Chapter 8

MORE JOURNALISM IN JAPAN – Tanaka-kakuei and daughter, the Francis James scoop, the Whitlam connection

Returning from China, I still had to keep on top of the Japan story.

The Tanaka Kakuei Experience

1972 saw the drama of Tanaka Kakuei winning the LDP presidency away from Fukuda Takeo,  the conservative old guard candidate. Fukuda was supported by the devious Sato Eisaku

Tanaka’s main platform was building a network of new highways and bullet train lines to formerly neglected regions in northeast Japan and facing the Japan Sea. Later he would be accused of wasting public funds on extravagant projects.  Yet no one suggests Japan would have been better off without the projects — the highways and bullet train lines to the north of Honshu especially.

At the time, Tanaka’s defeat of the LDP conservatives and his ideas for improving transport links captured many Japanese imaginations.  The progressive Asahi Shimbun was so excited that it even ran an editorial saying ‘Ganbaru (go to it) Kaku-chan”  (Kaku-chan is the cute diminutive of Kakuei). 

(Today Asahi would probably prefer not to be reminded of all this.  Just two years later the mood was to turn totally anti-Tanaka, thanks in part to an event in which I had the dishonor to participate.) 

(Soon after that the Lockheed affair guaranteed that Tanaka’s name would  become synonymous with political corruption in Japan. )

Tanaka moved quickly to recognise Beijing as the sole legitimate government of China.   Today that seems a very  reasonable thing to have done. Even at the time, in the wake of the pingpong diplomacy and Beijing’s accession to the UN,  it was hardly revolutionary. 

Even so, it was opposed by many in the LDP, the LDP’s conservative and powerful Taiwan lobby especially.

Western commentators then, and even now to some extent, have a romantic view that sees Japan and China as East Asian cultural lookalikes, destined to come together eventually, but kept apart only by US pressure.

The reality is very different., Wide cultural difference, the virulent anti-communism of Japan’s conservatives and right-wingers,  fear of China’s size and potential, resentment at China’s refusal to forgive wartime atrocities, even a lingering belief that those atrocities were forced on Japan by China’s unreasonable behavior (the rightwing argument that Japan never intended to attack China proper, that it planned to go into the Soviet Union from Manchuria but was sucked in by anti-Japanese Chinese behavior during and immediately after the Marco Polo Bridge incident of 1937 deserves more attention than it gets)  ….. all combine to create a rigid anti-China dislike, and even hatred,  that will probably never be cured.

Right through to the very end,  in 1971, the Sato administration was secretly lobbying, mainly among the  Latin Americans, in a vain effort to get the votes to prevent Beijing from joining the UN.    

Tanaka himself was no progressive. But on China he was a realist and was prepared to follow the advice of his progressive and humanistic foreign minister, Ohira Masayoshi.
 I was to get to know Ohira quite well. When he became prime minister in 1978  he appointed me to a committee to discuss his favorite project — the idea of creating ‘garden cities’ all over Japan.

Anyone familiar with the unkempt, higgledy-piggledy, unplanned nature of most Japanese cities would welcome any idea for improvement.

I could not claim any expertise in ‘garden cities’ or any other form of town planning (though years later I was to try to set up my own ‘garden village’ in the hills of the Boso Peninsula).  But on the principle that one never says no to any offer to see Japan Inc. from the inside,  I said yes.

And I did get one insight.  Sitting next to me on the committee was someone who knew even less about garden cities than I did.  He was the Kyoto University expert on monkey colonies. 

Presumably someone in Ohira’s brain trust felt monkey colonies had something to tell us about garden cities.

The Japanese seem to believe that they can learn a lot from monkey behavior. The strict rules of gender and seniority are often noted. The lives and deaths of boss monkeys in the larger zoos used to be regular news items.

But while I could do little to help Ohira and his ‘garden city’ idea, I can claim some of the credit for Ohira’s agreement to introduce the very successful working holiday scheme with Australia, allowing young Australians to come freely to Japan to work - a scheme later extended to some other nations. 

I had sold the idea to then Australian ambassador to Japan, John Menadue. He quickly realised how much this could do for the relationship at the grassroots level. He then sold it to Ohira.

Ohira’s untimely death due to the pressure of a meaningless election forced on him by the unrepentant Fukuda and the LDP conservatives was a great loss for Japan.

Tanaka's Asian Tour
I was also to get to know and see something of Tanaka.

In January 1974 he set off on a brave five nation tour of South East Asia.

Four foreign correspondents were to be allowed to go with him on this voyage into the unknown.  I was one of them.

The tour was a bid to repair some of the damage caused by Japan’s former postwar prime ministers who had  refused to go into the area, fearing anti-Japan sentiments.

And resentments there were.  Japanese visitors to the area were notorious for their bad behavior. They still seemed to want to look down on their fellow Asians as backward and primitive.

Japanese trade and investment in the area was seen as exploitative.

Worse, Japan had made little effort to apologise for  its former aggressions and atrocities. Indeed, it did not even seem to want to admit atrocities had occurred.

Among the materials handed out to us in advance of Tanaka’s tour was a Foreign Ministry advisory for Japanese visitors to Singapore. It told them to avoid any discussion with the natives about Japan’s wartime behavior. 

Such discussion would simply cause trouble and misunderstanding, it was claimed.

One of those atrocities had been the deliberate selection of progressive, Chinese-origin  Singapore students and English-speakers for execution, on the grounds that such people by definition would be anti-Japan.

According to some reports, several tens of thousands from the educated elite — the best part of an entire generation— were shot and hacked to death at a secluded beach on the north side of the island.

Another generation was needed before Singapore could recover. 

(One rumor has it that Lee Kwan Yew, then also an obvious target for execution, was only spared because he was willing to cooperate with the Japanese military in helping to  choose others for execution. Whatever.)

( But little wonder that even as late as 1974 there were still a lot of South East Asians, those of Chinese origins especially, who did not like Japan. It also helps explain Lee’s deep and generally correct suspicions of the Japanese psyche, through to the present day. )

On the plane, travelling with us,  was a very demure young  lady who spoke good English. We discovered later that she was Tanaka’s daughter, Makiko. 

Makiko was to fill in for Tanaka’s wife, a very plain, elderly lady of rural origins who would not have been very suitable as Tanaka’s opposite number at official banquets, of which there promised to be many.

On the plane trip, Makiko declined most of our less than fully professional requests for interviews. But many years later I was to be involved with her in a very different capacity. 

She had been made Foreign Affairs minister in the Koizumi cabinet. Fearing isolation in her highly conservative ministry,  she had formed a private advisory committee on which I was asked to be a member, even though I had not seen her or talked to her since that 1974 Asian tour.

As a result I had the rare privilege of being escorted monthly to the main conference room in a building where previously I had been very much persona non grata, to discuss the policies of a Ministry which saw me as enemy number one,  mainly because of the damage I had done to its efforts to propagate Japan’s bogus claims for the so-called Northern Territories.

Tanaka, the father,  had a deserved reputation for intelligence, bluntness and action — the computerised bulldozer, as he was called. (Makiko later in life came to share some of that quality.)

His willingness to tread where others had feared to go in Southeast Asia was typical, despite the anti-Japan demonstrations that had been promised. 

At first, in Manila, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, the demonstrations were subdued.  But when we reached Thailand, the one nation that had not suffered Japanese aggression, the students became violent.

They claimed they were against Japan’s alleged economic exploitation. And to some extent they were right. In Thailand especially, Japanese heavy brand-name advertising had made life almost impossible for local entrepreneurs trying to set up new businesses.

But the students were also looking for a stick to attack  their own  oppressive, and later very brutal, regime.

Ignoring the panicky advice of his Foreign Ministry aides (those nice people responsible for the cowardly Singapore advisory which had urged refusal to discuss war atrocities in Singapore), Tanaka said he would meet and talk to the student leaders. This he did,  for over an hour, at our hotel.

Overnight the demonstrations were defused.

In Jakarta it was not so easy.  The mobs were out for blood, even though they too were protesting more against their own government than against Japan.

All Japanese cars in sight that night, Toyotas especially, were torched.  Why Toyota?  Because the company had put a large neon sign spelling out TOYOTA on the top of  Jakarta’s largest hotel, making it visible in the nearby slums. 

Many of the slum dwellers may have been illiterate. But they did know how to spell TOYOTA.

Soon after Toyota wisely removed the sign.

Throughout the chaos Tanaka refused to be panicked. He went ahead with his schedule.  He scored some achievements.

But when he got back to Japan  he ran headfirst into the phenomenalist Japanese logic that says that you judge things on the basis of the phenomenon you see before you,  without any consideration of causes or effects.

As far as the Japan’s excitable media were concerned, the riots, protests and demonstations were all Tanaka’s fault.  Why?  Because he had gone to Southeast Asia and the mobs had rioted. Therefore he had to be to blame. He had brought shame and disgrace to the nation.

No one even thought of blaming the cowardly former Prime Ministers who had refused to venture into the Southeast Asia which their soldiers had raped and pillaged only a few years earlier.

The fact that the mobs had rioted for reasons that had little to do with Tanaka, and that Tanaka had defused some of those reasons, was ignored.

The same shallow thinking cripples efforts in this otherwise intelligent nation to tackle corruption. Few thank the whistle-blower or courageous reformer who exposes the evil or wrong-doing in an organisation.

As far as Japan is concerned that organisation was operating quite peacefully until the exposer or reformer came along.   Like Tanaka in Southeast Asia,  that person is to blame — not the people who for years previously had done nothing to prevent the growth of evil or corruption in the organisation.

Ironically, Tanaka’s daughter, Makiko, was to run into exactly the same phenomenon almost 40 years later.

One of her first moves on being made Foreign Minister was to expose the long-standing corruption in the Ministry’s administration. The ensuing uproar left her vulnerable to every kind of media and political attack. 

She was forced to resign, in semi-disgrace, little more than a year later. 

Meanwhile the truly guilty men — the collection of bland, humdrum politicians who had headed the Ministry in previous years and who had lacked the courage to do anything about the corruption going on right under their noses — continued to be regarded as people most worthy of representing Japan in foreign affairs.

The Anti-Tanaka Mood Increases

True, in Makiko’s father’s case the media were also indulging in another of their foibles — mood creation. By alleging failure of the South East Asia tour they could add fuel to the already developing anti-Tanaka mood in Japan.

That mood had already got underway with the large oil shock price increases of late 1973.  Even before that the economy was already somewhat over-extended, partly because of Tanaka’s commitment to heavy spending on public works.

The oil price rises had triggered a vicious inflation.

Housewives panicked. Photos of them clamoring to buy toilet paper — a commodity rumored to about to go out of stock — filled the media.

Tanaka was blamed, again, as if he could have done something to stop the oil sheiks from raising prices, or as if Japan really need not need those new roads and railways.

As well, some in the public and the media were getting tired of his gruff, gravelly voice and his sometimes  unduly blunt approach to problems. 

And the still-powerful LDP conservatives were still fuming over the way he had beaten Fukuda for the leadership, and had been willing to sideline Taiwan to recognise Beijing.

In short, the tom-toms were beating.  The mood for change was in the air. It would not be long before someone, somewhere,  would want to move against him openly. 

That someone was the maverick and highly disaffected  LDP politician,  Ishihara Shintaro.  The somewhere was a May 1974 article in the widely read, conservative magazine, Bungei Shunju.

In it,  he launched a vicious attack on Tanaka’s kinken seiji — money politics. Vivid images of Tanaka henchmen scurrying around with shopping-bags full of money to buy the votes needed to defeat Fukuda were drawn.  Heavy corruption in public works contracts were said to be the main source of that shopping-bag money.

Much of what Ishihara said was true.  But the same was also true for a lot of other conservative politicians.

The Kishi-Sato-Fukuda LDP old guard, for example, were worse.  They  got much of their money from foreigners — the CIA, the banana trade with Taiwan, kickbacks out of South Korea. Japan’s national interests could easily have been sacrificed as a result.

Tanaka at least relied mainly on domestic sources for his funds.  If any interests were sacrificed they were domestic.

The Ishihara article was widely noted. The stock market fell heavily for a day or so. Some of the national  newspapers speculated over how Tanaka would react.

But there are natural limits to scandal damage in Japan, and not just because people have become inured to political corruption.

Everyone knew that Bungei Shunju had its own conservative and rightwing agenda, especially over China. It would have been very happy to print the Ishihara article.

And there was also the question of nawabari —territorial turf. If a particular newspaper or TV station digs up a scandal, it remains their property, for them to follow up and exploit.

The rest of the media are happy to ignore it. It is not within their ‘territory.’

Often, it is only when a foreign medium decides to pick the story up and run with it that the Japanese media collectively decide to be involved.  Overnight an otherwise less than momentous scandal can become the center of national attention.

A good example of this strange phenomenon was provided by the unfortunate Uno Sosuke, prime minister of Japan for only two months, from July 1989 to August 1989. Uno’s scandal was minor — having as a girlfriend a rather pleasant lady in her early forties who was running a small bar and eating place in Kagurazaka near central Tokyo.

(I happened to have visited the place a few times.  And it is true that the rather mature madam did have a kind of subdued sexiness.)

Uno’s crime was to treat her too casually, and to forget to pay her what she thought was her worth.

Mainichi’s weekly magazine published the lady’s story at length, dwelling in particular on Mr Uno’s alleged stinginess. 

The story made little impact; it is taken for granted that most LDP politicians will have girlfriends. But when the Washington Post correspondent in Tokyo picked up the Mainichi story and ran with it, the unfortunate Uno came under the klieg lights.

Interviewers descended on the lady in question. Uno was forced to resign soon after.

Another victim of Japan’s sensitivity to the Western media had been Sato Eisaku.

In 1968 Bungei Shunju had run an in-depth article about him in which he had said what many other conservative and chauvinistic Japanese males would say, namely that occasionally he felt he had reason to slap his wife.

The statement was totally ignored in Japan.  But a bright UPI reporter, Ted Shimizu, picked it up. Overnight Sato became known around the world, and then in Japan,  as a wife-beater.

It took him years to live the reputation down.

Tanaka too was soon to become a victim of this strange sensitivity to what we foreigners have to say about their leaders.  But not because of the Ishihara article.

That article was in Japanese, and published in a magazine which few foreigners have the time, inclination or ability to read. So its existence remained unknown in the West.

(Actually it was not entirely unknown.  I had run an article in my newspaper, and the Far Eastern Economic Review, about it.  I realised even then that this could be the harbinger of something bigger. And I was soon to be proved right.)

Tanaka and the Foreign Correspondents

 The waves caused by the Ishihara article in Japan quickly died. The stockmarket soon recovered. Japan went about its business, unfazed.

But not Bungei Shunju.  It was determined to see Tanaka unseated.   After a spell of several months it seems to have decided to make another anti-Tanaka jab.

This time the blow was to be delivered by a rather obscure freelancer, Tachibana Takashi. He wrote a long article outlining alleged wrongdoings by Tanaka in a public works land deal in his (Tanaka’s) native Niigata prefecture.

Once again Japan took due note. Tanaka was hit with one or two questions about the article at his regular press conference for that week.  But he was able to deflect them.

In short, the Tachibana story too seemed set to follow the path of the Ishihara story. And would have,  but for one very accidental event.

The Newsweek correspondent in Tokyo at the time was one Bernard Krisher (more about him later). Krisher did not read Japanese, but he had an able assistant who brought the Tachibana article to his notice.

The result was a small item in the Newsweek of early October 1974, noting that Tanaka had been accused of land deal corruption.

Even that item would have done little to stir the Japanese media, but for another accidental event — a scheduled luncheon for Tanaka at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ) on October 22, 1974, just two weeks after the Newsweek article. 

It had been a Club tradition to invite the current prime minister at least once during his term for a luncheon,  followed by a brief speech and some polite questioning. It was done mainly as a mark of respect for the current Japanese leadership, and not for newsgathering

But with Tanaka there was to be little respect.

An army of Japanese newspeople and cameras had been allowed to take their places at the end of the dining room. Even the foreign newspeople were beginning to realise that something was underway, that the mood in Japan was turning against Tanaka.

An Hungarian acting-chairman with a typically cynical European-communist view of Japan did the rest.

In a biting introduction for Tanaka, he went out of his way to mention the Newsweek article. That was all that was needed to unleash a wave of antagonistic questions  at what was supposed to have been a polite after-lunch discussion.

Tanaka behaved quite well under the strain. He said his private affairs, such as the Niigata land deal, were separate from public affairs, and appealed for policy-related questions, of which there were none.

In Japanese it is called the kikkake.  It is the defining moment when a situation can and is allowed to change.

Before that FCCJ lunch, the situation around Tanaka had not evolved to the stage where there could be an open move against him.   But thanks to that lunch, the questions, the TV cameras whirring in the background, and most of all the fact that gaijin were involved, the kikkake had been provided.

 I knew already what the main TV news item would be that night,  and the main topic in the newspapers the next morning.  I bet a colleague (Ted Shimizu of UPI whose expose of Sato should have told him how easy it was for the foreign media to create scandals) a case of wine that by the end of the year Tanaka would not be prime minister.

I won that bet, with more than one month to spare.

But few of the foreign journalists present that day had any idea of the background to what they were doing. Later I found that not one of them had read either of the two Bungei Shunju articles.

Few of them could even read Japanese. All that they had to go on was the Newsweek piece by Krisher.

Even fewer, it seemed, had any idea of how their behavior was crucial to creating the kikkake for a mass media move against Tanaka.

(One of my memories of that fateful day is Sam Jamieson, then of the Los Angeles Times and reasonably fluent in Japanese rushing from the room saying he had to get hold of the Tachibana article and read it.)

Then when Tanaka resigned in November 1974, the Club hierarchy indulged in a welter of self-congratulation.  They told themselves, and the rest of the world, how they, the foreign journalists,  had done what the Japanese media were afraid to do

They, and they alone, had had the courage to confront a  corrupt prime minister in his den, and force him to be replaced.

Needless to say, not one of them knew that Japanese journalists had in fact been questioning Tanaka about the articles much earlier.

In the midst of this bragging, a small group of Club members (headed by a Frenchman who also knew little about Japan but who was imbued with Gallic courtesy) got together to apologise to Tanaka for the luncheon impoliteness.  I was one of the group.

We were soon branded as traitors to our profession and the Club, unwilling to join our elite colleagues in educating Japan about the splendid values independent enquiry etc etc that the Western media were bringing to Japan.

At no stage was there any hint of self-reflection about the almost complete lack of the language ability needed to monitor the publications of the nation these elite journalists were supposed to be reporting. As for realising the cultural quirks that would allow their crude behavior to have the effect that it had, forget it.

Today Tanaka has come to be seen as one of Japan’s better and more dynamic prime ministers. Yet the ignorant correspondents responsible for his downfall still boast about their role in having him deposed.

I have written about the Tanaka-FCCJ affair in some detail both in my Japanese Tribe book and elsewhere. For me it was a defining moment in getting to know Western media attitudes to Japan — a clear proof of the arrogance and ignorance which continues to plague Western reporting on Japan.

Another proof was the refusal of subsequent Japanese prime ministers to go near the Club that had behaved to crudely towards Tanaka.

Incidentally, a good indication of the continued foreign ignorance of Japan is the number of Japan-watchers who write books and articles saying Tanaka lost his job because of the Lockheed corruption affair. (That affair only broke several months after Tanaka’s FCCJ-forced resignation.)

They include some who should know better, such as Don Oberdorfer formerly of the Washington Post, writing in the  house journal of the Kokusai Bunka Kaikan.

 I once shared an NHK round-table discussion with Oberdorfer where he was saying that the Japanese media would never have the courage to do what his own paper was doing in exposing Watergate scandal.

At the time Ishihara’s Bungei Shunbun article had just appeared. Needless to say he had no idea of its existence.  And Oberdorfer was seen as one of the better reporters on Japan.

Incidentally, there are suspicions that the  US-sourced information that triggered the Lockheed affair came to the surface well after Tanaka had resigned owed something to CIA hawks cooperating with LDP hawks.

Touble in the Economy and in the Politics

Meanwhile my daily grind of political and economic reporting continued. Japan was starting to be a big story in the West, and not just because of Tanaka.  Every foible and  failing of this exotic society was news. 

And in addition to The Australian, I was also filing for The Far East Economic Review, mainly as a result of my earlier dealings with the editor, Derek Davies.

The ‘Nixon shock’ forcing the Japanese yen to go from 360 to the US dollar up to 240 yen sent Japan Inc into a predictable panic.  I recall doing an interview for the London Financial Times in which I said Japan would survive the upvaluation, that the yen had long been chronically under-valued, and it would still be competitive even if the yen went to 200.

 Some years later it was to go to 80 to the US dollar.

Then as Japan’s trade surpluses with the US continued to mount, we moved to almost daily reporting of trade disputes, first textiles and then more important things like cars and TVs.

Meanwhile the political scene in Japan began to shift violently,  with the clean and somewhat progressive Miki Takeo being chosen to replace Tanaka, and then being overthrown in an LDP palace coup by the waiting and vengeful Fukuda Takeo.

As a background to all this we had the Red Army scares — guerrilla camps in the hills outside Tokyo, plane hijackings, occasional bombings.  Japan’s horrified reaction to each event — the Yodo-go JAL plane hijacking to North Korea  especially — gave me my first understanding of Japan’s collective psyche.

The entire nation would remain glued to the TV screens for days on end, following every detail as if it was happening to each and everyone of them personally.

Needless to say, there was never any hint of wanting to know why these young people were prepared to endure such hardships in their battle against what they saw as the evil in the society around them.

That would be carrying the burden of trying to link cause and effect much too far for the minds of our phenomenalistic Japanese friends to grasp

True, today most Western minds today seem unable to grasp the link between Islamic militancy today and Western behavior in the Middle East over the past century or so. But there the cause and effect link is not quite as obvious.

Personal highlights of those four and a half years as a correspondent in Japan were many. But among them two major scoops loom large  — the Francis James story, and the pingpong trip to China.

 The full and accurate James story I was only able finally to recount in detail after his death (see website, The Real Francis James Story). He had warned me, in writing,  how litigious he could be if I ever came out with the story while he was alive. 

 Even so, it was as great scoop for me in the professional sense. Not one of the many journalists waiting in Hongkong to get the story realised that all they had to do to get the story was go to the large hospital on The Peak top which he had been transported by the British authorities,  and ask at the front desk for the number of the room holding Francis James.

Meanwhile the unfortunate correspondent for The Age, Michael Richardson, thinking his paper had already sewn up exclusive rights to the story, was waiting in his hotel room confident the UK authorities would prevent anyone else from getting the story.

(Richardson had a career as a Singapore-based journalist where he would pepper his usually hawkish articles with constant references to insider information said to have been gained from the local ‘authorities.’ )

The Australian was, naturally enough, very pleased with the scoop.   They ran it over much of the front page and on to the second page.

But as I relate in the Real Story, they then stupidly fouled everything up by telling the world I would, in effect, produce out of thin air the full story that James was selling exclusively to The Age.

They then compounded that damage by their refusal to fight the injunction imposed by Perkin of The Age.

The decision not to fight was made by then manager John Menadue,  It was typical of his readiness to turn and run when lawyers were involved.

As a result many believed (including Whitlam too I later discovered) that I had indeed planned to do a rude deed by retailing the entire Francis James story and so depriving Francis of his hard earned royalties.

The true story, if published at the time, would have been a lot more interesting that anything James could produce.  It would have been have taken the wind out of the sails of the constant rightwing efforts over more than three years to use the James incarceration as yet another stick to beat Beijing.

But thanks to Perkin, and his thick chequebook, it was not to see the light of day till many years later.
As for the pingpong China story, in many ways that was an even better scoop than the James story — intrigue, high politics, some sex, and, of course, my first chance to get to the country I had long studied and been close to. 

I recount the main details in part six of this series.

Resources Diplomacy
Scoops aside, my main interest while in Tokyo had to be the Australian resources story , coal and iron ore exports especially. Major new contracts being announced almost weekly, with both sides prone to get into disputes over those contracts.    

The 1973 oil shock had sent not just oil but almost all raw materials and even food prices through the roof.  Prime Minister Tanaka had not helped with his proudly announced policy of shigen gaiko, or resources diplomacy, which said that since the world was running out of food and raw materials, Japan had to embark on an active diplomacy to secure longterm stable sources of raw materials and food supplies.

For the narrow minds in Canberra shigen gaiko could only mean that Australia would be the target of various and devious Japanese schemes to grab hold of its resources. Australia had to move quickly to guard its resources. 

Even better, it had to try to exploit its resources advantage against Japan to the maximum.  

Whitlam had already tapped into a large vein of Australian nationalism with promises that the foreigners would be kept in their cages.  His minerals and energy minister, the notorious Rex Connor, set out to mine the vein to the hilt. 

Gruff warnings to the effect that the Japanese would have to get down on their hands and knees if they wanted to buy our precious raw materials became standard fare. 

If possible he would also force them to process those materials before they left Australian shores.

No one seemed to realise that Tanaka with his shigen gaiko was engaging in typical Japanese alarmist exaggeration, or that Canberra’s tough talk would do more harm than good. Japan did not have to rely entirely on Australia for its resources.  It had many other and much more compliant sources of possible supply.

It was also very much in Japan’s interests to exaggerate future demand, and so encourage over-production by suppliers.  In any case, Japan was entering a period of much slower growth. Demand for resources would not continue to rise at past rates.

I tried to make a few of these points in my reports. As far as I know, they made no impression back in Canberra, other than to have myself listed as a pro-Japan sycophant.

(At the time Canberra’s officials in Tokyo were busy making confident predictions that Japan’s future demand for raw materials was unlimited. Steel production would soon reach 200 million tons annually, they said, doubling the level of coal and iron ore imports.  In fact it has stayed at around 100 million tons ever since, ie for the next 30 years.)

Officials sent by Canberra to preach the Rex Connor-Whitlam  doctrine on resources did little better. 

None of these people spoke any Japanese.  None had any idea how to negotiate with the Japanese. For most,  a trip to Japan was an excuse to carouse nightly in Tokyo’s girly bars.

The mama-san of one of these establishments once showed me the list of name-cards given her by satisfied Australian clients.  It included many of Canberra’s top bureaucrats, and not a few politicians!

Australian resource firms represented in Tokyo were not much better. Then, as now to some extent, they were staffed with non-Japanese speakers who had to rely on their Japanese staff for everything from advice on billion dollar contracts to organising the wall-paper for their luxury apartments .

CRA-Comalco once sent a team to look into a proposed takeover of the struggling aluminium maker, Showa Denko.  One of the team was my brother Antony, a numbers-cruncher and later in life, a computer expert.  

He shared the Clark dislike for waste and conspicuous entertainment

So while the rest of the team were touring the Ginza hostess bars, courtesy of Showa Denko and its backers in the Japanese-staff of the CRA Tokyo office, he stayed in his hotel room working on the figures.

It did not take him long to realise the figures did not make sense. But he was over-ridden by the rest of the happy team from Melbourne and accused of lacking team compatability.

The takeover turned out to be a flop, and not just because of the collapse of the Japanese aluminium industry. The company was in trouble from the start, and knew it.  That’s why it wanted a takeover.

The only ones who did not know it were the carousing team from Melbourne.

(Ironically, another one of my brothers,  Christopher, trained in Japanese and the Chinese classics, and who had served in the Tokyo Embassy back in the early sixties,  had had a similar experience.  In his case the run-in was with other Embassy officials over the way they inflated cost of living expenses in order to get higher allowances. As a result he moved from the then External Affairs to Treasury).

Tongueless in Tokyo
The lack of Japanese expertise and language ability among the Australians in Tokyo was bad enough in itself. Even worse was the way it inevitably led them to depend on people of dubious reputation to help them bridge the linguistic and understanding gap.

A constant visitor to the Australian Embassy at the time was a strange Korean-Japanese we knew as Hiroshi.  He had spent time in Australia, and he could speak English with an Australian accent.

This had made him very persona-grata in the Embassy — a constant invitee to Embassy receptions and middle man in some Embassy negotiations.  

His role as Embassy fixer did not impress Japanese Foreign Ministry officials involved with Australia. In addition to any anti-Korean prejudices they might have had, they were only too aware of the way naïve foreign embassies in Tokyo could easily be manipulated by fixers with a foothold in embassy doors.

Hiroshi was involved in a range of strange real estate deals with Australia, many of them to the disadvantage of Australians. But none of that seemed to worry the Embassy.

Many years later,  when I had a chance to make a few complaints about Hiroshi’s baleful presence to people in charge, I was told confidentially that he was tolerated because he had a direct pipeline to the rightwing ex-Kishi faction in the LDP. Charming.

In the 30 or more years I have been involved with Japan, I have tried often to make an issue of the Embassy’s scandalous lack of Japanese expertise.

It was bad enough back in the seventies. But recently, with the creation of a go-go, McKinsey style public service where time spent learning languages or gaining cultural background is a kiss of promotion depth, the situation has become far worse.

In 2002 not a single senior official in the Embassy, from the ambassador down,  could speak Japanese. The contrast with the British Embassy where almost all the top posts are filled by language speakers, and where a non-Japanese speaking ambassador is almost unthinkable, was painful.

But whenever one points these things out in published articles there is never any sign of hansei, or self-reflection on the Australian side. All one gets is pained attempts at denial. One can almost hear the sobs of wounded pride.

True, a year or so earlier Canberra finally had sent an ambassador with the language. But his accent was so atrocious that he would have been better off relying on an interpreter.

A favorite Canberra rebuttal device is to list as language speakers everyone who can claim even a smattering of the language. A recent Embassy gambit is to list the junior staff with the language.

And it is true that in recent years, thanks to a range of exchange and other schemes (the Working Holiday scheme is one of them), a generation of young Australians with good Japanese is finally emerging.

But with language ability still seen as some kind of quirk rather than proof of superior ability, few are able to break through to senior levels in the bureaucracy or the Embassy.    

Tribal Sensitivities
The inability of the Australian psyche to handle criticisms over this lack of Japanese expertise is curious.

In 1973 I had to cover a particularly boastful Whitlamesque speech in Tokyo warning Japan Inc that henceforth Australia would control its own minerals resources and decide its own minerals policy.   It would not be kowtowing to Japan as it had done in the past.

The only problem with the speech was that the Embassy official translating the speech did not know the world for ‘minerals.’  He kept on saying ‘metals.’

Since Australia was not producing very much in the way of ‘metals’ the audience was left rather bemused.

I wrote the story, and The Australian, which always enjoyed making Whitlam look foolish,  gave it a good run. All I got were complaints about how cruel I had been to the poor translator. The fact that an Australian Prime Minister was made to look stupid before an audience of senior Japanese was secondary.

It was a peculiarly Japanese-style reaction. The feelings of the individual being criticised for mistakes are far more important than the harm caused by those mistakes.

Then there is a Japanese ‘we versus they’  response.  For an Australian to be criticising a fellow Australian in front of foreigners is just not on. You cease to be one of the mates.

As for trying to understand how educated Japanese might feel being forced to listen to an incompetent interpreter who did not know the difference between metals and minerals, forget it. Much too distant and abstract. 

Resources Again
I was talking about Rex Connor, and the damage caused by Australia’s efforts to run a reverse resources diplomacy against Japan. 

In particular great harm was being done at the time by Connor’s permanent head, the abrasive and highly ambitious Lennox Hewitt.

He had been demoted from a powerful public service position under the previous regime. In effect, he would now try to use his new department to set up his own independent public service empire. Connor would be his tool for that ambition.

But while Connor generally got good reviews for his tub-thumping nationalism (after an article criticizing Connor’s resources nationalism,  I once got an angry rebuttal from a young and still obscure politician called Paul Keating), the arrogant and reclusive Hewitt was a favorite target for media attack.

Hewitt was no fool.  He was a lot smarter than his boss.  His only problem is that he was working for himself rather than for Australia.

 Some years later I had occasion to ring Hewitt in Canberra about some aspect of coal policy. To my surprise, he treated me to a lengthy and quite sensible outline of government moves at the time.

At the end of it all, I felt moved to semi-apologise for past criticisms, saying that it must have been hard for him over the years to endure the ‘occasional snipe’ from journalists.  To which his memorable reply was: ”Mr Clark, it is not the occasional snipe.  It is whole buckets of shit.”

Looking Back

Despite the problems, those four and a half years in Tokyo were good years. I often say they were the best years.

Being a journalist forces one to go out to find out what is actually happening in the world, something that rarely happens to diplomats,  and certainly does not happen to university people.

I got to meet a lot of people, many of whom were to help me later. And as should be obvious, I got to like Japan and its people.

I was also forced to try to learn how to write. Years spent as a bureaucrat or academic do not help much in that direction. 

At the time I used to sum up my career like this: 

First I learned Chinese. This made me feel fairly pleased with myself  since it gave me an asset and some insights that few other people had. 

Then I learned Russian and felt even more confident of my ability to go out and face the world.  Not too many people can handle both Chinese and Russian.

Finally  I learned Japanese.  This time I knew I really did have something very few others could hope to have - three of the world’s most difficult languages under my belt, and the understandings that go with them.

But then I became a correspondent.  I soon discovered that all the insights, understandings  and information one has from knowing these languages is useless unless one can write English.

So I had to start out all over again and learn another language — my own.

The ability to express oneself clearly and convincingly in English is crucial for anyone who wants to move in the world of ideas. My father had that skill, naturally, and it served him well.

I have had to work a lot harder, and there is still some doubt whether I have made it.

Discover Japan
The years as Tokyo correspondent also saw me get my private life into some sort of shape.

I began to see a lot of Yasuko. She still had her job with the Ajiken.  We spent many good weekends exploring the very beautiful countryside around Tokyo.

For someone brought up in the monotony, solitude and harshness of the Australian countryside, the lushness, variety, seasonal changes and the wealth of human interaction in Japanese nature was something wondrous.

We began with the mountain country to the west of Tokyo  - first the 1500-2000 meter ranges of Oku-Tama, Oku-Chichbu, Tanzawa, and then gradually further away, mainly into the deep and largely unknown 3,000 meter ranges of the Southern Alps. 

The Japanese are strange people.  They happily spend six-eight hours travelling to the well-known but distant and often over-crowded Northern Alps, mainly because they are well-known, distant and over-crowded.

But they ignore the equally challenging, deserted, and very attractive Southern Alps just the other side of Mt Fuji and almost within viewing distance from Tokyo. 

Thursday afternoons would see me poring over hiking maps, planning the route for that weekend. Friday evenings we would set off on the overnight trains to the starting point for our climb.

 Sunday afternoons would be descending many miles away, tired and happy, hopefully to a hot spring hideaway before taking the train back to Tokyo.

One hangover from those years at Oxford studying geography was learning something about maps and geology.  Studying the rocks, and seeing how the trails and the contours on the maps matched the reality were added pleasures.

One of my ‘Discover Japan’ techniques was to take a map,  look for an area with few villages or roads,  and the head off to find out what was there.

Inevitably one would find a Shangri-la hidden away in the hills and forgotten by history.

One of our best finds was the island of Kakeroma down near Okinawa. 

I had been invited by the elderly Iwasaki,  who was being bitterly criticised by our greenies for trying to build a honeymoon hotel in Queensland’s Yeppoon area, to visit the island of Amami Oshima where he had made his fortune prewar exporting hardwood sleepers for the Manchurian railways. 

While there I saw on the map a large island just to the south with almost no roads or  large settlements. No one seemed able to tell me what went on there.

So we decided to go and find out. We discovered a paradise of unspoiled semi-tropical hills and beaches surrounded by coral reefs, inhabited by dear hearts and gentle people clinging to the customs and crafts of another era.

The place was so untouched that hotels, taxis and even vending machines did not exist. Yet it was only 30 minutes by boat from Oshima.

Even now only a few diving fanatics know about Kakeroma, though it has over 200 kilometers of coastline and a population of around 4,000 (7.000 then).

The world has this image of Japan as a grossly over-crowded nation. But there are also large areas of countryside where people rarely venture.

Even ardent hikers rarely want to stray from the beaten track.

In the Tanzawa hills just outside Tokyo it was thirty years before someone came across the remains of downed wartime plane. Yet the trails nearby are often crammed with weekend hikers. 

I never found any airplane wrecks.  But in the remote headwaters of the Mibu river on the western and rarely visited side of the Southern Alps I once came across what I am sure was a small Red Army camp.

About half a dozen of tough,  good-looking youth were camped out there.   If they really were Red Army fugitives, it was sad that their talents, energy and youth were being wasted in an fruitless confrontation with a society that had no idea of, or sympathy for,  their idealistic goals.

The Female Factor

At first Yasuko only tolerated my expeditions into deserted hills. Japanese women usually do not like to be made to fight through scrub for hours looking for non-existent trails.

But she never complained. Gradually she even seemed to begin to enjoy it.

Some of those trips were wild.

Our first trip to the Southern Alps saw us setting off to climb Kai Komagadake in the light gear and sandshoes we used for strolls in the hills around Tokyo.  Only after hours toiling up steep, never-ending ridges with thousand meter cliffs on either side, and snow at the top even though it was still early September,  did we begin to realise that we were into some serious climbing.

But the exhilaration stayed with us, and dragged us back again and again.     It is said that men reach a physical stamina peak in their early forties. That seemed fairly true for me, particularly since I had never been keen on physical fitness before coming to Japan.

In Moscow my main sports had been swimming the Bassein near the Embassy and ski touring in the winter. In Canberra it had been mainly squash.

But in Tokyo it became a hunger for vigorous mountain climbing . The fitness that came as a result has stayed with me through to today and kept me healthy.  That, together with the genes inherited from my parents, both of whom lived through to very reasonable old age.

What impressed me about Yasuko was her mental stamina.

On one trip to the Southern Alps we had been caught in heavy rain at the top of a 3000 meter ridge, just to the south of Akaiishi-dake.  We had to overnight in an abandoned hut,  wet and shivering,.  

The prospect of even heavier rain the next day  meant we had to get off the ridge quickly, that morning, or else.  But the only way off was down a little-used trail that traversed a 40-50 degree slope down to the 1500 meter level.

En route we had often to balance on slippery logs to cross rushing side streams with sheer hundred meter rock slides below us.

Yasuko hung on bravely. Late that evening when we finally made it to safety and a hot bath, I knew I had found a woman I wanted to be with.

Our son Dan was born in 1974. We celebrated with a delightful Japanese custom — a ‘first eating’ ceremony one hundred days after birth to which we invited all our friends and in effect also celebrated our coming together.

Young Dan performed well, going through the motions of sipping champagne and eating a slice of fish in his cot. Soon after we moved to Australia, and Canberra.

Goodbye to Tokyo?

Working for The Australian out of Tokyo had never been greatly satisfying, despite the occasional scoop.

 I enjoyed the challenge of having to go out and get stories. But things like the Tanaka Kakuei FCCJ affair made me realise that journalism was as fairly low level,  even if important,  profession.

Earlier, while working in government and diplomacy I had been on the inside and surrounded by people I could respect to some extent. Journalism does not attract the same quality of people.

True, I knew from experience that there is very little that goes on in the inside that does not find its way into print outside soon, and somewhere.  But even so.. 

Then there was the constant problem of having to second-guess second-rate editors. What seemed to me to be an important or interesting story would leave them cold. , and vice versa.  As well, quite serious stories would often be rewritten or beaten up. 

The Australian was still fighting for circulation numbers,  and relying on old journalistic tricks to do so.

And by 1974 Rupert Murdoch was discovering the profitability of popular, and gutter, journalism in London.  That inevitably had its backflow influence on The Australian,  even though the paper was supposed to be Murdoch’s flagship of journalistic respectability.

Deamer had long ago been ousted for his determined and liberal views. One of Murdoch’s hatchet editors from London, Bruce Rothwell, had been put in charge.

The paper’s attractively progressive stance was being watered down, despite the obvious failure of US policies in Indochina. Trivia and rightwing rants had become standard fare.

I was keen to find myself another profession.

Meanwhile the Whitlam government was getting itself installed in Canberra.  Many of the ALP people I had known during the anti-Vietnam War days were getting good slots in the new administration.

I could only watch on, in envy,  from a very long distance.

The Whitlam Connection
I had never been close to Whitlam. I only got to know him, and even then only superficially,  on his trips to Japan and China. He probably saw me as firmly in the rival Cairns camp

But Whitlam seemed very aware of my existence. I too did not escape the encyclopedic memory and fascination with personalities that led him to try to categorise most people he knew.

He was curious, I have been told, about how the son of  well-known conservative and DLP supporter, Colin Clark,  could have ended up as a Foreign Affairs rebel .

He thought I had a father complex. I suppose that means I was supposed to have had an urge to try and match my father’s fame, and to rebel against his Catholic conservatism. 

 I may have a few complexes, but I doubt if they have much to do with my father.  I had left home at age 20.  I saw very little of him after that.

His conservative views had influenced me when I was young. But I was hardly aware of them in the years when I was working out my own ideological position.

The one thing that did upset me was his seeming lack of interest in my ‘Fear of China’ book. He was entitled to disagree with my politics (he shared the DLP alarmist view of China and at one stage had even gone along with the idea that it should be pre-emptively bombed to halt its nuclear development).

But I felt it very wrong that a man  whose own career depended so much on writing books and getting them published,  should not want to encourage similar effort by his son, whether he agreed with the contents or not.

But I will always be grateful for the depth of his intellectualism, and the influence it had on me. 

His mistake was one I often see with conservative intellectuals, namely the attempt to apply abstract reasoning to social questions that can only be understood on the basis of the direct practical experience.  They find it hard to see the other side of problems.

This is especially true in foreign affairs, where gaining practical experience often involves having to learn foreign languages and live among foreign peoples — something that most intellectuals, conservatives and rightwingers especially,  are usually very reluctant to do.

They prefer to remain in the world of their own ideas, theories, prejudices and intellectualism.  That can do a lot of damage,  in foreign affairs especially.

Today, only a madman can believe that the world would have been a better place if China had been pre-emptively bombed back in the early sixties.  Yet that is what a lot of people, and not just my father, wanted to see then.

Embassy Advisor?
But to come back to Whitlam.  Either he or someone around him, Peter Wilenski perhaps, seems to have felt that something should be done to ease my exile in Tokyo.

After all, I had done much to help the ALP over Vietnam. And my junior, Fitzgerald, had been given a good job in Beijing.

During one of his trips to Tokyo he seems to have told the ambassador in Tokyo, K.C.O. (Mick) Shann, to use me as a kind of Embassy adviser.

I had always liked Shann for his sensitivity,  intelligence and activism, even if at times he could show certain feline bitchiness.

But politically we were far apart.  And he was very jealous of his prerogatives.  He was hardly likely to want to go overboard to have someone like me wandering around his Embassy.

We went through the motions of agreeing how the adviser thing would be implemented. But both of us knew from the start that little would come of it. 

If I was to be effective I would have to be shown the confidential cable traffic between Canberra and Tokyo, and no one had bothered to arrange clearance for that.

In any case, Shann would hardly have wanted to accept advice from someone he regarded both as his junior and inferior.

Ambassador to Japan?
Many years later my brother Nicholas was to tell me something I still find hard to believe. But he is adamant it occurred.

He says he was standing near Whitlam at the Sydney airport baggage collection, when Whitlam approached him and said cryptically “We wanted to appoint your brother, Gregory, as an ambassador but we could not get agrement.” (‘Agrement,’ is the French word for formal agreement by the recipient government to accept an ambassadorial appointment.) 

Brother Nicholas says that Whitlam did not say to which country I was to be sent. But if the story is true, I would have to assume it was Japan.

Normally a government would not seek formal agrement without first informing the person concerned. I knew nothing about any appointment.  It is also rare for agrements to be refused.

If there is anything in the story, it could have been Whitlam asking Foreign Affairs to make very informal approach to Tokyo, probably via Shann .  At that level, neither Tokyo, or Shann,  would have found it very hard to manufacture a negative response.

Even so, my brother’s story does help to explain the many hints I have had over the years about how I was supposed to feel resentful about not being made ambassador, particularly after Fitzgerald was made ambassador to China. 

All I can say is that I would hardly have felt resentful,  even if I had known what was going on at the time. An ambassador’s life is fairly miserable — endless receptions and dinner parties, almost no private life, administering rebellious embassies, looking after visiting notables, taking orders from home base etc.

In the case of Japan,  there would have been the problem of representing a government that basically was ignorant of the country, and ready to believe any hint of anti-Australian conspiracies.

If anything,  a journalist abroad can do more than an ambassador to change mistaken attitudes and policies.

One example was the way I was able to  team up with Max Suich of Fairfax in a newspaper campaign to overcome some of Canberra’s resistance to Tokyo’s long-standing desire for the same routine treaty of friendship, trade and commerce it had with many other nations.

Canberra’s policies towards Japan then, and even today to some extent, seem constantly to vacillate between deep suspicions of Tokyo’s alleged cunning,  and covert missions by sly spies and bone-headed military types trying to link up with  Japan in yet another fat-headed plan to try to project military and diplomatic clout into the rest of Asia.  

If I wanted to be really effective,  I had to try to get back to home base, to a position in Canberra so I could try to change attitudes there.  But in 1973 the chances of my being able to do that seemed remote.

Even the lowly position of honorary Embassy adviser seemed beyond my grasp.

Then suddenly, towards the end of 1974,  all this was to change, thanks almost entirely to an accidental relationship with a very accidental person — one John Menadue, then largely in charge of Murdoch’s Sydney empire.

The Menadue Connection

John Menadue AO today is a man with what many would see as a very distinguished career. 

After rising to head the Murdoch operation Sydney, in 1974 he went on to head the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) through the Whitlam years. After that he became ambassador to Japan in the Malcolm Fraser years, then head of the Department of Immigration and Customs followed by a turbulent spell as Qantas chief executive.

He has also been prominent in a number of advisory, charitable and voluntary organisations.

But few know that this rise to fame was largely due to a very unusual Japanese happening.

In the sixties he had left Whitlam’s office to contest the Hume electorate for Labour.  He had failed badly.  As he himself admits, he lacked political talent and charisma.

 And lacking also any remarkable academic or workplace qualifications,  he was threatened with serious unemployment. Certainly neither Whiltam or the ALP were rushing to give him another job.

However, on the basis of his former Whitlam connection he had just managed to persuade Murdoch to give him a job as manager for The Australian, then small and struggling.

In those days, a major income source for Australian newspapers were the annual supplements on Japan, then a rising power and of some interest to Australian readers.  Japanese companies keen to get Australian footholds would spend good money buying advertisements in the 40-50 pages devoted to these supplements.

(As correspondent in Tokyo I would later have to provide much of the copy to go on the back of the ads, an annual and somewhat degrading chore took up far more time than I liked. )

Lacking any advertising foothold in Japan, The Australian had entrusted ad sales to a dubious American there.  Said American had absconded with the sales revenue of 90,000 dollars.  Murdoch had then sent Menadue to Tokyo on a do or die mission to collect the missing funds.

According to what Menadue later told me (in his memoirs “Things You Learn along the Way”  he gives a rather different version) he arrived in Tokyo with few contacts to help him and was getting nowhere very fast.

 One night at a foreigners bar he began to pour out his sorrows to someone sitting next to him. He said how Murdoch planned legal action against the offender.

By chance, the offending American was sitting next to him on the other side of the conversation. The American had some visa and business problems of his own.  The last thing he needed was legal action against him. He introduced himself, together with a promise of early payment provided the lawyers were kept away .

Murdoch was so impressed with this unlikely victory that he soon began to promote Menadue to high posts in his Sydney empire. 

That at least is Menadue’s story to me, and I have little reason to disbelieve him.

I first began to know Menadue personally while doing my journalist ‘apprenticeship’ in Sydney in mid-1969.  He was interested in Japan for some reason, and often invited me to his house to meet his then very young family.

While I was working in Tokyo he visited several times, twice with his family. We would all set off, with Yasuko, to discover the Japanese countryside, travelling once as far as Hokkaido. 

He and his wife, Cynthia,  quickly developed a genuine liking for Japan, in part through the stays we had small local minshuku — household-inns. Later she was to write a book on the subject and to organise minshuku tours for interested Australians. 

In the book I get a small mention, with my name spelt incorrectly.

I think I also introduced John to the joys of middle-aged physical fitness through mountain hiking. He kept me briefed on the political situation in Australia.  I think I also taught him a few things about world affairs.

In October 1974 I had to go to Canberra to cover a visit by Tanaka. 

It was the usual hectic run-around, trying to chase up contacts and to cover press briefings from both sides. 

(I had long ago discovered that the briefings for the Japanese press, to which I was allowed entry, were often much franker and more honest that the Australian briefings.)

(Once in 1973 I had used this technique to get a neat scoop about how Tokyo had rejected Rex Connor’s request for Japanese money to fund his grand plans for uranium enrichment in Australia.)

( The large contingent of top Australian journalists covering the Whitlam/Connor visit had meekly gone along with a briefing by Foreign Affairs’ ‘tricky’ Dick Woolcott who, on Cornnor’s instructions, had claimed the Japanese were seriously considering the plan.)

(All I had to do to get the true story was simply to walk into the Japanese briefing in the adjacent room and discover the exact opposite.  Even Woolcott’s subsequent fast talking did little to recover the situation.)

During the Tanaka visit, where the Japanese leader had shown once again that he knew more about Australian minerals development than Whitlam and his aides, I got to see Menadue.

Whitlam had made him head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, previously headed by Sir John Bunting.

Many in the Labour government believed that the Canberra bureaucrats, Bunting especially, had been working against them. Eric Walsh, then Whitlam’s press secretary, had persuaded Whitlam to replace Bunting with Menadue.

Menadue accepted the job, but feared confrontations and sabotage from the conservative bureaucrats under him.  He wanted to bring in a few of his mates, me included,  to form a kind of secretariat in PMC — a Policy Coordination Unit — which would back him up.

We would help  both in policy formation and in making sure that the government’s policies were being implemented.  We would ride herd on the bureaucracy generally.

I was not averse to the proposal, though I had little idea to what it would mean in practice. I had been out of the Canberra loop for too long. And I would be working in domestic policy areas where, apart from minerals, I had little experience.

But I was keen to get back to Canberra to see how policy was being handled by the Whitlam administration. I said I was interested.

The Prodigal Returns

Back in Tokyo after the Tanaka visit, and hit with another trivia request from Rothwell,  I was also not averse to the idea of ceasing to work for The Australian.  This time it was a Rothwell request  to confirm stories about Australian racehorses being mistreated in Japan.

There were also suggestions that I should begin filing for the London Sun.  I countered with a suggestion that they should find a replacement for me in Tokyo.

And so, with little regret and much anticipation I closed The Australian office in Tokyo (my bosses were on yet another money-saving campaign and did not plan to send a replacement for me), packed my bags, departed the cold and gathering darkness of a Tokyo winter and arrived less than 24 hours later  into the hot, dry sunshine of a Canberra summer.

It was quite a contrast.  But it was not the only one I would face.

I had been invited to go straight from the airport to Menadue’s office for Friday afternoon drinks.

Gathered there were Brian Johns, Eric Walsh and a few of the other Menadue mates . Overnight I had been thrown not just into a Canberra summer, but also into the center of Canberra power and patronage. 

A few moments later Menadue arrived.

He had just been to a meeting with Connor and the Prime Minister.  Conner had unveiled a plan for Canberra to borrow billions from an unknown Pakistani broker called Khemlani.

The scandal that was to undermine the Whitlam government had already started….. and I still had not unpacked my bags. 

PS,  From here on, please allow me to use derogatives like ‘rightwing ratbags.’ 

The right takes it for granted they can talk of leftwing loonies.  It is time they got some of their own medicine back.)