GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG – ISSUE NO. 105
29 JULY 2011
“Media Watch Dog on Fridays…is a sort of popular read in the Crikey office”
– Crikey’s Andrew Crook on ABC 2 News Breakfast, 24 September 2010.
Lately it’s Hendo’s tendency to self-harm that has us losing sleep.
For example, peruse the correspondence he’s published in his latest Media Watch Dog blog…..There’s a part of us
that just wants to ask: “Hendo, are you OK?”
– James Jeffrey’s “Strewth!” column, The Australian, 8 November 2010.
“I realise this makes me practically retarded, but until five minutes ago I thought Nancy was Gerard Henderson”s wife, not his dog.”
– Byronbache via Twitter, Monday 7 February 2011
“Before going further can you write to confirm that these emails are private correspondence and not for publication”
– ABC News Radio’s Marius Benson, 11 March 2011. He did go further – see MWD Issue 86.
Media Watch Dog – “disgraceful”, “sick” – Professor Robert Manne, April Fool’s Day 2011.
“Go to the Sydney Institute Media Watch Dog website to marvel at [its] work” – Mark Latham The Spectator Australia 11 June 2011.
● Stop Press: Rupert Murdoch Still Useful
● A Deborah Cameron Moment: On Green Crocodiles and the Greens
● Nancy’s Five Paws Award: Letter Writers Score on
George Negus and Mark Latham
● Nancy’s Pick-of-the-Week: Mr Latham’s Silver Service
(A Roll for the Gravy Included)
● Can You Bear It?: Peter Cundall, Stuart Littlemore, Simon Chapman,
Mike Carlton, Martin Ferris (Sinn Fein) & Wendy Bacon
● Mum’s Still The Word At UNSW: The Dr D. and Dr S. Saga Continues
● Still With Us: Hazel Craig Looks Back on Joe Lyons, John Curtin,
Ben Chifley and Robert Menzies
STOP PRESS – THE COMMISSIONER AND THE DIRTY DIGGER
The Age’s heading yesterday “News set out to destroy me: Nixon: Overland and I were targeted” serves as a reminder that Rupert Murdoch still has his uses.
Normally a Police Commissioner – in the full knowledge that Victoria was facing its greatest risk of bushfire since 1939 or 1983 – who occupied time talking to a biographer, attending the hairdresser or eating out with friends would expect criticism for being out-to-lunch (so to speak). But in her memoirs, former Victorian Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon reckons that all her troubles are the fault of the Melbourne Herald-Sun (proprietor, the “Dirty Digger”).
The print media is facing many challenges. However, it clearly has its uses. Ms Nixon turned Victorian Police into a hand-holding operation and then performed poorly at the time of Victoria’s greatest crisis. Yet she sincerely believes that without the Herald-Sun she would have escaped criticism.
A DEBORAH CAMERON MOMENT – In Which The “Green-Left-Daily” Presenter Rails Against The Tabloids For Associating Labor With The Greens
During the “Spin Doctors” segment on yesterday Radio 702 Mornings With Deborah Cameron program, the presenter objected to the fact that some commentators and cartoonists are linking Julia Gillard’s Labor Government with – wait for it – the Greens. How about that? Let’s go to the transcript:
Deborah Cameron : I”m also interested in the way that the Greens are being used as a kind of Trojan Horse for so much of the tabloid media’s attention, which is, sort of, a way to try and get at Labor… And what’s subtle about it – like one the, um. There’s a funny old story in one of the papers today about an MP in the Northern Territory, winning some sort of a cake-icing contest, by having a cake made out of – it’s got Julia – it looks like a crocodile, and it’s taking the arm off Julia Gillard. Right, now he thinks that’s all terribly witty. Obviously it’s gone over a treat in the Northern Territory – they gave him the prize. But the sort of little subtle message in there is – Julia Gillard is wearing a green dress.
And it’s very interesting how, when you actually see the way that Julia Gillard is portrayed in some of the tabloid press, the cartoonists will always put her in a green dress. Because of the little bit of spin that you get. Even though the woman hardly ever wears green as far as I know. But it’s all got to do with this sort of unsubtle messaging about the fact that she’s a stalking horse for the Greens.
Now for some background. The parliamentarian concerned was Coalition MP Nigel Scullion. Ms Cameron was upset not so much by the fact that the croc in Senator Scullion’s cake seemed to hold the PM by the arm – but, rather, by the depiction of her in a green dress. Quite shocking, when you think about it. Why – who else would ever have thought of linking Ms Gillard with the Greens?
On 1, September 2010 Julia Gillard – at a media conference she attended along with Wayne Swan, Senator Bob Brown, Senator Christine Milne and Greens MP Adam Bandt signed Clause 6 of “The Australian Greens & The Australian Labor Party (‘The Parties’) Agreement” committed the parties to introducing a carbon price.
Julia Gillard has not walked away from The Greens/Labor Agreement. But the “Green-Left-Daily” presenter on ABC Radio 702 reckons that the “tabloid media” is using the Greens as a “Trojan Horse” to get at Labor – and that tabloid cartoonists should not depict the Prime Minister in a “green dress”. So there you have it. Labor willingly entered into a formal pact with the Greens. But the Mornings With Deborah Cameron presenter reckons its wrong for the media “to try to get Labor” by associating it with the Greens.
Verily, A Deborah Cameron Moment.
NANCY’S FIVE PAWS AWARD
MS WHEELTON AND MR PARSONS GONGED FOR PERCEPTIVE COMMENTS ON GEORGE NEGUS AND MARK LATHAM
This time round, MWD’s most prestigious gong is shared by two letter writers.
▪ On 21 July 2011, The Age’s “Green Guide” published the following letter from Barbara Wheelton in the Melbourne suburb of Mont Albert – not far from where Nancy’s co-owner grew up:
George Negus outraged some women for referring to an articulate Brisbane shopper as “a little old lady” when she tackled Julia Gillard. Would you like to be referred as “a grumpy old man” George?
A good point, don’t you think? George Negus is 104 years old [Don’t exaggerate – he was born in March 1942 – Ed]. Okay. Mr Negus is about the same age as the woman who confronted the Prime Minister in a Queensland shopping centre – and Nancy’s co-owner.
▪ Then on 25 July 2011, the Australian Financial Review ran a letter from a certain Mr Keith Parsons – which referred to Tony Walker’s report on his lunch with Mark Latham. Here we go:
It was great to see the sunny, smiling face of Mark Latham (“Lunch with Mark Latham”, July 22), lips pursed, glass of red in hand, but saluting what? The death warrant of a recalcitrant taxi-driver perhaps, a conga line of suckholes, Julia Gillard’s malaise, or his special friend John Howard? Although “he doesn’t have much contact with people active in the political system now”, it doesn’t stop him, seven years on, from writing about them…
Five Paws Apiece. Ten Paws All Up.
MR LATHAM ON THE AFR’s GRAVY TRAIN – WITH TONY WALKER (GEELONG GRAMMAR RETD)
Here’s how the Australian Financial Review depicted the star of its “Lunch With The Financial Review” series.
And what a sight to behold it was. There was the once self-declared enemy of The Establishment, Mark Latham experiencing silver-service fine dining at the Harrington Grove Country Club at Harrington Park with journalist Tony Walker (ex Geelong Grammar).
The superannuated former Labor leader – who manages to scrape out an existence on the mere $75,000 he receives each year per courtesy of the Australian taxpayer – started with pumpkin and pistachio soup which was sweetened with apricot purée. He then proceeded to roasted lamb shoulder. It was all washed down with a bottle of Ingram Rd Shiraz Cabernet followed by a latté (or was it cappuccino?).
Mr Latham is busy bringing up his children to hate Liberals. However, he was all at home with a son of the high fee-paying private school Geelong Grammar at a fashionable restaurant on the site of Sir Warwick Fairfax’s one-time estate. Fancy that.
The AFR’s international editor told Mark Latham he is a “competent writer, unlike many politicians turned commentators who can barely write their own names”. Alas, Mr Walker did not name names. In turn, Mr Latham declared that his 10 year old son Oliver is a gifted writer who exchanges notes with the old man on the art of writing. Go on. Brilliant father – brilliant son. Get the picture?
You can get a boy out of Geelong. But not, it seems, Geelong Grammar. Tony Walker felt the need to tell AFR readers that Mark Latham mopped up “the gravy with his bread rolls”. How embarrassing. This at the Bibendum restaurant, Harrington Park, no less. Apparently Mr Walker was so unhinged by Mr Latham’s table manners that he wrote that the former Labor leader is “without rancour these days”. Or perhaps Mr Walker does not read Mr Latham’s “competent” columns.
The conversation over lunch was mainly about Mark Latham’s acquired taste for thoroughbreds of the equine type. Yet Tony Walker’s reference to Mark-Latham-as-a-gravy-mopper-upper suggests that, in the Geelong Grammar graduate’s view, there was only one properly bred diner at the luncheon table. And that was T. Walker Esq.
[I note that Mr Latham is now imitating MWD’s style in his contributions to the “look-mum-no-fact-checker” Crikey newsletter. Here’s hoping Nancy can once again go back into “The Latham Diaries”. Perhaps next week – Ed].
CAN YOU BEAR IT?
▪ Peter Cundall Redacts Communist Past On Q&A
What a blooming marvellous performance (as the Peter Cundall saying goes – or went) by Tasmanian leftie-gardener Peter Cundall on Q&A last Monday. Highlights included Mr Cundall’s reference to the proposed job-creating pulp mill in the Tamar Valley as a “dirty, stinking pulp mill”. [He sounds like the Sydney greenie-millionaire Geoffrey Cousins – Ed] and his allegation that the Tasmanian Labor Government was corrupt.
One of Nancy’s many admirers brought MWD’s attention to the biographical material which Peter Cundall provided to Q&A before the program. It makes no reference to the former host of the ABC TV Gardening Australia program having been a member of a political party. Then, during the program, Peter Cundall told the audience “I don’t belong to any political party or any organisation” but he declared that he had “been in the thick of every conservation fight since 1960”.
What’s missing here is any acknowledgement that Peter Cundall joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in around 1960 and stood as a CPA senate candidate in Tasmania at the 1961 Federal election. See MWD Issues 84 and 85. Peter Cundall joined the Communist Party not long after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956 – which was supported by the CPA – and at a time when the communist totalitarian rulers in Moscow persecuted religious minorities (including Jews and Muslims), intellectuals and dissidents alike. In the early 1960s, the CPA was both controlled and funded by Moscow – where Leonid Brezhnev was the Kremlin’s dictator-in-residence.
To MWD, it was somehow always reassuring to know that even the long-time presenter of the ABC’s gardening program had a background in the Communist Party. However, now this piece of history has been wiped from Peter Cundall’s official biography. Can you bear it?
▪ A Littlemore Fiction
In last Sunday’s Sydney Morning Herald and Age, journalist Tim Elliott profiled Stuart Littlemore QC on the publication of his inaugural novel Harry Curry: Counsel of Choice (HarperCollins, $29.99). [It’s good to see that Mr Littlemore has gone with a Rupert Murdoch controlled company. And what a price. Pay by credit card – and Harry Curry is a mere $29.99. But pay by cash and the price is rounded up to $30].
Stuart Littlemore was the inaugural presenter of the ABC TV Media Watch program – from 1989 to 1997. He is also the author of The Media and Me ( ABC Books,1996) which contained a true confession. Namely that the This Day Tonight program – on which Mr Littlemore worked in the late 1960s and early 1970s – campaigned against “the conservative values of post-war Australia” in general – and the Coalition in particular. Littlemore also acknowledged that TDT journalists barracked for Gough Whitlam and Labor. (See The Media and Me, Chapter 10).
Last weekend, Tim Elliott quoted the Scots College-educated Stuart Littlemore as declaring:
I think most people are actually shits. Lawyers are shits. Journalists would sell their mother for a front page. Doctors are shits; they over-service beyond all belief.
So there you have it. All the world is shit – except for Stuart Littlemore QC and his leftie mates, apparently.
The Tim Elliott profile also contained the following comment:
He [Littlemore] has had run-ins with everyone from ethnic publisher Theo Skalkos, who accused him of overcharging in 2001 (Littlemore charges $6000 a day), to American publisher Steve Brill, who called Littlemore “more arrogant than the most arrogant journalist” after the two clashed during a live interview on the ABC”s Lateline program in 1997. “Terrific, I wish you well,” Littlemore shot back at Brill. “I hope you make another couple of million.” Indeed, for a veteran court warrior, Littlemore can be surprisingly thin-skinned. The Brill incident was “just a pathetic set-up”…
Er, not quite. The reference is to the ABC TV Lateline program on 11 November 1997. Jennifer Byrne was the presenter and the guests were Steve Brill (then a New York based publisher and media-watcher), Pilita Clark (then a Sydney Morning Herald journalist) and Stuart Littlemore.
The debate heated up when Jennifer Byrne asked Stuart Littlemore about Media Watch’s corrections policy. Mr Littlemore’s response was along the lines of – Media Watch does not make errors which deserve corrections. This happened to annoy Steve Brill, who described Littlemore as “more arrogant than the most arrogant journalist I’ve ever heard”. Mr Littlemore then threw the switch to personal abuse and had a go at Mr Brill’s wealth. Let’s go to the transcript:
Steve Brill: Stuart you sound more arrogant than the most arrogant journalist I’ve ever heard. That’s just by sitting here in New York listening.
Stuart Littlemore: Terrific. I wish you well with your business. I hope you make another couple of million.
Steve Brill: Maybe I just don’t have a sense of humour but that’s the way you sound to me.
Stuart Littlemore: I think you’ve got a good sense of dollar Steve.
Jennifer Byrne: What does that mean?
Steve Brill: It’s a good attack.
Stuart Littlemore: Well this is a business. Steve Brill, I’ve been sitting and listening, obviously thinks there’s a quid to be made – a dollar to be made out of writing about the media. Go for your life. But that’s not the game we’re in. We’re in raising standards.
Steve Brill: Do you do it free or – ?
Stuart Littlemore: Yeah, I do actually.
Steve Brill: I guess I missed the part where she [Jennifer Byrne] said you worked for free.
Stuart Littlemore: Well yeah, sure.
Jennifer Byrne: But you don’t work for free. You work for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it’s true. But why are you assailing Steve Brill for wanting to make a dollar out of journalism?
Stuart Littlemore: Good luck to him. That’s the American way. It’s just not what we’re on about.
Contrary to what Stuart Littlemore told Tim Elliott, there was no “set up”. Mr Littlemore made an error. He did get paid a substantial retainer by the ABC for presenting Media Watch.
Addressing The Sydney Institute in March 1998, David Salter (who was executive producer of Media Watch) acknowledged that, during his debate with Steve Brill on Lateline, Stuart Littlemore both “misunderstood the question” and “missed a gear going into that corner”. Also, the discussion was pre-recorded at 8 am and Mr Littlemore was “pissed off”. And so on. These were excuses that Littlemore/Slater never accepted from others when they ran Media Watch.
In any event, after the Lateline fiasco, Stuart Littlemore stepped down as Media Watch presenter. And now he maintains that his on-air row with Steve Brill was all about an allegation of arrogance. Can you bear it? [You should have added that the Littlemore/Brill encounter was not covered by Media Watch in its self-adulatory program on the occasion of its twentieth birthday. See MWD Issue 75 – Ed].
▪ Simon Chapman – Not a Doctor’s Doctor
Last Monday’s Four Corners, presented by Andrew Fowler, was all over the place. The program, titled “Against the Wind” was all about the controversy about the alleged adverse health impact of wind farms – which are currently blighting parts of the Australian landscape.
“Against the Wind” contained some useful material. However, it did not make the most of the talent available. Parliamentary Secretary Mark Dreyfus made himself available. But the only part of the interview which went to air had Mr Dreyfus responding to a question on the Institute of Public Affairs. What was this about?
Then Professor Simon Chapman appeared on camera. He was described as “Public Health, Sydney University” and he queried the science of those who maintain that wind farms are a threat to health, viz:
Professor Simon Chapman: People who cite or refer to that research are the same people who publish it. So it’s, if you like, a kind of a self-citation phenomenon. It’s a disease which is certainly not recognised by mainstream medicine. And the people who are pushing it appear to be a fairly small circle of people.
Viewers might have obtained the impression that the Professor of Public Health at Sydney University has medical, or at least scientific, qualifications. But no. As reference to Who’s Who in Australia reveals, Simon Chapman has a BA (Hons) from UNSW and obtained a Ph.D. at Sydney University – in sociology. Can you bear it?
▪ Mike Carlton’s Double Pike With Spiv
And what about Mike Carlton’s rant in last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald?
First up, Mr Carlton called Australian politicians a “rotten lot” when compared with members of the British House of Commons. What’s more, Australian MPs engage in “puerile, beer-garden insults”. Then Mr Carlton called the British prime minister, David Cameron, “an old Etonian spiv”. Can you bear it?
▪ Green Left Welcomes Martin Ferris, ex Pravda
On ABC Radio 702 this week, Deborah Cameron has been referring to the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik – as a “white terrorist”. Meanwhile there has been scant media attention about the current visit to Australia of Martin Ferris, the Sinn Fein politician who is visiting Australia per courtesy of the Socialist Alliance and the Green Left movement.
Mr Ferris was convicted in Ireland for possessing explosive substances for unlawful purposes. In 2005 Ferris was named by an Irish minister as being a member of the IRA Army Council.
According to MWD’s intrepid reporter, Mr Ferris was seen dining in the Western Australian Parliament House earlier this week with some former Labor MPs and the occasional CFMEU organiser. Say no more. Can you bear it?
▪ Wendy Bacon And Hacking
The Sunday Age on 24 July carried an opinion piece by leftist academic Wendy Bacon who called for an enquiry into the Australian media. Ms Bacon complained that News Limited supremo John Hartigan had not answered her questions about the media. She also whinged about phone hacking. This from one of the leading supporters Down Under of the pro-hacking Julian Assange. Can you bear it?
ALL QUIET ON THE UNSW FRONT (CONTINUED)
DR NICK AND DR TIM AND PROF HENRY REMAIN FACTLESS IN KENSO
Nancy’s mail-box has been inundated – literally inundated – requesting information about whether the taxpayer subsidised University of New South Wales, or NSW Press, or UNSW Press’ authors have answered any correspondence in the last week.
And the answer is – NOPE.
Initially Dr Nick Dyrenfurth and Dr Tim Soutphommasane refused to reply to requests that they provide evidence to support claims they made about Gerard Henderson in their edited collection in All That’s Left on the basis that he might publish their correspondence. Later they did respond – but this time changed their excuse and claimed that they had never made the claims in the first place. When it was pointed out that this assertion was mere spin, the learned doctors went back into silence mode.
Meanwhile Professor Richard Henry, the UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor, refuses to even acknowledge correspondence from Shelley Gare or Gerard Henderson. Henry apparently believes that it is good policy for UNSW Press to publish books without endnotes, footnotes or bibliographies and then to go “under the bed” in response to requests for evidence.
But there have been some developments. Dr S. writes a weekly column in The Weekend Australian titled “Ask the Philosopher”. On 16-17 July 2011, Tim Soutphommasane commenced his columns as follows:
Opening my inbox is always an interesting exercise. As a columnist I receive a mix of correspondence. Some offer effusive praise. Some offer critical, but well-argued, responses. And then some express unvarnished contempt or negativity. I receive all my letters with a measure of gratitude, even if I don”t answer all of them (especially those written by vexatious correspondents). Strange as it may sound, I confess to enjoying a certain pleasure in receiving the nastier letters. I have been clipping and filing these in the hope that one day I might have enough worthy specimens to publish a collection of hate mail.
This kind of mail is usually predictable. It will say I am an out-of-touch, elitist, over-educated academic who should leave the ivory tower to experience reality. In the words of one irate reader, I would be better off getting “a real job”, perhaps go work in a mine, rather than “play with ideas”. As someone who strives to keep an open mind, I took a moment to ponder this philistine suggestion.
So there you have it. Dr S. writes an “Ask the Philosopher” column. But he does not answer questions which arise from his columns – certainly not if the questioner is “vexatious”. In legal parlance, the term vexatious equates with someone who causes ongoing harassment of a prejudicial or damaging kind. It is not clear to MWD how Dr S. works out whether a correspondent is vexatious on the basis of one letter. But, then, MWD is not a philosopher and does not invite correspondence. But MWD does stump up evidence in support of claims made – unlike the “Ask the Philosopher” philosopher.
HAZEL CRAIG REMEMBERS JOE LYONS, JOHN CURTIN, BEN CHIFLEY, ROBERT MENZIES – AND MORE BESIDES
Hazel Craig lives at her home in Canberra. In 1998 Gerard Henderson wrote a profile on Miss Craig for the Sydney Morning Herald. It was not published and is printed here for the first time.
It was 1934. Comedians Barry Humphries and Graham Kennedy were born that year – along with tennis “twins” Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. The “pyjama girl” (later identified as Linda Agostini) was found murdered in Albury. And Hazel Craig went to Canberra. There, over six decades later, she remains.
I first met Hazel Craig some years ago at the suggestion of Heather Henderson (nee Menzies) when researching the life and times of Robert Menzies. Mrs Henderson maintained that no living person, outside of the Menzies family, knew her father so well.
Yet Hazel Craig is very much a woman of her generation. She does not readily volunteer information, particularly of the personal kind. Nor is she inclined to emote about the past. Her home contains no visible photos of the famous for whom she once worked and few signs of mementos of a most interesting career.
On my first visit we sat in her small, but comfortable, lounge room. This time around we talked at the kitchen table. All very sensible. Tea, coffee and cake were on offer. Then the formal side of the conversation commenced. There was much material to cover. For Hazel worked with four men who held the office of prime minister of Australia – Joe Lyons, John Curtin, Ben Chifley and Robert Menzies.
Our discussion commenced with an anecdote. Hazel Craig recalled that Labor leader Ben Chifley, Liberal founder Robert Menzies and journalist Alan Reid were all in the same Parliament House book club. It was not uncommon for Chifley to knock on Menzies” door to pass on a “really good” whodunit. “Ming” would do likewise for “Chif” if the former happened to come across a challenging murder mystery. They were the olden days – for Canberra and Australia. Politics was different then. Hazel Craig does not pine for the past. But she remembers it.
Hazel Craig was born in Sydney and educated at Bankstown Primary and St George High School. She went to business college and sat the Commonwealth Public Service entrance exam. Arriving in Canberra in 1934 she joined the Prime Minister”s Department as a stenographer in what used to be called the “pool”.
In the 1930s very few Commonwealth public servants were based in Canberra. The Prime Minister”s Department was there along with Treasury and Attorney General”s. Most of the rest were Melbourne-based and had a small liaison staff in Canberra. From time to time stenographers from the PM Department”s pool would assist other departments. On occasions they would be temporarily attached to a politician”s office.
So it was (on October 1, 1935) that young Miss Craig worked for a senior politician for the first time.
It turned out that James Scullin had decided to step down as Opposition leader on the very day that Hazel Craig commenced temporary steno-duties in his office. She stayed on with John Curtin, the new Labor leader, until the end of the parliamentary session.
Soon after Hazel Craig was sent to the prime minister”s office. Joe Lyons had led the conservative United Australia Party to victory in the December 1931 Federal election. Hazel Craig worked for Joe Lyons until his death in April 1939.
The prime minister”s office was small in those days. According to Hazel Craig “there was a male secretary and an assistant secretary”. She held a junior position in the office. Hazel Craig recalls the “terrible shock” of Lyons’ death.
As she remembers it: “He [Lyons] was going down [to Sydney] to open the Royal Easter Show in 1939. He didn”t feel very well at the beginning of the week… That was the Wednesday and he [Lyons] died on the Friday.”
Following Joe Lyons” death, there was “clearing up” to be undertaken and condolence replies to be prepared. Country Party leader Earle Page became the stop-gap prime minister for a couple of weeks. Then Robert Menzies was elected UAP leader and, consequently, prime minister. Hazel Craig worked in Menzies” office during his first term as prime minister.
She “can”t particularly” recall the occasion of Robert Menzies”s worst ever day in politics. On August 29 1941 Menzies lost the support of both his Coalition cabinet and his own UAP parliamentary members. He stepped down and a joint UAP-Country Party meeting elected Artie Fadden to succeed him.
Hazel Craig recalls that her boss was “very upset”. But she is keen to make the point that “they didn”t quite vote him out…he resigned…he wasn”t defeated in any way”. According to her view, Menzies “stepped down for Artie Fadden in the hope of saving the government”. But it was not to be. The Fadden government was defeated when two Victorian independents (Arthur Coles and Alex Wilson) crossed the floor. Fadden resigned and Labor leader John Curtin was commissioned to form a government.
John Curtin took over most of the Menzies staffers and added them to a couple of staff who had worked with him as Labor leader. Hazel Craig found Mr Curtin [as she still calls him] “very nice”.
When in Canberra John Curtin lived in the Lodge, mainly by himself. His wife Elsie, who had the responsibility for their children, attended the opening of Parliament and perhaps one other time a year. Curtin travelled home to Perth infrequently. Hazel Craig regards Curtin”s isolation at the Lodge as contributing to his deep worry about the progress of the war. She recalls that he relied very much on Ben Chifley”s support.
Then, like Lyons, Curtin died in office. His staffer recalls: “We knew he wasn”t well until the last couple of weeks or so when you knew he was pretty serious…but he hadn”t complained really, you know.”
So Hazel Craig joined Ben Chifley”s staff. She worked in the prime minister”s office until the December 1949 election and continued with her boss when he moved into the Opposition leader”s office in Parliament House. Then, on June 15 1951, Chif. died.
Hazel Craig recalls Chifley”s final day at the office: “I think that about four o”clock in the afternoon he came in and… said: `I”ve got to go to the dentist”. And he went off and he was dead that night.” She remembers his early leave on June 15 1951 as unusual since “Chif was always there until the last nearly every day”.
Hazel Craig enjoyed her time with Chifley. She found him “very easy to get on with”. Moreover “he was different from most in that…he genuinely liked people and took an interest” in them. Also, when prime minister, he would “speak to everybody” in the Prime Minister and Treasury departments.
Asked about Elizabeth Chifley, Hazel Craig recalls that she came to Canberra “once a year and stayed perhaps three to four weeks”. then she would return to Bathurst. When Mrs Chifley was in Canberra, she and her husband would stay at the Lodge. On all other occasions the prime minister would reside at the Kurrajong hostel where he had a room. He went to Bathurst every second week, leaving Canberra about Friday lunch time and returning on Sunday night.
After Chifley”s death, Hazel Craig was scheduled to return to the PM”s Department. But Robert Menzies”s assistant was seriously ill. So she took over the vacant position and remained in Menzies”s office until his retirement on Australia Day 1966. Then she moved to Melbourne, holding the secretarial position to which former prime ministers were entitled until retiring in 1976. Sir Robert died in 1978.
In 1951 Hazel Craig became Robert Menzies”s private secretary. In this capacity she was responsible for the prime minister”s travel arrangements, personal correspondence (including confidential diplomatic despatches) and appointments. She reflects that she “probably knew Sir Robert and Dame Pattie much better than…the others [Lyons and Chifley] because we did so much travelling together”.
According to Hazel Craig, if Menzies had to deliver “a policy speech or an intricate speech in the House he would write it out by hand”. The staff “would type that up and he would probably knock it into shape; but he hated doing that”. Menzies did not like reading speeches, although he conceded that this was sometimes necessary. His preferred method was to write about six headings on a “small piece of paper, about half a foolscap” in size.
Hazel Craig recalls Menzies”s words to the effect that: “Nobody ever made a decent speech who didn”t think deeply about it beforehand.”
And what about Menzies the person, as distinct from Menzies the persona? In response to questions, Hazel Craig will make some personal reflections.
▪ Robert Menzies. Hazel Craig remains a huge fan of Australia”s largest serving prime minister. However she concedes: “Let”s face it; Sir Robert wouldn”t be the right man for today; but the world”s changed so much”. She is not inclined to proffer any criticisms. But she does concede that “perhaps you could say that he was too conservative in himself”. Menzies found it almost “impossible to really sack anybody”. Moreover his books were a “little stilted because he wouldn”t say what he thought about a few people”. He did not want to hurt wives and families. Former External Affairs Minister Richard Casey is a name that comes to mind.
▪ Pattie Menzies. “The things she did after he died made you feel that she could have given her own ideas…had she not felt it wasn”t her place to do so.” Some of the speeches Dame Pattie gave in her final years “weren”t profound perhaps but they were good”. She “was always one you could be proud of”.
The interview is shortly to finish. Hazel Craig turns on a light as the late autumn light begins to fade. It”s time to direct a couple of delicate questions to a most professional and discreet private secretary concerning some of the big names in Australian history.
In December 1974 David McNicoll interviewed Robert Menzies – the text of the interview was published in David McNicoll”s Luck”s A Fortune (Wildcat Press, 1979) a couple of years after Menzies”s death. It was quite a revelation to learn of the Liberal Party founder”s personal – and mostly critical – views of his fellow conservatives. The unanswered question turns on whether Menzies knew that he was speaking on the record.
Hazel Craig was working in Menzies”s Melbourne office when the interview took place – just outside her boss”s room. As she recalls the occasion, McNicoll was told initially that he could not bring a tape recorder to the meeting. But he turned up equipped to tape the event. According to Craig: “He talked the boss into letting him do it [tape the interview] with the proviso that it would not be published”. Not ever? No, according to the private secretary, “not ever”.
And what about Robert Menzies”s decision to give his papers to Lady McNicoll – a flawed decision which delayed the writing of his biography? Was it because Sir Robert was attracted to Frances McNicoll? On this Miss Craig was emphatic: “Oh don”t. No, God”. According to her view, the error was made because her boss “didn”t realise that she wasn”t a historian”. When it was put to her that this was an unfortunate choice because it held up the biography for 15 years she replied: “Terrible, terrible.”
Then there was the much gossiped about allegation that Robert Menzies had an affair with Betty Fairfax – (the first wife of Warwick Fairfax). Menzies”s biographer Allan Martin could find no evidence of this. Has Hazel Craig heard the gossip? “Yes, that was phooey. Look he liked bright people…but as far as anything [like that] was concerned, I don”t believe it. I know she tried to chase him. There was no two ways about that. She even came up to Canberra once. Once in particular as I remember…She just sent a note in an envelope, you know.” But Robert Menzies “just didn”t see her”. In her view “there was nothing in that at all”.
Then there was Ben Chifley”s staffer Phyllis Donnelly who is described by Diane Langmore in her book Prime Ministers” Wives (1992) as the late prime minister”s “secretary, confidante and close companion” and refers to the “intimacy” of their relationship. Like Chifley, Phyllis Donnelly lived at the Kurrajong and every two weeks she accompanied the ALP leader on his visits to his (and her) hometown of Bathurst.
Anything in this? Phooey, according to Hazel Craig “I don”t think there”s anything in that at all”. “But you”ve heard it?” “Oh, I”ve heard it. I won”t be able to swear to it but I just don”t think that”s right.”
In conclusion I put to Hazel Craig that hers had been an interesting career. She replied in a very Australian way: “Oh, it hadn”t been bad”. Perhaps this describes why hardly any journalists or historians have talked to Hazel Craig in her retirement. Few Australians are aware that there is a bright woman in Canberra possessed of a good memory who knew every prime minister from Joe Lyons to Robert Menzies.
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Until next time.