the Melbourne diocese. Some thought he was too Low Church, too different. In the 'Batman' column of the Bulletin I said the board had to do something because Penman was 'the last wombat in the paddock'.
Two years later I went to Bishopscourt to interview Archbishop David Penman. 1 have a bone to pick with you', he said. 'Why?' He took me to his study and, with a grand gesture, said, `Look!'. There must have been at least sixty wombats: little ceramic wombats, big ceramic wombats, wombat pictures, wombat posters, wombat tea-towels, stuffed furry wombats, wombat games, a wombat jigsaw, wombat tie-pins, an Australian flag in the shape of a wombat and even a great metal sign, clearly purloined from somewhere, which read, 'Beware of Wombats Next 5 Kilometres'. The archbishop explained that the remark about the 'last wombat' had gone into history. After his election a television station had sent him a toy wombat, and ever since wombats had just flowed, wombats of every shape, style and description. People were still sending them, so he had become a collector. When he had his dreadful heart attack in August 1989 Mrs Penman placed a wombat at the end of his bed.
Every columnist discovers that dealing with the public is an unusual experience. One of the most extraordinary people was Clive Bush, a retired bank manager of Copelen Street, South Yarra. He was the telegram-sending champion of the world. He lodged his telegrams at midnight to get the night-letter rate, and off they went, 300 words at a time, to the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition and all appropriate members of Parliament, demanding justice. Of course, APITS would always get its telegram. Clive presumed that when all else failed APITS would straighten out the nation.
There were people who came in with the biggest tomato in the world and the biggest pumpkin. I was grateful to the gentleman who posted me a live redback spider nicely parcelled in a matchbox. He wanted to prove that live redbacks were now available in Moorabbin.
I also remember with affection the day a fellow came down from Darwin and wanted to have a chat about things up there. Suddenly he said, 'Did you ever see a crocodile. Thereupon he pulled out of his bag a live crocodile a metre long. Naturally this called for a photograph. The Editor wasn't in, so we thought we would use his office. The picture session was going well until the Editor's secretary returned. She saw the crocodile, shrieked, burst into tears and left. The Editor came in, the crocodile took an instant dislike to him and it chased him round the desk. APITS stocks were not very high for the next month. Random use of publicity could be dangerous. On one occasion I innocently mentioned a brand of pies. Next morning there was a gross of the most awful meat pies on my desk. It was difficult disposing of 194 cold pies at ten in the morning. Another time I mentioned quietly what a pity it was that crumpets were not sold in February - a stupid remark. A mountain of crumpets arrived that afternoon.
At least 60 per cent of all correspondence to a columnist comes from public relations people and another 30 per cent from charity organisations, all seeking free publicity. They will go to remarkable lengths to get it. One year there was a wild, sexy show at the Lido Theatre in Russell Street. A PR person had a great idea. One morning I came through the front door of the Herald and Weekly Times building and sensed something was up. There were giggles and peering eyes all down the corridor. The commissionaire, trying to be offhand, said: 'Oh, by the way, Keith, there's a young girl waiting for you in your office. She's naked'. My God, she was, too, except for a G-string. Her crafty PR person thought this was a great way to handle the publicity for the new show. I could not get her out of the office quickly enough. The crocodile was easier to handle.
There were many ways to fill a column. One of the best was to join in, take part in, some activity and in effect write the column from the inside. I had read about a columnist in Hawaii who wrote an abusive column on women and the easy, languid life of the housewife. One woman had replied, 'If you think it's so damned easy, why don't you try it yourself?'. So that's what happened. She took over the columnist's seat and he looked after her four kids for four days. It made hilarious reading. From then on I decided the way to get a good story was to get in there and do an activity myself. Many of these stories appear in a book, Supporting a Column, published by Cassell in 1986. I was a tennis linesman at Kooyong, an extra in Lohengrin with the Elizabethan Theatre Trust, second to Primo Camera in the pro wrestling at Festival Hall, Father Christmas at Myer's, a Saxon in the battle of the Vikings on the Yarra and part of the vertebrae of the Chinese dragon at the Moomba parade.
In June 1972 the supersonic Concorde, which could fly at nigh twice the speed of sound, arrived in Melbourne with great éclat. It dropped its peculiar, insect-like nose and landed at Tullamarine. A public relations friend, Andrew Wise, suggested: 'Why not upstage it? What will this sonic boom machine ever mean to Melbourne?'. He looked round for the oldest, most lovable aeroplane he could find and came up with a Tiger Moth biplane made of wires and canvas and almost 50 years old. We called in the veteran pilot Arthur Schutt. We landed the Tiger on the main runway at Tullamarine and taxied right up under the tail of the Concorde. It made a very nice picture and everybody started looking at the Tiger.
Perhaps my favourite stunt took place on 27 March 1983. John Hopkins, with the Victorian College of the Arts Orchestra, put on a performance of the Grand, Grand, Festival Overture at the Melbourne Concert Hall. It was by Malcolm Arnold, an English composer. He wrote it to mock the pompous cliches of all the grand overtures. It calls for four shotguns, a floor polisher and three vacuum cleaners. As the overture progresses, the orchestra creates its own vacuum cleaner noises then, as in any beautiful concerto, the orchestra pauses while solo instruments take over. The grand finale comes when there are four shots from a gun and each of the mechanical cleaners is murdered by turn.
Jim McPherson at the Arts Centre put out the invitation: would I like the role of principal vacuum cleaner, playing with a full symphony orchestra? The offer was irresistible, the chance of a lifetime. Fred Parslow was floor polisher, and the other two vacuum cleaners were Don Dunstan, former premier of South Australia, and Colette Mann, star of the television series Prisoner.
The thrill began with the dressing-room. Principal vacuum cleaner had a dressing-room of his own next to the conductor's, complete with name on door. The dressing-room had a wall-to-wall mirror, with lights all around, a piano, potted plants and an intercom mike over which came soft, female announcements, such as, 'Mr Dunstan, you're on-stage in five minutes'. Finally we were on. Don Dunstan looked superb in a dazzling white sharkskin jacket. Colette was wearing stiff black taffeta with pearls, and Number One Vacuum Cleaner was in black dinner-jacket. My instrument was a huge industrial vacuum cleaner about the size of the golfmobile once used by President Eisenhower. Don Dunstan had an upright Hoover and Colette had a shoulder-strap job like a scuba-diving outfit. At the tune-up 1 was disappointed with the tone of my instrument. Don Dunstan agreed.
'1 don't feel it makes a significant statement', he said. While the orchestra played we kept busy, looking as if we were really sweeping. Then John Hopkins pointed his baton straight at me. I turned on my vacuum cleaner and played it with all the artistry I could manage. It had three notes - low, medium and shaggy. Then came the shots. First to go was Fred Parslow, and I thought he died nobly, with a nice sense of understatement, as befitted an old actor. Then Don slumped over his Hoover. The old prisoner, Colette, expired in grand style and, at the fourth bang, No. 1 VC collapsed over his sweepings. I did not receive any flowers but two lovely ladies did send me up an exquisite nineteenth-century-style feather duster.
There were some interesting characters in Melbourne journalism. I had a long association with Jeff Hook, the Sun artist. He came from Tasmania. His name was spelt 'Geoff but he felt that looked terrible in a signature so he signed his cartoons 'Jeff and always somewhere in the sketch hid a tiny hook. Sometimes he would forget to put in his hook and the switchboard would run hot with people ringing to say they could not find the hook. Nearly all of them would ring 'A Place in the Moon'. That was the normal place to ring, after the police, when people had a complaint.
Hook writes with his right hand and draws with his left. It is not easy to explain this extraordinary behaviour but many artists are the same. Not only is Jeff a very good cartoonist; he also has great skills as a black and white artist. Once we visited the Boeing factory just out of Seattle. Here Boeing had a production line of 747s in what the company claimed was the world's biggest building, a building so large you could get a change of climate with clouds forming inside. The Boeing public relations chief took us on a grand tour. Jeff paused for ten minutes to make a sketch. The PR chief was startled by the result.
'We had an artist in last month', he said. 'He stood right here, and it took him a fortnight to make his drawing. When he finished it wasn't as good as that.'
Another time we were at Lochsa Lodge, Idaho, in the United States, and Jeff was making a sketch of the scene. A young man stood behind him all the time be was sketching, always unnerving for an artist. Finally the young man said: 'You know that's not bad. You draw a bit. Ever thought of getting anything published?'. Yes, he had had quite a bit published. I am constantly amazed at the ruthless speed with which he can delineate the line of a nose, the sweep of a jaw, the flab of a jowl. There is no sympathy for Dunstan; always I come out with one eye and no teeth.
Every year, with Marie and Jeff's wife, Pauline, we went to the Melbourne Cup, always by a different method. You must appreciate that Flemington is difficult to get to on Cup Day so our quest for the perfect system was like the hunt for the Holy Grail. The first time we went to the Cup by Rolls-Royce. It was a hired machine and we looked so rich that the collectors on the gate at the members' entrance did not even ask whether we had a ticket. We just swept in. Another year we went by speedboat along the Maribyrnong - a somewhat smelly adventure. We went in a beautiful coach drawn by four horses. We went by brewery wagon. That did not make us popular with the police, because traffic in Flemington Road had to be practically suspended to make way for our majestic progress.
Another year a team of young gentlemen carried us all the way in an eighteenth-century sedan chair hired from a theatrical firm. It was a pleasant way to go, though a little wobbly perhaps. Regrettably the not-quite-eighteenth-century fibreboard seat on which Jeff was sitting collapsed, and he had a most uncomfortable journey. One year the Chairman of the Victorian Railways, Bill Gibbs, offered one of those push-me-pull-you hand trolleys used by railway gangers. This was lovely, the answer to a dream, the fulfilling of a lifelong ambition. They are a little hard to get going, but once Jeff and I - an uncoxed pair no less - got up a rhythm, both pushing and pulling, we made amazing speed. Mr Gibbs gave us the time and assured us the line would be free, but there was always the lurking fear that any second we might be run down by the Sydney express.
The most disastrous year was 1976. This was the year of the downpour, the great flood, when the members' car park went under water and we had the lovely sight of the very best Toorak fashions clinging to the skin, striped trousers rolled up to the knees and ladies' hats limp like wet blotting paper. Yet the dauntless Melbourne Cup spirit never flagged. The champagne drinking never faltered. This time the four of us rode to the Cup on two tandem bicycles, in formal gear, top hats and all. We were soaked from head to foot. On the way down the hill along Epsom Road the rain-soaked brakes on Marie's and my tandem decided they would no longer work. The tandem gathered speed to almost 60 kilometres per hour. We zig-zagged between cars and taxis. Suddenly there was a sixty-passenger bus in front of us. It seemed inevitable there would be a collision. I swung the handlebars, jumped the gutter, hit the footpath, scattering pedestrians, missed a lamp-post by 2 millimetres and came to a dead stop against a brick wall. We were close to eternity that day.
Did I say the most disastrous? No, perhaps 1977 was worse. We went to the races in two trishaws, flown out at immense expense for the occasion by Kay-Hertz Rent-a-Car and Singapore Airlines. Tony Rafferty and Joe Marguccio did the pedalling. Both were physical fitness men. Tony Rafferty in 1973 ran 5898 kilometres from Fremantle to Surfers Paradise, but he thought the journey to Flemington was the greater marathon. We parked the trishaws right next to the Rolls-Royce of Sir John Kerr, the Governor-General.
When we returned after the running of the Cup, the trishaws were gone. Those of you who have had cars stolen will know the experience of returning and gazing at the vacant bitumen in disbelief, half believing any second the car will materialise again. It was the same with the trishaws. Surely somebody was having a joke, they would turn up any second. But they did not and we had to go home by train. I wrote further columns about the mystery of the missing trishaws, but years later they have still not been found.
There were many strange adventures with Jeff. Together we were sent to England, Ireland, Denmark, Austria, Holland and France. In 1970 we looked into the English stately home business and found that for a certain sum it was possible to be guests of the aristocracy for a week. We went to a real beauty of a stately home, Somerly Park in Hampshire, built by Samuel Wyatt in 1792. Our hostess, who did not want us to publish her name, was the daughter of a marquess and the widow of an earl. It was nearly 2 kilometres from the gates to the house. The family had peacocks. They had deer. And the garden, of course, was designed by Capability Brown. A butler in white jacket greeted us at the door, and he later pointed out the Cainsboroughs, the Van Dycks, the Canalettos and the Turners on the walls.
The countess had invited a friend who had actually met people from colonial Australia, and at 6.30 p.m. we gathered for drinks in the marvellous, stately drawing-room. There was a signed portrait of King Edward VII on the mantel. Just to get the conversation going Jeff and I chatted on about what a lively fellow he was with the ladies.
'He was my late husband's godfather', said the countess severely.
Of course, we had to dress For dinner, which took place in the dining hall around a classic baronial table. At the end of the meal the ladies retired, while Jeff and I sat alone to drink our port. I couldn't believe this. There were only four of us. But presumably Jeff and I had to talk about male things until we met the ladies again for coffee.
My bedroom was huge and in the centre was a four-poster bed complete with curtains. I wondered whether perhaps James I or even Elizabeth I had slept in it. At 3 a.m. I awoke with an agonised desire to go to the lavatory. The curtains on the four-poster bed enclosed me like a tomb. I peered out of the curtains and still all was total blackness. I could not find my way to the bedroom door let alone the bathroom, which was 50 metres down the passage. So I lay there, legs crossed, and suffered until first light.
Breakfast was also served in the dining hall: sausages and eggs on silver salvers. The countess and friend were not to be seen. We quietly departed.
Maybe the most spectacular place we visited was Las Brisas in Acapulco. Las Brisas was a hotel built 368 metres above Acapulco Bay, and it had 250 private cabanas and 250 swimming pools. The cabanas were built down the mountainside so that each one had the same startling view. Merle Oberon's house was immediately below. One reached one's cabana in one's own jeep with its striped canopy. Each cabana had coconut palms, hibiscus and orchids, and early every morning a gorgeous, black-haired Mexican employee called to float flowers in the swimming pool. People, such as Hugh Hefner in his personal, black DC9, used to fly to Las Brisas to stay.
Jeff and I moved into our cabana. I had to write my Acapulco story; Jeff had to do the black and white sketches for it. One remark did not get into the story. The employee who showed us to the cabana looked at us sideways - two men in this beautiful setting?
'Sir, would you like me to move the beds closer together?', he asked. The explosion was awful. Jeff, the father of five, almost threw the poor Mexican into the hibiscus-flowered swimming pool.
There was one problem with column writing. The disturbing thought kept returning: should I be serious? Very early in my work in journalism I discovered that, although I was little use at formal dinners and never the life of the party, on paper I was quite good at making people laugh. What's more it was a peculiar knack. In the 1940s the Sun had given a 5-pound bonus for the funniest story written by any reporter during the week. Almost invariably I had won the bonus. Writing stories that amused people or stories that made people think 'My Cod, that's happened to me!' gave me more pleasure than anything else. I sat in trams and trains, watching people reading the Courier-Mail or the Sun, waiting for their reactions when they read the column. If they laughed or smiled my happiness was complete.
One day in Toowoomba, Queensland, I met a city business person. Naively I asked him if he read my column, and he replied: 'No, never give it a thought. I tell you how I read the paper.
Go straight to the finance page and read that. All the rest is garbage'. I learned a great deal from that.
My guilt about the non-seriousness of the column continued, so perhaps every ten columns I would change its character and become angry. One time I took up the torch for the union leader Norm Gallagher. He had been charged and ultimately sentenced to gaol for contempt of court. It seemed to me whatever we thought of Norm Gallagher and his union activities this was society's last resort, to attack him personally, and an outrageous breach of civil liberties. I came out on his side a second time when the police made a raid on his offices and not only took funds but huge quantities of union records. This was the type of assault, I thought, that would have done credit to a fascist state.
My editors were tolerant, and still are, but this was nut what they expected. The correspondence was clear: people much preferred to be amused.
Modern journalists are much purer than they used to be. The young ones, I notice, are sober, drink little and are better behaved and much better educated than we were. Every year the top metropolitan dailies receive over a thousand applications from school leavers and young graduates to become journalists. At the most they accept eight to twelve. If I had to start all over again my chances of acceptance would be nil. My academic qualifications would fail me. The newspapers, if they wish, can take on young students who have graduated in the first dozen of the State. The danger is they might reject the characters, those who have the knack of running words together. I don't envy those who have the job of making the choice.
There were always characters around the Herald and Weekly Times building. One of the greatest was Jack Eddy. Jack was the Herald's economist. He had this amazing gift: he not only knew his subject, be could make it intelligible to anybody, even me. Jack needed fortification. He would get off the train at Flinders Street Station, walk across the road to Young and Jackson's and have his first drink. Maybe he would have another at the Phoenix at the corner of Flinders and Exhibition streets. This had no effect on his performance; he still wrote with extraordinary lucidity. When 6 o'clock closing came to an end in February 1966 it was a sadness for Jack. Instead of hotels being open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. they were now open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. When he stepped off the train at 9 a.m. Flinders Street was drier than the Gibson Desert. However, a distinguished coterie of Herald writers would gather in the back bar of the Oriental Hotel. The back bar was neatly out of sight and one could approach it by walking out of the back door of the Herald and through the back entrance of the lovely old Oriental. When the Oriental was pulled down to make way for two lesser buildings, the ANZ tower and the Regent Hotel, nothing was the same any more, and the Morning Tea Club disbanded.
Another great character was E. W. Tipping. Bill Tipping started the 'In Black and White' column for the Herald back in 1952 and wrote it for fifteen years. When he stopped, it withered. Nobody could quite repeat his skills. His career began at Melbourne University. He became the Herald's university correspondent, and his talents were so great the accountants started to complain that he was making too much money. In his last year he interviewed Percy Grainger the composer. The result was a lovely piece, showing all the Tipping style even then. He brought out the rebellious, controversial Grainger character, revealing Grainger's wicked preference for everything English over the much-feted German composers. The story was so good the Herald invited him to work fulltime. Anyway it was cheaper to have him on the staff.
Tipping was never a pretty writer. He did not believe in that sort of thing. It was the same with the news commentaries he made on 3DB: he wanted to give the impression he was talking directly, as if across a dinner table. Nor did he believe in using an unnecessary word. He delighted in the perfect column paragraph of three or four lines. He believed that a paragraph should be like a right cross - the true beauty of its impact should come in the last fiftieth of a second.
Tipping was the best all-round reporter I encountered, whether he was covering a flood, a bushfire or a classic event like the Melbourne Cup. He changed his column for each of the editions, and it was no easy task following him the next day. He loved racing and on Cup Eve he would ask his readers `What's Tipping tipping?'. To my chagrin the racing writers were invariably wrong and Tipping was invariably right. My tip always came last. One time, in order to defeat Tipping, I thought I would tip the horse to come last, instead of picking the winner. I did that but failed again. The horse I tipped was beaten out of last position by a tail.
Bill Tipping died on 29 April 1970 after a protracted bout with cancer. He had worked long and hard for the mentally retarded, and the Tipping Foundation was named in his honour.
Another remarkable character was J. Stewart Legge. He tended to haunt me like a difficult conscience. Legge, son of a doctor, went to school at Scotch College and was cox of the crew. From there he proceeded to Melbourne University and for two years he was supposed to study medicine, but actually he was more interested in music. He was a devotee of Bernard Heinze and studied the organ under Dr A. E. Floyd. in all conscience he felt he could not expect his father to pay his bills any longer, and in 1931, during the worst days of the depression, he started on the Argus at 2 pounds a week. George Johnston, author of My Brother Jack, started on the same day. During the Second World War Legge reported the activities of the Pacific Fleet for the Sun, and he became everything from columnist to night chief of staff. He was a little man, always perfectly turned out in a white shirt and three-piece, perfectly tailored suit with handkerchief in the fob pocket. He looked like the chairman of a distinguished trustee company or the senior partner in an old firm of solicitors.
Every day Legge appeared before my desk, usually around 10.15 a.m. There would be a look of pain on his face and a spark of triumph in his eyes.
`Keith, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.'
He had discovered an error in my column: the wrong mode of address used for an archdeacon, the name of a pre-First-World War premier spelt incorrectly or maybe I had mauled the ancestry of a distinguished Melburnian family. I'd fight back, but Legge was always right. He had the most remarkable memory for detail, facts and useful general knowledge.
Legge was editor of Who's Who in Australia for three editions. He was very particular about the type of people who made its select pages. For example, while he was editor, John Halfpenny, then vice-president of the Amalgamated Metalworkers and Shipwrights' Union, did not make it. Officially those eligible for entry were 'people of official position, or appointments that would warrant their inclusion . . . or otherwise people who have made an important contribution to their sphere of life'. So no Mr Halfpenny.
'I am not concerned', said Mr Legge, 'with people whose role is public disruption'. Nor did he like Germaine Greer.
'You would describe her as an phenomenon: she came and went. One successful book is not enough. That's why many authors are not there.'
He did not like television and radio 'personalities' or almost anybody in show business. Reluctantly, he put in Barry Humphries, but he would not have Mike Willesee, Paul Hogan, Ernie Sigley, Garry McDonald, Don Lane or even Graham Kennedy. Stewart Legge's heart gave out on 24 April 1978. He was just on his way into the Herald to do some research on former Australian prime ministers.
Robert J. Gilmore was another of the old school, very precise. Accuracy was everything. He loved to be controversial, loved to take the opposite line to everyone else's and he had a gift for original and unusual stories.
In early 1949 Sir Keith Murdoch received a hand-written letter from Cecil Herbert Sharpley, an English-born member of the central committee of the Australian Communist Party. Sharpley said he had just resigned as a party member and he was ready to tell all to the Herald. Archer Thomas, the Herald Editor, called in R. J. Gilmore and told him to see Sharpley and find out what he had to offer. This was the great era of the Red Menace. Only twelve months before, R. G. Menzies had begun his attempts to ban the Communist Party. The Sharpley affair took on the air of a spy thriller.
Gilmore called Sharpley and they arranged a meeting. It was to be three days later, at 8 p.m. under the third lamp-post north of the Shepparton Hotel. Gilmore drove to Shepparton, booked into the hotel, had dinner, then met Sharpley under the street light. Sharpley was small and slight, with somewhat protuberant eyes, and surprisingly calm. Gilmore took him back to his room in the hotel, opened a bottle of Corio whisky, and some Schweppes ginger ale. He saw no reason to go beserk with Herald expenses.
Sharpley began to talk. Clearly it was all true. Gilmore wondered what risks Sharpley was taking. Sharpley thought there were several possibilities. They could run him off the road by car into the Yarra or they could try to do everything to discredit him.
The Herald arranged a bodyguard, Chris Coe, a valour badge winner, who had just retired from the police force. Sharpley and Coe secretly took adjoining rooms in a St Kilda hotel. And so Gilmore and Sharpley went to work. Sharpley wrote his story down on large pads, using a bottle of Swan ink and a steel-nibbed pen.
Within nine days the Sharpley series, put into shape by Gilmore, was running in the Herald. Sharpley told a story of union ballot-rigging and precisely how it was done. He wrote that most big strikes in Australia were neither decided on nor directed by the unions. They were called and run by the Communist Party. There was also a Flinders Street group, who were not necessarily actual members of the Communist Party. They were fellow-travellers, members of the Press whose job it was to get stories that were sympathetic to the cause into the paper. Gilmore announced he wanted no part of this. If Sharpley was going to name fellow journalists, he had to talk directly to Archer Thomas or Keith Murdoch. This he did. Among those Sharpley named were Kim Keane and Ian Aird. Keane was a New Zealander, an arts graduate and one of the company's cleverest journalists. Ian Aird was large, very witty, suffered terribly from gout and was yet another member of the brilliant team the Herald had in 1949. Aird specialised in short, potent movie reviews, so pithy he was banned from almost every theatre in town. No free tickets for Aird. He had to buy his own. Both Keane and Aird resigned and were a sad loss to the Herald.
The Herald ran the Sharpley series then brought out a book of the articles. It was described as 'a stark record of a programme of deliberate disruption. For every thinking man and woman'. Sharpley received 5000 pounds from the Herald, which was a big payment in 1949, and Bob Gilmore received a bonus of 150 pounds. This, too, he thought was generous, but then Murdoch added his own special touch. He did not want Gilmore to be out of pocket through tax. Murdoch worked out himself what the tax would be and added 52 pounds 13 shillings.
The Communist Party did all it could to discredit Sharpley. It announced that he was an alcoholic, that he had stolen 175 pounds from party funds and that he had been 'convicted of an offence under particularly disgusting circumstances'. The first two charges were fantasy. The third he admitted. He was fined 3 pounds in 1946 for urinating in the dark outside the Exhibition Building. What happened to him? He returned to England. Gilmore came across him again, in 1953. Sharpley was 'a bit hard up' on working man's wages, and he had written an article for the Daily Telegraph on ballot-rigging techniques.
The character of characters on the Sun News-Pictorial was Douglas Wilkie, the foreign affairs writer. Wilkie was born in 1908 at Wormhill, Derbyshire, the son of Allan Wilkie, the Shakespearean actor. When Wilkie, senior, toured Australia young Wilkie was a general roustabout and spear carrier. He claimed the pinnacle of his acting career on the boards was as a French soldier in Henry V. One of his jobs, particularly in Queensland, was shooing away goats when they tried to swallow the Wilkie Troupe posters. Goats adored the paste behind the bills, and Wilkie became a most competent goat shooer.
Wilkie said he became a journalist because it seemed the softest job around; furthermore he needed another job when there was a shortage of goats. Of course, he became the wittiest and most erudite of columnists. He adored to write his own headlines. Kevin Voltz in the Sun features department made a collection of them:
PUFFING BILLY ON THE RAILS (on William McMahon criticising Britain over curbs to Australian exports)
COD'S WALLOP FOR NATO (on the Cod War between Britain and Iceland, both members of NATO)
THOSE OLD SCHOOL THAIS (when Thailand's new military government proved just as bad as the old constitutional one)
JEHOVAH'S FITNESS (when Israeli troops mounted a successful raid on Lebanon)
CURRIED RICE FOR CANBERRA (when the United States Ambassador in Canberra, Mr Walter Rice, was ousted in favour of Mr Marshall Green)
BY HAMMER AND TICKLE (when a Soviet trade delegation visited Australia to boost Soviet-Australian trade)
MEIN KAMPF BED (on Sir Henry Bolte returning from viewing West Germany and its higher standard of living)
WHITLAM'S PRIVY ROLE (after Gough Whitlam ended appeals to the Privy Council)
WOOL IN A CHINA SHOP (on Australia's wool exports to China)
Wilkie, who inspired the Anti Football League, of which more later, was an ideas machine. He had a little daily circuit, a sort of milk round, He would wander round the reporters' room, natter to the Herald columnist, chat to the Sun columnist, talk to the Herald leader writers, visit the Sun cartoonist, all the time telling stories, dropping Wilkieisms, feeding ideas.
Geoffrey Tebbutt was another great figure on the Herald. He retired from journalism in 1972 and died in 1973. My most vivid memory of Tebbutt is of a lean, white-haired figure, with a beak of a nose, rushing to the Herald sub-editors' room before noon with half a dozen proofs flying behind him like streamers. He had discovered at least six errors in the first edition. The subs would dread his daily probe, but they missed him when be left. Indeed, this is my greatest fear with modern journalism. All the old hands, the erudite ones, such as Legge, Hawken and Tebbutt, have gone. I had a superb sub-editor, Kevin Voltz, who kept me out of trouble for more than ten years. But now it is not the same; often we journalists feel rudderless. The terrible errors that we make go straight into the paper. The great computer technology has not saved us.
Continue to chapter eleven: The Antis