Of course, as a honeymoon, it was beyond most people's dreams: a flight across the Pacific in a Boeing Stratocruiser. This was a large, four-engine, propeller-driven aircraft. Journalists by order of the Australian Journalists' Association had to travel first class. The Stratocruisers actually had beds - very narrow ones, but beds nevertheless, with curtains like railway Pullmans. So we slept together at an altitude of 4500 to 6000 metres, across the Pacific.
There were several days at the Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu, days in San Francisco, days in Los Angeles, where we met cowboy star Roy Rogers, then further days crossing the United States via the Santa Fe Railroad. Manhattan was far too expensive for anyone on an Australian salary so our first home was a single-bedroom apartment in Forest Hills, Long Island, not far from the famous tennis club. It was a six-storey apartment building on busy Queens Boulevard, and the Seventh Avenue subway ran right under our kitchen. Every time a train went by it rattled the kitchen cups. The subway was safe, regular, clean, efficient and the best way to come home, particularly late at night. Thirty years later people would not dare step foot in it at any time, day or night.
The colours of our apartment were bizarre hectic blues and pinks so we immediately set about painting it from end to end. Our neighbours, too, were different; we noticed that everyone in the building except us was Jewish. The owner of the building was also a Jew, Theodore R. Racoosin. He was a rich financier. He had a passion for opera and Persian rugs. His apartment off Fifth Avenue looked like a Persian market. It was not enough just to have them on the floor, Ted Racoosin also covered the walls with rare and beautiful rugs. We did not realise their value, we just thought it a very strange hobby. Ted was a wise and kindly man. Marie and I pointed out to him that we were the only non-Jewish people in the apartment block. We asked him what the others were like.
'I will tell you a story', he said. 'Back in the last century - oh, it must have been in the 1820s, something like that - a German and his family moved out West in their covered wagon. After travelling for many, many months they came to a spot in the Mid West that looked very beautiful. They decided this could be the place to settle down. Way over yonder they noticed a settlement. They went over to it and sought out the head man. "We are thinking of staying. What are the people like around here?", they asked him. The head man replied, "How did you find the people back home?". "Oh, fine", they answered. "The people back home are very good, decent people." "Well", said the head man, "if you found them good back home, then you will find them good here".' Of course he was right.
The whole district was cosmopolitan. Around the corner was Bruno, who ran the Italian delicatessen. Bruno was inquisitive and wanted to know everything that was going on. One day we were in his shop when a Central European lady came in. Bruno introduced us to her.
'Do you speak German?', she asked.
'Do you speak Russian?'
'Do you speak Italian?'
'Greek, Swedish, Finnish, French, Dutch?'
No. No. No. No. No.
She turned to Bruno. 'Ignorant. They don't speak anything.'
'Do you speak Australian?', Bruno replied.
He jerked his thumb at us. 'They do.'
Marie was hostess to a constant stream of visitors. There were Donald and Bunty Cochrane. Donald became professor of commerce at Monash University and chairman of the State Bank of Victoria. Bunty was Margaret Schofield the concert pianist. There were Peter Parkin, who was to be an executive with Mobil, and Lyle Turnbull, later to be editor-in-chief of the Herald and Weekly Times. And we saw, too, a very young Rupert Murdoch.
A shy, diffident young man. We couldn't see him becoming a great newspaper executive like his father. The New York office of the Herald and Weekly Times was curious, indeed. The bureau chief was Randal Heymanson, a graduate of the London School of Economics and a former academic. Sir Keith Murdoch had found him in London. Randal Heymanson had a fine brain but no great skills as a writer or a journalist. Indeed, he had never been trained as a journalist. His assistant was Bill Noble, a New Zealander, a Presbyterian and a highly experienced, hard-working journalist of the old school, accurate, fast and a real news getter. Noble tended to find the stories and Heymanson to write them.
Then there was Justine Gordon, the secretary. Justine was the daughter of a well-to-do Jewish family, and she worked for as little as 40 dollars a week. She was a warm, witty, amusing young woman. Her typing was awful and her shorthand did not exist. Frequently she sent Heymanson into rages, but labour was scarce and he was frightened he could get no other secretary for the money. Soon after I arrived he spent an hour dictating to Justine. She typed up the notes and gave them to him. A few minutes later Heymanson stormed out of his office. He tore up the letters in front of her.
'You're incompetent, you're stupid, you can't do anything.' He turned on his heel and went back into his office again. Justine started to giggle and stuck out her tongue in the direction of the departing Heymanson. Another time Sir Keith Murdoch was visiting and he announced: 'Justine I have about twenty letters to do. Would you be available at 2 o'clock?'. 'What on earth am I going to do?', she asked me. 'He's going to find out I can't do shorthand and that will be the end.' 'I have an idea', I said. Our offices in the New York Times building were divided by 2-metre high partitions. 'When Sir Keith is dictating his letters, I'm sure he will sit in Heymanson's office. I will sit on the other side of the partition, with my ear against the frosted glass, and take it all down.' 'Oh, will you?', she said. That's precisely what I did. It was like old times, taking Sir Keith's letters, but he didn't know I was there.
When I arrived Heymanson and Noble were like Stalin and President Truman. Actual hostilities had not been declared but there was an ugly case of cold war. They did not speak to each other. This was not easy in a small office, but they managed. Heymanson did a day shift, Noble a night shift, starting at 5 p.m. Noble in the evenings watched all the wire services and the early editions of the morning newspapers and provided what was called the Melbourne Herald Cable Service. Heymanson looked after events during the day and made sure he was gone by 4.30 p.m. It was all right to exchange notes, but not to speak to each other. I wondered why there was not an explosion, given the tension. Why wasn't either Heymanson or Noble removed? The answer was they were both indispensable. Heymanson was more than a journalist. He ran the Australian American Association, and he had contacts in New York and Washington. He could arrange meetings with important people for Murdoch and others. Noble, on the other hand, was a ceaseless fountain of usable copy. So the situation continued.
This sort of atmosphere was not unusual for an overseas office. Fifteen thousand kilometres from home it is very easy to develop a persecution complex, a sense of not being wanted. Many a story that seems brilliant, vital, even of world importance, in New York, Paris or London, fades terribly when it lands on a desk in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane. How can it compare with four dead in a crash on the Hume Highway or the star full-forward who has just been suspended at the Monday night tribunal?
Work varied. Often it was very mundane and involved sitting up late at night. Australian Associated Press provided the basic news service to Australian newspapers. We went through out-of-town newspapers and studied the American wire services, looking for items that AAP might have missed. We cabled these to the Herald in Melbourne, the Courier-Mail in Brisbane, the Advertiser in Adelaide and the West Australian in Perth.
Yet there were other opportunities, such as being the first to see the stage production of South Pacific and write of its marvels or being able to attend sessions of the United Nations and wonder at the Soviet Union foreign minister haranguing the West. There were chances to interview entertainment stars, such as Johnnie Ray and Frank Sinatra. Oh yes, I interviewed a young, sallow-faced Frank Sinatra, in a theatre off Times Square. It was a dull time for Frankie, his audiences were fading and he was grateful in 1951 to get an interview with a journalist even from far-off Melbourne. There was an interview, too, with another singing star, Margaret Truman, daughter of the President of the United States. Miss Truman ceased to draw crowds after her father ceased to be president.
The Australian Press were all housed on the one floor of the New York Times building in West 43rd Street by Times Square. There were journalists of outstanding brilliance. Cavan Souter was there for the Sydney Morning Herald, John Yeomans for Sydney's Sun, and Sydney's Daily Telegraph had Peter Hastings, the journalist with the best brain I ever encountered.
Hastings had, and still has, a remarkable memory, a gift for foreign affairs and a marvellous, eclectic knowledge of literature. Our offices were next door to each other, and we put in lonely Sunday night vigils together. The Herald and Weekly Times owned a black and white television set, to us a rare and wonderful thing. Television did not come to Australia until 1956. Hastings and I would eat our evening sandwiches together, watching Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on television and drinking a bottle of wine. Wine was a commodity that raised little interest in New York, and the only wines we could get were Chilean and South African rieslings for a dollar a bottle.
I had spent years trying to major in English literature at Melbourne University, but Hastings was shocked at my lack of knowledge. Had I read Thomas Mann? - The Magic Mountain, Buddenbrooks? No. Had I read D. H. Lawrence? - The Rainbow, Kangaroo? No. Had I read George Orwell? - Down and Out in Paris and London? No. How about James Joyce? Ulysses, of course, was on the banned list in Australia. In 1941 the Minister for Customs, Mr Harrison, had proclaimed: 'This book holds up to ridicule the Creator and the Church. It ridicules the whole moral standard of civilisation, citizenship and decency'. Some reporters pointed out to him that many critics thought Ulysses was the outstanding novel of the twentieth century. Mr Harrison admitted he had heard such comments, but he challenged newspapers to print a few selected extracts if they did not agree the book was obscene. None did.
In a surge of excitement I now read all of James Joyce: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. Finnegan's Wake, however, was a sad disappointment. I tried and tried but could not understand a word of it. I bought a copy of The Skeleton Key to Finnegan's Wake, which took readers through the great tome line by a line. I still did not understand Finnegan's Wake. I couldn't even understand the skeleton key.
The biggest impact came from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. My faith, after reading Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, was wavering when I studied this autobiographical novel. There are thirty pages that I think are among the most startling and graphic in English literature. Stephen Dedalus, aged 18, has bedded with a prostitute and is overcome with terrible guilt. He goes to chapel and the preacher gives a sermon on the nature of hell. Hell he describes in the most awful and intimate detail. Hell, we are told, not only has brimstone, it also has a nauseous, intolerable stench. Imagine the stench from a millionfold fetid carcasses massed together in the darkness. But what about the fire? Put your finger in the flame of even a candle and you will feel the pain. To bear the sting of an insect for a second is terrible - imagine it for all eternity. How fine are the grains on a seashore? There are millions, trillions. The years of eternity are the same. The agony is for ever.
He is inexorable, this preacher. He goes on and on. How terrible is the lot of those in hell. The blood seethes and boils in the veins, the brain boils in the skull, the heart in the breast glows and bursts, the bowels are a red-hot mass of burning pulp and the tender eyes flame like molten balls. Devils mock and cheer. Why did you sin? Why did you not listen to the counsels of your confessor? Why did you not, even after you had fallen the first or the second or the third or the fourth or the hundredth time, repent of your evil ways and turn to God? After about an hour of this poor Stephen Dedalus is on his knees, shrieking:
0 my God! -
0 my God! -
I am heartily sorry -
I am heartily sorry -
for having offended Thee -
for having offended Thee -
and I detest my sins -
and I detest my sins -
After reaching a peak of religious fervour Stephen Dedalus goes through a series of doubts. No longer can he believe in the Eucharist, no longer can he believe in the reincarnation. He admits he is frightened of many things - dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, machinery and country roads - but he is prepared to take a risk on hell-fire, even if it is for all eternity. His friend Cranly tells him not to do anything drastic, even the most religious have doubts, and to take the Eucharist for the sake of his mother. Not he. He will not approach the altar. Dedalus is prepared to sacrifice even his mother. He is seeking 'unfettered freedom' in which to discover his own way of life and art.
Ernest Pontifex, the young clergyman in The Way of All Flesh, reads some of the heretical books in the library of the British Museum, suffers a terrible loss of faith and goes berserk. He mistakes a certain Miss Maitland for a prostitute, assaults her and finishes up in gaol. In contrast, Dedalus prides himself on the fact that the change in his beliefs makes no difference whatever to his morals. It just leaves him with the freedom to think. I was fascinated by all this, I couldn't read enough, and it was six years before I set foot again in a church.
In 1950 Marie became pregnant. Every time she went into the delicatessen Bruno commented. He would note the size of the swelling and say, 'Ah yes, the little fellow is coming along well'. Marie went to Dr Arthur V. Greeley in Manhattan. He was very advanced in his thinking and onto a new idea, launched by Grantley Dick Reid. Drugs were not necessary. If only mothers took care, did their exercises and learned bow to breathe, childbirth would be easier, less painful. He called it 'natural childbirth'. There was even another revolutionary idea that fathers could be present at the birth to give strength and support to their wives.
My father and mother came to New York for the arrival of their new grandchild. The date for the birth passed, another ten days went by and still the child had not arrived. My father's return to Melbourne was long overdue. When it seemed he could stay no longer, Dr Greeley induced the birth.
The date was 1 December 1950. I went into the hospital and dutifully sat by Marie. This was not a great success. I was four times more nervous and agitated than she was. I have learned since that it is a common occurrence for fathers to become casualties during the transition stage of labour. It seemed that for the moment my work was over, and Marie just wanted to get the job done herself.
'Please, go home', she moaned. Whether the natural childbirth Marie experienced was any easier or more comfortable than any other style of birth is problematical. It took place at the great Cornell Hospital on the East River. I waited and waited in the foyer. Eventually a message came down.
'A baby has been born', a nurse told me.
'What is it? What is it?', I shouted.
'Dr Greeley wants to tell you about it himself, the nurse answered.
The wait for Dr Greeley was the longest ten minutes of my life. I thought: 'I know why he wants to tell me himself. Something has gone wrong. The baby is ill. Perhaps it has two heads. Perhaps it is dead'. However, this was just Dr Greeley's style. He always liked to tell fathers personally.
He eventually stepped out of the lift, beaming, shook my hand and said, 'Congratulations, you have a fine little son'. Soon my parents were at the hospital, and we were all standing around a happy, triumphant Marie. The birth of our son, David, was also a lesson in economics. We had not been in the United States long enough to get maternity benefits under the Blue Cross scheme. When the day came for Marie to go home I was told to report first to the office at Cornell. There the manager told me to produce a cheque for 500 dollars. In 1950 this seemed an enormous sum of money, almost my entire bank account. The manager said firmly that I must first pass over the money then we could get the baby. The inference was obvious: no money, no baby.
It was interesting to observe the contrasts between the births of our four children. Jane was born in London two years later, under the kindly benefits of the British health scheme. By the time we arrived in England Marie was six months pregnant. There was the problem of a new country and getting into a new house. Marie's extraordinary calm was overwhelming. I kept saying, 'How about seeing a doctor?'. Maybe it was all that nursing experience, but she did not think doctors were necessary at this stage. By the time nigh on eight months had passed I was thoroughly alarmed.
I told Marie we were going out to a movie. In reality I had pre arranged a visit to the doctor. I pulled up outside his waiting-rooms, opened the door and pushed her in. At last, I thought, everything is organised. Marie had the birth at home, with the aid of a midwife. The birth cost us nothing. Indeed, with all the bonuses, there was a 5-pound profit. Yet the United States system, with a week in a good hospital, was a much better arrangement. The week at home, with a new baby and another child in the house, was a big strain on Marie.
The doctor should have been at the birth but he arrived late. I did not get there at all. On that day, 9 October 1952, Trevor Smith, the bureau head, assigned me to cover a rail disaster. Except for a crash at Gretna Green it was the worst in the history of British rail. It took place at the height of the morning rush, at Harrow, 17 kilometres from the heart of London. The night express from Scotland crashed into a suburban train. Then another express bound for northern England hit the wreckage. A foot bridge over the station was carried away and fell down on the station platforms. At the time there were hundreds of people on the platforms, some waiting for an underground train. The crash created an astonishing mountain of awful, twisted metal. At one point three carriages were mounted on top of each other to a height of over 15 metres. There were 108 dead and another 100 went off to hospital.
When I arrived there were still people trapped inside the carriages, screaming, moaning. Rescuers were trying to hack them free with oxy-acetylene cutters. I remember talking to a Mr William Ingham, who was travelling in the fourth carriage of the London-Manchester express.
'It just fell to pieces all around us. The carriage seemed to float up into the air. Then there was a crash, and our carriage was on the platform or what was left of it', he said. All day long I watched rescue workers carrying away the dead and the injured. I got to the office just after 5 p.m. and Trevor Smith, a man not addicted to great emotion, huskily said: 'I have a message for you. You have a daughter. All is well'. It was a strange, happy, exquisitely relieved feeling. Amid all that death, there was life. Our next child, Kate, was born in Brisbane in May 1956. That famous and immensely wise person Lady Cilento brought her into the world. Sarah was born at the Mercy Hospital in Melbourne in 1958. So Marie had four children in four widely separated cities.
The three years in New York could hardly have been more exciting, but there were frustrations. There were no out-of-town assignments. Postwar reconstruction was still going, the Marshall Plan was in action in Europe and the United States dollar was the ultimate hard currency before which all countries paid homage. In 1949 Australia had a serious balance of payments problem. Economics in the 1940s were conducted according to a simple rule: what you did not have you did not spend. The Prime Minister, R. G. Menzies, imposed drastic import restrictions, which included currency, therefore only very limited supplies of dollars were available for those who wished to travel. As a consequence the only travelling we did in North America was in holidays at our own expense.
In 1952 Sir Keith Murdoch told us that we were to move to London. He believed my training would have a dreadful imbalance if I came back with only an American view of journalism. It was also the eve of the Coronation, and all staff were needed in London to cover the momentous event. So we crossed the Atlantic aboard the Cunard liner Arcadia. In later years I formed an organisation, the Anti Progress Society, on the grounds that things rarely improved. Ship travel was the perfect example. In the 1950s, only if people were in a desperate hurry were they tempted to take to the air, because there were all those splendid ocean liners operated by such people as P & 0, Orient and Cunard. Mr Menzies usually managed to time his overseas trips just precisely when the Australian team was playing cricket in England. There was no dreadful urgency about world affairs. He travelled by ship, both there and back. He would be away for three months.
Ship travel had such beautiful, charming rituals. Cabin trunks went down to the boat. Travellers did not have flimsy fibre cases containing two drip-dry shirts. These were proper trunks, with ribs along the top and pull-out drawers inside. There were farewells aboard - drinks in your cabin with your friends before you departed. Then you met your steward, who showed you round the boat and how to handle the bath and adjust the ventilation on the porthole.
Marie had to make sure she had sufficient evening dresses because passengers dressed for dinner every night, except Sunday. Fancy dress was on the third day out. It took our ship seven days to cross the Atlantic - a blissful experience - and with a young baby we were the centre of attention.
London was a city that had not yet recovered from war. There was still food and petrol rationing, and accommodation of all kinds was desperately short. We went way out of the city to stay in a country inn at Ockley. On the first day I walked across the fields to the railway station to catch a train to London. I stepped into the train - and went off in the wrong direction. I was so used to the United States I expected the train to come up on the right-hand track. I did not get to London until noon and hence made a brilliant impression on my new chief, Trevor Smith.
After much difficulty we managed to rent a house in the depths of suburbia, at Wallington in Surrey. It was large, two storied and the coldest house we can ever remember. It had eleven different heating devices, ranging from coal and gas through to electric bar-heaters, none of which were effective. Mr Schmutzer, the owner, had filled his house with rare, ornate and quite hideous Austrian furniture. He was terrified it would come to harm in the hands of these strange Australians.
David was already articulate and very mobile. We were heavily under the influence of the new theories of Dr Spock. Parents should not check their children too much because this was likely to bruise their flowering personalities. David was flowering very well. One day he had a hammer poised above a glass-topped coffee table.
'You wouldn't do that, would you, David?'
He would, indeed. He brought down his hammer and smashed the glass. So thereafter we had a standard saying: 'David you must not do that. Mr Schmutzer will be very angry with you'. There is no question that this sank in and made an impression. We had been at Wallington six months when Mr Schmutzer made a surprise call.
'David, this is Mr Schmutzer, whom we have been telling you about', said Marie kindly. David promptly ran across the room and started kicking Mr Schmutzer's bird's-eye-walnut, roly-poly-fronted sideboard.
The Wallington house was a special kind of prison for Marie. She was trapped there when she should have been out enjoying the sights of Coronation-year London. She did not see the Coronation, and my view of it was curious. England had television, Australia did not. Large-screen television was installed in theatres throughout Britain so that those who did not have sets of their own could watch England's grandest production live, just down the street. Dunstan, the most junior member of the staff, had to write what it was like to see the Coronation on television. The important writers, such as Trevor Smith and Douglas Brass, were much closer to the action. My story was given only a few lines in the paper.
Marie's lonely time became worse because of cricket. Archer Thomas, the Herald Editor, wanted a journalist to cover the Australians' 1953 tour of England. He wanted somebody apart from the regular cricket writer, a reporter who could provide colour and chatty items about what the players were doing, somebody to relieve the monotony of mere run making. Dunstan was to cover all the county and all the Test matches. Selfishly I saw it as a dream come true, a five months, all-expenses-paid tour of England, doing nothing but what I liked best, watching cricket. As it turned out, even before two months were over, I was crying for mercy. Cricket has to be played where the crowds are. England was still rundown and dreary after the war and most of the tour took part in the most depressed areas of England: Stoke, Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester and all the black towns of the north. To make matters worse it was a classic cold, wet English summer, with one in three days of play washed out by rain. Hour after hour I spent in grandstands, just waiting for play to start.
But what great names there were on that tour: Lindsay Hassett (captain), Keith Miller (vice-captain), Arthur Morris, Colin McDonald, Ray Lindwall, Bill Johnston, Ian Johnson, Doug Ring, Neil Harvey, Richie Benaud and the very junior Ian Craig. The man I revered and adored was Keith Miller. I was too timid and shy even to talk to him. At Manchester he caught me in a lift.
'Hello, my name's Keith Miller. What's yours?'
Euphoria! As if I didn't know his name.
Australian cricketers were a happy-go-lucky lot, known to drink their beer into the early hours of the morning even before a Test match. Their leisure was in marked contrast to that of the young team of Australian tennis players Harry Hopman was running at Wimbledon. The tennis players were lucky if they were allowed up after 9 p.m. and fined if they stayed out later, and their strongest drink was orangeade. R. S. Whitington in The Quiet Australian tells how Prince Philip asked to meet the Australian cricket team. Keith Miller had a black eye. Prince Philip immediately asked, 'How's her husband?'. Oh no, the husband was not a problem at all. Miller insisted it happened when he fell down the stairs.
The first four Test matches were all drawn. In one of the county matches, at Edgbaston, we saw a new fast bowler, Fred Trueman. The English Press nicknamed him Fiery Fred, Ferocious Fred and even Frightening Fred. In their classic, eloquent style they called him the new Harold Larwood. The Australian journalists who observed Freddie at Edgbaston also wrote about him: too erratic, and where was all this speed he was supposed to have? Just an apology for Larwood, they said, and not fast at all. England selectors are always cautious. They prefer that a player be virtually a grandfather and ready for his testimonial before he gets into a Test side. So Ferocious Fred was ignored for the first four Tests. He came into the side for the fifth. He was fast all right. He dismissed Neil Harvey for thirty-six, Graeme Hole for thirty-seven, Jimmy de Courcy for five and Ray Lindwall for sixty-two. There at the Oval Australia lost its one and only Test. Lindsay Hassett, always a charming and good-humoured captain, bowled the last ball of his last Test, the Test that lost the Ashes for Australia. He surrendered with very good grace and eloquence. There was one mad, final gesture. He threw a bottle of champagne at the clock in the dressing-room.
It was not easy covering this Test series. There was the regular Herald cricket writer, P. J. Millard, to do the job. He was efficient and knowledgeable, and I, as the junior reporter, had to be careful not to get in his way. He used to carry an exercise book with all his favourite adjectives and phrases written down in it. As he used them he crossed them off so that he never doubled up during a match. He told me that while he was away on a cricket tour he did not like his wife using his car.
'Percy, how can you stop her?', I asked. 'I take the battery out and put it up in the top of the garage. She can never understand why the car won't start', he said.
Percy did the full descriptions of the cricket. I had to find other things, colourful incidents, crowd reactions. Often the cricket was so dull this was hard, indeed. The English batsman Trevor Bailey was capable of being at the crease for an hour without scoring. He gave a whole new meaning to the word tedium. At Leeds in the fourth Test, which became the fourth consecutive draw, Bailey took four hours and twenty-two minutes to make thirty-eight runs. The Australians called him the Boil because he was such an irritant. His regular name was the Barnacle because he would stick without doing anything. In moments of extreme irony he was Darling Trevor. He also managed to manoeuvre the match to a draw with his bowling. He had a majestical, unnecessarily long run to the wicket. Furthermore almost every over he had to alter his run, measure it, put down a new marker. Actually Trevor was a remarkable help. He gave me a villain to write about.
I had to become an expert on meteorology. What with the eternal rain, days would go by with no cricket at all. 1 learned eventually to write about everything but the cricket: the behaviour of the crowds, the English towns and villages and, above all, the wonderful vagaries of the weather. Australians love to hear about the English suffering from bad weather.1
At least it worked with one reader. A letter arrived from Colin Bednall, Managing Director of the Courier-Mai/ in Brisbane. Bednall was already something of a legend. He went to St Peter's College in Adelaide, joined the Adelaide News, then went to London. During the Second World War he was a war correspondent for the London Daily Mail, so good that he won the OBE for his services. In 1946 Keith Murdoch brought him back from London to be editor-in-chief of Brisbane's Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail. He was only 33 years old. Bednall, who was never given to half statements, claimed he would make the Courier-Mail the best newspaper in Australia. All those who worked for Bednall claim it was a restless, remarkable experience. Not only did he have half a dozen ideas a day, he had also learned some tricks from the Daily Mail. On Tuesday he would send a memo: 'Marvellous job this morning, John. I look upon you as the most valuable man on my paper'. On Thursday there would be another: 'I can't imagine why you handled the story on the Premier the way you did. Sloppy writing. Please do better tomorrow'.1 was excited by the letter I received from the brilliant young editor. He pointed out that the Courier-Mail had been receiving my copy, both from the United States and England. He said anybody who could write about something as odd as cricket must be able to write a column. He offered me a good salary, a house of my choice and a column on the front page of the Courier-Maid if only I would come to Brisbane.
There was one problem. In 1953 both the Courier-Mail in Brisbane and the News in Adelaide were owned personally by Sir Keith Murdoch, but were not part of the Herald and Weekly Times. If I accepted this offer I had to resign my job. However, it was not a difficult decision. Never in the reporters' room at the Herald or the Sun had I heard the charge that I was getting favoured treatment because my father was general manager, but I sensed such a feeling might exist. There was the case of my good friend Keith Murdoch. Keith was Sir Keith's nephew and named in his honour. He had served in the infantry in some of New Guinea's toughest battles. Just as I did, when the war ended, he joined the Herald as a reporter. He was intelligent and capable but with that name his career in journalism quickly became impossible. He had been on the staff only a few weeks when an insensitive chief of staff sent him to the Trades Hall. There Keith had to interview the tough old left-winger Patrick John Kennelly, organising secretary of the Australian Labor Party. Pat Kennelly was not only the spokesman for the ALP, he was the mouth of the trade union movement. If reporters needed a comment on the basic wage, a rise in prices or the next strike, they went to him. When Keith introduced himself as Keith Murdoch from the Herald, Kennelly began to laugh.
'And you wouldn't believe it now, would you? They have sent the great Keith Murdoch himself to interview me', he said.
Keith suffered so much of that that he left journalism to run his own public relations business in Brisbane. No, this was the time for me to get far away, also. It was a chance to join Keith in Brisbane. I accepted the Bednall offer.
Continue to chapter nine: Walking the tightrope