Chapter 54 – Back to Australia


1. Raising Two Bilingual Children
2. Reviving Australian Connections?
3. Blocked on Every Side
4. A Failed Canberra Connection
5. Australian Policy Flip-flops.

By the mid-eighties life had settled into a routine. 

The Japanese lecture circuit ground on. And the committee circuit too. 

The lectures at least brought in income, and exposure to a cross-section of Japanese humanity. 

And the committees?  Boring exposure to Japan’s stagnant bureaucracy for the most part. 

Almost weekly I would be sitting through yet another of the standard two hour committee sessions – on everything from post office reform and deciding the new Tokyo symbol mark, to daylight saving, nuclear energy and pie-in-the-sky plans for some new urban development. * 

Some committee topics were bizarre – a Nagaoka committee to discuss the merits of snow, another to discuss the merits of roads, another to discuss the merits of electric energy. 

Whenever an outfit found it had surplus funds it did not want to see taxed or taken away to lower the price of the community service it was supposed to provide, it would organize a committee or conference to discuss the raison d’etre for its existence, or anything else that gave it an excuse to spend money – hopefully, to invite well-known personalities for expensive dinners at luxury hotels.

Meanwhile for me, developing that little patch of jungle in the Boso Peninsula was becoming the raison d’etre for my Japan existence. Weekends would see our little family gang of four heading off out there to clear out more bamboo… 

*(I was still being seen as some kind of town planning expert, having been appointed to each of the committees set up in turn to advise on how to develop the new Makuhari, Odaiba and Yokohama bayside landfill sites.

(But my advice each time – that the seafront on each site be reserved for quality hotels and residential high-rise, was invariably ignored. 

(I should have known. The bureaucrats set up these committees simply to have their own ideas seemingly endorsed by the public. 

(Their idea of development is to have rows of lifeless storage sheds built by corporates, hopefully with some kickbacks to themselves.  Mine was high rise hotel and apartments facing the ocean but was ignored.

(As I predicted, all three sites have suffered stunted growth as a result. 

(Meanwhile Disneyland, a private development near Makuhari has profited enormously by reserving seafront for a string of quality hotels. 

(Town planning is not one of the skills with which our Japanese friends seen greatly to have been endowed.)

1. Raising Two Bilingual Children

Schooling for our two children was a major preoccupation, as it is for most mixed families in Japan. 

I wanted them to grow up with a good grasp of English – not only for my own selfish reasons but also so they could have a role in Japan’s increasingly internationalised society.

But we also wanted to have them keep a reasonable Japanese identity. That was the main reason we had arranged for them to have Yasuko’s surname (Tanno) and nationality. 

At home I spoke to them in English (Daddy talking); Yasuko spoke to them in Japanese (Mummy talking). 

And they would switch from one language to the other quite naturally, depending on whom they were talking to, even though they knew that Yasuko spoke English and I spoke Japanese. 


To further expose them to both languages we also rotated them between local Japanese schools and one or other of Tokyo’s several international schools. 

Dragging them from one school with its language, curriculum, and school friends to another school with a completely different language and so on, and then back again after yet another two-three years…at times it felt like playing God with your child’s mentality, identity, everything. 

Just one false move and a child’s personality could be destroyed. 

But they survived. Children are more adaptable than we adults realise. They kept on top of both languages, though their Japanese was always bound to be stronger. 

Fortunately Yasuko’s work took her to London for a year (at Ajiken she was their key researcher on African education systems and London University had some of the best source materials). 

During that year we were able to put the children into English boarding schools. It gave them the solid foundation in English that has stayed with them ever since. 

They were eleven and eight at the time – presumably close to the crucial ages for consolidating language. 

From then on we felt fairly safe concentrating their secondary education in Japanese schools, which allowed them to get into well-ranked Japanese universities, though not without a few bumps in the road. 

We were able to avoid the split identity and education problems that seem to bother many other ‘international’ families. 

But probably none of this would have happened without that one year in an English boarding school, for which I have to be eternally grateful – something I never thought I would feel for English boarding schools.

The one year of intensively concentrated exposure to English at that crucial age guaranteed it would not be eliminated by subsequent years of continuous exposure to Japanese broken only by exposur to me – that the two languages would continue to function normally side by side,

2. Revived Australian Connections? 

Meanwhile I was starting to want to get re-involved with Australia. I had been away for almost two decades.  I too was starting to have identity problems.

Despite the rough experiences of the Vietnam and then the Whitlam years, and the ANU, I was still not ready to cut the umbilical cord. 

 I still had few firm Japan commitments. I was free to move. 

Maybe, I thought idealistically, I could do something meaningful back in Australia for a few years, and then, for the sake of the children if nothing else, resume the Japan connection later. 

Journalistic Urges

Writing had been one way to maintain some link with the home country.

I was still doing some work for The National Times, and for anyone else who asked – even The Australian from time to time (but they never got round to paying me). 

Meanjin, the intellectual magazine of the Left, then being run by the much respected Clem Christensen, allowed me to write two think-pieces on Vietnam. 

Curiously I got my best run in Quadrant – the magazine for the anti-communist Right in Australia. Its then editor Robert Manne seemed happy to use my anti-anticommunist material (much of it is on this website). 

I even, for once, managed to get some reactions. 

Ideologues, whether on the Left or the Right, like intellectual debate, even if the population at large prefers to stay bogged down in its gut anti-communist instincts. 

Manne also arranged for me to fly down to Melbourne to give a talk about Japan to his readership. 

Standing before the audience in a downtown restaurant I could almost feel the loathing that many of them – stalwart Quadrant right-wingers and anti-communist émigrés from East Europe – still felt for me over Vietnam. 

But Manne persevered. He even devoted a special issue to my ‘tribal’ explanation for Japan’s economic success – then a topic of some interest in Australia. 

Manne was that rare specimen in Australia– a genuinely liberal conservative willing to see both sides of a debate. 

He had been bitterly anti-Soviet during the Petrov spy furore of the fifties, little realising that everyone, including Australia, and not just the Soviet Embassy in Canberra, had spies. 

His anger was focused especially on the few Australians who had tried to deny the existence of Soviet Embassy spies. He failed to realise how all Embassies had spies, even Australian.

He failed to realise how a generation of idealists, who had seen the fascist evil of the thirties, the weak-kneed behaviour of the capitalist democracies in confronting Spanish and German fascism, and finally the extraordinary sacrifices and heroism of the Soviets fighting German Nazis, might have concluded that Moscow for all its faults was the one hope for the future. 

Fortunately, by the time I met him his belief in the total justice of all anti-communist causes seemed to have been dented by Vietnam events. 

Later I discovered that we had one topic of genuine common interest, namely the way Australia’s economy was being mishandled. 

This in turn was to get me to be involved much more deeply involved in Australia’s economic debate than I needed, (see next chapter).

3. Blocked, on Every Side 

All this activity revived my interest in not just writing into Australia but actually getting involved in policy making.

And while I could do little on the economic policy side (as it turned out), could I get re-involved in foreign policy? 

First step in this direction had been a friendly letter to Bob Hawke soon after he became prime minister in 1983, reminding him of our earlier links and suggesting I could be of some use to his government back in Canberra. 

I did not even get a reply. I think he still saw me as one of those nasty Vietnam War radicals opposed to his rightwing takeover of the ALP. And I would fallen out with him over Israel.

 As well there was the run-in he had had with my father in Oxford in the fifties. And the run-in that I had had with the ALP over Whitlam’s policy mistakes in the seventies.

Memories die hard in the tribalised ALP.

A China Connection? 

Another hope was that maybe via Australia I could revive my Chinese connection. 

In particular I wanted to follow up on something I still feel genuinely proud about, namely my role in opening up the relationship with China by organising the pingpong diplomacy team in 1971, and in trying to break down Australian anti-China phobias with my In Fear of China book in 1967. 

One way to get back into the action, I thought, was to answer an ad calling for someone to replace the departing trade officer at the Australian Embassy in Beijing.

True, a trade officer is well down in any Embassy hierarchy. 

But for me at the time pragmatism was more important than pride. Besides, my economics background gave me genuine interest in, and qualifications for, working in trade matters. 

I had been into many of Japan’s top exporting or importing companies and knew most of Japan’s top businessmen. 

One of the many committees I had joined in Tokyo had been devoted to Japan-China trade. 

The Non-Selection Process

Canberra had set up a three-person committee to choose the new trade officer. But one of the committee, unfortunately, was none other than the Stephen Fitzgerald who had given me such trouble in the past. 

I was given the courtesy of a telephone interview from the committee in Australia.

I was then given the courtesy of a telephoned answer – no.

The job went to a Fitzgerald colleague – a pleasantly intelligent woman with a genuine interest in China but who as far as I knew had no exposure to economics and little trade background. 

Other Routes to China? 

On a trip back to Australia I checked in at the China-Australia Foundation to see whether it could help me get to China in some academic capacity. 

The Foundation had been set up in imitation with the Japan-Australia Foundation, in the creation of which I had played a role. 

The Canberra office of the China version was being run by a former Foreign Affairs colleague, Geoff Price. But there also Fitzgerald was closely involved. Once again the answer was no. 

And to think that but for my generous action that cold winter morning in Canberra, 1965, Fitzgerald probably never would have got his foot on the first rung of the China ladder. 

I was reminded again only too forcefully of that Machiavelli quotation.

But even Machiavelli, I suspect, had not thought that one could use a major favour from someone to turn round and do so such disfavour to that someone. 

4. A Failed Bill Hayden Connection

The setbacks did not end there.

An old friend, Geoff Miller, had been sent as ambassador to Japan. We had known each other favourably for almost twenty years. 

I remembered warmly how soon after I had resigned from Foreign Affairs back in 1965 he had arrived in Canberra from a posting. 

He had gone out of his way to contact me, saying he wanted to talk about Vietnam and my reasons for leaving.

At the time it was very unfashionable for anyone in that department to want to have anything to do with a dangerous anti-Vietnam War deserter like myself, let alone talk serious politics. I was impressed by his honesty. 

Now, as ambassador in Japan, Geoff was happy to help me get re-involved with Foreign Affairs. 

His idea was to recommend me for the position as Foreign Affairs department archivist/historian. It was a two year assignment, and had just come open.

In that position I would have access to a wealth of policy material. I would work also directly to the Minister, then Bill Hayden. 

Foreign Affairs Archivist? 

It seemed a good idea, at the time. 

I realised that Hayden, then Foreign Minister, had already begun his move away from his principled anti-Vietnam war positions of the sixties, when myself and friend/activist Bruce Macfarlane had been involved in helping him prepare anti-war questions to Parliament. 

An agonised letter I had sent him from Japan begging him to do something about the horror of El Salvador* went unanswered (he was already making statements showing sympathy for US policies in Latin America.) 

*(In El Salvador the US-trained military with its US advisers was using techniques that would have shocked even the Nazis, and which the Japanese used sometimes against the Chinese. 

(This was to march into a village in suspected guerrilla territory and literally wipe out the entire population – man, woman and child; the elderly, the infants, even the dogs and the cattle.

(But, in El Salvador the killers got smart. 

(They realised they did not have to kill the very small children. They could sell them to US adoption agencies, for good money.

(Many years later one of the guerrilla force women who had survived was able to track down her child stolen for adoption, now 15 years old and with an all-US family. She wanted the child back.

(The US media, Newsweek especially, made a great fuss about the suffering for the US family being forced to relinquish the child they had adopted and raised. 

(No one, I repeat no one, noted the horror that had led to that adoption. 

(And we in the West, the US especially, claim to have some superior morality that allows us to tell other peoples how to behave and govern themselves!) 

Despite my doubts about Hayden, I did feel I was reasonably qualified for the position Geoff Miller was recommending. 

But once again the answer was no. The position, I was told later, went to a lady called Robyn Lim. 

I had visions of some young, pushy/progressive Chinese Malaysian or Singapore lady researcher in Australia who had caught Hayden’s fancy (together with his move to the Right, he already had a reputation as something of a ladies man). 

On that basis I could just accept the rejection. 

Only later did I discover that the young Chinese lady was in fact an elderly Australian woman with hawkish military connections and rigid, hardline foreign policy views.

Nor, judging from the photos that accompanied some of her anti-China articles, would she have got the job on the basis of feminine charm. 

What’s more, she was able to use the archivist slot to get involved with an Australian military/intelligence complex only too glad to get some backing for their primitive anti-communist, anti-China prejudices. 

My ideas about useful re-involvement in Australian foreign affairs were disintegrating rapidly. 

5. Australian Flip-flops

The Hayden ability to flip-flop from progressive leftwing positions over Vietnam and other issues to extreme rightwing positions on almost every issue, foreign or domestic, was impressive, even by Australian standards. 

But it did highlight yet another quality Australia has in common with Japan – an inability to remain ideologically consistent, both at the individual and the national level. 

Or to put it another way, the ability to be swayed by the moods, fashions, fads or pressures of the times. 

In Japan it is called tenko – a 180 degree switch in position. It was common in prewar years when official pressure combined with the atmosphere of the times to make many of Japan’s progressives and left-wingers move to embrace, or pretend to embrace, rightwing causes.

A factor in Australia at the time was the way rightwing magazines like Quadrant could set the intellectual tone. 

There were also quality leftwing magazines like Meanjin. But they could not hope to compete with the well-(CIA?)funded rightwing magazines. 

(One of them, Encounter, was later exposed for receiving CIA money.)

Whatever the reasons, Hayden’s drift to the Right, including open contempt for his earlier leftwing colleagues and supporters, was impressive even by prewar Japanese standards. 

Another tenko example was the Quadrant editor who followed Manne, Paddy McGuiness. 

He had been a way-left libertarian when I had known him in Sydney during the sixties. But by the time he reached Quadrant he was hard rightwing, unwilling even to provide the latitude I had had under Manne. 

Complementary copies of Quadrant I had been receiving in Japan were stopped. Material I sent him remained unpublished. 

Elsewhere, as a Sydney Morning Herald columnist especially, he was to show a cranky rightwing conservatism, on everything from Iraq to economic policy and the rights of tobacco addicts.

One thing you can say for the Australian version of tenko – when it happens there are no half measures.  It is thorough. 

It is also very ugly for its lack of even a fig-leaf of intellectual consistency. 

But then, that is what you have to expect in another tribal society

With my mother, Boso property 1973