Chapter 18 ...... Enter the Texan
Grass-root revolts are not always the carefully orchestrated programs of reform. Most tend to have a fair degree of naivety, born of inexperience. This meeting was no different. Reluctant members of the community who could have contributed a considered opinion, chose not to. Questions like, what are the ramifications of selling real-estate to foreigners, could have been addressed by those whose business sense in such matters would have provided a balanced view. School teachers, battling to provide Japanese language scholars, may have been able to project into the community the feelings of the young people, who were being conditioned into believing that they would need to study, to secure jobs on the tourist strip.. Students of economics may have been able to ‘spell out’ why Japanese investment was so important that the masses should refrain from raising sensitive issues.. All these questions remained unanswered. When an ordinary citizen opened the floodgate, those who were to damned queasy to become involved, were the first to throw the stones.
Little wonder that I opted to allow two people, to speak of their experience.
Errol Inwood, who I found out later also hailed from the Garden City of Christchurch, epitomized the battler. With a limp, a legacy from his days of motor racing, he struggled to the stage. He told the story of how he had carved out a living, by operating a small go-cart business at the Carrara Raceway. “It was a living,” he said quietly, “I was never going to get rich, but with my disability, it kept me out of the social security dole queues. It is true that I could have had the pension for this,” patting his leg as he said it, "but I am an independent cuss, and if you can believe half of what you hear, then dole bludging Kiwi’s ....,” the laughter drowned out what he was saying.
“Six days was all they gave me,” it was a statement of an angry man. "Six days,” he went on, “was all they gave me after 7 years!”
Daikyo’s lawyers had written to him and asked him to vacate the premises “And why?”, asked Inwood, he paused to allow the audience to take it in.
“I’ll tell you why, because Daikyo who developed the adjacent golf course found the noise too upsetting to the golfers.”
“For years Gold Coasters have frequented the home of sports car racing that saw the Brock's, Moffat's, Johnson's and Grice's, thrill the crowds. Locals have endured the noise and inconvenience, for a few hours a year, to allow it happen. Then along comes a total foreigner with his millions and the rest is history.”
“ Ladies and Gentlemen, I was thrown out, with no recourse to compensation. They are ruthless,....absolutely ruthless.” Appeals to Daikyo’s lawyers fell on deaf ears,.... Inwood it seemed was dispensable.
Today, five years on, the raceway is derelict. Overgrown with grass, the property changed hands, sold to a company by the name of Koshin. That is another story that I will cover later, but Inwood, the man so fiercely independent was allowed to be destroyed at the alter of the mighty yen. What made this episode, so repugnant was that Australian’s, those champions of giving a fellow a fair go, not only stood aside and allowed it to happen, but assisted in the process. As Inwood, moved from the stage, you could sense the feeling of sympathy. His disability made him look awkward, but there was an air of poignancy about the man, a quiet dignity and if a picture told a thousand word, then this was a was a classic. I have no doubt that many could have told similar stories of how, they had been hassled out of properties, pressured into selling and I know from others I had dealings with, that they were the recipients of unsavoury practices at the hands of Japanese compradors.
If the meeting had been attentive, appreciative and good humoured to this point, all that was about to change. Jenny Craft, a striking beauty, with fine chiselled features, a mother of two and recently bereaved, is a woman of some character. Her late husband had been very concerned for his two young children at the growing Japanese presence on the Gold Coast.. Jenny came to me and said she wanted to support the meeting. At the time she worked for a real estate business in Surfer’s Paradise, and saw better than most what was going on. Apparently having a flair for writing poetry, she sat down one evening and putting pen to paper mirrored the sentiments of much of what her late husband felt. She brought it to me, to look at. Poetry is notoriously hard to assess. My own father who had work acknowledged by the Queen Mother, Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt, found it difficult to have it published. Lord Wavell, no novice when it came to writing verse, saw his work sit on a shelf and gather dust. Often the work is in the eye of the beholder, often if escapes the intellect of the listener; poetry requires perception, poetry is another art. Just as a Rembrandt devotee, would scorn a Picasso, so to did the lovers of Milton, Keats and Byron, scorn Craft. Those who tried (and among those who did, was the editor of the Courier-Mail) to denigrate the merit of the work, did so trying to justify their self borne humiliation that one of their own was saying publicly, in colourful language, what most of them harboured in their bosoms anyway. Dismiss the work as trite, garbage, irrelevant, but the fact remains that it was said. Many felt that it was insensitive,...so what; had not Daikyo’s Yokoyama allowed a battling paraplegic to be thrown out of land and livelihood? Insensitive?
Others taking the moral high-ground, thought it offensive. Were their sensitivities, so acute that they ‘felt’ for the Japanese, yet could stand-by and do nothing as 300 Australians living in a caravan park were ejected from their modest homes? Jenny in delivering her message, offended the delicate senses of a great many Australians that night, but why? This superficial air of indignation, perhaps was not perceived by many, but there is no doubt in my mind that it sprung from a deep rooted guilt complex. This charade was an unconscious camouflage. In delivering the poem Jenny stripped off the veneer of hypocrisy, only confirmed what the rest world already knew and that was that most Australians were racist. So what! If that is part of the Australian make up, must we apologise for being what we are? The Japanese who are no slugs when it comes to raw racism, have no hang-ups about the subject. Don’t take my word for it, just ask a Japanese academic or a journalist, they’ll tell you. Our trouble is that we take the very mention of the word and give it the very worst connotation. We conjure up every diabolical implication and apply them in force to even the most distant reference. We are absolutely paranoid about the word. I would go so far as to say that those who are so affected, incubate by their own ignorance, breeding grounds for advanced racial hatred. I say ignorance, deliberately, because I was on the receiving end of much of it. The perfectly legitimate argument, that I was putting forward, the selling of our land to foreign owners, had absolute nothing to do with the colour of a persons skin, or religion. The furore took hold because those with seemingly endless cash, were disadvantaging Australians at every turn. This was without parallel in the annuls of Australian history; it simply begged reaction and through one mans diligence got it. That those people were Japanese, was not irrelevant, our recent pages of history saw to that, but the thrust of what I was saying was based on self preservation. Just as those who teed off on Jenny, for setting her sight on the Japanese, so too did they point the finger of ignorance inspired racism at me.
In the days ahead Prime Ministers, Premiers and politicians, would tap that paranoia with racism to intimidate and silence. Jenny had exposed a nerve and at the same time marshalled the scribes who sought an Achilles heel. If racism, had to have a peg to hang on Jenny gave it to them.
When the meeting was thrown open to the public, it became evident that now the ice on the subject had been broken, everybody was keen to have their say.
A microphone was placed in the forecourt of the hall and speakers were asked to announce who they were and contribute valid and helpful discussion. The plan succeeded to the point when an RAF return serviceman, whose name escapes me now, came forward and in forceful style began to paint a picture based on first hand experienced. No fool he had the audience riveted attention, when the Chairman tried to interrupt proceedings. They howled him down.
“Can I have your attention please,” he bellowed, but the noise went on.
He repeated, ”Your attention please, ...I am serious,” and as the speaker on the floor turned to look at what was happening on stage, the chairman, went on.
“There is a bomb in the hall and I want you all to clear the hall.
Howls of derision went up, cries of accusation and for those who did not know what was really going on, genuine bewilderment.
As Geoff gradually impressed upon them the seriousness of the situation, they filed out. One woman called out, suggesting that we may continue at the rear of the hall. I did convey this message and for the most part this is what they did. For the next ten minutes or so police combed the building. In truth while the cynics were convinced that the whole thing was a put up job, it was no place to be taking chances. There were too many people and the prospect of such an eventuality was too horrific to even contemplate.
Who did it or why, we never found out. Was it some crank, seeking publicity,.. hardly for that was the last thing he would want. Was it someone who thought we were ‘picking on the Japanese, as Max Christmas had suggested, therefore by implication, racist? I don’t believe so. More likely it was someone who saw the ‘unfavourable’ attention to the Japanese as a threat to his or her business dealings. Would any responsible businessman employ the tactic of intimidation? Who knows. We can only speculate and keep private our thoughts. What angered me, was that this stupid act only served to deflect the concern of the people. Sensationalism decreed that a bomb scare sold papers, tomorrow would be time enough to look in detail at the substance. Margo Kingston in the SMH, called it ‘the obligatory bomb scare’, but in provincial Gold Coast, two sensational stories was a little to much.
Once the police had given the all clear, people began to surge back into the hall. Some a little uneasy were told as were the rest that under the circumstances, their safety could not be guaranteed and that they stayed on at their own risk. It was a mark of their determination to see something done that they remained. A few concerned for their personal safety decided to go. The meeting resumed good naturedly with most speaking out in support with the keynote address. Warren James, given to debating general issues on a wide front, particularly through the columns of the local newspaper, sought to hold the ‘middle ground’. Brian McDermott tried to introduce a perspective of the economic parameters, that were driving the conditions now before us, but he lost many, in an honest attempt to warn of the dangers of ignorance.
Sensing the restless of the crowd I suggested to Sharpe that the time was now to put the resolution. This is where inexperience showed its hand. Perhaps this is what Peter Collas had meant, when he told his friend that we were not adequately prepared. In very much a makeshift situation I rescued the problem from the chairman and simply put two propositions to the assembled. “Do you,” I asked” want the government to introduce a foreign land register, which may and only reveal the extent of foreign owned land, or do you want the land protected by the constitution, so that only Australians, have freehold title? The first option was totally rejected, as no show of hands appeared.
The second, reflected approximately 80 to 85% in favour of the constitutional protection.
Nobody would argue that the way we went about putting that proposal to the people, smacked at raw amateurism. I acknowledge that, but what had to be remembered was that these people along with those who had put the meeting together, were ordinary citizens, expressing unrehearsed feelings, emotions and concerns as best they knew how. This cry was not a carefully orchestrated political stunt, contrived by academics and university, drop-outs. It was not a polished performance to spearhead, some political doctrine that would subtly shape a party’s destiny. No it was simply ‘gut feeling’ revolt, at the lassitude exhibited by our so called ‘leaders’. Whiteside, the ordinary house-painter, had judged the mood of the silent majority. Prime Ministers and Premiers, were too remote to hear the rumblings.
A troglodyte, or as Warren Hodson once called us, 'tent dwellers', not even known to his own people was able from a position of obscurity, to assemble the greatest turnout for a political gathering that the Gold Coast has seen. Yet among the gathering that night, hovered a self acclaimed ‘student of LA law’. Barely able to contain his revulsion for the ‘illiterate assembled here tonight,’ Charles Brooks, the voice of 4CRB’s prime time listening, screamed above the self generated hail of abuse.
Five years on, I can still hear that nasal Texan drawl, “Whart are you scared of?”
It was dangerous stuff.
Audience baiting, in that environment, that contained so many Returned Servicemen, was simply asking for trouble. Here was yet another‘ foreigner and a ‘bloody Yank’ at that teeing off on men who knew at first hand experience, just who the Japanese were. They didn’t have to be told by some‘ pseudo intellectual, an academic whose one claim to fame was that he lectured in history and English. Men old enough to be his father were not going to take this ‘railing’ from the pulpit of self appointed judge. More than one had to be restrained from getting close enough to ‘land one on him’.
“You may convince the economic and political illiterate, such as assembled here tonight, but not the overall community,’
“To think that I gave up the wit and wisdom of LA Law to witness racial demagoguery and convoluted poetry that would make Bruce Dawe, vomit........,’
“Go home’ was the call, time and time again, but they continued to give him grounds to continue. The meeting began to disintegrate in to a fiasco.
To a point Brooks, did what I believe he came for. Some of his comments that riled the crowd, we no more than shrewd observations, but he whipped them into a frenzy and held centre-stage. The media to whom he played seized the moment. When given the opportunity, to ‘enlighten the peasants,’ he failed.
The platform had gone and when he was finally asked to go, he did so to a chorus of catcalls.
The man who had branded those gathered as ‘politically and economically illiterate’, had made the mistake of preaching, instead of ‘teaching’. Given his academic qualification and experience with students, it was a wonder to me that he attempted to educate, the illiterate as he called them. Perhaps Brooks put those academic skills to greater use, in the pursuit of disruption, where at least from his perspective, they fell on fertile ground.
In the early hours of the following morning Brooks could be heard drawing parallels to the gathering of another racist uprising. The keynote speaker of who he alluded to was walking in the shadows of Adolf Hitler.
If ‘Conservatively speaking”, exhibited the sort of rubbish that passed for informed comment, then there was little wonder that it occupied the dog-watch slot of taxi-drivers. From my experience not too many twiddle the dial between 4am and 6. The few who did were denied future pleasure of the Texan drawl. In a word, the station simply pulled the plug.
The ‘show’ was finally over. Those willing horses who had worked tirelessly behind the scenes, stayed on to clear up the aftermath.
“With the interviews over, we recapped the events of the evening. The media each in receipt of a full copy of the speech would be well informed on what I had said. In truth we expected a pretty favourable press, but given the sideshow of Brooks and the bomb-scare, none of use were too carried away. “Somebody asked how much we had ended up with? It was an interesting question.
What nobody knew was that Iris and I were out of pocket to the tune of $675. People were seen and shown on television, pushing money into my pocket. The impression was that their generosity had been overwhelming. 1500 people, could have provided a springboard, a cushion to help us push on. For those who had given good voice to “We’re right behind you all the way,” came the horrible reality, that words are cheap. In an area, that drew similar souls to the pokies night after night, many of whom would spend $20 to a $100, to beat the odds, doing so for the greater benefit of their grand-kids, was asking a bit much. In the kitty, was $607. Our kids were worth two pulls of the‘ one arm bandit’, For that amount I could buy a postage stamp. At least I could lick that.!