Chapter 37 – Finishing Up in Tokyo


1. Mountain Climbing with Yasuko
2. A Son, Dan, is Born
3. Goodbye to Tokyo?
4. The Whitlam Connection 
5. Embassy Advisor?
6. Ambassador to Japan? 
7. The Menadue Connection
8. The Prodigal Returns

The five years 1969-1974 as Tokyo correspondent for The Australian were as good as I could have expected

The Australian had given me a secretary and an allowance that allowed me eventually to move from my secluded hanare to a proper condominium.

 I was able to persuade Yasuko that this would provide better living than her one room apartment out in the suburbs. 


I had also developed a passion for fitness – squash and mountain climbing.  

Both are addictive, the climbing especially.

1.  Mountain Climbing with Yasuko

Our first trip to the Southern Alps saw us setting off in September to climb Kai Komagadake in the light gear and sand-shoes 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, did we begin to realise that winter came very early in Japan’s 3,000 meter highlands.

We were into some serious mountains and we were very unprepared. 

We managed to get up and down but it was a scare.

2.  A Son, Dan, is Born

Our son Dan was born in 1974. 

We celebrated with a delightful Japanese custom – a ‘first eating’ ceremony one hundred days after the birth of a child. 

We invited all our friends. In this simple way told the world about our coming together, without the hassle and contrived drama of a wedding ceremony, which we both saw as feudalistic anyway.

Young Dan performed well, going through the motions of sipping champagne and eating a slice of fish in his cot. 

Little did we know that soon after we would all be moving to Australia, and Canberra. 

3. Goodbye to Tokyo?

Working for The Australian out of Tokyo had never been greatly satisfying.

I enjoyed the challenge of having to go out and get stories.

But the Tanaka Kakuei FCCJ affair made me realise that journalism was not a very elevated profession. 

Only the top-rank feature writers took the trouble to research the background to the people and situations they were writing about; most relied more on rumours and writing skills to convey authority. 

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 back-flow into 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. 

4. The Whitlam Connection 

I had never been close to Whitlam. He was firmly to the rightwing of the Labour Party. 

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 leftwing 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 rightwing DLP supporter, Colin Clark, could have ended up as a Foreign Affairs rebel. 

He thought I had a father complex.

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 and 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 after Hongkong when I was working out my own ideological position.

The one thing that did upset me was his seeming lack of interest in my China involvement. The most I could get out of him was that China should be bombed

5. Embassy Advisor?

But to come back to Whitlam. Either he or someone around him-his close confident, Peter Wilenski perhaps, seems to have felt 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 1973 trips to Tokyo,  Whitlam 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 quick sensitivity and activism, even if at times he could show certain feline bitchiness. 

But politically we were far apart.  He was strongly to the political Right, as one of the people who may have encouraged the 1965 massacre of leftists in Indonesia.

And he was very jealous of his prerogatives.  He was hardly likely to want 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. 

6. 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, it would have had to be 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. But in my case it would be understandable.

The Japanese government had no reason to like me. 

If there is anything in the story, it could have been Whitlam asking Foreign Affairs to make a very informal approach to Tokyo, probably via Shann. 

 At that level, Shann would not have found it very hard to manufacture a negative response. 

Besides, from my Moscow experience I already knew that an ambassador’s life is fairly miserable — endless receptions and dinner parties, almost no private life, looking after visiting notables, taking endless orders from home base etc. 

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 as it had with many other nations.

If I wanted to be really effective, I had to try to get back to home base, to a position in Canberra where I could try to change attitudes on the spot.  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 Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney empire.

7. 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.

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 his job in Whitlam’s office to contest the Hume electorate for Labour.  He lost; as he himself admits, he lacked political talent. 

But on the basis of his former Whitlam connection and with the help of that inveterate fixer, Eric Walsh, he had managed to persuade Murdoch to give him a job as manager for some of the newspapers in the News Limited stable.

In those days a major income source for Australian newspapers were the annual supplements on Japan.  

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.) 

Lacking any advertising foothold in Japan, Murdoch 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 mentioned to someone 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 Murdoch 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 began to promote Menadue to higher posts in his Sydney empire, and eventually to manager of The Australian.

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. 

He kept me briefed on the political situation in Australia. We often talked 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 story 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 after my story was published.) 

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 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 happy to be invited, 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. (Foreign Affairs under Renouf, kept a close, and I later discovered, dangerous hold on affairs it claimed ownership.)

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. 

8. The Prodigal Returns 

Back in Tokyo after the Tanaka visit, and hit with another trivia request from Rothwell,  I was also not unhappy about 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, and departed the cold and gathering darkness of a Tokyo winter to arrive less than 24 hours later into the hot, dry sunshine of a Canberra summer. 


That was not the only contrast 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 other Menadue mates. Overnight I had been thrown not just into a Canberra summer, but also 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.

next. My year at Canberra’s power center.