ISSUE – NO. 501

19 June 2020

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The inaugural issue of “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published in April 1988 – over a year before the first edition of the ABC TV Media Watch program went to air. Between November 1997 and October 2015 “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published as part of The Sydney Institute Quarterly. In March 2009 Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog blog commenced publication.

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  • Stop Press – John Bolton, Leftist Hero

  • Can You Bear It? Jenna Price condemns branch stacking without mentioning the word ‘Labor’; The return of Insiders’ lockdown experts; RN Breakfast’s fake news about fake news; Wendy Squires on Sky News’ hidden agenda; Mark Buttler lets Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton off the hook; Weakly with Charlie Pickering

  • Paul Barry’s Sermon on the Mount – Comrade Barry on the whiteness of the media

  • An ABC Update – It’s all white with the ABC’s advocates of racial diversity

  • New Segment: Jackie’s Conspiracy Watch – Gadfly on The Dismissal

  • History Corner – A famous comment by Ava Gardner she never made

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Media Watch Dog just loves it when a group of journalists gets involved in panel discussions in which everyone essentially agrees with everyone else on almost everything.

It happened last night, following reports about the soon to be released book by former US National Security Adviser John Bolton titled The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir.

Now normally a group of Australian journalists would be inclined to bag a right of centre American political commentator like John Bolton.  Especially those who have watched him on Fox News.  But now that, after a period in the Trump administration, Bolton has turned on the President – he’s a very wise man indeed who deserves to be believed on everything.

This was the case on Network 10’s The Project where the team Waleed Aly, Gorgi Coghlan, Peter Helliar and Em Rusciano used the Bolton memoir to ridicule President Trump.  It was much the same, an hour earlier, on the “Journo’s Forum” on ABC Radio 702’s “Drive with Richard Glover”.

Let’s focus on your man Glover’s mates.  They comprised Damien Cave (New York Times), Kate McClymont (Sydney Morning Herald) and Jessie Stephens (Mamamia).

First up, Comrade Glover accepted everything Bolton has written about Trump’s alleged ignorance about Britain, Venezuela and so on.  Then Comrade Cave blamed President Trump for all the chaos in the United States – as if he brought COVID-19 to New York and as if states and cities like New York and New York City did not have Democratic Party governors and mayors. According to your man Cave, “there is a clear consensus that the Trump presidency is a time of complete chaos and unpredictability and instability”.   Well this may be the “consensus”at the New York Times – but surely not everywhere.

Then Comrade McClymont made the telling point that President Trump once allegedly said that Kansas City is in Kansas and not Missouri.  A clear case for impeachment, to be sure.  She added that Trump’s Trump-hating niece has written another book criticising her uncle.  Quelle Surprise!

And then Comrade Stephens concluded: “It does feel like the tide is changing and so we can cross our fingers and hope that enough has happened so that in November he doesn’t get re-elected.”

No one disagreed.  That’s what passes for political “debate” on the ABC’s very own Conservative Free Zone.

Can You Bear It?


Last week Media Watch Dog expressed concern at what would-be journalists are studying at such taxpayer funded places as the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). Last week MWD referred to the fact that Monica Attard, a former ABC TV Media Watch  presenter and head of journalism at the UTS, had described Joseph Stalin’s communist totalitarian regime  in the Soviet Union as an example of “fascism”.  Yep – the likes of Lenin, Stalin and Brezhnev were fascists. Really.

It seems that,  according to the learned professor, communism and fascism were the same – thus giving a new meaning to the notorious Nazi Soviet Pact of 1939-1941.

Thanks to the avid reader who noticed this week’s column in the Nine Newspapers (the Sydney Morning Herald  and The Age) by MWD  fave Jenna Price. Ms Price is another former journo who obtained a gig in the groves of academe – in this case the UTS, again.

In the SMH, Comrade Price’s column on Tuesday was headed “Branch stackers, bullies: all in a day’s work”.  It was inspired by the latest news about branch stacking in the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party – following the revelations about State Labor member Adem Somyurek and more besides.  Or was it?

You see, in Price’s column the ALP was not mentioned.   There were references to “Victorian factional powerbroker Adem Somyurek” and to the “Victorian party”. But the word “Labor” was not used.  Fancy that.

The learned academic went on to criticise branch stacking by “the Nationals” along with “the Liberal Party’s hard-right faction”. But no mention whatsoever of The Greens in this regard –  in spite of the fact that The Greens are perhaps the least transparent when it comes to party organisation matters and are involved in many a branch stack.

So, Comrade Price managed to write a column on branch stacking without mentioning the word Labor and without criticising The Greens. Can You Bear It?


What good news that MWD’s  fave Insiders trio will get together again on the (virtual) couch on Sunday. Namely Lenore Taylor (The Guardian), Mark Kenny (Australian National University) and James Campbell (Herald-Sun).

As MWD recalls, the last time this lot was on they called for an even more substantial lockdown than the one agreed to by the national cabinet led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

It went something like this. At the invitation of David Speers, Comrade Taylor was first off the rank declaring that “it would be smart to err on the side of caution and dial the economy down further”.  Everything except The Guardian and the ABC it seemed.

Then Mark (“Call me professor”) Kenny advocated the same outcome for the sake of “clarity”, meaning that “people who immediately lose their jobs” would be subject to the same government funded provisions as the people who have already lost employment.  How good would that be?

The learned professor went on to argue that there is “an interesting confluence of both employees and employers actually calling for a shutdown”.  Well there may be some – but this is hardly a loud voice.  Most businesses want to work on – not close down.  But it’s possible that such a view has not found a voice at the ANU.

Then it was James (“I’m a Melbourne Grammar man”) Campbell’s turn.  He maintained that “there is an economic case for further shutdowns” since “businesses are in a worse and worse condition the longer trading goes on”. Campbell added: “If we think the train is going to the station marked complete shutdown, we should basically go there as quickly as possible”.  Sure – let’s catch the Locomotive Express to Lockdown Central.

So there you have it. Three journos – whom MWD believes have never run a business – calling for the economy to be closed down even harder than the national cabinet agreed to.  Fortunately the Morrison government did not accept the advice proffered by Insiders’ experts and did not lockdown the Australian economy in the way the New Zealand economy was locked down.

Almost three months after the occasion, Australia has about the same COVID-19 medical outcome as New Zealand – but the economic growth in Australia has not collapsed to the extent it did in New Zealand.

And now those who only a few months ago wrongly supported a complete shutdown are back in the Insiders’ virtual couch providing Australia’s leaders with yet more unsolicited advice. Can You Bear It?


While on the topic of oversight, did anyone hear the discussion on ABC Radio National Breakfast on Tuesday between presenter Fran (“I’m an activist”) Kelly and former Reuters journalist Dan Yates?  RN Breakfast is currently being produced by Matt Bevan and Max Chalmers.

Discussion turned on the fate of Julian Assange, who is currently in a British prison for having breached his bail conditions.  Mr Assange is also awaiting the outcome of an application by the United States to have him extradited.  Let’s go to the transcript where your man Yates talks of the fate awaiting Julian Assange if he ends up in “Trump’s America”.

Dean Yates: In Trump’s America, if they put Julian [Assange] on trial and jail him, and he faces up to 175 years, that would set a shocking precedent for going after anyone – of any nationality mind you –  that accesses or publishes classified material that is in the public interest. You could be an unknown hacker living in New Zealand. Or you could be the New York Times. And think of how this might embolden other countries. You’ve only got to look at this offensive “Fake News” label that did not exist until Trump came along. Governments around the world sling that around like mud when they don’t like what the media reports.

What a load of absolute tosh.  Comrade Kelly is one of the best interrupters in Australian journalism.  However, she said nothing when it was claimed that President Donald J. Trump invented the “Fake News” label.

The evidence suggests that the then President-elect Trump took up the phrase in early January 2017.  It had been used by BuzzFeed journalist Craig Silverman in 2016 and Hillary Clinton also referred to “fake news” in a speech delivered in December 2016.

Sure, President Trump popularised the label Fake News – but it existed well before he became president of the United States. So here’s RN Breakfast spreading fake news about Fake News.  Can You Bear It?


MWD could not get past the first paragraph of Wendy Squires’ Saturday Reflection in The Age last Sunday.  You be the judge – here it is:

Well, I sure wish someone had told me earlier! You see, as part of the mainstream media, I was informed this week that I am to blame for, well, nearly everything that is wrong in this world. What’s more, I should actually be aware this is the case but, as part of the evil media, I’m probably in denial at best and ignorant at worst.

Since Jackie’s (male) co-owner has never thought Wendy Squires is “to blame for nearly everything that is wrong in this world” – or even thought of Ms Squires – there was little point in reading on. However, a glance at the end of the column revealed that Comrade Squires regards Sky News as a manipulative “evil force” with a “hidden agenda”. Really.

So Sky has a “hidden agenda” – alongside such programs as “Morning Agenda”, “Afternoon Agenda” and so on which are obviously not hidden.  Which leads MWD to wonder whether such an agenda was present when Wendy Squires used to make regular appearances on Sky News when Derryn Hinch was a Sky News host.

For the record, Comrade Squires’ Saturday reflection finished as follows “Now I’m off to feed some sex slaves”. Quelle Surprise!  Hendo thought it might have been the pixies at the bottom of the garden.


Talk about a soft interview.  On Saturday 6 June 2020, the Herald Sun ran an article by Mark Buttler titled “Lore and Order of Police Work”.  It consisted of a “final interview” with Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton who is stepping down from the position on 26 June 2020.

Your man Buttler’s piece was supposed to be “wide ranging”. Strange, then, that it did not canvass that “Red Shirts Rorts” affair in which certain Victorian State Labor MPs were alleged to have used $388,000 of taxpayers’ funds during the 2014 Victorian election campaign. As MWD understands it, the “Red Shirts” incident involved employing young Labor activists to campaign in the election – while they were being paid by the government to do non-political work in electorate offices. The money was refunded by the ALP.

Guess what?  After a long investigation, Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton announced in February 2019 that 16 Labor MPs had been “exonerated” and would not be charged with respect to the matter.  All the 16 Labor parliamentarians had refused to be interviewed by Victoria Police.

At the time of the exoneration, the Coalition opposition leader Michael O’Brien had this to say: “I don’t think I can have any confidence that anyone will be charged over anything the Labor Party does”.   It so happened that Victoria Police listed the names of the 16 Labor MPs who had been exonerated.  Top of the pops was, wait for it, Adem Somyurek who was sacked from the cabinet by Premier Daniel Andrews  this week for bad language/branch stacking and so on.

Did Comrade Buttler mention the Red Shirts affair during his final interview with Commissioner Ashton? – MWD hears you cry.  Answer – not on your nelly.  And just when avid readers might have thought that this was a “Can You Bear It?” moment – there was more under the section “George Pell”.

George Pell

Mr Ashton labelled claims police put a target on Cardinal George Pell’s back “complete rubbish”.  “When a police force receives allegations and those allegations are serious, we examine them. If we find there’s sufficient information to warrant an investigation, then we do it. It doesn’t matter who it relates to. And it shouldn’t matter. We’ve got a job to do and, in that case, our job was to investigate it and we prepared a brief of evidence. The matter went to legal opinion, it went to committal hearing, it went through an appeals court and was upheld. To then want to say it was some kind of police witch-hunt, well, I think that puts that to bed.”

Now here are some facts of which, apparently, Mr Buttler is unaware. Victoria Police set up Operation Tethering in March 2013 to investigate  possible crimes by Cardinal George Pell – a year before any complaint was made.  In other words, Commissioner Ashton’s comment that Victoria Police only acted against Pell when serious allegations were made is inaccurate.  Mr Buttler should have known this.

The Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions declined to charge Pell.  So this was done by Victoria Police.  Of the 26 charges, some 16 were withdrawn or thrown out of the Magistrates’ Court. Of the remaining ten charges, only five made it to trial.  All five charges, which had led to convictions, were quashed by the High Court of Australia in a unanimous judgment.

Believe it or not, Mark Buttler let Commissioner Ashton get away with the claim that Victoria Police’s brief of evidence was upheld by the Victoria Court of Appeal.  He did not say that this was a majority decision which was overturned by a unanimous High Court decision.

To summarise, your man Buttler did not challenge any of Graham Ashton’s self-serving comments.  Nor did he report the High Court’s decision which was so embarrassing to Victoria Police and the Victorian DPP. Nor did he mention the Red Shirts scandal. Talk about a soft interview. Can You Bear It?


These days it’s difficult to pick the difference between ABC current affairs and ABC comedy – except, at times, the former is funnier than the latter.  Needless to say, each carry the same left-wing message as befits a Conservative Free Zone.

Take Wednesday’s The Weekly with Charlie Pickering . The good news was that the program dropped the segment where your man Pickering – playing the role of the head of the public broadcaster’s Human Resources Department – interviews real ABC types. Hamish Macdonald, Annabel Crabb and (last week) David Speers all had a go in the “Meeting the HR Heavy” slot. It was an occasion when your man Pickering really needed a laugh track. Or Laughing Gas.  Or both.

This week Comrade Pickering went into a boring monologue attacking Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s policy on superannuation at a time of pandemic.  How funny is this? – as the ABC house comedian reflected on a Channel 7 report that 40 per cent of individuals withdrawing $10,000 from their superannuation account this year had not lost their job.

Charlie Pickering: While the scheme was meant for those who’d lost their jobs or 20 per cent of their income, there was no requirement up front to prove this in your application and clearly lots of people rorted the system. But lots of other people genuinely needed the program and now they have a much bigger problem. Which has all got to do with how super works. [Yawn]

In the same way the money you put in super now is worth a lot more in the future, money you spend from super now costs you a lot more in the future too. And the longer you have until you retire, the more it’s going to cost you. SuperScooper (trademark) was most popular among 26 to 35 year olds and if a 20-something took out two lots of 10 grand today they could have 100 grand less when they come to retire. Or as one of the authors of the report put it, a coffee that you buy with your super money today could be the most expensive coffee of your life. Clearly he’s never been to Perth. [Groan – it’s a lot of super talk to get to the not so super Perth joke. – MWD Editor] …The problem gets even worse if you cash out at the bottom of the market. So how has the stock market been going Treas?

 Josh Frydenberg (3 June): The ASX 200 is more than 32 per cent higher from the recent low on the 23 March.

Charlie Pickering: So the lowest point in the Aussie stock market was 23 March. 23 March, why is that date so familiar? Ohh because that was the exact day Josh Frydenberg was on Sunrise and Today telling people to cash out their super. Coincidently it wasn’t just the lowest day for the stock market during the pandemic but the lowest day for the ASX since 2012….So anyone who listened to Josh has already lost thousands of dollars, on top of what they withdrew.

 How terrible that, at a time of economic downturn, the Treasurer allowed Australians to access their own money.  Also Comrade Pickering is ignorant of the fact that application for early access to superannuation did not open until 20 April. Also, on 23 March 2020 the ASX (in Australia) reflected the Dow Jones index in the United States.

In short, Charlie Pickering’s understanding of economics is  a real joke.  Still, if you run out of humour why not attack the Morrison government.  Can You Bear It?

The ABC TV program Media Watch commenced in May 1989 — a month after the publication of Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch (which became, in time, Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog Blog). All ABC Media Watch presenters have been left-of-centre types. No conservative has had this gig in three decades — confirming the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s reality as a Conservative Free Zone.

In recent times, the current presenter  Paul Barry has extended his editorialising on the media to sermonising on Australian politics. Due to popular demand, MWD records your man Barry’s occasional (political and social) Sermon on the Mount.


How fascinating to see ABC TV Media Watch host Paul Barry get into the racial diversity debate on Monday. He gave viewers a sermon about “the lack of racial diversity in Australian politics and in the media”. In the process your man Barry criticised the Coalition Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann – despite the fact that Senator Cormann is not a member of the media.  But there you go.

Media Watch Dog took notice when Preacher Barry said the following:

Paul Barry: …it does make a point about the lack of racial diversity in Australian politics and the media. And, indeed, in the almost all-white Canberra press gallery.

Paul Barry: Last week, ABC Insiders spent a chunk of time discussing the issues facing Indigenous Australians in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. And the first issue David Speers came up with was this:

David Speers: … I think we should probably start this conversation by pointing out none of us are Indigenous. We can’t fully appreciate, you know, the daily lives of those living with disadvantage and discrimination.

Paul Barry: Now, the ABC could easily have fixed that problem by inviting on an Indigenous panelist. They do exist, you know. And, after a torrent of criticism, they did that yesterday, giving a seat to the ABC’s former Indigenous affairs reporter Bridget Brennan, who promptly told them what many had already said…. Sad to say, this lack of diversity on the Insiders’ couch is nothing new….

Okay. But what about diversity on Media Watch’s presenter’s chair?  Media Watch Dog hears you cry.  Comrade Barry was born in England.  As such, he continues a tradition of Englishmen settling Down Under in prominent positions – which was commenced by Englishman Governor Arthur Phillip in 1788.  How about that?

Now here’s a glance at Media Watch’s  presenters since the program commenced on the taxpayer funded broadcaster in 1988.


In short, the Media Watch hall-of-fame is not “almost all-white”, to use Barry’s term, it IS all-white.  And Comrade Barry is lecturing the Canberra Press Gallery and Insiders for a lack of diversity.  Oh, by the way, Media Watch’s  executive producer Timothy Latham is a white male.  Here’s a thought.  Perhaps Comrade Barry could strike a blow for racial diversity and hand over the Media Watch presenter’s chair to, say, Bridget Brennan. MWD is sure she would do a fine job and strike a blow for diversity at the same time.  Come to think of it, for real diversity (including diversity of opinions) Ms Brennan could co-share Media Watch’s  presenter’s chair with Jacinta Price.

[Interesting. Perhaps you should have run this piece in your hugely popular Can You Bear It? segment. Just a thought. By the way, I do not think Ms Price is in with a chance – she seems to have been de-platformed by the ABC. – MWD Editor.]


While on the topic of the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s constant advocacy for racial (but not political) diversity – here’s a look at the ABC’s prominent leaders of news and current affairs – at management, television and radio levels.

This pic-fact was shown by Gerard Henderson last Tuesday in his weekly slot on Sky News’ The Bolt Report.

This collection is so white that, come Summer Time, they could all stand behind a bowler in a red-ball Cricket Test in the absence of an all-white Sight Screen and help a (racially diverse) batter.


It seems that the Queen’s Birthday gong republican recipients stick together.  How sweet, then, that in The Saturday Paper on Saturday (buyer beware, it goes to print on Thursday) Richard “Gadfly” Ackland AM supported Peter FitzSimons’ AM against Gerard Henderson’s AC (aka Always Courteous).

This gonged leftist pair is backing leftist historian Professor Jenny Hocking’s conspiracy theory that Queen Elizabeth II was involved in a conspiracy which saw Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismiss Gough Whitlam’s Labor government on 11 November 1975 – and that all will be revealed when the correspondence between the two is released.

The idea that the Queen was running around Buckingham Palace half a century ago plotting to bring down the Whitlam government for some reason or other seems a bit bizarre.  But, as Imre Salusinszky reminds us in his book The Hilton Bombing (MUP, 2019), this is not the first time that the taxpayer funded Monash University academic has trod the conspiracy theory floors, so to speak.

In February 1995, Comrade Hocking took part in a documentary titled Conspiracy (fair dinkum) which was shown on ABC TV.  It concerned the bombing of the Hilton Hotel in Sydney in 1978 by an Ananda Marga activist who subsequently confessed to the crime and was in prison when the taxpayer funded doco went to air.

Conspiracy director Darryl Dellora had other ideas.  Among his witnesses for the (conspiracy) prosecution was none other than Jenny Hocking.  Comrade Dellora suggested that the deed might have been done by such usual suspects as the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Army, NSW Police’s Special Branch, even the scientific boffins at the CSIRO.

This is Jenny Hocking’s version of the Dellora conspiracy theory – as described by Imre Salusinszky:

Monash University academic Jenny Hocking advances a slightly softer version of the ASIO conspiracy theory, suggesting that the police and security forces decided to stage a training exercise at the Hilton but didn’t get around to evacuating all the guests before, by some oversight, the garbos were allowed to empty the bomb into their truck.  “It is not unknown for these exercises…to fall into error at some point”, she says. Perhaps so, but killing three innocent men is a very significant “error”, and Hocking is unable to cite any others on a similar scale.  And does she think that had the exercise  worked as planned, the government would have been happy about its agencies choosing a major international meeting as the venue for a training drill using live explosives?

Good questions – which have never been answered since the learned professor moved on to the conspiracy theory that the Queen was involved in the Dismissal of Gough Whitlam – a position which Mr Whitlam himself never held.

In any event, it’s good to see that Comrade Hocking is receiving support at this time of regal stress from FitzSimons AM and Ackland AM.  For its part – following the High Court decision on 29 May 2020 – MWD looks forward to the National Archives of Australia releasing as soon as possible the correspondence – called the Palace Letters – which passed between Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace in November 1975.

Contrary to Ackland AM’s comments in The Saturday Paper last week, it was Sir John Kerr’s representative who placed the original 60 year embargo on the release of the correspondence which was later reduced to 50 years.  This was due to expire in December 2027.  Moreover, Professor Anne Twomey did seek the release of this correspondence as early as 2012.  She wrote to the Attorney-General on 23 October 2012 in a letter which commenced:

Given the recent controversy about the 1975 dismissal of the Whitlam Government, I have been perusing the papers of Sir John Kerr held by the National Archives.  Amongst those papers is file M4513, 1 (1974-77). Barcode 8373154, which contains the correspondence between Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace….

This seems pretty clear, then.  In October 2012, Professor Twomey sought access to the National  Archives’ collection of “the correspondence between Sir John Kerr and Buckingham Palace”.  According to Paragraph 5 of the High Court’s decision in Jenny Hocking v Director-General of the National Archives of Australia, on 26 May 2016 Jenny Hocking requested access to the deposited correspondence between Sir John Kerr and The Queen. In other words, Professor Hocking is not the only person to seek the release of this material.  She is only the first conspiracy theorist to do so.  That’s all.


There was enormous interest in the recent return of “History Corner” – after what journalists like to refer to as a Well-Earned-Break – or W.E.B. So here’s an encore:


On Friday 13 March 2020, the following exchange took place on ABC Radio National Breakfast between presenter Hamish Macdonald and the Geelong-based Warwick Hadfield, who covers sport for the program:

Hamish Macdonald: …And in motor racing, life’s set to imitate art, Warwick, as the [Melbourne] Grand Prix is to be called off – by the sounds of things.

Warwick Hadfield: I don’t know if too many people know this. But the 1959 Australian Grand Prix featured in the beach- uh featured in the movie On The Beach, which was a film about the end of the world as we know it. And the Australian Grand Prix being called off today, which is likely to happen, is certainly the end of the world as motor racing fans will know it – for a short time, maybe even a long time. And it’s worth remembering that, back then, Ava Gardner upset all the locals in Melbourne when she said she couldn’t think of a better place to make a movie about the end of the world. Yesterday it was Lewis Hamilton opining about being at the end of the world….

For the record, this is what Bruce Molloy wrote about On the Beach in The Oxford Companion to Australian Film:

The most expensive and the longest, by just one minute, of the American location films made in Australia in the 1950s, On the Beach is also the bleakest.  The story concerns a group of people awaiting death in Melbourne, the last surviving city in the world as a radioactive cloud drifts south after a nuclear cataclysm has wiped out the northern hemisphere.  Based on a novel by Nevil Shute, Stanley Kramer’s film shifts the emphasis from technology to human drama in its depiction of a group of American and Australian characters deciding on how to spend their final weeks.

Great story – by your man Hadfield, which was not corrected by the presenter –  about the gorgeous, pouting Ava Gardner (1922-1990), don’t you think?  Alas, it’s all true – except for some facts.

It’s true that the 1959 film On the Beach, based on a novel by the Australian writer Nevil Shute, was set in Melbourne and turned on the end-of-the-world, following the outbreak of nuclear war. Director Stanley Kramer, screenplay John Paxton and starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred  Astaire, Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson. On the Beach was filmed around Frankston, Cowes (on Phillip Island) and the town (now suburb) of Berwick.

For the record, Jackie’s (male) co-owner felt it was the end of the world in late 1959.  Not because of nuclear pending Armageddon and all that. But because Melbourne had defeated Essendon in the VFL/AFL Grand Final of that year.

But MWD digresses. Ava Gardner was quoted as saying in 1959 that Melbourne was an appropriate place to film the end of the world.  Neil Jillett reported that, in response to a question on why On the Beach was being filmed in Melbourne, Miss Gardner had replied, “Well this film is about the end of the world.”  In fact your man Jillett just made this up.  This is how he described the incident in The Age on 14 January 1982:

The editor of the Sun-Herald  told me to write an article about the filming of On the Beach.  I was to interview Miss Gardner and obtain, along with “details of her latest romance”, some comments about Melbourne. Well, there was not much to write. The film people did not want to be interviewed.   The only information about Miss Gardner was a list of the number of bottles of Scotch and cartons of cigarettes delivered to her flat in South Yarra. But I managed to concoct some waffle about locations for the film, the stars appearing in it and so forth.  This article duly appeared in the Sun-Herald, complete with what I modestly believe to be its immortal last paragraph:

Miss Gardner said: “On the Beach is a story about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it.”

The quotation was immediately repeated by newspapers around the world, not to denigrate Australia so much as to provide evidence of Miss Gardner’s hitherto unsuspected qualities as a gag-writer.  It also became obligatory for writers to include the comment in any article about Melbourne or even Australia. Although my name was not on the original piece in the Sun-Herald, I did not disclaim authorship. I was the envy of my colleagues for having obtained one of the century’s, or one of that week’s, definitive quotations.

At the time there was some muted mutterings from Miss Gardner’s quarters to the effect that she was not pleased by  the twist that had been given to her fame or notoriety; she preferred to be known (in the nicest possible way, of course) as a sex symbol rather than as a woman of rapier wit.

A few years ago, when she was out here on a private visit, Miss Gardner was asked by a television interviewer about the On the Beach quotation.  As far as I recall, her reply went: “At the time I was rather annoyed because I didn’t think I said it. Now I can’t remember exactly what happened. But it’s a funny quote and I’m quite happy to be given the credit.”

That prompted me to write an account of what really happened.  I submitted it to my editor (I was not then working on The Age), but he rejected it “because it doesn’t do any good to let people know newspapers make mistakes” ….

In The Age on 14 January 1982, Neil Jillett quoted the unpublished piece which he had written for The Age some years earlier but which was not published. This is what he had to say, writing in the third person:

Ava Gardner never said: “On the Beach is a story about the end of the world and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it.”

The remark originally appeared as the last paragraph of a news item written by Neil Jillett and sent by teleprinter from Melbourne to the Sun-Herald, Sydney. The last paragraph read: “It has not been confirmed that Miss Gardner, as has been rumoured at third hand from a usually unreliable source, if given the chance, would seriously consider whether, if she managed to think of it, would like to have put on the record that she said: “On the Beach is a story about the end of the world, and Melbourne sure is the right place to film it.”

In his youthful innocence Mr Jillett assumed that his superiors at the Sun-Herald would appreciate that the last paragraph was a hoax and remove it before publishing the article. But they just thought he was being his usual wordy self. They reduced the preamble to “Miss Gardner said” and retained the quotation.

Neil Jillett concluded his article in The Age on 14 January 1982 as follows:

I should end this confession with an apology to Miss Gardner, and I do offer her one. But my most sincere regret is that in 30 years of working for newspapers I have only once written anything worth repeating – and it has been attributed to someone else.

Neil Jillett was a rare breed of journalists – namely a reporter and a columnist who did not take himself too seriously.  Also, the Ava Gardner Melbourne “quote” demonstrates that the fake news of six decades ago still lives on today – on RN Breakfast, at least.  Memorable quotes, whether real or made up, tend to live on down the ages.

Well, there you have it.  In Australia, Ava Gardner is primarily remembered for a comment she never made. And Neil Jillett will be primarily remembered for a “quote” which he just made up.

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Until next time.

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