Chapter 15......A Shade of Yellow
From the time that the meeting had been mooted it was the intention to involve keynote speakers, on a handfuls of issues. It was never intended to be a ‘one man show’ as it turned out to be. With that in mind I set out, largely from a position of naivety in such matters to canvas ‘experts’, who could perhaps contribute something constructive to address the public’s concern. Real estate, education, Japanese relations and even those who might be able to throw light on why we had to be subjected to foreign language road signs. These were issues beyond the layman. If we were to be enlightened then surely it had to come from those who would be first to cut us down if we got it wrong. They were given the chance, not as a charitable gesture, but as an appeal for help...from us. Since in the words of Max Christmas, we were to be ‘just a bunch of knockers’, it made sense to approach the real estate institute, so that they could explain to us the benefit of selling our land to foreign buyers. The man I was put on to was Kevin O’Brien, who undertook the job of locating a qualified speaker. Two weeks later, after having canvassed a number of potential agents he had to report that he was not able to raise one. Yes, some were sympathetic, others thought that the subject to delicate to canvas in the public forum, but none was prepared, even in a neutral mode, speak. It was a deep disappointment to me. Worst was to follow, when I spoke with head masters from the likes of Palm Beach-Currumbin, they were guarded and expressed their concern that any private opinions could jeopardies their position with the State Education Board. When I pointed out that it was to the greater interest to the community, to know what was happening and why in regard to Japanese being taught in the schools, they referred me to the department head. I argued that as they were public servants, employed by bigger public servants, who were employed by the people that they were accountable to, then they had an obligation to co-operate. In the end the mountain of red tape thwarted my efforts to canvas their contribution. I even tried a private school only to be met with a polite no! It was beginning to resemble the road to Damascus. Nowhere it seemed was I ever going to solicit the sort of speakers that I wanted. Little wonder that in the end divine providence stepped in, enabling me to write the speech that ultimately was the centrepiece of the whole show.
When I had first written it, my dilemma, was what to do with it. My feeling was that it could be used by a political party to turn this whole business of selling our assets around. The problem was what party had the political integrity to use it for what it was.
I have an inherent distrust of all politicians, many of whom have bastardised the very principles on which they pontificate. Parties at the best are little more than platforms that have developed from idealisms, that have been forged by zealous advocates who, by strength of will, have laid the foundations. Those who are close to the inner circle, work to entrench those ideals to the lesser thinking mortals, who in turn, assemble sheep-like to follow the leader. Look around any hall, around any meeting and witness the display of eagerness to be counted on contentious matters. Public display of commitment, unless a popular issue has never been easy. This weakness in man has seen the sort of polarisation that leads to factions, that in turn serve the interest of groups.
This matter was always going to do that. The government needed Japanese investment, it did not want anti-Japanese sentiment. Big business would ultimately pressure both sides of politics to ‘cool’ the debate, and whilst individual members from both side of the house would have sympathetic understanding with some of the electorate, they would tow the party line. In the end I rang the only politician to whom I could really trust, Senator Janine Haines. When I finally tracked her down in Tasmania, I explained the position to her and probably quite unrealistically demanded that she make the trip to the Gold Coast, to go over what I had written. In hindsight I was probably quite hostile to her immediate reaction, which somewhat surprised her, but never the less impressed her. Janine said she would try to make it to the Coast, if her deputy Michael Macklin, agreed. As it transpired Haines was not able to make it but arranged an interview with Macklin. The following Saturday morning I met him at his South Brisbane headquarters. We spoke for two hours.
I had told Michael, not the easiest of men to speak with that I was having great difficulty in embracing politicians within this campaign and that what I really wanted was a protest devoid of political taint. If Macklin had a thought he certainly didn’t telegraph it. I handed him the copy of the speech, he declined it.
“I’d like you to read it to me, remember I’m your audience.”
I can see Macklin to this day, lying back in his office seat, glasses perched at the hairline of his forehead, eyes closed. He was taking it all in. After twenty five minutes, he eased himself up in his seat and leaned forward. I instinctively felt that my gut feeling not to engage political help had been right.
Macklin in almost a fatherly response admonished me first for forsaking the principle of seeking help from a political party.
“I get so wild”, he said, “when people come to the Democrats when they want a cause pushed in parliament. We are not crutches for peoples causes. Do you understand?’ I nodded in the belief that the whole exercise had been a waste of time.
“Go out there Bruce and do the job your self. What you have written is commitment, no one else even the Democrats can do that speech justice. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot to do.”
Yvonne Stoelhorst, who had been a Democrats candidate on the Coast had travelled to Brisbane with me. Driving back home she did her best to assure me that Macklin, did not suffer fools lightly, and that far from dismissing me was deeply impressed. It was a good try, but I was not convinced.
Later in the day Macklin rang and spoke with me. ‘Bruce the Democrats have been trying for ten years, to raise this issue of selling our land to foreign interests. We have got very little to show for it. I am not trying to discourage you, for I believe that you will do what we have failed to, bring it to the forefront. “ In offering any help that they could give, he wished me well.
Macklin proved to be right. As well as being straight and honest, he also possessed a shrewd political brain. Working behind the scenes were those who had the job of organising the big night. Copies of our petition, meeting proceedings and the national anthem rolled off office copiers. The inexcusable fact that Australians are lost for words when it comes to singing their adopted sea shanty caused us to include it , so that all had a copy. Margo Kingston writing in the SMH commented..., they stood to to Advance Australia Fair and actually sung the words of the first verse! Oh yes we tried hard not to leave anything to chance. At home two young ladies were frantically typing and answering the phone. Calls came from as far away as Radio 1ZB Auckland, the AAP office in Sydney, and Good Day Australia. The Illawarra Mercury, that hails from Wollongong, wanted an article for their Japanese sister city and Ben Hawke of Sixty Minutes called to say that they would be there on the night.
Finally we ran through the contributions that would be made by the other two speakers. This was not part of the original plan to have platform speakers from the public, but I was forced to rethink when those who could have offered something constructive, backed off when they realised the ramifications of speaking out.
Paraplegic Errol Inwood, had a legitimate gripe, when he was forced off his leased land by the purveyors of Japanese interests at seven days notice. Deprived of a livelihood, he wanted to give a graphic demonstration to the people of the Gold Coast, that the Japanese meant business.
Recently widowed, Jenny Craft felt fervently about the Japanese. Her late husband had been concerned about the future he was leaving to his children with all this selling out going on. A sick man dying of cancer, he had expressed the wish that he could be well enough to fight this creeping invasion. Jenny driven by the loss of a dear one responded by writing a poem. It was not complementary to the Japanese, but given that others with more moderate views simply lacked the guts to speak out, I had to admire this young ladies commitment to doing something about it.
I had more than reservation about the poem she had written. In the immediate post war period, she would have been applauded, but such is the healing passage of time that most, viewed the poem in bad taste.
In hindsight I had to smile. Australians from all walks, simply backed away from this public meeting, yet they witnessed two New Zealanders spell out, the problems facing their adopted nation, applauding frequently, the points made. The one Australian who did have the courage to speak, reflected the inbuilt resentment and racial prejudice, that characterises the nation. Craft came in for much criticism, from her own people, yet the two New Zealanders born into a community that led the world in racial harmony, had to wear the guilt of a nation, because one of its own had transgressed. Whatever rights or wrong of allowing Jenny Craft to speak that night, and my own feeling was that it was a mistake, the fact remains, that had the critics been more disposed about speaking out in the first place, they may not have had to suffer the guilt complex of having someone say, what many inwardly harboured. Sanctimony did not sit well with Jenny and for that, she earned my respect. Very occasionally I meet up with Errol Inwood. For a man who was pushed off his land, that scuttled his business, he remains remarkably philosophical, that six years on the Japanese companies have allowed the site of his venture to languish. Of Jenny I see nothing . Like many she was but a falling star, a brilliant flash and then oblivion.