Chapter 20 ......The ‘Prophet’ Goes to
The road to Mt Cootha, in Brisbane can be a trap to the unwary. In a tangle of roads leading from Coronation Drive at Toowong, one has to be extremely diligent in catching all the signs that leads through the maze, to the base of the mountain. Having negotiated that, with a sense of some achievement, it is infuriating to realise that you are on the road that leads around the circuitous and winding track to the bastions of public teaching on the hill. There is no turning back, once committed to heading in that direction, you stick with it, because the fathers , have deemed that traffic will flow in a clock-wise direction. Unfortunately, direction is a commodity, that is in short supply. Confusion reigns at the intersection. Those who know Brisbane, probably know better, but to the ‘country folk’ like myself, the television stations are Mt Cootha. The road to Mt Cootha leads off just before the round about that sends traffic to all other locations including the television conglomerates. This little mistake leads to a long winding drive that otherwise would bring you to your destination in minute. When you running late, it is not only a inconvenience that you could do without, but on the day in question, I was also virtually asleep at the wheel.
Finally arriving at the scene of desecration, where economic and technical considerations were allowed to destroy the aesthetic beauty of the area, I made my way to the first of my two appointments.
It was a welcome change stepping from the near freezing conditions outside to the modern warm reception area of Channel 7. I duly presented myself at the reception counter to be met by a pleasant young lady, who made the necessary inquires. “Mr Carrolll, will be here presently. In the meantime you may wish to take a seat,” indicating with and extended hand, the area to be seated in.
Picking up the ubiquitous magazine I cast an uninterested eye over its contents. My mind was on other things and the time was wasting. I waited, waited and waited. Finally, I cautiously went back to the reception desk and asked why the delay. “Oh, “she said, “are you still waiting for Mr Carrolll”, a stupid question in the context of the enquiry. Again she went away and again the same reassurance that “Mr Carrolll will be here in a moment”.
That ‘moment’ turned out to be one and a half hours! Andrew Carroll the seemingly ‘nice man on the tv’, was profusely sorry for the delay , but the program manager had decided ‘not to proceed with the interview’. Asked specifically to go to Channel 7’s studios in Brisbane 110 kilometres away and to be given the thumbs down, was not my idea of a joke. Carroll of course was the face of the program and whilst he may have had an input, I very much doubt that it would have been a deciding one. Maybe he was genuinely sorry and ‘disappointed in not doing the show’, but it was a slap in the face that I did not appreciate. As an exercise in public relations, or was it just for a general news clip, I don’t know, but Carroll introduced me to reporter Ubi Formica. To my utter amazement Formica with a cameraman on his heels asked me to follow him outside where he proceeded to conduct an interview on a bench-seat, not far from the building and within the confines of the complex. The wind was bitter. I was born in the Southern New Zealand city of Invercargill, where the locals will tell you that their Antarctic winds are ‘lazy’,...they don’t go around you, but through you.
So too that day on the mountain. Even an embarrassingly presented hot coffee, did not help. I simply wanted the interview over. The sooner I got out of this ‘God forsaken hole’ the better. We were all freezing, stamping our feet, rubbing our hand, when Geoff McMullen and his tribe came across us on the mountain of misery. Channel 10 or as it was in those days 0, also wanted a ‘piece of the action’. Dragged off like an unco-operative ‘Rover’ straining on a leash, McMullin, had the greatest difficulty in getting ‘a handle’, as he put it , on the interview. Whether McMullin was suffering from one of those days or whether, he held a view totally opposed to what I was espousing I don’t know, but I detected a manner of hostility. Perhaps he was just plain ‘crotchety’. Whatever the reason, as I made my way to Channel Nine, I could not help but be disillusioned by the total lack of professionalism of it all. On this leaning curve I was soon to discover, that things could get worse.
In the bastion of Bond television the reception was friendly enough. Paul Ransley, the Brisbane front man to A Current Affair, came to the foyer and introduced himself. He lead me through a maze of corridors and deposited me in the ‘make-up’ room. I am not given to pretty girls painted my sun-beaten countenance with potions and powder and as I sat there I remembered having seen Bob Hawke go through the same ‘ordeal’. For the only time in my life I commiserated with his feelings. Politics was an easier option, to this. Mercifully I was ‘rescued’ by Paul and we made it to an operations room. Ransley made light talk and surprised me when told me that he too was a New Zealander from the town of Gisborne, a town ‘just over the hill’ from where I spent most of my school years. Everything seemed to be fine until Ransley explained the ‘delay’ which was caused by a breakdown in communications from the Sydney office. By now the anxiousness was causing Ransley to become restless. When the phone did ring it was Jana Wendt. Sitting there despite the obvious attempt by Ransley to confine the gist of the conversation to Wendt and himself, it was impossible not to get the drift of what they were discussing. I formed the impression that they were hatching a ‘confrontation’. What brought me to this conclusion was the remark by Wendt, that prompted Ransley to say “But Jana, the helicopter is waiting at Seaworld now”. When the conversation was over I nailed Ransley and asked him “What is this about a helicopter at Seaworld.” It was obvious that he was hedging and he was now not in the mood to be co-operative.
“O.K Paul if thats the way it is, forget the whole business”. With that he levelled with me. The plan at that stage, still on hold was to fly the man who had caused the commotion at the meeting the night before, Charles Brooks, to Brisbane and unbeknown to me introduce him at the last moment. To say I was furious would be understating the position. My response was immediate.
“You can forget it Paul, you can call it off. I won’t go in the same room as that scum. “
Paul’s response was predictable ”Why not? Are you scared to debate the issue with him. “.
“No Paul, after this morning I have no intention of allowing that scum to ride on my coat-tails, in the pursuit of national publicity.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t and further more you don’t bother to find out!”
I went on, “If you had levelled with me in the first place you could have saved both of us a lot of time. As it happens I accidentally tuned into the local radio station this morning at 5.30am, to hear the same charming Mr Brooks doing a ‘right proper job on me’, not by name but the not to subtle technique of identification by implication. He lacked the guts to accuse me of racist propaganda outright,.... ‘ in the mould of Hitler’s Nazi pre war Germany’,... referring to align those on the public platform at last nights gathering, as doing just that. No right of defence here Mr Ransley, just open slather vilification of a stand that was contrary to his own personal beliefs. The utter hypocrisy was that he peddled this stuff on a programme he called Conservatively Speaking. Ransley rang Wendt back. In a final attempt to keep the format together, Ransley argued with Wendt, but she finally asked him to let Mr Whiteside have the final say. I did and the program was aborted in its covert planned format
Later I will have more to say on this aspect of Channel Nine’s techniques, but for now I was being led off to the ‘studio’. To those like myself, who had never seen the internal operations of a television station, this was a shock indeed. The ‘studio’ was more akin to a dungeon, painted flat black, with gantries holding banks of light. Men out in the gloom of the area were working behind cameras, auto-cues and other peripheral gear. High above where I was now sitting, having been seated in a swivel chair, was a monitor screening Jana Wendt undergoing final touch up to face and coiffure. It was all new to me and just a touch bewildering. From behind a camera came a request, that my chair be removed. It was replaced with a fixed leg variety which negated, the annoying spectacle of having the subject matter moving about in the camera monitor. I must have drifted off into sleep for I was awaked and asked if I was alright.
“Yeh, I’m O.K, I responded. “Nothing a little bit of sleep won’t fix.”
With that the ‘cameras rolled.
There is not a great deal I remember about the whole ~fiasco’. Given the circumstances leading up to the moment, I guess it was simply asking for a disaster. There are those in the community who will read in to this and claim that I simply met my match, and therefore I am trying to justify, by excuse, what eventuated. It is not that simple.
From the gallery, sitting at home in the comfort of their homes , some like Derek DuMaurier, of Sorrento, were prompted to write;
Score one big one for Jana Wendt. Her rapier-like thrusts, nicely camouflaged with charm, and courtesy, effectively confused and defused the lamentable Mr Whiteside. No kudos either to the Bulletin, for its front page and editorial support of the Sieg-hailers, who applaud the dangerous rhetoric coming out of the New Zealand woodwork.
Perhaps what Mr DuMaurier, should have realised was that both mediums shape and format what goes to air. The subject, and subject matter are largely at their discretion. Both the Bulletin and Channel Nine did this and it was only because one representation coincided with his view that prompted him to slam, the former and sing the qualities of Miss Wendt. On the day in question 28.5.88, DuMaurier’s letter was one of 17; 11 came out in support, two attacked me, solely on the grounds that I was a New Zealander, therefore had no right to open my mouth and the remainder, alluded to racism. Perhaps the letter directly beneath DuMauriers, in the Postbag column said more than I could.
Bruce Whiteside is currently being verbally crucified by some for having the courage to speak out against foreign ownership of Australia. Instead of listening with some degree of intelligence to what this man has to say, they chose to high-light the totally irrelevant fact that he is a New Zealander. Linda Brady, like so many was no more than a name. Her comments, however were just as valid in her mind as Dumauriers were in his. In the early days, those sort of letters hurt. They also serve to harden. The interview, if it could be called that, I seem to remember developed into something of a slanging match.
Was I on the defensive? Of course I was. Somewhere I had this pre conceived notion, that Jana Wendt was interested in the issue that I had spoken about the day before. I was wrong. Wendt completely threw me and I admit that now. This interview had nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of Australians to have jurisdiction over whom should own their land, this issue was going to be developed along the totally irrelevant angle of racism. I had long been aware that if the powers that be in this country want to kill a sensitive issue in its tracks, them the very mention of racism, will kill it stone dead. What Wendt’s agenda was that night I can only guess, but the spectre of racism, introduced as it was angered me. I had come to Brisbane at their request, at my cost and inconvenience, to widen the discussion and to suggest that because I was a New Zealander, who had the Japanese in my sights, that that circumstance of it self justified the label of racism ...appalled me. I don’t know much about Wendt’s background or country, but the events of recent times appear to indicate that racism, is an entrenched feeling among the people of that general region. In Australia, despite the hypocritical niceties of our leaders, racism is also entrenched. Ask any Australian to take an Aboriginal into his home for a week and you’ll soon find out who is ‘racist’ and who is not. It is easy to pontificate and sound virtuous, but the fact is that most people are never put to the torch on such matters. Words are cheap!
Until I was twelve years of age, I grew up in the Southern city of Christchurch. I had never seen a Maori and if that sounds a little incredulous bear in mind that it was 1946 travel as we take for granted today, was not the vogue it is today. Whakatane one of the North Island strongholds and centres of Maoridom, was a far cry from the Christchurch. To a youngster like myself, it was a country village. Whilst today it has a population of over twelve thousand, in those days it boasted 1600 souls. Although I was not to know it then, six houses up the road lived another child. The pretty little blue eyed blonde, was to also run the gauntlet of vilification in a country that boosts of fair play. Much of that anger was expressed by people who just had a natural dislike for Kiwi’s. That fact, if no other, automatically condemned them. In a country that hounded out a little girl, that was condemned to aids, who was given refuge by a country, that gave birth to the Hinch’s, the Millers, the Bjelke-Petersen's and the Whiteside's, the people who get out there and do it, I hardly think that Australians are in any position to lecture on racism and compassion. Oh and incidentally, the blue eyed blonde? ...Lindy Chamberlain.
Racism was never a conscious attitude in the New Zealand I grew up in. In honesty it was a word I don’t believe in hindsight that I was made conscious of until I hit these shore. As a kid I had heard of the terrible privation suffered by the Aborigines of Australia, but I guess like most of my age those who grew up here accepted that. It was just the way things were. The ‘age of enlightenment’ with all its bleeding hearts, university ‘education’ and computers had yet to dawn. My school life was playing rugby with my Maori classmates, wrestling at playtime with my Maori brothers; growing up and working with those same people. We learned together, we grew up together. Later working in remote spots like the bush town of Matahina, we lived among them.
My late father wrote a poem to the valiant Second Lieutenant Ngarimu, that bought many a Maori to tears. Ngarimu died, defending the country at war against those who would covet his homeland. My father could be a very cynical man, but among the Maori, he was venerated. He understood them and it is not hard to understand why. They are like the Aborigine people of the land. Honest and faithful to their land. Little wonder then that I flew at Wendt, for having the temerity to suggest that I was carrying the banner of concealed racism. And heaven above not only was I letting the genie of racism out of the bottle, but I was a foreigner to boot, and as it seemed at the time, the worst kind of all, the Kiwi. If I made the point that Australians were a gutless mob for allowing a New Zealander to speak out on what hundreds of thousands of them believed anyway, then I did it from provocation. My own wife a true blue an Australian as you would find anywhere, was angered by the insinuation. Its a bold statement and was never designed to win friends, but it is an opinion that I see no reason to change. Just as the raising of the ownership question had been to hot to air in public, so too was this remark. Perhaps, one day history will give me the credit for having had the guts to say it to them.
I left the studio, to met a late interview with the Bulletin. I arrived just in time to catch the closing moments of A Current Affair. It sickened me. Even in black and white, it looked dreadful. I was never to see the program in full and judging from those who saw it was a mercy that I didn’t. In one day an innocent had run the gauntlet of the media. Thrown in at the deep end, they did a pretty fair job at trying to drown me at birth. In the end it had the effect of making me fight harder.
Sometime later, Ross Coulthard, then on the same team as Wendt, interviewed me in our backyard. I asked him about this hostile confrontation I had experienced with Jana Wendt. It was he said a disaster all a round. Jana had been given time out as the program had attracted considerable hate mail. Hard-bitten as she may appear to be I was naturally delighted to hear that she had not escaped unscathed. Upon reflection though, I wondered who had given her the bullets to fire? If the villain, was disposed of, and the executioner was left with blood on her hands, who then was the fellow giving the orders?