Chapter 27 .......Scuttled...why?
Arriving at the Cairns Hilton, now owned by Dr Bungo Ishizaki’s boss Honouri Takahashi, EIE’s chief, I checked into the hotel, leaving a message at reception to advise Goodman or Carleton, that I had arrived. From my room on floor seven I waited for the phone to ring, whilst going over material that I thought would help. Trying to anticipate, possible questions was not easy and I wondered if the good Doctor was having similar problems. Four o’clock, five six and seven passed and not a word. I could not believe it. Common courtesy alone would deemed that the people who brought me here would have by now made contact. At ten minutes past seven, I made my way down to the foyer. I was directed to a young man standing at the door to the ‘theatre’, which was beginning to come alive. People swarmed in the public area outside the convention room and it became evident very quickly, that these people were not the rank and file Australian; these people were from what I like to call the ‘establishment’. Clubbed together in small groups, musing over their martinis and scotch, they had come I was beginning to think to witness a killing. Savagely, I thought that the colosseum, would have suited them better. Among the gathered were many I had no idea of whom they might have been, but Martin Tenni did not escape my notice. It made me quite incensed to suddenly realise that it was people like him who should have been in my shoes that evening. I was among strangers and as I made my way to the door, I felt terribly alone. In a situation, where I should have been surrounded by people every bit as concerned as I was, it became obvious that this lot found me something of an oddity.
“Name please”, the attendant asked.
“Bruce Whiteside, I’m the guest on the program tonight”, I said.
From memory he said something to the effect that I would be seated in “row five, seat seven,”.
My reaction was immediate, “Like hell I am,” and as if someone had fired of a shot, the crowd in the foyer froze to silence.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but that is what is on the seat-plan.”
“I have travelled here specifically to debate Dr Ishizaki.
There has to be some mistake.”
With that the attendant went off to fetch Stuart Goodman. It seemed like an eternity, with all those eyes centred on the noise, but Goodman was there in quick time. “Bruce,” he came hurriedly toward me, extending a hand, “What appears to be the problem?’
“No problem Stuart. This fellow tells me that I’ll be sitting in the audience.”
To my utter amazement Goodman replied, “Thats right.”
“Stuart, I did not fly and Channel Nine did not pay a thousand dollars to have me sit in the audience.” By now there must have been no doubt to those who were witness to this unfortunate scene, that someone was being dishonest. I continued, “Someone has got to you. You think that you can change the ground rules agreed upon and get away with it. As far as I’m concerned you can go to hell”.
Goodman responded, ”All you want is centre stage, you want to be a prima donna”, and with that he stalked off. If the eyes of the gathered assembly in the foyer had been riveted on me, they soon found other subject matter to settle upon. I simply did not exist.
I was rescued from this sea of embarrassment by Richard Carleton, who made himself known and ushered me into a side room. I often wondered if any of the assembled guest noticed that Carleton came up to someone who was supposed to be a stranger, and introduced himself. That of itself should have indicated that something was amiss.
Carleton is nothing, if not charming. I had to admire his little piece of psychological strategy to have me change my mind, for in the side room was the man I was supposed to debate, none other than Dr Bungo Ishizaki. Had I been as Goodman insisted, a prima donna, looking for publicity, this scenario would hardly have arisen. I would have been of no import to the doctor and certainly Carleton, would hardly have gone to the extraordinary bother of trying to coax me to reconsider. Reconsider what, I asked myself. The opportunity to sit in the audience.
In the end Carleton realising that he was getting nowhere left the Doctor and I together.
“Will you not reconsider, Bruce?” The Doctor said in genuine sincerity.
“Doctor,” I started.
“Oh please, none of this doctor bit. My friends call me Bungo or if you like Robert.
Immediately I felt at ease with this man.
“Bungo,” I paused, “Bungo, I came to Cairns to debate the issue with you. I have honoured that undertaking to Sixty Minutes, and now they have broken their word.”
Bungo nodded, almost as if he understood.
“I don’t do things that way, it’s not my style.” I went on. As I spoke he opened a folder, he did not speak. Standing along side me he slowly flicked over the pages, the cuttings. Almost embarrassingly for me, the theme to that folder was Whiteside and Heart of a Nation. Candidly it astounded me. If the Australians did not take me seriously, then why were people with bigger and better things to do, so interested. He looked at me, a slight slanted nod, with wrinkled brow.
“Need I say more?”
Bungo put out his hand. “My friend, I admire your courage, your strength, your honesty. In my country those are qualities that are respected. If the roles were reversed I’d be doing exactly the same thing as you. The only difference is, that my people would get right behind me. All we have to do is to hold out the money carrot and your Australians will do the rest. You my friend are not a fool.” He looked at me. “I’d like you to join me later for dinner ...would you?”
I promised him I would and took leave. On my way through the foyer, those to whom I had been liaising with from the Gold Coast and were Cairns residents were angry at the turn of events. I asked them to give the meeting a miss, because it was my opinion that they would be held to ostracism. They chose to ignore that advice and along with many others, they were made to look fools.
When the circus went to air, the whole matter of Japanese investment was trivialised. Only Tom Morrison, gave any real account of himself whilst a totally ineffective Keith deLacy, the local MP was simply negated. The format was designed to do just that. Carleton had his fun and Alan Bond's Japanese partner was able to give a good plug for Japanese investment.
‘Showdown with the Shogun’ as the segment was called, revealed that Carleton had flown to Cairns aboard Bungo’s taxi, the company's ‘727’. It may well have been research time for Carleton, but in view of the original format, it was odd to say the least that he did not make himself known to me, for the same purpose. If these remarks tend to suggest that I may have been set up as a bunny, then I believe they gave way to far more serious considerations. Behind this seemingly innocuous ‘Showdown with the Shogun’, another drama was unfolding. I had touched upon it, in an unguarded moment and now it was about to be confirmed.
I had spent the previous three hours alone in my room after having rung my wife at home. Like me she could not understand why it had happened but felt powerless to be of any comfort. She knew better than most the trauma of these set backs, because unlike those who caused it, she had to live with the consequences. Like any woman, watching her husband being mauled by the interests of big business and a big business orientated press, she was worried. I assured her, that I would be alright and lay down to read.
True the meeting going on eight levels below me, was never far from my thoughts, but as the evening wore on this wore off. I might have gone to bed, had not it been for the request by Dr Ishizaki earlier that I join him for dinner. Around 10.45pm, the melodic tones of the suite telephone broke the long silence. It was reception with a message, “Dr Ishizaki requests your pleasure at dinner.”
Since arriving at the hotel I had not had any sustenance, other than the ubiquitous, cup of coffee. In truth I was hungry, but to say that I looked forward to the meal, would not be true. I might be naive, but despite the charm of the good doctor I had this instinctive feeling by now, that these things had little to do with him. The real politics of intrigue were Australian in origin and Bungo was only being a host all round.
Wandering down to the lounge I felt very much like a fish out of water. I had worked at tourist hotels in the past and I had a pretty fair idea of the business that took place over dinner. Cigars and whisky, may be the crutches, the pre-requisite to such pantomime, but it was not my style. Nor was the seemingly endless prattle about irrelevancies. One man approached me, introduced himself, took me aside, shouted me a drink and generally took care of me until dinner. I had never met him before and apart from the fact, that he was to play a more prominent role later, I might have forgotten him all together. In the confusion of the moment, I had failed to pick up his name and over a glass of bourbon and Coke, they don’t serve bourbon and Paeroa at hotels in this country) I had to apologise for not picking it up. We passed the moment and exchanged cards. His name was John Polson and I slipped the card into my wallet. John was interested in what I was doing, but became a little uneasy when I suggested that I really felt obliged to include Zita Pobucky, in the party I had been invited to attend. I felt bad enough as it was. Zita, who had been a great soul-mate on the foreign land ownership issue in Cairns and I had more serious thing to talk about. John felt that he could not ‘impose’ this sort of request upon the good doctor and pointed out that after all ‘we’ were his guests. He was right of course, but the niceties were of little interest to me. The call went out for us and being duly guided I was seated at the table on the left hand side of Bungo. If I should have been impressed, it escaped me. I felt decidedly out of place; this definitely was not my scene. Casting my eye around the table of about ten, I recognised no-one. One face vaguely rang a bell, but it was as a television image. To this day I don’t know for certain who it was, but I had the sneaking suspicion, that both he and his wife were to figure quite prominently in what I was doing. It seems remiss of me now, but I never sought to establish their identity. It was only newspaper photos later that reaffirmed my gut feeling.
On my right Bungo, now slightly more remote, not from design, but more I guessed from the fact that he had to be even handed, made small talk.
John, who had seated himself to my left interrupted, “Bruce, I’d like to introduce you to some of Bungo’s guests.” First off the rank was the gentleman opposite, John laughed as he introduced him.
“I think you know Geoff Burchill”, and added “he certainly knows who you are.”
To say I was mortified, was probably correct. In truth I did not recognise him with glasses and in any case I only knew him from newspaper photos. Suddenly it all began to fall into place. Why the hell were all these Gold Coast businessmen, congregating in Cairns. I began to understand why the Sixty Minutes program had been derailed.
“You know Geoff, there is something quite bizarre, when a businessman, can form a syndicate to buy a block of land for nine million dollars and then three weeks later sell it to the Japanese for $21 million.”
I suppose in a way it was a brutal remark and had I been graced with the established protocol of such gatherings I would not have even thought it, in that company. Perhaps I could be forgiven, for after all I did come from the masses and what would they know about such things as synthetic manners. When Geoff replied, he simply lost me.
“Oh I don’t know, after all I had to pay $4 million for a radio license.” The gist of the remark as I saw it was that money was made to go around. In any case it terminated our conversation.
For the remainder of the main course, little of note transpired. Small talk and the impression that either I was totally out of my depths and that any serious conversation could be fraught with embarrassment. Bungo at least was pleasant telling me a little of his days in America, his family and his ties with his own people.
About 12.15am, a very personable Richard Carleton, came up to the table and asked Dr Bungo Ishizaki, if he could ‘borrow’ his guest for a moment. That guest to my dismay, was myself. “Yeah’, Bungo replied, “thats OK by me, but I think you should ask Bruce, not me.”
He did and I was not sure what the hell was going on.
“What’s going on Richard?”
“I just want to borrow you for a moment or two. I want you to met some friends.”
Gut feeling told me that something was amiss, but I could hardly do or say much. I felt obliged when Bungo said he would not be offended, by my leaving the table.
I had vision of being taken to a table where there were some hard headed businessmen. I need not have worried. Carleton, grabbed me by the shoulder and tried to lead me across the floor to a table on the far side. It was surrounded by about a dozen people, whom it turned out were the Sixty Minutes crew. Standing at the head of the table he announced that he would like to introduce me to some people who I might know and started out by grabbing my hand and in rather childish fashion announced that he was Richard Carleton. At that moment a cracker of sorts went off in our hands, much to the amusement of Carleton's crew. The fun summarily dispensed with Carleton got down to the real purpose of his antics, for antic they were. Buoyed by the little piece of ‘fun’ that he had employed on half a dozen continents, Richard extended his hand across the table.
“I believe you know Stuart Goodman,” and with a flourish of his right arm superficially introduced us “Stuart, Bruce,” Propping himself on the back of a chair, he leaned slightly forward toward the table in the direction of Goodman. In that framed, calculated tone, that is so characteristic of his punch lines on television, he nailed Goodman. “Stuart ...I want you to tell Mr Whiteside, what you think of him.”
Goodman, obviously wrong-footed was understandably uncomfortable.
“Richard ...cut it out.”
Richard of course, doyen among the elitist commentators, the man who had interviewed the rich, famous and leading world leaders was not going to wilt at this lot.
“Come on Stuart, tell this man what you told the rest of us. He’s here right in front of you, so here is your chance.” By now not only Goodman was embarrassed, but some of the others were none too happy either. For my part I could not believe that someone with the professional grounding that Carleton had, could be so infantile and plain obnoxious. If he set out to offend me, then he showed little respect for his crew and colleagues. Goodman sensing that this was getting out of hand tried I believe to defuse the situation.
“Don’t you think, that you let us down Bruce when we spent so much, bringing you up here?.”
“Stuart, you changed the rules, not I. That sort of trick may wash with others, but you picked on the wrong fellow this time.”
By now Carleton was angry, “Why don’t you tell him Stuart, what you told us.” he paused, waited and went on, ”Why don’t you tell him that you told us that he was a gutless bastard?” The words ‘gutless bastard’ hung in the air. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. Here was Carleton exercising all his journalistic skills. Lacking the guts to say it straight out he chose to springboard off Goodman’s alleged remarks. I looked at Goodman, at Carleton. Contempt should have been written on my face. As I moved off Carleton moved to block my passage.
“If I had had my way, you’re return fare would have been cancelled. You can thank Stuart that it wasn’t.’
What a pity Richard. If you had done that I would have walked all the way back to the Gold Coast and called at every news agency on the way home. I would have given you all the publicity you crave.”
With that I left acknowledging the table I had been seated at. I could not in all sincerity take that little cameo performance back among the Doctors friends. Sickened that men could play such childish games I showered and went to bed. An hour later I was awakened by the ringing of the phone. A female voice asked if she could come up to my room, to ‘do an interview’.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“I’m sorry I thought that you would still be up. It won’t take long.”
“Give me ten minutes to get dressed.”
“Ok, ten minutes.
As I dressed it suddenly occured to me that I may be in the process of being set-up. A girl in my room in the wee hours, was the stuff of the fall of governments. I rang the desk. “Could you tell me if there is anyone in the foyer at present?”
“Yes, a journalist. I think she is with Sixty Minutes.” “Would you be kind enough to tell her that I shall come down, to speak with her.”
The young lady concerned had been with the advance party that came to Cairns, with Sixty Minutes. She had help screen the guests that had been invited to the debate.
She told me her name which escapes me now, but I remember her for the embarrassment she exhibited for ‘Richard’s appalling behaviour.”
She believed that I should have gone along with the ‘rearranged format’, believing that I had lost a great opportunity to state my case. Apart from that the interview was something of a non event.
Thinking back it is marvellous, how over a period of four years, not one television station in this country, took it upon themselves to ‘do a feature program on the issue that concerned so many people’. That they never speaks volumes for the pull of political power exercised by those who control the purse strings. When you look at who held those strings during the eighties, you wonder at the justice of it all.
It was after two am as I went to step into the lift to take me to the seventh floor.
“Where did you get too?” a voice bellowed out as the doors went to close.
It was none other than the cigars smoking ‘friend’ who had taken me under his wing earlier, John Polson. “Where did you come from,” the coincidence of timing just too good to be true.
“I’ve just left dinner. But tell me what happened to you?”
“Oh it was nothing. A little matter with Richard Carleton. I thought it would be better if I did not return. Questions might have been asked.”
John went on as the lift remained idle. “I thought it might have been something like that. Say how about coming up to my room for a drink?”
“What” I exclaimed, “at two in the morning’. “Oh the night is young my friend, but I guess you are not used to this sort of life.
He went on, “Seriously, there are some things I want to talk over with you."
“Like what ,” I said, smelling a rat.
“Oh you know," he said evading the question, " How about ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes then”.
We stepped out of the lift on the 5th floor and as I followed Polson into his room, I wondered what the hell the Chairman of the Gold Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau was doing, in this capacity.
“A whiskey” as he opened the door to the fridge.
“No thanks John, a coffee if you don’t mind.” It struck me that this was not the way I was supposed to play this game. Privately I thought that I may appear to be green but whiskey was likely to act in loosening my inhibitions. Coffee was more practical. At least it would help keep me awake.
And this it did, for when I left Polson it was 4.30am. On the only time I met him I found Polson agreeable. For some time we made small talk, which blew the ten minute theory completely out of the water. We had much in common it transpired. We were both New Zealanders, who had worked in the tourist industry. I had worked at the Hermitage at Mount Cook, having taken control of the maintenance painting of the Glencoe and Twizel hotels. John had been at managerial level. We had both served under Tony Young, now chief executive of the South Pacific Group.. We wiled away the time in this fashion, touching on of all things the Invitro Fertilisation program. John had an interest in this as his wife, he told me had been one of the first to give birth to these very special babies. My own daughter a 3lb baby at birth, had her dreams of having children dashed time and time again. Today, she has two beautiful daughters as a result of this marvellous technical breakthrough. It was friendly, amicable and too that point a pretty innocuous conversation, when out of the blue John said “Tell me, What’s in it for you”, more of a demand than a question.
“Sorry John, I don’t understand’.
“Oh come on Bruce, this Japanese thing. Nobody does what you are doing for nothing.” Suddenly the masks had slipped. This was not my scene. This man did not call me in here in the small hours of the morning for a social chin wag. And now the gloves were off.
“You’re all the same, John. There has to be a pay off, there has to be some financial reward. Does it never occur to you people, that I might just be sufficiently concerned for my grandchildren, to want to stop this thing from going any further.”
I don’t think Polson heard a word I said. He was not really interested in my reasons for they were built on moral considerations, not the reality of hard nosed commerce. Another whisky, he sat down leaned forward, “You’re no fool Bruce, in fact you are very intelligent, I quite like you, but knock this thing on the head.”
Blunt and to the point. I was no fool, yet in a condescending manner, he granted that I was intelligent. Finally I should give the whole thing away, to justify his assessment. All that worried Polson and the thousands of Australians like him who were prepared to sell this country off, was the financial benefit. It did not matter, if somewhere down the grapevine, others had to pay for their excesses. Glass in hand, with pointed index finger, he leaned further forward.
“You think you speak for the ordinary person in the street, my friend. I know I’ve read your stuff, its good, bloody good in fact, but those bastards won’t thank you. You’ll die a martyr and they won’t give a damn. There not worth it Bruce.” I looked at him as he settled back into his chair. In this John was right. The mob, certainly would not care. Sure this fellow Whiteside was singing their song, talking their language, but they were not about to stand up and be counted. Calvary, remains that solitary lesson. Two thousand years has changed nothing. When Jesus wept, he did so for the anguish he felt for them. No John I was not about to be a martyr. If I had those inclinations I would do it for my own people. “Let me tell you something,” he paused.
“Sixty percent of the people out there, approve one way of onther of what we are doing. Development and the selling of real-estate, is part of the commercial cycle. Thirty percent simply, do not care a damn. They are shit. Ten percent think a lot and do nothing. Sure they have their little whinge, they grizzle , but they do nothing. A few might write the odd letter, most are pretty innocuous, pretty harmless. Its a healthy outlet. They get rid of their anger and dissipate their feelings. Your writings are nothing of the sort and when that skill is put to organising the masses, then you my friend are a dangerous man.’
By now the niceties were history, Polson was in full cry “John, we each have our own cross to bear. You know full well, that selling land to the Japanese is wrong, in this context. This land belongs to our kids and it is up to us to see that they inherit it. Ours parents did for us and as an after thought “or had you forgotten?”
But he could not see it my way. Whether John simply romanced or he had lived these things I have no way of knowing. He proceeded to tell me that his knowledge of the Japanese people was based on personal contact and experience. After all had he not met the Crown Prince Aki Hito. Had he not been in the same room when his Father Hiro Hito, had entered and departed, a privilege that millions of Japanese would have fallen prostate on the ground for. Did he not have land there. Yes Bruce these people were much maligned and misunderstood. They were a fine people, a gentle people. We as Australian had better get to understand that ...and soon.
Building bridges to greater undersanding is both noble and worthwhile. With the Japanese, it is in todays world sensible and desirable, but it must be done with a mutual respect. I don’t believe that the Japanese respect Australians. How can they, for Australians have little enough of for themselves. We may not want to admit it, but we are seen as crawlers, not having the faith in our own ability to stand tall and strong. When I lash out at Australians, I do so, in the hope that they will wince and listen. The trouble is we think we are the second to none, the ‘ocker’ in us will dismiss that sort of observation, yet as we condemn the messenger we continue to slide.
Polson was simply looking after his commercial interests. He may pay lip service to these fine people, but it was their money, that interested him. It interested those who would know he was here tonight.
As the clock ticked over four a.m. I got up to go. “Sit down a moment. This Sixty Minute business tonight Bruce,”he paused seeming to be careful how he phrased what he was about to say,” let me give you room for thought. I believe, having spoken with you tonight , that you are dedicated to what you are doing. You might think that your morals are very noble and that you are defending a good cause. Things don’t work that way. You think that you got a raw deal tonight, but I’ll tell you mate that your program was never going to go to air. “ “The rug was pulled then?” “You’re not a fool. It surprises me to think that you could get away with it.”
“They came to me John, remember!”
“Do you think with the investment at stake, that you were going to be allowed to throw a spanner in the works? “That explains the Gold Coast contingent here tonight?, I queried “You get the picture”.
I stood up to finally go,”It was a complete waste of time”. Polson went to the door. “I like you Bruce , you’re a principled bastard, but I am flying back to the Gold Coast early tomorrow. I’ll be home by eight thirty. I’ll be speaking on radio and I intend to crucify you. If you won’t stop , then I will do it for you”. He added as an after thought “I understand that your heading home at 5.30 this evening. “ Slapping me on the back as I left he called out, “you were not put on the late plane for nothing.’
I have not laid eyes on Polson since, but as I left I wondered if Sixty Minutes had been party to the whole plan. Polson had no good reason to be aware of my flight plans When I returned to the Coast I contacted the Bulletin about what had happened. They were sorry but it was too late for the press. Next day the paper screamed WHITESIDE SPITS DUMMY, with supporting comments from Richard Carleton and John Polson. I had according to Polson,”simply chickened out. The man should now be ignored.
Perhaps the cruellest blow of all was the Bulletin post script. Mr Whiteside could not be contacted for comment.
The crucifixion had begun. WHITESIDE was going to be