Chapter 17......The Meeting
Absolutely electric. The hall was a sea of seething humanity, high in the expectations for what the night held in store. If there had been a reluctance to come forth to speak on the open platform, those who felt strongly about what was happening with this ‘Japanese invasion’, were certainly giving vent to their feelings now.
‘Yeh, this fellow Whiteside is right, the bloody Japs think they own the place. ‘Bout time somebody spoke out’. Little groups were scattered all over the hall, talking among themselves . As we made our way toward the stage, you could hear individuals trying to dominate the conversation, talking loudly above the hub-bub of the crowd. It was a good humoured gathering and as Geoff Sharp and I tried to unobtrusively to make our way to the stage to avoid being detained a middle aged women called out, “Oh Mr Whiteside, you’re doing a great job, good on you mate.” They were sentiments that were well meant, but by now were becoming a little hollow. It seemed we had struggled against great odds to get this far and yet we had a veritable sea of ‘good onya’s’ out there.
We managed to get to the stairs to the stage and promptly escaped behind the wall of curtain. There were a few things we had to do, so we had to do some quick revision. “Feel O.K?” Geoff enquired.
“Yep, I’ll be right”.
They frighten me, Geoff declared.
“I’ve been speaking publicly for years, but that crowd scares the hell, out of me. I have never seen anything like it.”
“Don’t worry, it will be all right”, I assured him
He laughed nervously, “You’re the one that is supposed to be nervous and you take it in your stride. Better you than me.” With that he made his way to the body of the hall where the helpers were.
Iris, my wife, who had arrived at the meeting an hour and a half earlier, was busy answering questions, organising helpers and distributing petitions. She had not noticed us come in and hurriedly conferred with Geoff.
“Do you think he’ll be alright “, Geoff asked her. She placed her hand on his arm and reassured him, “He’ll be O.K, Geoff. He’ll do it.”
In fact I was more nervous than I let on. As I said a silent prayer, I thought of my Dad, who had gone to many such meetings in his time. As a boy had he not been pulled out of a ‘Bolshevik’ parade with the crook of a brolly extended from the arm of an irate grandmother, only to be severely admonished for bringing shame on the family name. Had he not marched with the ‘relief workers’ on the great depression, struggling to keep food in their stomachs.
I had heard it all before, but I had never been witness to this anger, that caused men to react.
Momentarily, I paused to think of those men who had died for ‘that lot out there’, for people today whose fathers and grandfathers, had given their lives, so that we could live in peace, in security.
Was that security being threatened, were we in danger of losing that which came easy to us and dearly to those who had been called to defend it. Peeping through the black curtain, I looked out across the sea of faces and pondered, did they really understand what I was trying to warn them about, did they in fact really care. I doubted it. I reflected how they had asked me call after phone call ‘what can one man do’. As I looked out upon them I shuddered, when I realised what had been created from one single letter to the paper.
Through the good offices of Hilton Redding, we were able to obtain a copy of the Australian National anthem. It was not easy to come by and we have been eternally grateful for the help that Hilton and 4CRB gave us. As the hour of eight o’clock arrived I had to perform a ritual that involved organising the tape recorder upstairs, having someone standing by to switch it off and then climb down a steep ladder and make my way sedately on to the stage. At the last minute I was absolved from this handicap as a young man volunteered to do the ‘dj’ work for me.
On the dot of eight Geoff and I made our way onto the stage.
From there the scene beneath us was absolutely chaotic. Television cameras from all four channels cluttered the foreground, surrounded by a forest of light standards that spawned a grapevine of leads. Journalists from Brisbane to Melbourne, from London to Tokyo, from the Gold Coast Bulletin, Sydney Morning Herald to the largest daily in the world Yomiuri Shimbun. They were there these scribes and as I struggled to take it all in and wondered at the enormity of it all, the thought crossed my mind ‘have they come to praise Caesar, or bury him’. I would have wished for the former of course, but by now I was beginning to realise how the media did things. If they had a mind to I thought, this lot would do a pretty good job. I remembered Iris saying ‘practice talking into the tape-recorder, it will help you’. If ever a man felt alone, then I felt it now. For better or worse, the moment of truth had arrived. To a man, they rose as one. The opening bars of Australia Fair filled the hall and with magnificent voice they sang the words with rare pride. Yes as if to be actually enthralled at that response, she a wrote with deliberate emphasis ‘they actually sung the words’. Even hard-bitten Marg Kingston of the SMH was moved. Thunderous applause broke out as the strains of the anthem faded. The hall bursting at the seams slowly settled down and simmered, to become quiet.
For Geoffrey Sharp, the moment he had been dreading, had arrived. Standing on the podium, with outstretched arm on the lectern, he bellowed forth.” Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Geoff Sharp, a name not known to any of you. We have come here to night to debate discuss a matter that is of great concern to many of us.” ....
From the vantage point of the body of the hall, Geoff was standing against the backdrop of the Australian flag. Central, with the inscription Heart of a Nation across it, a red heart. If the scene for patriotism had been manufactured, the mood of the people had been spontaneous. This was not the time for timidness, for going on the defensive. This was the time to go out here and nail this bloody thing to the masthead. Yet as I sat and listen I could not help but feel that my Chairman, whose only commitment was to control the meeting, from a neutral aspect was taking great pains to distance himself from the keynote speaker. It was not necessary and the longer he went on the more betrayed I began to feel. Finally after labouring through irrelevant dialog, he introduced me and probably with a great deal of personal relief sat down.
In fairness to Geoff he had try to make the best out of what turned out for him to be an unhappy experience. He stood by his word and had been encouraged by well meaning friends to abandon me, not out of malice but purely from self preservation. In trying to honour that commitment he had made the mistake of trying to serve two masters. Had he played the role asked of him as chairman, the need to distance himself would not have arisen. Spontaneous prolonged applause broke out as I rose to speak. It was heady stuff and I felt acutely embarrassed. Thrown by the feeling that my own Chairman, had all but disowned me and the tremendous welcome that had been extended, I was momentarily overcome with nerves. Brokenly, I tried to say “And they said it couldn’t be done”.
It was none to auspicious a start and none more than I was aware of it. Some times when I’m sitting in an audience and the speaker falters, I instinctively feel their acute sense of embarrassment. On the night many would have felt the same for me. But that quickly changed as I read a brief prologue. It was not intended to, but immediately I realised that I had the audience attention.
“One of the biggest problems I have had in calling this meeting has been to solicit speakers to address specific issues. Nobody it seems wants to get involved although they are 100% behind the protest. The one exception has been Mr Geoffrey Sharp, the Chairman of tonight’s meeting who has been a tower of strength. This moral corruption runs right down the spine of the country. To me it gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘yellow peril’. It is in essence the biggest problem we face here tonight....self-examination. In the words of the late Sir Winston Churchill...”An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it might eat him last”.
You could have heard a pin drop. It was a damning indictment on those informed citizens who had opted out of their responsibility, for responsibility no matter how unpleasant, should have been exercised that night. If I was taking a swipe at those who shirked that responsibility, then the audience at large were not spared either. It was their sin as well, as many who had rung me would have realised. I took the view then, that if a New Zealander felt strongly enough about his adopted country, then it didn’t say much for Australians. In saying that I am not unmindful of the tremendous strength and encouragement I received from one Australian, a true blooded unassuming, dinki-di who just happened to hail from Kapunda, in the Barossa Valley. That Aussie, I married.
Foreign Land Ownership Protest Meeting Miami Great Hall ...........................May 24th 1988
Speech delivered by the author
Australia does not belong to the apathetic.
Australia does not belong to the weak
Australia belongs to those who take it.
Those words sound out a word of warning that should not be taken lightly. There are those among us tonight who harbour legitimate fears that have been founded on the experience of another time. We the sons and daughters of ANZAC are duty-bound to uphold the principle and tradition that has been etched indelibly into the Australian culture. Men have laid their life on the line fighting to defend a country and way of life that they believed in.
When this soil on which we stand was under threat from invading forces the demarcation lines of war were clearly defined. Many believe that in a more subtle way we are again facing invasion. This time the boundaries are more obscure and are interwoven into our economic wellbeing. This meeting of itself recognises the sacrifices of those men and women who have secured for us what we enjoy today, but it serves no good purpose here to labour the past.. We must however learn to heed the warnings that were ignored in bygone years and proceed with caution.
We are often referred to as the ‘lucky country’ and whilst I expect that most indigenous Australians believe it for its cliché value, it is the immigrants who know this to be true. We are home to many peoples from all over the globe and I guess in the general sense the program of multi-culturalism has met with muted approval. Most Australians embrace the principle of ‘live and let live’, and it is the national characteristic that allows immigrants to settle in with few problems. One of the spin-offs of this multicultural policy has been the rich fabric of life-style that these people have brought with them.. What the Japanese have to offer would further enrich this mosaic, BUT it is precisely what the Japanese have to offer that is giving cause for alarm.
Many ordinary Australians perceive that the Japanese involvement with this country has a wider implication than the settling of a few thousand immigrants. Japan possesses the financial clout to change our way of life forever. It has the ability to unsettle the sovereign people and to influence the decisions of governments. As a democracy we must never lose sight of the principle that we are government BY the people FOR the people; we … the people determine our future.
We on the Gold Coast are in a unique position to witness even at this early stage the effects of this Japanese influence. Japanese signs direct us to Japanese Real Estate agencies. If we lose our way we can refer to street signs in Japanese or with a little luck find an Australians schoolboy or girl who in fractured Japanese can direct us to a Japanese restaurant where a Japanese waiter will direct us to a Japanese shop to buy Japanese cameras and dare I say it … Australian opals. We will then be taken by a Japanese coach to a Japanese hotel. The following day we fly out by a Japanese Airline. Sadly we do not make it home for the pane goes down in the Sea of Japan being overladen with toy koalas made in …you guessed it …Taiwan. These of course are peripheral effects, but it does prompt the question, if we need tourism so badly to help the economy why then are the Japanese so hell bent on running the show themselves and what is more to the point, why are we allowing it?.
We are told that the number of Japanese tourists will treble in the next few years. Given that this present trend to maximise Japanese input to what it ostensibly an Australian industry , one must seriously question the ultimate value of tourism at all. What this encapsulates is the premise of giving legitimacy to ever increasing tourist development and associated land acquisition. Tourism of itself should provide a veritable bonanza to a host country but we have cause enough to believe, to examine this possible charade. We can not go on silently accepting this state of affairs when deep down we resent this shameless intrusion.
Some real estate agents have come in for a great deal of flak because million and millions of dollars have changed hands with some of the gold Coast’s finest properties, What has angered many people is the presence of Japanese buyers who with their seemingly unlimited funds have caused artificially high expectations. This not only helps put properties out of the reach of ordinary buyers but cultivate the notion that if the property is desirable enough the sky is the limit. We have all heard the stories of a streets being bought up by purchases who sit in limousines and nominate properties at whim. It would be more valuable and useful to know if other foreign investors have had quite the dynamic impact in this field. Similar scenarios have occurred with land in rural areas with equal results and expectations..
What riles Australians most of all and rightly so, is the selling of this country’s soil. This strikes at the heart of a sovereign people and I believe the practice should be stopped immediately. It gives much cause for heartache and fosters a deep resentment. Much is being made of the idea of securing a land register in order that we may gauge the extent of foreign ownership. This serves only to acknowledge what most of us already feel and that is that we have a problem. Whilst our exalted leaders parry and thrust in debate the relative merits of what amounts to a premature death certificate more valuable time is lost and the nation continues to bleed. This soft approach whilst masking the cloak of concern is no option at all. We must nail home once and for all this vital question of on the protection of Australian soil.. The fundamental instinct of self preservation should be so strong within us that we demand the security afforded us by the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. Without this the Constitution act itself is under threat. Furthermore this security has to be made retrospective to Jan 1st 1900.* The cost of resumption would be enormous but if we must mortgage ourselves for the next two hundred years the compensating peace would have been well worth while.
It serves little use to bandy around phrases such as ‘selling the farm’ unless we stop and comprehend just exactly what that implies. Australia is a very big piece of land and whilst the immediate concern is that of Japanese involvement, we must realise that many other countries have a large stake in land tenure. Perhaps we take the mistaken view that all countries are friendly until proved otherwise. There comes a time when the fragmentation of overseas occupation of this land could well pose real threats. We need to examine this.
At a time when the government is looking at changes to the Constitution one must ask the question, what is of greater importance, the enshrining of land ownership in the hands of Australians in perpetuity, or issues such as one vote, one value and a four year parliament? In this our Bi-centenary year, no government could show greater love for its people, nor give it a more loftier gift No government can legitimately challenge or question this fundamental right of the people. THE SOIL IS THE SOUL OF A NATION.
On the matter of investment I quote here from the Business Review Weekly (BRW) of March 1st 1988. Asked the question ‘How concerned would you be at significantly increased investment from these countries we trade with? A core sample of 1205 people taken from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth responded to the ‘concerned’ and ‘not concerned’ basket as follows:
U S A…………..51% opposed
UK and Europe.. .43% opposed
New Zealand……27% opposed
To the ordinary man and woman in the street, figures mean little. This survey tends to reflect the degree of concern that most of us have. It is interesting to note however that we are more sure of our older relationships which are tried and proven.. Fear of the unknown give rise to anxieties. These feelings suppressed nurture beliefs that may have little to do with the real facts, yet in the long run they can be counter productive to close co-operation and understanding. On the other hand the fear could well be founded and we will never come to terms with it unless we seek to find out. This meeting hopes to set in motion the machinery to do just that.
Investment is a subject that most of us do not fully understand, especially on the international; basis, yet we often hear of entrepreneurs having to go overseas for investment capital for want of Australian backing. We must learn to have faith in our own ability. We have the natural resources, talent to show the world that we stand second to none , but what we need is the faith , will and resolve. To crystallise those three necessities we must take a very serious look at ourselves as a people. One of our most endearing features, the ‘she’ll be right’ syndrome gives rise to the illusion that we are invincible. The plain hard truth is that we are not! We suffer from a moral corruption that embraces materialism and indifference. This weakens the fibre of a nation. All of us must examine much of what we are doing in the work place. Many of the unsavoury aspects of our commercial and industrial infrastructure have a damning effect on our county’s economy. I believe as many of you will that much of what the Japanese do could well be emulated to great advantage here. There standards of excellence are beyond question.
In short we must lift our game for the common good. There is little point in deluding ourselves by denying this self-criticism because in the final showdown it will boil down o what we did, not what we thought. I honestly believe this country is in deep crisis. The major problem is one of identity. We must embrace that well-worn adage ‘think not what Australia can do for you, but rather what you can do for Australia’. This requires total commitment and love of country. If you believe that top be trite, then we may all have to live with the consequences. In examining ourselves we must also challenge politicians who ‘fiddle while Rome burns’. The lack of intestinal fortitude on this question of foreign land ownership is nothing short of appalling. What gives cause for concern however is that when this problem polarizes political opinion it will do so for all the wrong reasons. This matter cuts right across part lines and total commitment to the basic principle would eradicate political mileage. What is more important it would earn the rare distinction of the respect of a nation.
Australia has the capacity to take on board in the years to come millions of new immigrants. We need people to develop this great potential. We need investment to work for us, not others and we must be masters of our own ship. Our children and their children’s children must remain free to live their lives under the banner of freedom. We must keep secure for them the legacy bequeathed to us by our forefathers. If we transgress or offend the conscience of others in upholding this principle we must not be deterred. We must allow our judgement, painful though that may be to over-ride personal considerations in the long term interests of the nation. We must stand subservient to no person or nation and in making that claim be prepared to enforce it.
Many of us have great doubts about the long term objectives and aspirations of the Japanese nation. Much of what is taking place today tends to reinforce rather than dispel those fears. As Australians we have the right to publicly express those fears and furthermore we have a duty if we feel threatened to demand action. I am not alone in this concern which embraces both young and old alike. It is because of these doubts that I would seek to form a national organisation that can harness information, separate the fiction from the facts, advise of factual developments and most importantly to act as a body of concerned citizens to pressure governments. These positions would be filled by top men and women. I believe it is imperative to include young people at a high level in this body. They have much to contribute and we must recognise that. We have a voice on this issue, now is the time to make it heard. We must grasp this opportunity tonight.
I have sought to express the views of ordinary Australians, many of whom do not know where to turn. Each of us must take strength from the other to form a common bond. Each of us love this country and we want to keep it that way. Australia is not for the apathetic, it is not for the weak, it is for those committed and proud enough to keep it.
In closing I would resurrect the quotation of Rear Admiral Tsoroku Yamamoto. As the taskforce withdrew from Pearl Harbour he turned to his junior officer and said “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant”. That sleeping giant is …the spirit of ANZAC, it is the spirit of Australia, but first and foremost it is the spirit of freedom
I was to say later that I had the feeling that I had those 1500 in the palm of my hand. “I could have told them black was white and (on the night) they would have believed me.” It was not a claim made out of any sense of power, instant though it could have seemed, but a realisation that this was the sort of thing, minuscule though it was, that had brought Hitler to power. This unbridled adulation, that could lead more ambitious men to exploit the very vulnerability of the people. In a way, they had to be treated with the care of a loving parent otherwise they could be exposed to the vagaries of predators and those who would exploit them. In a milder sense, that goes on, in all forms of government and that is why we should be forever vigilant. Power corrupts and no more than here in Australia. For a brief moment I touched that mass adulation. It was frightening.
At the end of that thirty minute speech, the crowd rose to a person. They had repeatedly, interrupted the address, with often thunderous applause. Thy understood the language, they were in sympathy, because unlike politicians, their unknown speaker had come from their kin.
For an address that lashed some of the Australian sacred cows and warned of impending consequences from our lassitude toward Japan, there was remarkably no resentment, no open hostility. Even racism as a ploy had not been uttered. To that point in proceedings it would have been out of place anyway. On reflection it would have been prudent to have taken the meeting onto the floor, at this point. My wife had expressed the opinion that I alone should speak. She was ultimately to be proved right, however at the time I was beginning to become a little uneasy that the show might develop into a one man band.
This had to be avoided, so in lieu of the lack of ‘professionals’ as Ray Conner was to call them, we settled for the two speakers who now followed on stage.