Chapter 3 ...the first salvo
We gathered at the hall two and a half hours before the meeting was due to commence. Nobody knew what to expect but with enthusiasm, a handful of people set about assembling seats in the auditorium and arranging the foyer for the first arrivals.
"How many seats do we want," said someone.
"Ask Bruce" said another.
"I reckon a couple of hundred should do" said a voice bending to pull more seats out from under the stage.
"Give over you lot. We'll fill it to overflowing." That was John Clodd.
Whilst we were placing the seats others were setting up a temperamental microphone, testing it and trying to make it work without ‘breaking’. The ladies were busy out in the foyer setting out the tables, spreading out the fliers, tee-shirts and membership tickets. Gradually and before these things were fully set-up, people began drifting in. It was a little over an hour before the show was due to get under way.
Although we had gathered the previous day to designate jobs to be specifically carried out on the evening, some opted very quickly to mill with the new arrivals and disappeared forgetting their duty to help. This resulted in a willing three or four to carry the load, which for a while was hectic. Those women who stuck to their guns were Amanda Clodd, Maureen Trewartha and my wife Iris. As a result of this dereliction of duty, a considerable number of people who would have been signed up slipped through the net. Several times when I ventured into the foyer it was a seething mass of people, all trying to glean information about the new movement. The additional help that had sworn to assist us on the day were too busy sitting on seats in the front row, telling all who would listen about the magnificent job ‘we’ were doing. In the weeks and months to come their enthusiastic would wax and finally would wane ...but in the interim they would do a lot of damage. Like so much that was to occur later the Hanson train took on an inordinate amount of parasitical baggage.
Just before the meeting a few protesters tried to gate-crash. One a non-de-script character carrying a banner advertising the lack of 'coolness' of racism, dressed as a Chinese coolie, insisted on bringing his paraphernalia into the hall. He was refused entry along with others who wanted only to disrupt the meeting. They were told that if they behaved themselves in an orderly manner then they were welcome. In fact some did come in and later raised their voices, but that was all.
This is the report in the local Gold Coast BULLETIN the following day. You will note the disparity in the attendance. Although this was the real thrust that elevated the Hanson profile that lead to it being seized by two dubious con-men, the local paper never supported the people who created the PHSM. The media across the country sought to destroy any credibility that might advance the cause for much of what Hanson espoused. A million people voted for her. They weren't all wrong.
Once the early arrivals started to come, it very quickly built up into a steady stream. Within the hour they had spilled over into the upstairs gallery and the hall became a buzz of chatter, reminiscent but not quite as electric as that which had confronted me eight years earlier. Never-the-less it was a hub-bub of excitement and expectation.
At five minutes past eight the proceedings got under way. Paul Trewartha chaired the meeting and asked that I be given a fair hearing.
"It was a matter' he said, 'which few people in this country were prepared to do, stand up and be counted alongside Pauline Hanson. Mr Whiteside has chosen to do so and we should be thankful that we have such people. I ask now that you listen to what this man has to say and give him a fair hearing."
Twenty five minutes later I had finished. Eight hundred people had responded favourably, sometimes reservedly, sometimes enthusiastically … and then I targeted the media ...with absolute relish. At one point I heard one of Channel Nine’s roving cameramen comment "At last someone has had the guts to tell it as it is."
Scott Balson reporting on this speech: Whilst Hanson’s maiden speech received wide publicity , the speech that fired the support movement went unreported. Arguably it is the finer of the two
Whilst the local media found more reporting mileage in the skirmishes outside the hall, the people within found the address a lot more informative. The Gold Coast Bulletin being privy to the first meeting in the country that came out in support of Hanson set the pattern that was to follow. It recorded the negatives and failed to assess the positives coming from the people. We had eight hundred that night, the paper accredited us with 500; it showed the packed bottom floor, whilst neglecting to photograph the packed top gallery. It paid scant attention to the meat of the speech, opting to give the opinions of the dear old lady who attacked me with her umbrella. What the reporter failed to say was that the same old lady had supported me to the hilt on my stand against Foreign Land Ownership and had later gone down to Canberra and sat on the steps of parliament when a National march from the Gold Coast failed to materialise. . Barbara Shaw was a feisty and well-read old lady, was one of my most loyal supporters in the halcyon days of Heart of a Nation, eight years previous. It was intended to conduct a National march from the Gold Coast to Canberra, but the sheer logistics of doing this was beyond our capacity to carry it out. Eighty years or not Barbara was very disappointed in me for not going ahead with it. Unlike most others, she put her convictions on the line and did the journey herself, unbeknown to me. I don’t think she ever forgave me over that. She was interviewed on the steps of the National Capitol.
When I went out in support of Hanson, Barbara 'took to me' with her umbrella. She was not the only supporter of my stance on foreign ownership who believed that I sullied my reputation by going into bat for Pauline Hanson. Yet such were the feelings generated by Pauline Hanson, that close comrades fell out. Being at the vanguard of Hanson support was not easy.
I should have expected this. The media set the parameters of the coverage, the public only grasped what the papers reported; and what the papers reported often bore no relationship to what was being done. Hanson had been judged, drawn and quartered and any attempt to raise her profile would be dealt with harshly. The Gold Coast Bulletin was never at the forefront of reporting on Hanson and One Nation even though two of it's city's citizens had major inputs to its rise and fall. It has long ceased to be a local tabloid, opting instead to be nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Murdoch dictate. Little wonder I yearned for another Roy Chapman, another David Halpin, another Peter Nally, reporters who did not bow subserviently to their editorial masters. … The Gold Coast Bulletin opted not to get into the real thrust of what the meeting was all about, but rather to trivialize and touch on the peripheral matters that gave an element of racist overtones. Driven by local business with emphasis on real estate and tourism, the once local voice of the people had become instead a mouthpiece for those who feed the papers coffers. Now a member of the Murdoch stable its main function was not that of independent analysis, but rather that of towing the line. Political correctness and being of the establishment was the order of the day. Those who sought to defend Hanson and her ‘wayward’ politics were about to receive no favours from the Gold Coast Bulletin, even if the vanguard of this popular rising was to spring from the midst of their own materialistic city. The paper’s management denied this, but then they had too.
Some meetings come alive and have an air of expectation. This was one of them.'What would come next?' many asked. ‘Where would we go from here?' These were pertinent questions, yet we were no more than a handful of people gathering behind a person to create an army of support for a novel politician who for the moment at least echoed the sentiments of many Australians.
Reports in the national media, both radio and particularly television were to help give our meeting a wider coverage. What had taken place was without political precedence. A very small group of people had gathered to give a beleaguered politician moral support and in doing so had apparently created history. It was an opportunity that David Oldfield later openly admitted he exploited.
Courtesy Scott Balson GWB
After the crowds had dissipated and the hall returned to normal, we tallied up the takings of the night. In all we had taken $1,524. Of this we had 122 signed up members of the PHSM; in other words 18% of those who had attended. We sold nearly all the 'I'm a Pauline Hanson Supporter' tee shirts and ran out of all the material that we had printed to promulgate Hanson's cause. In terms of a success the committee saw it as a great start to our campaign. Perhaps I expected too much, I do not know, but my immediate feelings were that the message we were trying to get out had probably succeeded but the financial side of it was to me very disappointing. By the time we paid for the hall, our printing costs and regenerated further material to carry on with, I felt that we were going to be left out of pocket. The others did not see it that way, but my memory of these things centred on the evening in 1988 when 1500 patriotic Australians, crammed the Miami Great Hall, concerned as I was about the sale of our land to foreign interests. When asked to contribute to a fighting fund, they coughed up a miserly $624; forty cents per person and I ended up fifty dollars out of pocket! How often I remember these people who read what I have written at times and they say: "What are you going to do about it?" It is frustrating to write provocative letters to suddenly realise that people often expect you to organize a push and then wear the cost. Trewartha, who opted to help out with the finances, contributed nothing in the end stating that we had covered our costs. He got his meeting for nothing and as events unfold it will be seen that he was never a Hanson supporter, but a man looking for a political opportunity. We provided it.
The following day our phone at home began to ring. There was the usual bombardment of journalists who tried to belittle and denigrate any support for Hanson. There was, I felt, an insatiable desire by the media to want to paint Hanson as some sort of social outcast and if some could write to put her down, then they would run up brownie points with their editors. Evidence of this surfaced when Tracey Curro of Sixty Minutes, sprung the 'xenophobe' stunt. Today Curro is forgotten, but 'please explain' has become a catch-phrase. Among the calls was a request from the Today Show to appear the following morning.
I well recall a visit at my home by a Channel Nine reporter who was aggressively adopting an anti-Hanson line. The topic was her maiden speech to which this macho female was berating. After she had belted out her tirade I asked her had she read the speech. Her response was ‘Why would I waste my time’. Needless to say I sent her packing.
Somewhere at home here I have a copy of that Today interview. I remember sitting in the satellite studio at Channel Nine’s Gold Coast studios, just after 6 am, watching the monitor and realizing how I was being subtlety set up to knock down. I don't in fact remember much about it, but the ensuing publicity it set in motion was an avalanche that none of us, least of all myself had reckoned on. This was the lead story on the Today program on the Tuesday. It is interesting how that news of our meeting was presented. First item was an anti-racist rally headed by Leigh Hubbard of the Victorian Labor Trade Council. He was interviewed, lambasting the perceived attitude of racism as intolerable. This was followed by a series of monochrome slides with various nationalities saying sorry, in their native tongue, about racism. Tara Brown wanted to know if what I had just witnessed had now negated my support for Hanson. This cheap sort of journalism was designed to embarrass and put me on the spot; it didn’t work Then she wanted to know why Hanson needed support at all. I said that given the animosity of the press, given that the unions underpinned Labor and that big business looked after the Liberal Party, then surely the battlers could get behind Hanson. There was an edge to Brown's questions, just as there had been years before with the likes of Jana Wendt of Channel Nine and Monica Attard of the ABC on the foreign land ownership issue. I have never shaken off the belief that anyone who swims against the system becomes fair game. This round would be no different. That animosity showed … directed at Hanson, but through me. I assured Brown that despite this hostile attitude the establishment’s lack of comfort with Hanson would not go away and that she was here to stay. What I did not foresee was that the people who would annul that prediction would be Hanson’s sycophantic acolytes and the two pathetic David’s.
On the morning of the meeting I had rung Pauline Hanson, making contact with her for the first time. I felt that as a matter of good manners I owed her the courtesy of informing her of my reasons for holding a public meeting in support of what she was doing. It was a strange conversation. There was neither enthusiasm nor reproof; if I thought Hanson would be over the moon, then I was to be bitterly disappointed. In fact she seemed stuck for words. I gathered from her hesitancy that she was not sure how to respond, to not knowing I guess, how to gauge the effect it might have on her position. This was a natural enough reaction, but after assuring her that she had nothing to worry about, I terminated the stilted conversation. It was difficult to know how much Hanson knew about me, if anything at all. Having been the centrepiece of a very controversial foreign land ownership debate that raged on the Gold Coast in the late eighties and carried a high media profile, I found it remarkable that a budding politician would not have heard of me. Irrespective of that, news had reached her office about what was happening on the Gold Coast. A prudent person, a political person would have taken the time to have sussed me out. Having been informed that I was also something of a maverick and that I had spoken out on identical issues in 1988 one would have thought that a person with honest concerns about their country might have made contact with a kindred spirit. It didn't happen. We had a lot more in common that either of us have ever been given the chance to discover.
As late as July 2000, I toyed with the idea of contacting her in person. Many, many people have asked that I do so in the hope of getting her to sever ties with One Nation and the two David’s and going it alone. I would have loved nothing more than to talk with her, but deep down I knew that Hanson neither listens nor comprehends.
Two people who turned away from me, when Ettridge and Oldfield came on the scene and threw their lot in with them were Barbara Hazelton, Hanson's private secretary and Paul Trewartha, Hanson's National Secretary. Perhaps in Barbara’s case the term ‘turned’ is too strong, for unlike Trewartha we are still friends. Both admitted after the damage had become terminal, that I was the one person who got it right.
"You were the only one with the vision to see what was happening", Hazelton had told me. But Hanson did listen to Brian McDermott. He told her to ‘keep clear of Whiteside, for he was trouble and a racist’. .
How easy it is to condemn others when your own motives for doing so are that of your own mind-set. The following day Hanson's Gold Coast sister Judy Smith rang me on Pauline's behalf and told me to shut the meeting down. "Pauline says that she does not need any help." I found it pretty weak stuff, but I dismissed Smith's request and carried on. The irony of what happened was not lost on me. Hanson was quite happy to accept McDermott's advice, yet could not make logical conversation with myself. This was a pity for had Hanson referred McDermott's name to me I could have told her that in 1988, he had tried to subvert our movement Heart of a Nation and to seize it on behalf of the Citizens Electoral Council, who were alleged to have ties with a Lyndon La Rouche. I was singularly responsible for throwing McDermott out of the position of acting Secretary, when he tried to rewrite the minutes of our meetings. His parting shot all those years ago I still recall.
‘You'll pay for this one day.'
Hanson like me was to find out that he could be very corrosive.
Having said that it must also be remembered that David Oldfield, known to only Hanson and Hazelton at the time was working covertly behind the scenes. He was employed by the Federal Member for Warringah Tony Abbott and at the time was white-anting John Pasquarelli, by guiding Hanson's future. Perhaps it says something about Oldfield that he could work for Hanson whilst being paid by Abbott, unless of course both were on the same tram. If Abbott employed Oldfield and both were privy to a common plan, then there was nothing wrong with this. As we will see, Hanson was drinking from a poisoned chalice. (Note: In 2011 whilst revising Destiny Aborted, since renamed I have read Untamed and Unashamed by Hanson; this fact is established by her but at the time my attempts to warn her were disposed to the waste paper basket.)
When I arrived home from the Today interview, my wife was speaking on the telephone. Already she had a writing pad in front of her with a list of callers who had been prompted by the early morning television interview. Every time the phone was replaced, it rang again. Hour after hour this went on. While my wife knocked up some breakfast I manned the phone. It transpired that most callers either rang Channel Nine or inquired from Telstra for my phone number.
We were under siege. Here was a private home, a private individual, now being nationally bombarded ...simply because he had opted to stand up and be counted alongside Hanson. We had not expected this, nor made any contingency plans to handle it. It soon became obvious that we had a rampant bull by the tail and we either held on or simply walked away.
Had I been aware of the Hanson deceit, I would probably have pulled the plug there and then. But we did not. If ever Hanson supporters doubt my word about her moral integrity on this, then realise that what happened from this point forward, October 31 1996 was done with her full knowledge that we were no longer going to be ‘pulling for her’ but rather for a brace of men who would scuttle her for their own ends. As a result my respect and admiration for Hanson today is more narrowly defined.