Chapter 11......The Gathering Storm
Now that the decision had been made to go ahead with the public meeting I was suddenly faced with two dilemmas. The first, that I had never spoken in public before and secondly that the message had to be transmitted to the wider community in a fashion that got the concern across. Neither prospect filled me with joy and when I remembered that at school, I played truant rather than give a morning talk in front of a class of children, the thought of facing a public forum sent shudders up my spine. I came to grips with that problem by eliminating it from my thoughts for the moment. A venue, the media, and a host of other details needed my immediate attention. Looking back now, had I known what was in store I might never have embarked on such a seemingly simple concern. Therein I guess lies the beauty of innocence.
As one who in those days knew little about the geography of the Gold Coast, the first problem I ran into was getting hold of a hall to speak in. Initially I had made inquires for the recently completed Mermaid Scout Hall. It seemed ideal for what we envisaged and could have seated possibly two hundred if pushed. Not that the matter of turnout occurred to us at that stage. All that the meeting at that stage was designed to do was to create awareness on the Gold Coast; to get people talking. As it happened we were not able to secure a date suitable and had to look around for other venues. Everywhere we went it seemed that we were predestined to give the whole idea away. Out of frustration I rang our new alderman Paul Gamin and it was he who suggested that I might approach the Miami High School . He he even intimated that if I was lucky that considering the nature of the address and its implications for our children, that I might even get the hall free of cost. We didn’t and candidly it was never canvassed, but if the hire of the hall was set at $240, at least we received the full co-operation of the then school principle Keith Dwyer?
Keith whilst obviously bound by the politics of State Government Education, expressed concerns about the future of his ‘charge’ and thought that many of them really had no sense of future, no sense of national pride. It was during this quite earnest discussion that the name ‘Heart of a Nation’ came about. We spoke on how the Aborigines had lost their country, because they had not been equipped to defend it and had virtually allowed it to be taken from them. (We may argue differently today but the aborigine of Australia, still believes that his land was taken from him). These people were one with the land, it was (in their eyes ) part of their very being, their Mother, just the same as it is with the New Zealand Maori. To me , despite the political rights or wrongs of the land ownership question of the past, it was the immediate situation we had to address, unless we were bound to repeat the lost lessons of history. Sitting there in Keith's office I envisaged our young people as being the hope of tomorrow, the very marrow of what this country is made of. They were what Australia was about, the vibrancy, the very soul, the life blood. And that life blood flowed from a young healthy heart. They were in a sense, the very heart of the Nation.
“Keith”, I said, “I’ll give these kids something to be proud of. We’ll put this school on the map.”
The principle sat there more impressed with my enthusiasm, than any from any plan that I may have had to ‘put the school on the map’.
“ Keith I’d like to seek your co-operation to have your pupils paint a giant flag. If they can see that they have participated in this call to stop the sale of land to the Japanese, I believe that they will tell their mates and that way it may engender a little of that lost sense of direction”.
At the time, the idea seemed a good one and true to his word Keith arrange for the task to be carried out. A couple of young ladies duly painted an old drop sheet with the national standard, across which was emblazoned a red heart, inscribed with the words Heart of a Nation. Both ladies...............and............., made a first class job. Neither they nor I were to realise that it would be seen across the world.
May 24, had been set down for the big day. Much had to be done and although it was not planned as such, the publicity tended to be self generating. Much of this credit must go to the Gold Coast Bulletin, at least for the time being. (Later reference will reveal how this changed considerably, particularly with the change at the editorial helm.). It has to be remembered, that when this matter of foreign land ownership began, the mood in the wider community was muted. There was no focus and apart from the letter writing, there was a total absence of polarisation. As a result the newspaper saw the incident of growing resentment as nothing more than good copy.
For nearly fifty years the historical facets of Australia at war with Japan had been relegated to the archives. From time to time a date or the passing of a veteran of Kokoda or Burma would momentarily ignite the passions of another day. These fleeting encounters passed and as the economic pendulum of world trade swung, Australia began, out of necessity to forge closer ties with its old adversary. Coal for cars, beef for television sets, iron ore for videos, woodchips for computer chips; it all made perfect sense. Japan however, was building a strong economy, that saw record returns for exports, month after month, year after year. Through dint of astute policies adopted by the controlling mandarins of the Japanese economy, this created a disproportionate exchange of trade, particularly with America. For years the Americans have argued against this ‘unfair’ trade imbalance, only to be parried by the various departments of the Japanese government that it was American incompetence that created their dilemma. Whilst there was an element of truth in this, the Japanese did make it extraordinarily difficult for foreigners to penetrate their domestic market. In fact in the early fifties America led the world in manufacturing television sets and tape recorders, yet when that industry tried to export to Japan, the government agency of international trade barred the entry of any significant quantities so to allow local producers to catch up on the technological gap. By the time these restrictions were lifted, Japanese manufacturers had captured the domestic market and then set about exporting freely to America. Within a quarter of a century America’s twenty five major television producers had been reduced to two and even these were built with Japanese components. As a result of all this, along with a myriad of other self protecting mechanisms, the power of Japan grew. Now it threatened to go a stage further. This mountain of accumulated wealth now threatened to engulf not only foreign assets and resources, but also foreign land. That, to some indicated the portent of things to come.
Nowhere within Australia was this more evident than on the Gold Coast. If most were worried or concerned, they were not about to speak out about it. After all, since policy, which had been offered as a sacrifice at the alter of multi-culturalism, by a people who had been too intimidated to defend their beliefs, there had developed a culture that prevented, the targeting of any race that was not white Australian.
Already there had been evidence of bleeding hearts writing to the papers and suggesting that those who were maligning the Japanese were guilty of racism, but in general the theme was one of concern, not based on racism at all, but rather on having a healthy respect for the events of the past. This then was the climate that the Bulletin was writing in. Uninfluenced by external factors, it reported the situation as it gathered momentum, virtually as it happened.
Louise Pemble, a cadet journalist in those days was sent out to interview me. It was the first time I had come face to face with the media and unfortunately it snared me into the early misconception that the press could be trusted. That was no fault of Louise, who took the time to fully understand what I was trying to say and then went away and faithfully recorded it. Initially on meeting her, I formed the opinion that she would not have the insight to fully comprehend what I was trying to get across, yet in spite of her tender years, she proved to be very professional. Since those days I have encountered many journalist, few if any matched her sincerity. For two hours we spoke about the many aspects of my concern; about the motivation that drove me to do it and lastly about the objectives that I hoped to accomplish. The following day, the 11th of May, Pemble wrote this, under the banner headlines, BACKLASH AGAINST JAPANESE ‘INVASION’:
‘A Gold Coast man is leading a grassroots revolt against the Japanese ‘invasion’ in Australia through a public campaign pushing for stricter foreign ownership and investment laws. Bruce Whiteside 54, of Miami, has never fought in a war, but believes there is a growing army of Australians who are deeply concerned about a possible threat to the Australian way of life’....... The article continued, “many of the people who have contacted me (Whiteside), say they have a gut feeling about the Japanese and have written to politicians expressing their concern and all they get in reply are letter saying ‘your letter has been acknowledged. Now they don’t know where to go, so this meeting is to give them an opportunity to express those concerns”.
This was more than a ‘just a news item’. This was news and as if to give a lead to the community, the article as reinforce by editorial comment. In one of the finer Bulletin OPINION contributions over the years, the editor of the day had this to say:
THEY CANNOT BE IGNORED
The predominant subject in the Postbag columns of the Bulletin over the past few weeks has been the ever-growing Japanese presence and investment in Australia, and on the Gold Coast in particular.
Rarely has there been an issue which has generated so much reader response. The accustomed apathy has been replaced by an awareness that cannot be ignored; and many , not without cause have taken ‘investment’ to be a euphemism for ‘takeover’. The protests and the clearly genuine anxiety have now led to the calling of a public meeting later this month to give ordinary Australians---in the words of the organiser, Mr Bruce Whiteside---a forum to express their fears. Mr Whiteside and those who think along similar lines are treading on sensitive ground. In a cosmopolitan society in a multicultural nation they will undoubtedly have to suffer accusations of xenophobia and racism.
That, alas, is something they will have to bear. It is something which Professor Geoffrey Blainey, who has warned of the relatively high level of immigration into Australia, has had to bear.
But it has not deflected him from his task. Similarly, though their campaign and arguments differ, Mr Whiteside and his supporters should not allow name-calling to deter them. And the vital point from which they should not budge concerns the foreign purchase of Australian freehold land. Both a register of foreign property ownership and some more visible and effective control of investment generally are not emotional demands, they are urgent necessities. Without these measures the Japanese takeover of choice land is bound to proliferate until such time as those of the next Australian born generation will not be able to afford, or find desirable land on which to put, what should be their birthright---a home of their own.
This was editorial analysis at its best, it was perceptive in its appraisal of the situation that had prompted a citizen to speak out. It had warned of the dangers of walking down a path that had so many potential minefields and at the same time it encouraged those with the strength, to pursue their stated objectives. It made the point, that I was destined to be continually pilloried, and that the concern was that of ‘foreign purchase of free-hold land’.
It gave this total novice a much needed boost in confidence, vindicating the stand that he ( I ) was setting out to make. From that day on, the community, began to sit up and take notice. The following morning about 5.30am, the telephone rang at what was for me in those days an ‘ungodly hour’. It was Tom Doherty of Radio 97, down at Tweed Heads. All Tom wanted was a few ‘live’ comments to go to air, for the early bulletins. This was something that I had not even bargained for and the thought of speaking on radio, is a nerving experience at first. On this occasion I managed and as is usually the way in cases like this, the staff will usually give you a little bit of confidence. In the early days it was quite remarkable how many reporters, commentators and interviewers would give me a real moral-booster for what I was saying. Many quite genuinely, were as concerned for their kids and Australia as I was. Some like Jana Wendt, took their eye off the subject matter and attacked the individual for the theatrics that created controversy and conflict. Investigative journalism, practised in the interest of establishing the truth as its motivating force, can be the building blocks to a better community, but when the predicts of commercialism set the parameters, then the people are more than likely the losers. If the truth is to be the casualty, them what better cause than company dividends?
And as the storm clouds of public acrimony began to gather, one man cornered by the lack of a full-blooded Australian led the offensive. The fact that he was a New Zealander was to make me a target on two fronts