BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS : CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA.
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS : DIPLOMAT, ECONOMIST, JOURNALIST AND JAPANOLOGIST.
BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE
GOODBYE AUSTRALIA, early 1976
1. Job and Visa Hunting
2. Farewell to the Australian Left
3. Prospects in Japan?
February 1976. My one-year contract with Prime Ministers Department has ended. Technically, I am unemployed
I may also be unemployable. No one is making me any job offers.
With more than 20 years of experience and education behind me, and fluency in three of the world’s more difficult and important languages, that says something about me, or Australia.
But no matter. I have little desire to remain in Australia anyway. Trying to relate to Canberra’s close-minded bureaucracy and lightweight academia has left me exhausted.
All I want is to get back to the peace, sensible living and natural beauty of the Japan I had known earlier.
1. Job and Visa Hunting
Back to The Australian?
First move was to ask the Sydney office of The Australian whether they still needed a Tokyo correspondent (while I was away, they had relied on a stringer, Eddie Lachica).
Jim Hall, a former friend and sometime political progressive, was now editor. He said thanks but no thanks. They were trying to cut expenses, he said lamely.
I was not too surprised. The Australian had already shifted rightwing enough to realise it did not need someone like myself, especially someone associated with the now discredited Whitlam regime.
Hall clearly had little choice but to move with them.
(In fact, The Australian still did need someone in Tokyo, even if only to match Fairfax and the Melbourne Herald. A year or so later they sent Allan Goodall, a journalist with no Japan background, to work out of an office in the very rightwing Yomiuri.)
Nor was I all that keen to return to the paper. The idea of having to go back to writing about mistreated Australian racehorses did not appeal greatly.
I had contacted Hall mainly to ease my own conscience about having suddenly left The Australian in the lurch when I left Tokyo a year earlier.
I was relieved when they said no.
A Job in Japan?
But that meant I still had to find a way to get back to Japan.
Yasuko had a job waiting for her back at the Ajiken library – another reason for me wanting to get back to Japan.
But the Japanese government had, and still has, a fairly severe visa system designed to keep stray foreigners at bay, even if they have Japanese families.
I had long thought about setting up my own translation company in Japan.
I liked the idea of being able to sit at home, working at leisure, typing up in English the text of an interesting Japanese manuscript which I would have wanted to read anyway - and earning something like 10,000 yen a page while improving one’s Japanese in the process.
But to do that I needed a work visa to get to Japan, and that could not happen till I got myself established in the translation business in Japan – a Catch 22 situation if ever there was one.
One answer was to try to get a position at a Japanese university. Here the mere promise of a position might be enough to satisfy the visa people.
Back to the ANU, briefly
Next move was to lean on Heinz Arndt, still a good friend, to let me call myself a visiting research scholar (unpaid) in his ANU Department for a month or so.
That would give me some kind of credential to organize an academic job back in Japan, I hoped.
Heinz obliged, and even gave me a room.
I did not get to use it much. Walking the lifeless corridors of the Coombs Building and the John Crawford auditorium brought back too many unhappy memories (when did Australians, the ANU especially, develop the Stalinist habit of naming buildings after their alleged notables?)
The ANU tea rooms were not much better. They reminded me of the dry, fruitless debates I had had with Canberra’s ‘best and brightest’ over Vietnam just seven years earlier.
In the seminar rooms where seven years earlier I had had to face down hard- faced, know-it-all rightwingers in a vain effort to get them to see sense about China, I now had to listen to trendy-mushy, pro-Cultural Revolution academics denouncing Deng Xiaoping as a capitalist roader.
Fitzgerald, back from China, was about to put out a book through the ANU university press.
It was full of embarrassing gush about Chairman Mao as a great hero of the Chinese people, and pinned hopes on his very temporary successor Hua Guofeng (Hua who?).
Just a few years earlier the same ANU Press had rejected my In Fear of China book as being too leftwing.
Determination to get out of that house of meaningless academism was even stronger than before.
A Sophia University Connection?
Next move was to contact Father Robert Ballon, a Belgian professor of business at Tokyo’s Sophia University.
Ballon had befriended me earlier while I was still a journalist in Tokyo. Why not see if he could help get me some kind of position at Sophia?
Ballon obliged, even though he could promise no more than say I could be a visiting lecturer in Sophia’s International Department, an adjunct operation where they taught in English to mainly foreign students.
Visiting lecturer (hijokin-koshi) in Japan is even further down the academic food chain than it is in the West.
But no matter. If it gave me a visa and a slot back in Japan, that was fine.
The final move was to lean on Hatakenaka Atsushi, then first secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Canberra, a family friend, a fellow Sinologist and a fellow golfer, for a visa. (Later he was made ambassador at the same Embassy.)
Normally being a visiting lecturer is not enough to qualify for an academic visa to Japan. But Hatakenaka found some way around the hurdle, and I will always be very, very grateful to him for that.
But before leaving Canberra I wanted to sort out a few unresolved Australian matters.
One of them was to get on the record my distress and dismay over the Whitlam regime disasters I had been subjected to during the previous year.
2. Farewell to the Australian Left
As hinted earlier, I do not see myself as particularly leftwing.
I joined the ALP back in 1966 purely over Vietnam, and left soon after when I discovered the extent of ALP rightwing branch manipulation and skullduggery.
On many domestic issues I favor what some would call the rightwing approach.
I believe strongly in people being made to look after their own destiny – pensions, jobs etc.
If someone is good enough to employ you , then that someone is under no obligation to continue to employ you if it does not suit his/her convenience, just as you are perfectly free to leave that employment if it does not suit your own convenience.
No one owes anyone a living.
(The only exception should be where you have made more personal investment in accepting the employment than has the employer in employing you.)
State involvement in the economy usually does more harm than good (though something has to be done about the robber baron mentality in Australia’s business classes).
In particular I see most of the bleeding-heart asylum, minority (aborigines in Australia), unemployment, welfare and health policies espoused by the leftwing as ideologically motivated disasters.
In all these respects I am still a roughneck Queenslander.
As I say at the end of my Quadrant article entitled ‘1975,’ the rightwing usually gets it right in domestic policy (because it is instinctively closer to domestic realities), but wrong in foreign policy (because domestic-oriented instincts make lousy foreign policies).
The leftwing is the reverse.
The miracle of the Whitlam years was the ability of the leftwing to get it wrong in both directions.
If on balance I favor the Left it is for three reasons.
One is that my main area of political interest is foreign policy, and that is where the Left generally does get it right.
Two is that in Australia at least leftwingers are usually more attractive as people than rightwingers – more humanity, a nicer sense of humor, better-looking girlfriends ..
But the main factor is the hypocrisy and lack of conscience on the ideological Right in foreign affairs.
Many rightwingers I know are intelligent and often caring people. But in foreign affairs any hint of objectivity just falls apart.
Rightwingers fret and fume over the imprisonment of a few dissidents by leftwing regimes. But when did you ever hear an Australian rightwinger complain about the far worse activities of US supported death squads in Latin America?
Even diehard leftists admitted to dismay over Moscow’s interventions in Eastern Europe. When did we get to hear any mea culpas from the Right over the far more brutal US interventions in Indochina and elsewhere?
Even the mere mention of the word KGB sends rightwingers frothing. But when did they ever object to the "KGB" in their very own midst and funded by the very own tax funds.
I refer of course to ASIO/ASIS black information and other dirty tricks against the Australia Left over many years. Somehow the rightwing conscience ducts dry up very quickly when the target is people on the other side of the ideological fence.
A final point is that thanks to Vietnam and China I had no choice but to throw my lot in with the Left in Australia. They were the only political party of size which on paper at least shared my views.
There were quite a few people on the Right whom I liked and respected – Robert Manne, Quadrant editor in Melbourne, for example (and who gave me a lot of space in his magazine, incidentally).
But the laws of political tribalism meant that we had to consider ourselves different people.
I mention all this as a preamble to what follows. In retrospect, it was one of the more regretted things I have done over a long career.
But it could also have been the smartest. It made me give up any serious idea of returning to Australia quickly. It forced me to throw in my lot with Japan.
Going Public, Anti-Whitlam
I am still simmering over my experiences of the previous year in PMC – the shabby deal I had suffered over the wretched Vietnam Cables affair especially .
As well, I am looking for something to do while waiting to get back to Japan.
Max Suich, then editor of the National Times, has promised to run the occasional article from me if and when I get back to Japan.
To get me started and keep my journalistic hand in, I decide that I should give him something about what I saw as the mistakes of the Whitlam administration in the year I had been working for it.
By this time Whitlam has gone down to crushing defeat in the national election after his November 1975 dismissal. Writing rude things about his policies could hardly be seen as a stab in the back, I thought.
It might even be seen as a boost for those in the ALP like Hayden seeking to replace him, I also thought.
In the manuscript I sent Suich, I had tried hard to restrain my feelings. But obviously there were going to be some harsh remarks, even if they were buried down in the body of the article.
Suich, being the media person he always was, had no hesitation in dragging my harsh remarks to the top of the article and making the amended piece the lead article for that week’s edition.
Worse, he hyped it up as the definitive expose of the Whitlam government’s failures, written by none other than by a former ‘senior Whitlam adviser’ (which I had never claimed to be).
A derogatory anti-Whitlam cartoon on the cover of the issue completed the damage.
Laborites have an instinctive hatred of anyone who seems to betray their cause.
That is understandable, given the damage and harassment ALP people had suffered from various ASIO/ASIS spy and sabotage activities against them in the past (though in the Vietnam Cables affair it was I who had been sabotaged by Labor, not vice- versa).
As well, there was the continuing paranoia over the way Whitlam had been dismissed a few months earlier. Within the ALP he had become a revered icon, above all criticism or attack.
So when the National Times beat-up of my original copy hit the streets, personal hell broke loose. At the few Canberra parties to which I was still invited, the ALP faithful did not even try to hide their loathing.
The fact that I had sacrificed so much to help Labor over Vietnam and China policy counted for nothing (to this day I am convinced that many in the ALP never began to understand the full extent of the Vietnam atrocity, or the harm done by their tepid attitude to China).
I had criticised the great Gough. I was a traitor to the cause. Maybe even I was in the pay of the enemy.
I ran into Hayden at Parliament House soon after. He was the one ALP leader I had respected and I had hoped to at least keep some connection with him.
But he too was furious, though he himself was critical of Whitlam and was trying to take Whitlam’s job as ALP leader (he was to be defeated by Hawke).
Any chance I had of keeping up an ALP connection, and possibly returning to Australia if the ALP ever regained power, clearly had to be shelved.
Even progressive intellectuals began to give me a wide berth.
(But I did get one positive reaction to my article. It was from Rockhampton, of all places.
(As an example of Whitlam’s fickleness, I had written, rhetorically of course, that given a choice between spending a weekend discussing the economy with his worried advisers or giving a talk to the Rockhampton Rotary Club, he would happily choose Rockhampton.
(The Rockhampton Rotarians wrote in sniffily, insisting that they never had, and never would, invite Whitlam to give them a talk.)
Ironically, Max Suich had been my former journalistic competitor in Japan and China.
Now, thanks to him, I had no choice but to get back to Japan and get re-established there.
3. Prospects in Japan?
As I gathered up Yasuko and young Dan for the trip back, the prospects were still bleak.
I had a few half-hearted writing possibilities with Australian media.
I had no contract or letter of appointment from Sophia. All I had was Ballon’s word that some kind of job would be waiting for me.
The only firm prospect was that Yasuko could return to her job in Ajiken – hardly something to satisfy the person who was supposed to be the head of the family and main bread-winner.
Besides, we did not have anywhere to live.
Once again I would have to carve my path through the Japanese jungle, and this time with a family.
True, my future did not seem entirely hopeless. I had a few odd jobs on offer.
But nor did it seem to be star-spangled.
What I was not to know was that buried in my belongings was something far more glittering than any number of spangling stars.
It was the rough manuscript for a book about Japan.