Born in 1929, John Farquharson’s eminent career as a journalist led him from the Goulburn Goulburn Post in 1951 to parliamentary reporter and New South Wales State Political correspondent for Australian United Press, and then to the Federal Press Gallery, Canberra, as parliamentary reporter (1952-1957). He returned to duties with Australian United Press in Canberra (1960-1964) and, after a year in Papua New Guinea where he edited the South Pacific Post (1965), he became senior sub-editor of The Canberra Times in 1966. He had 22 years with the Canberra Times, during which time he served variously as Chief of Staff, News Editor, Assistant Editor and Deputy Editor and, in 1992, as sub-editor.
Listen to the interview
- John Farquharson
Interview with John Farquharson part 1
M Richards: Tape identification. This is an interview with John Farquharson, who worked in the Parliamentary Press Gallery between 1952 and 1964. It’s the 20th of March, 2003. The interviewer is Michael Richards and the interview is being conducted at Old Parliament House in the Deputy Speaker’s office.
John, I was wondering if we could begin by talking about your early years and what it was that brought you to Canberra as a young journalist in 1952.
J Farquharson: Yes, well, as I said, I was sent here in 1952 by my employers Australian United Press, which was a newsagency supplying mainly news to, news to country newspapers but also supplied other services to metropolitan, some metropolitan papers and radio stations. I had become interested soon in my school years, when the option of going to sea was ruled out by my eye sight not being up to the mark. And ah, so I began reading a lot of books by Phillip Gibb, the English journalist, who was a war correspondent in World War I and was knighted for that. And then, ah, towards the end of my schooling, about 1945, 1945 1946, I think George Johnston came out to school to give a talk. Johnston, of course, had been a war correspondent for the Melbourne Argus during the war. And had, had a sort of roving commission. He hadn’t been quite as prominent as say someone like Alan Morehead but he was very well known. And he was then, he had moved from Melbourne to Sydney and was working on the Sydney Sun. And he came out and he talked about some of his experiences in the war and a journey he had made through China and Tibet and so on, which later became the subject of a book, a book of his called Journey through Tomorrow. Well I was rather gripped by that and that rather sided me and, but it was the end of the war. It was difficult to break into journalism say on The Sydney Morning Herald or The Telegraph because they had so many people who had been cadets, cadet journalists, who were then returning from the war and they had to fit them in. So my History Master knew a man called Eric, or generally called Rick White, who ran Cumberland Newspapers in Parramatta. And, ‘cause I was at school at Parramatta, and he said, ‘Why don’t you hold, I’ll set it up — Why don’t you go down and talk to Rick White and see what he can offer you?’ So I went down there and they couldn’t offer me a job as a journalist but they said, ‘We’ll train you as a newspaper manager, to manage —’ They had a string of, they had a paid paper which came out three or four times a week in Parramatta and also a string of giveaway papers. So that’s what I started and I did a course in advertising and things like that but I was still anxious to get into journalism and so through writing around a little bit I got offered a job in Goulburn, on the Goulburn Evening Post by Marmion Dart.
M Richards: That was an independent paper?
J Farquharson: Yes, it was an independent paper. It was owned by the — It was then owned by the Daniel brothers and they were a firm who had been established as printers and got into newspapers in Goulburn. And it’s now, of course, owned by Rural Press but in those days it was independent. And Marmion Dart was a well-known former Sydney journalist who had worked on the Sydney news, the old evening news. And he gave me a start and a cadetship and so I did everything in country journalism that you can do from courts to — Well my first job — Well from courts to councils to everything else. My first job was to go out to the Goulburn sale yards on Wednesdays, yeah Wednesdays, and get the prices. So you had to — The mode of transport was a speed, or a pushbike. And you went out there at all weather to get the prices of the sheep that were sold that day or the cattle, but generally both. And you had to go over the yards with the auctioneers and get the prices from the various firms as they sold their lots. That’s the sheep pens. With the cattle pens you walked along the catwalk behind the yards and the auctioneers gave you the prices as the lots were sold and then you had a talk with them at the end, to see what they made on the market and so on. And so you [laughs] compiled reports. So that was my initiation into journalism. It seemed pretty mundane but it improved because you had court work and council work and then I got involved a fair bit in sport. I did a lot of rugby league, reporting of rugby league. And also I dictated a sports column which ran in the paper while I was there so then a chance came up to go to Sydney and work for - I saw an advertisement for - wanted someone to report parliament in Sydney. And this was Australian United Press. So I went down on a Saturday morning to Sydney. I got myself down and was interviewed by the managing editor Ray Utting. Australian United Press had a little place at the end of Castlereagh Street. You went underground to the, where the newsroom was. Everything was set up and so he gave me the job, which was mainly to be, report gallery, the perceived parliamentary proceedings. You worked in the gallery and I got the job and he was impressed that I was ready to go down on a Saturday. [Laughs]. Anyway, so I ended up in reporting State Parliament in Sydney.
M Richards: When was that? What year?
J Farquharson: Ah that would have been about — I went to Goulburn about ’49 I think. Would have been about ’50. Was after the — The Korean War had broken out so it was about 1950, ’51. Yeah mid-50s, ’51. The mid-50s. That’s when it would have been. And so I started off doing that. I found it quite a change from local councils and things like that. And I had to get my shorthand going. But everybody was pretty helpful. We shared a room up in the State Parliament with The Daily Telegraph and of course it was a marvellous place, State Parliament, those days. You know, in — Very different to today. We had our own dining room. There was a press dining room and you went down there and a steward or a waiter came and took your orders and went and got your meal and brought it up and served it. You know, it was really like a club.
M Richards: That was provided by the parliament?
J Farquharson: That was provided by the parliament. I think we had, yeah we had to pay for the meal, which went on our expenses of course. But all the service was provided by the parliament. And we could get things brought to our rooms too.
M Richards: Goodness me.
J Farquharson: They’d could come up — I don’t think it applies today. And they were, you know, they were all men in which jackets and so on. [Laughs]. It was extraordinary thing then. So I did the gallery for the while and then I was made state political roundsman. So I didn’t know much about political rounds. I was used to straight reporting but Bert Birtles who was the political correspondent for The Daily Telegraph was a friend and he sort of showed me the ropes of what I was meant to do. So thanks to Bert…
M Richards: So you, you actually never trained as a journalist as such. You’ve learned it on the job.
J Farquharson: Yes, well you got a cadetship and you learned how to do shorthand.
M Richards: So you did do that cadetship along the way.
J Farquharson: I did that, yeah I did that in Goulburn.
M Richards: In Goulburn.
J Farquharson: But you see, when I got this job that AUP that ended my cadetship. I was a graded journalist. Like — There was a grading system beginning with — You were supposed to four years, three years, four years as a cadet. Well, I didn’t do that. I did about two I think. But if you could get a job as a graded person, that was fine. But I did shorthand and of course — In the country you learn a lot of basic things.
M Richards: What did Bert Birtles teach you? What, what’s it that he…
J Farquharson: Well, you see, you’ve got to write around things as a political journalist. You’ve got to go and interview ministers and so on and write stories and project the —what may or may not happen and things like that. It’s a slightly different approach. It’s — You’re, you’re not just dealing with the proceedings of parliament, you’re dealing with the political developments that are going on in and around that. Government policy, ministers’ announcements — You know, can you deduce some new scheme or a new piece of legislation that is coming up and look at the effect of that and so on. And so —and how to make contacts with public servants and work out big contacts with ministers, which I then began to do. And we had, in Sydney at that time, we all went around together.
M Richards: ‘We’ being the entire gallery?
J Farquharson: No.
M Richards: No.
J Farquharson: Journalists from other papers. I’m talking now as a political roundsman. The — We used to go The Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC and AUP. We were working morning paper time and we went round together. We used to meet at Parliament House in Macquarie St, about half past two or three. We would go into our room, AU-Daily Telegraph room and have afternoon tea sent up. [Laughs]. We would have afternoon tea and then we would set off down Macquarie St or wherever we had to go to see the ministers. Might be the then the Attorney General or Clive Evatt, who was Chief Secretary. And then at four we had a meeting with the Premier from Monday to Thursday. Every day except Friday. And we usually had about 20 minutes to half an hour with the Premier to ask any questions we had or whatever. And when I first started, Jim McGirr was Premier. He was the Labor Premier of New South Wales, Irish Catholic, and a very sort of gentleman of the old world.
M Richards: He was once the Minister for Motherhood.
J Farquharson: Yes. I remember I asked my first question and I don’t know, then he asked me to write it down and he supplied this green paper and red ink. And I had to write my question down [Laughs] and the other blokes were helping him — Anyway, so that was my introduction to that.
M Richards: Why did you have to write the question down? He didn’t understand you, or —?
J Farquharson: No, he wanted to consider it.
M Richards: He wanted to think it through.
J Farquharson: Yeah.
M Richards: Yeah. Okay, so it sounds like a fairly formal process.
J Farquharson: It was then yes, yes.
M Richards: Yeah. Not the sort of Woodward and Bernstein journalism with the rendezvous at midnight and the vast network of informants.
J Farquharson: No, no. I mean, you did a lot of stuff on the phones and you got — But it was always best to see people. We were always taught that, you know, to meet people face to face, eyeball to eyeball. And that’s really how you built your contacts. You can’t do that on the phone. And so we, you know, dutifully went to the ministers, of course, you got to know the private secretaries and their staff and so on, and they could tip you off to this or that or let you know if something was happening. And you always had to watch Bert Birtles because he was very slick in getting scoops and so on [Laughs]. So you might get beaten sometimes but Bert was very good to me and we had, you know, sitting — We had the ABC, Rupert Beaumont, who was then the ABC political correspondent, he had worked on The Goulburn Post as I had, so he was always helpful too. But I did a lot of other things at that time too because I used to, I did an article on industrial rounds sometimes and I used to have to go down to Goulburn, to the streets Trade Hall. I remember going down there and covering a conference of the industrial groups.
M Richards: Oh yeah?
J Farquharson: You know, the Labor movement at that time. And the interesting thing about that was that weekend conference – Saturday and Sunday. Evatt came and spoke, about the ‘Doc, ‘Doc Evatt. And of course he was supportive of the industrial groups in those days and as… And John Kerr similarly, was also there. So that was an experience and I met a lot of the industrial people like Jack Simpson, who was a doyen of the industrial correspondents of The Daily Telegraph and so on.
M Richards: What was the atmosphere of that conference like? Was there a feeling that they had won the struggle against the communists in the unions? Or was it still a crusade? Ongoing?
J Farquharson: No, it was still ongoing. No, they hadn’t won. I mean, the big that’d happened was that Laurie Short had rested the, mine iron workers, the Federated Iron Workers Association, the FIA, from the communists. And that’d mean a famous case in the industrial court, which John Kerr won. And I remember I covered that decision in the courts. I sat down to do that and that was a landmark thing, when they got control of the iron workers. Well, the industrial group people, or the right got control of the iron workers. And yes, there was still that. And you had to know, you know, who you were talking to because there was a lot — The politics were everywhere in the Trades Hall and there was the right and the left. Anyway, we used to go down to the coal miners where the communists were still operating there. But George Neely who was from Newcastle, he was the person opposing them. And he was good value. I think he was the secretary but the president was a communist, whose names just eludes me now. He featured in, in that ABC documentary The True Believers. He was then running the coal miners.
M Richards: And they were all quite happy to talk to the press?
J Farquharson: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
M Richards: And how widely would you have reported something like that? I mean, how widely known was the existence of the industrial groups?
J Farquharson: Oh it was general knowledge. Oh, everybody knew. And that they were…
M Richards: So it’s not a secret organisation.
J Farquharson: Oh, it wasn’t a secret organisation by no means. It was right out in the open. Absolutely, yeah, so, you know, it was interesting. And I did a bit of police reporting. Used to have to get out into central police station in Sydney and talk to the cops and detectives and went out on a few police rounds and jobs and so on. And so it was vast experience you got and you just got thrown in and you did your best. And another time I covered the, when the guy called McDermott, who was in jail for murder – he murdered a women up in the country – and forensic evidence had put him, had led to his conviction. And, but there was a Royal Commission and his sentence was squashed, so I guess police absolutely pardoned and I covered the announcement of that when McDermott was brought in. And the Attorney General it was, no, it might have been — Anyway, it was announced and I remember going to the press conference at that at which McDermott appeared and there was this little room, I think, down near the old Coroner’s —in the old Coroner’s Court, down near the Quay in Sydney. And the room was smaller than this, and I had to crawl through people’s legs so that I could see and hear what was going on [Laughs]. So they were a few things that I did in Sydney, and then, I was state political roundsman as I said, but they wanted — In ’52 I was sent to Canberra as, because they were short and they wanted people for, to report the gallery.
M Richards: Did you want to come to Canberra? Was this a promotion?
J Farquharson: Oh, it wasn’t a promotion, it was just — I think State Parliament wasn’t sitting at the time and they said, ‘Would you want to go down to work in the Gallery?’ Because in those days, the permanent people in the Gallery were very small. Only a handful of people here on permanently and each session of Federal Parliament, the newspapers augmented their staff by people they sent down to report Gallery proceedings, House proceedings, in the House. And that’s what I came down for. So the — It was then about three people from AUP, I think, permanently and we were augmented to six or eight during session. Yeah, that’s covering the Senate and House of Reps. And the other similar papers used to do the same – Sydney Morning Herald and so on.
M Richards: So it’s quite a big staff, in the session.
J Farquharson: Yeah, in the session. And most of the pictures you see taken of the Gallery were always taken in session so that they Gallery also included those people, like ourselves, who came in for, just during sittings. For the sitting period. And, you know, it was quite extensive because it was about three sessions a year, in the autumn session, well the one beginning in about February, March, in about February. And then having a break, coming back and going through to winter and then coming back for the — The budget was then introduced in August and in those days, when none of this sit for a week or two weeks… You sat straight through without breaks for each session and the budget session would be in August and would go through till December. So we were here for quite a stretch.
M Richards: So the obvious question is, what was the difference? What was it like coming up from Macquarie Street to, to this different Parliament?
J Farquharson: Well it was much the same. I suppose procedure was all the same. But, you probably, there was probably, you were probably a bit more distant, I suppose. In State Parliament, you — It’s a bit like moving from this house to the new house. I mean, the difference wasn’t quite as big as that, but you weren’t quite as close, but then when you settled in here you soon developed a pattern. Of course, there was no security. When you came to the Gallery, the sergeant of RU, the head of your service gave your name to the sergeant in arms and you were issued with a card with your name on it, where you worked. That was all. And I don’t think I ever had to show it. Maybe I did once or twice, but you know, everybody knew everyone. You came in through the Reps door usually, or front if need be, and at night the, the — you know, the non-members bar stayed open till half an hour after the House got up and if we were here late, because sometimes you still had to get things away, and we were here later. And the front door and the Reps door would be closed and we’d have to go out through the Senate. And of course the Senate side door, and in those days there was a housekeeper. Frank Bishop was the housekeeper and there was an attendant at that door and he sort of controlled, well Bishop controlled locking things in the House and so that’s how we operated. I mean — And then, that was ’52 I was doing that.
M Richards: How big would the Gallery have been in ’52? How many people all told?
J Farquharson: I suppose…
M Richards: In session.
J Farquharson: In session it would have been about 60 of us, I suppose. I mean…
M Richards: On the Reps or all told?
J Farquharson: Oh, that’s Reps and Senate. Because we had people in the Senate and the Reps and the other papers did too.
M Richards: So by that stage some of the people would have been working out of the offices that have since been demolished on the roof?
J Farquharson: Yes, yes.
M Richards: Were there offices?
J Farquharson: Yes, we were all working up there. I mean, we were up there, the ABC was there. And of course, it was more — We worked hard but it was more, sort of things were more relaxed than they are I suppose you’d say. Because in the Gallery when I — We had a common room, the Gallery common room, which was that big room just above the stairs, which, when the pressure on accommodation came, the ABC was moved into. Until that happened, that common room, we used to have meetings there, and there was a table tennis table there, in it. And there were pictures around the wall and so on.
M Richards: Pictures of journalists?
J Farquharson: Gallery pictures and those cartoons and so on, some of the things that you have here were all in it, around that room.
M Richards: So there was a real sense of, of an esprit de corps?
J Farquharson: Esprit de corps, and as I say, we used to — When you’re working in the Gallery, as a Gallery hand, you did a, you went in for about half an hour. It was ten minutes during question time, I think, we used to roll over and come out write things quickly. But it was generally half an hour during ordinary debate. And you’d come out and you’d get your stuff away and you could have a hit of table tennis or…
M Richards: And that’s why you needed so many people too…
J Farquharson: Till you’re on again, yeah.
M Richards: Yeah, it’s a bit like the Hansard, rolling over like that.
J Farquharson: That’s right.
M Richards: So if you’re in for half an hour, you might, there might not be anything newsworthy?
J Farquharson: No, you may, there might not be anything to write.
M Richards: Right, but there may be a big story that would take the rest of the day.
J Farquharson: Or some government member may have attacked the government or someone, somehow. And of course, there was the whole — What happened in the House, the legislation to be going through and everything, was much more, was reported to a much greater extent now than it is now. I mean, backbenchers used to have their say and you had to look, we as representing country electorates had to look after people that, you know, took iron stuff for the papers and so forth. And we did a service for the Melbourne Age round service and initially when The Argus was still going, for The Argus, and also for The Age radio station which I think was 3AW in Melbourne at that time. And…
M Richards: Sending them hardcopy that they would then broadcast?
J Farquharson: Yeah, and also The Hobart Mercury. So we had to look after those things and we also represented two overseas agencies, The United Press – which became United Press International, UPI, from America – and an old British agency called The Exchange Telegraph, which no longer exists but was still going then. And we had to service those, so we were kept fairly busy.
M Richards: But you’d still have time for some social life.
J Farquharson: Oh yes, we still had time for social life. I mean…
M Richards: And there’d be the same routine of visiting minsters and regular —?
J Farquharson: Well, I mean, yes. Well, initially I was in the Gallery but even when we were in the Gallery, we used to do morning rounds here and Rob Chalmers, who then worked for The Mirror, he’d come down here about a year before me – he came down in ’51, I came in ’52 – and he then would organise morning rounds. They’d ring the bell at the, where the Gallery pigeon holes are, where copies are left, where handouts are left and he’d ring the bell and we’d go round together to see the ministers. But that dropped out after a while and it was really up to individuals. You made your contacts.
M Richards: Why do you think that changed?
J Farquharson: Oh, I just think the Gallery was changing. Demands were changing and so on, and…
M Richards: Becoming a bit too big for that sort of —smaller production?
J Farquharson: Probably, probably yes. Although it was quite a good practice because it, it, you know we went round to go the ministers who were likely to see you. Otherwise you just had to make your own way. See, anyway — I was doing the Gallery through ’52 and I think at the beginning of ’53 and then they decided that they would increase the permanent staff in Canberra. And I was asked if I would be interested. And my chief of staff, Norm Hurley, known as Jugger Hurley, he’s well known in Sydney, was trying to persuade me to stay in Sydney because they wanted me to stay at State Parliament. But anyway, I was sent down here for about three weeks in ’53 and I rather was attracted to the place and so I decided to do it. And so I came down and the budget session in 1953 asked to join the permanent staff, so stayed ever since. Well I stayed through that period until ’64.
M Richards: Up until then, where had you been living? In a hotel? A hostel, or —?
J Farquharson: I had been living at Hotel Civic, which has now been demolished. Mrs Hatcher.
M Richards: That was more of a boarding house?
J Farquharson: No, it was a regular hotel. Mrs Hatcher and her husband Keith Hatcher ran it. He was an ex New South Wales policeman. It was just across the road from what was then the police station, which is opposite what is now the Jolimont Building. And then it was a rambling wooden building, the police station ran along the side of Northbourne Avenue there, and in the front there was a more impressive portico front facing that other street that runs down, I’ve forgotten the name of it, that runs down the side of the Jolimont Building. You know, it’s on the corner.
M Richards: Oh yes.
J Farquharson: And that was Census and Statistics in the front and then the police station.
M Richards: And once you’d become permanently based here, did you stay there as well?
J Farquharson: No, no. I, well I think I did initially. Then I had to look around for something else and I got a, I moved into Lawley House, which was a hostel down in Barton, in Brisbane Avenue, in Barton. And then, so I lived at Lawley House and later I was at Hotel Acton for a while, I stayed there for a while, and also at Brassey House for a while too. And then at one stage a few friends and myself, we leased a house for a few years and lived in a house up in Murray Crescent, just behind Manuka there. So the house belonged to Bob Armstrong who’d been Calwell’s private secretary when he was Minister of Immigration and Bob had been sent to London, to the High Commission in London. We leased his house while he was in London.
M Richards: Did you do much socialising outside the Press Gallery? I mean, you’re young, you’re single.
J Farquharson: Oh, yes, yes we did. We used to get to know girls around the house and so on, and then, in the Gallery, during sessions when everybody came down we used to do things like — often on non-sitting days we’d go over here to the Senate garden where the cricket pitch was and sometimes we’d organise a game of cricket amongst ourselves and I think that was the precursor to the idea of, you know, matches between the Gallery and parliamentarians developed later on. Because there was a kit here, in the house, you we went to Frank Bishop or the house keeper was stuff that we could get, you know, all the stumps and the bag with bats and balls and so on, gloves, and so forth. Provided by the Parliament.
M Richards: Was there much contact with the backbenchers apart from that sort of thing?
J Farquharson: Oh, yes, well you see, when I came down permanently I was no longer on the Gallery. Well, I was still on the Gallery staff too, but I was really in the situation of being a roundsman again, you see. So yes, we had contact with MPs and so on, and some of them used to, we, we also had access to the tennis courts. We had to book of course and the MPs took precedence and, you know, I wasn’t a tennis player but others did. You know, some of those games were with MPs and so on.
M Richards: Can we just tease out a little bit more the difference between a roundsman and a Gallery reporter? You’re still working out of the same office?
J Farquharson: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Everything is the same, and everything is interchangeable.
M Richards: And you still do a stint in the Gallery when Parliament is sitting?
J Farquharson: Yes.
M Richards: It’s simply that you’ve also got these other activities.
J Farquharson: Yes, activities. Yes. Yes, I did for a while and then later on I didn’t because I became Head of the Service and so on. So it was a different…
M Richards: When did that happen?
J Farquharson: Well, I — During my time here I spent not quite a year overseas in America, but I came back here. They wouldn’t give me leave of absence but they said, ‘If you come back, you’ll almost certainly be right.’ And that’s what happened.
M Richards: Oh, so you went off to work for someone else?
J Farquharson: No, I went off privately for year. Oh, not a year, perhaps six to eight months to spend time in America. Came back and then I also at one stage, must have been in the late 50s, I did a year in Melbourne as a — I went to AAP, AAP Reuters. And I worked for AAP Reuters in Melbourne for a year. And then I, the, AAP wanted to know if I’d come back again. So, I did. I sort of felt I’d finished. AAP Reuters was interesting and if I’d stuck it I’d probably been sent overseas. But Canberra still attracted me.
M Richards: What was it that kept pulling you back to Canberra?
J Farquharson: [Laughs]. I don’t know. I like the place and the lifestyle here and from the time I came here and had those three weeks or so in ’53 at the Civic before I decided to come here and join the permanent staff, I felt, you know, it was a good place to be. So that’s what I did, came back, became Head of Service at AUP. And I came back from Melbourne as second in charge, actually, that’s what they wanted me for. Then things changed and I became Head of Service. The chap that was here moved on and then I was married in ’63, 1963 and 1964 the chance came up to go to New Guinea, to edit The South Pacific Post in Port Moresby. It’s now, that paper’s now called The Post Courier and I did. I went to New Guinea for a couple of years as editor of The South Pacific Post.
M Richards: And then back to Canberra, but not to the Press Gallery?
J Farquharson: Back to Canberra, to The Canberra Times.
M Richards: To The Canberra Times.
J Farquharson: Because one of my great friends in Canberra was Alan Fraser, who was the Member, Labor Member for Eden-Monaro. He held the seats against the odds for Labor and his brother Jim was the Member for Canberra, the Member for the ACT for Federal Parliament. And we became, he was my [INAUDIBLE], we became friends. We used to swim together at the Civic Pool. Old Fraser, Bill Bailey, the lawyer, and Albert Lane who was then the, Dr Albert Lane who was then the superintendent of Canberra Hospital, which later became Royal Canberra Hospital and Alan was the Chairman of the Hospital Board. So — And Alan was, you know, the man who gave the toast at my wedding, because he knew my wife as well. So, he came, his son Rob was a TAA pilot, or became a TAA pilot, and in those days the airlines, whatever Australian airlines, their pilots had to serve a year in New Guinea because it gave them a great flying experience. And TAA, then later it was ANA, Ansett did this year stint in New Guinea. So Rob Fraser had come up to do that and I was in Moresby, heading up to The South Pacific Post and Alan and his wife came up and I had to look around for something else because my wife really couldn’t take the tropics. She had, well, skin problems and so on, and so we decided it was best to give New Guinea away. So Alan said, ‘Look, David Bowman who was then the editor, would be interested in you coming back,’ so Alan set it up and I came back to, to Canberra to join The Canberra Times. And I’m still here. [Laughter].
M Richards: Well, perhaps we should go back to the 50s for a little bit. We’ve talked about the offices and that sort of thing, before we talk about some particular incidents, I was wondering if we could talk about the ambience. I mean, in later years the Gallery became dreadfully crowded and even squalid, but was it was it like that in the 50s?
J Farquharson: Not exactly, no. I mean, we, I suppose we were cramped. We had a room where we wrote our stories and then we had another little room on the other side of the lift, next to The Age, which was our teleprinter room.
M Richards: Would you type your stories?
J Farquharson: Yes, yes.
M Richards: And you did that yourself?
J Farquharson: We did that ourselves.
M Richards: What typewriter did you use?
J Farquharson: I used an Underwood I think.
M Richards: Just about everyone seems to have used Underwoods.
J Farquharson: Yeah, they were old, battered things but they stood up to a lot.
M Richards: Portable?
J Farquharson: No, no, no. Upright.
M Richards: Upright, yeah. Were you a fast typist? Was it something you had to learn in your cadetship as well?
J Farquharson: Ah, you’re supposed to. I never did very well at that. I mean, I never spent enough time I suppose, but I could manage. Yeah, like a lot of journalists, I could get by.
M Richards: And then your copy would go to the telex operator?
J Farquharson: Yes.
M Richards: Who were the telex operators?
J Farquharson: Well, they were people, that — They were PNG employees.
M Richards: Legally?
J Farquharson: Who were moonlighting over here. Well, generally they finished a shift around, you know, late in the afternoon and we had the copy then and they’d come in about half past six and knocked a copy over and get it on the teleprinter away, you see. I mean, we did have — In between we could phone someone for urgent stuff and we used to send stuff down to Melbourne by phone. So up for the radio and stuff.
M Richards: So you weren’t using the PNG’s teleprinter or telex?
J Farquharson: Oh, they were PNG lines and the machines came through the PNG.
M Richards: Did they?
J Farquharson: They were maintained by the PNG.
M Richards: But policed by individual… ?
J Farquharson: But policed by individual offices and the, and the, the state of operators. The guys would finish, well they were just across the road, over at the East Block, you see, where the post office was. And The Telegraph office was all there and of course there was a post office here, downstairs. And we could lodge, you know, in between, we could lodge — Between them coming on duty, we could lodge copies through the post office. We just had to come down the stairs here and lodge our copy and it would go through that way, as I said, through the post office system direct, when we didn’t have operators. And of course, this is so we altered the claim. And then when the post office closed here which was half an hour after the House got up, then we could walk across if need be, if our own operators had gone, we could walk across to the post office and, and photocopy through The Telegraph office.
M Richards: Now you’ve told me a story once about having to have windows next to the telex operators, so they could get out…
J Farquharson: So they could get out when the, when the inspectors came. Well, you see, we had a room which we — The Age was next door, we did services for The Age so the, our teleprinter room was also The Age teleprinter was there, and we shared operators. And Bill Hardigan was our main operator. He was well known in the Labor Party circles and so on, and for his right wing Catholic views. But Bill Lalsoola [?] he was called, and other people came to because Bill wasn’t always available sometimes. So, and you know, we could shove these guys through the window onto the roof if somebody came around. Which I think, I can’t even, I must have only done it once I think when somebody came nosing around. So, but we did and it was very handy to have that roof there to put these guys through.
M Richards: And the teleprinter was basically the story when you arrived and until you left?
J Farquharson: Until I left, yeah, the only improvement used to be, they used to key direct onto the keyboard. In later years, we got tape so the operators could punch tape and could send it through a machine that picked the two. And that was actually quicker, punching tape. It shifted things quicker and you could build up a lot of copy onto the tape and then whack it through. So that, that was the main improvement. But until then it was typewriters, ‘steam-driven typewriters’ as they say [Laughs] and typewriters they used to say.
M Richards: And you wouldn’t type into the teleprinter yourself? That was a specialist task?
J Farquharson: It was, yes. No, there were union rules and things. But we, just as we weren’t supposed, just as we couldn’t take photographs. And of course in those days there were no staff photographers in offices here. We had to use local photographs like Les Dwyer, down at the [INAUDIBLE] in Manuka. He was one of the principal ones we used. There was another chap, whose name I can’t remember, but that The Sydney Morning Herald used quite a bit and we could sometimes call on him too.
M Richards: Alan Reid, at least in later years, used to use a little portable tape recorder. Was he unusual on that?
J Farquharson: I’d say it was unusual. There were no tape recorders in my day being used, that I can recall. And they had only just begun to come in but they were not in use. It was shorthand and, as I say, typewriters and teleprinters were the main ways of communication, getting, you know, clearing a copy. So…
M Richards: So you were here, looking at those years, you were here for the announcement of the Petrov?
J Farquharson: Yes, in 1954, and no, April, and no 1955. No, it was ’54, yes. Petrov was April 1954. Browne-Fitzpatrick was 1955. And I was here, I was in the Gallery, I was sitting — House used to resume at 8 o’clock and I’d come in to do that first session in the House at 8 o’clock. It was quiet. Nobody expected anything unusual or anything. There was no word of anything. Menzies suddenly appeared, came in, the benches down below start to fill and the announcement was made. The Gallery, the ends swarming with people as Menzies and announced this. I mean, it was totally, nobody had any inkling, because it looked like a quiet, slumberous night. [Laughs]. Which had suddenly turned around because everyone was scrambling everywhere with this tremendous story.
M Richards: One of the hotly debated issues amongst some historians, is how significant was that announcement to the election result that followed? Your views on that?
J Farquharson: Well, this is a debateable point. I have, well, I mean, there have been a number of things written about it and the left have always claimed that it was conspiracy and that it was deliberately timed and all that. All that I’ve been able to ascertain, and Robert Manne in his book, bears it out. I’ve also interviewed, for the National Library, Michael Thwaites who was really the officer that supervised Petrov, the ASIO officer. And the evidence that it was a conspiracy and that it was deliberately kind of put on is not there. The timing, from all that I’ve been able to learn about it was entirely with Petrov. I mean, they had been in touch with him and all that was going on, but the — It was really, they were hanging on what he was going to decide. And it was, it was on, it was off and then, you know, and then — And Menzies was probably Spry, it was Colonel Brigadier Spry who was then the head of ASIO probably told him. But the whole timing of it was very in the hands of Petrov from what I’ve been able to establish. I mean, as far as one can on these matters.
M Richards: What was Menzies’ demeanour on that night? Was he different than usual?
J Farquharson: Oh, no. I think he was much himself, you know — I mean, Menzies — Well, it was, I suppose one of the fortuitous things as far as he was concerned. He wasn’t a person who didn’t see significance in being able to take advantage of whatever event, of something that had happened. But you know, I don’t think — He never, he never engineered it. And, and then there was a good prospect that Evatt might have got up at that election. That’s, that’s quite true. And the Doc — But you see, the whole thing was its implications for the Labor Party, of Labor Party people being involved. Particularly the Doc’s personal staff. You know, it was a really, a big factor.
M Richards: Although that didn’t really come out until after the election.
J Farquharson: No, it didn’t. No, it didn’t. But then, you see, we had the — It was very dramatic. Ken Hurdy from the Prime Minister’s department was appointment Secretary of the Royal Commission that was set up. And they set up this mock courtroom down in the Albert Hall and for the opening sessions of the — We went down there to report, to report that, you see. And that was very dramatic stuff.
M Richards: And widely reported.
J Farquharson: And widely reported, of course, across the world. Because this was the biggest defection since Gouzenko in Canada.
M Richards: It was a bit of a damp squib in the end though, wasn’t it?
J Farquharson: Well, it was. I think apart from the fact that Petrov was able to identify agents and more overseas than here — I mean there were people involved here but, and you know, there was one bloke over in Parliament who never came back to Australia. So, but, identify other agents of other countries and I think that helped the British and so on and the Americans to some extent, because then they understood how some of their people were being killed or being, you know, imprisoned. I think he did that, and I think he brought — Well, they say it was valuable information but of course a lot more has come out since the Verona material is now available. And I think he just helped bear out and that there was no, no conspiracy type of thing.
M Richards: Were you in the House the night Evatt produced the letter from Molotov?
J Farquharson: The Molotov letter, yes. And the Doc was ranting and raving.
M Richards: Can you go through that night?
J Farquharson: Oh, it’s a bit vague now but I know that the Doc was near the table and there was paper — You know, and the Doc, when he was speaking, had papers everywhere and he was picking up this and picking up that. And it really set the Doc in a frenzy that nobody imagined or had seen before, where he became really quite frenetic and so on. I mean he was always a bit that way inclined because often you’d go down to see the Doc about something or rather and we’d troop in there and somebody would ask a question and he would turn around and say, ‘Who told you to ask that question? Who told you to ask me that?’ See, he was always a bit paranoid like that but this set the whole thing off. And of course with his personal staff involved, and Fergan O’Sullivan had worked for the Sydney Morning Herald and had worked in the Gallery and was involved with the preparation of Document ‘H’ with Rupert Lockwood. Although only Lockwood, Lockwood actually wrote it I think, but O’Sullivan provided a lot of the background. Notes, notes about people and so on. And I knew O’Sullivan. We used to drink together – a lot of people did, with Fergan. So, and then were others. There was Dalziel and so on, another member of personal staff and Albert Grundy. Grundy, anyway, who was sort of a bagman. All these people were involved and others.
M Richards: And you think that helped contribute to the Doc’s feeling of being got at and a conspiracy?
J Farquharson: I think it did, but he went overboard on it, you see. I think had he been more restrained about it and not decided to represent these people himself. He should have — The representation should have been done by another council, not the Doc.
M Richards: What was the reaction from Parliament, when he produced the letter? Volatile?
J Farquharson: Well, disbelief. After that he would be so gullible, as to think, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t say the things he did,’ or…
M Richards: And within his own party?
J Farquharson: Even within his own party, you see. And then of course, the split later on, in ’55, the two split in the party. And that was devastating for the Labor Party.
M Richards: So you were there throughout that period?
J Farquharson: Yes, I was there throughout that period. It was, it was amazing, the split because the, the — Well, first of all, it was the Labor Party anti-communist lead by Bob Joshua, who was non-Catholic but his wife was. And of course, the other, not all, some of the more, the people in the Labor Party more aligned with the industrial groups came across like Stan Keon, Bill Burke, Mullins and others came across. And became partly the DLP and you had the spectacle in — Because the feeling, now they really turned against the Doc and it had a spectacle in the Parliament and the adjournment. The adjournment debates were not the tame things they are now, but very willing thing with Eddie Ward getting up and ranting and, you know, revealing all sorts of things and so on. They were very significant debates and then in the adjournment of the House you’d have the debate going on between the Labor Party, the Government could sit back and watch all this going on as Keon and people like that got going. You know, things came to blow, well almost, no didn’t but you know, there was — It got very willing indeed.
M Richards: Did the two sides seek to court the press? Were you being fed information or anything like that?
J Farquharson: Well, I suppose they did. Oh, yes, I think so. I mean, everybody, you know everybody was taken by surprise about the Doc you see. And once that had sunk in, the way it was, there was a lot of feeling against him. They felt that he’d really been finished. And I think in their hearts a lot of Labor people felt that. I mean, there were moves against the Doc. Alan Fraser stood against him and got 20 votes but nobody thought he was going to win but the fact that there were people willing to take the Doc on because they were, you know, just felt that the damage to the party was so great.
M Richards: How good was your line into the party, to know, know what was going on inside the party?
J Farquharson: Oh, well Alan Fraser was a contact of mine and so on, and there were others there. Jim too, was always helpful in that. And a few others. And there were government people too that we used to talk to and so on. I got on well with some of them, with Alan Fairhall and people like that. Senator is always a good source. Ian, Ian Wood from Queensland.
M Richards: Why senators?
J Farquharson: Well, there was a sort of, a few sort of government senators willing to kick over the traces like Wood and, and Reggie Wright, from Tasmania. Sometimes a few others. And they would, they would talk. People are always willing to give you their side of things. You had to work out where the real facts and truth were though. You got their versions but, so…
M Richards: I’ve heard lots of stories, and I stress the word ‘stories’, about various ingenious methods by which members of the press could eavesdrop on what was members was happening in various rooms. Have you got anything to say about any of those stories? Are they just stories?
J Farquharson: They’re just stories. Not true. So you could get, hear things out of the Cabinet Room, that’s a load of rubbish. We had, our rooms just near, well they weren’t above — They butted onto the roof which was above — There was no way you could hear anything at all. And just as — And the other story was that you could hear what went on in the Caucus Room in the Labor Party Caucus. Well, Hal Myers from Sydney Morning Herald and Elgin Reed, Courier Mail, they tested this out on the roof. And all they could — The best they could get was some indistinguishable noise where they couldn’t really hear the words. You couldn’t hear anything distinctive what was said. So, you know, it was useless. I mean there are stories saying it went up. It never did. People didn’t sort of really, I mean, they might have tried it but they didn’t expect anything, any information really. I mean, it was — You got your moment, you went and saw the ministers you wanted to see. Or you, you know you, the meeting place was King’s Hall by Federation Table there in the case. We used to stand there and you’d get people because you couldn’t lobbies when there were party meetings on. You had to wait outside and that’s where you had to wait. And, you know, it was, well a fairly free sort of —atmosphere.
M Richards: So you didn’t need to do all the eavesdropping?
J Farquharson: You didn’t need to all the, you know, go out eavesdropping. Really, I mean [Laughs] it was, you know, there were sources. You could get what you needed to know. Really.
M Richards: That’s just about the end of that tape.
Interview with John Farquharson part 2
M Richards: Tape identification. This is the second tape of an interview of John Farquharson on the 20th of March, 2003. The interviewer is Michael Richards and we’re at Old Parliament House. The interview is for the Old Parliament House oral history project. John, we were talking about matters to do with Evatt, Petrov — One of the things I’ve been told by, actually a former PMG technician is that one of the difficulties they had with broadcasting the Doc was that he would never speak directly into the microphone because he was always, in fact, talking to his own back bench.
J Farquharson: Yeah, he’d turn away.
M Richards: That’s your observation as well?
J Farquharson: Yes, yes. Well he was all over the place and often addressing them as much as he was addressing anybody. I think he felt that he had to, you know, make his case with them. Because he needed support. And it was wavering. You know, as he was sort of paranoia about Petrov went on, and then of course the split and so on was also another factor that, you know, people were drifting away from him. And he was desperate about all those things, you see.
M Richards: Why do you think he precipitated the attack on the industrial groups? As you said, he’d been to the conference in ’51, he was a supporter, it was open, it was acknowledged.
J Farquharson: He was a supporter — I think he saw it, I think he felt that he needed the left and he didn’t want to forgo that because — And I think he wasn’t prepared to go all the way I think, with the industrial groups, although he seemed to indicate that earlier on but he was casting around and I think it was something that might bolster things for him personally.
M Richards: Well, that’s one of the judgements, isn’t it? That he tore the party apart in order to retain his leadership. And you would agree with that?
J Farquharson: Oh, yes. I think that’s quite so. I think there’s no question about that. You see, people like Frank Stewart and Fred Daly, who stayed in the mainstream party, but really their, all their sympathies and allegiances were rather on the other side. But they perhaps saw, well tried to be more constructive I suppose, so far as the party was concerned, in feeling that they were better to stay in and work that way than just create a rift and go with the DLP. And — I mean, I think Tom Burke probably started off that way but he – from West Australia – but he went over in the end, you see. But the others, I think, probably tried to work within the Party to moderate things. Just how effective I don’t know they were. I suppose they were effective in their way, because they were influential people in the Party and respected. And with a different person in the leadership it may have been avoided but with the Doc and him determined to hang on, and you know, it was almost inevitable, the way things turned out I suppose.
M Richards: And sitting in the background is Menzies.
J Farquharson: Sitting in the background in Menzies.
M Richards: The beneficiary if you like.
J Farquharson: The beneficiary for 23 years!
M Richards: I mean we look at Menzies and we think of the 23, well not the 23, the 16 years, but of course in these years he’s very much the new boy having his second go at the job. How was he? Confident?
J Farquharson: Oh, quite, quite. Yes.
M Richards: Aggressive?
J Farquharson: Not always aggressive. I think he could be on occasions. I mean I’ve been on election tours and so on and he was good. He handled things well and in, in ’61, 1961 I was a bit with Menzies but more with Calwell who was then the leader. And of course in that campaign Calwell went within, well as close as anybody as anyone ever got in toppling Menzies because it was the one vote. But Morton and McEwen, who won, who got those handfuls of preferences put him over the line and kept him in power. And, you know, that was a great campaign and I think Graham Freudenberg did as much as anybody to bolter Calwell’s chances. It was a very white will run affair, from Labor’s point of view, I thought anyway. And it was just unfortunate that Arthur just didn’t bring it off! But, you know, I think — Although after ’61 that created another crisis for the Labor Party with State Aid you see, and the Labor Party had always wanted State Aid, really, but it was in the platform and they were against it. And for someone to come in from the other side and implement it was, was a bit devastating for them too on that issue and that did, created another sort of semi division, or minor division amongst members in the Labor Party who saw advantages in State Aid.
M Richards: Well it almost led to Whitlam’s expulsion.
J Farquharson: Yes, that’s right. Yes, so you know, that was another thing. But I, you know, Menzies was, towards the end getting a bit tired I think. You know, as the 60s went on. And…
M Richards: But clearly in the ascendance of the 50s.
J Farquharson: Clearly still in the ascendancies, oh yes, absolutely. And but, you know, he was — I suppose he was an interesting politician. I don’t think he’s a smart, I think he’s more maligned than anything else. I think it would be unjustly I think, because I always found him good to deal with and he was straight forward as far as I could see and you know, he — The values he stood for appealed to a lot of people at that time despite this so-called British-to-the-bootstraps, he was, but you’ve got to remember that he also stood up to Churchill. And fought very hard against the Greek camp, the disastrous Greek campaign and things like that, you see, if you read the diaries. The evidence is there and he touched a sort of responsive thing in a lot of Australian people at that time and that period was a post war period of prosperity, building and you know, things were going ahead and he was the one who had sort of brought it about. He continued the end of that. They built the Snowy, they continued the immigration scheme to great effect. Well I mean, Arthur Calwell certainly deserves credit for it initially but then Holt and others, as Minister of Immigration, catered on in great style. And it paid off for the government parties at that time, I mean Country Party, so it was a very interesting era and it was an era when politics was conducted much differently to how it is today. It was much more general feeling between the two parties, you know, there was certainly Evatt and Menzies never got on, but Calwell and Menzies did. And you know, the great thing about Menzies, there was no hint of scandal about Menzies in any way, really. I mean he went overseas, Hazel Craig, his secretary looked after the finances, and he performed his job as Prime Minister very frugally both in terms of staff and financially. I mean when he retired, the Party had to go and buy him the home in Melbourne, he didn’t have the wherewithal. And I interviewed Hazel, I know the way that – and other people too, who confirmed the way he conducted the affairs, and on a personal level. Which when you consider that now house over 40 advisors, I mean, that’s one way of saying [INAUDIBLE]. Menzies had three or four on his personal staff, five or six at the most. Something like that. And, so and you know, the thing between politicians is different too. That’s not the same.
M Richards: What’s it like travelling with someone like Menzies and Calwell on those election campaigns?
J Farquharson: Well, with Menzies it was always, you were a bit more distant from things. You were doing your own thing and you weren’t so involved. With Calwell you were much more, much more intimately — You had — Because they were the underdogs I suppose and they went out of their way and Freudenberg had things set up so that we got a press statement about five o’clock in the afternoon and that gave you the guts of what Arthur was going to say that night at the meeting so you could get your copy away. And then you could go to the meeting and update anything you needed to, or write out any questions, or anything, any incident that happened. So it was good, stuff was going through well. From their point of view, you didn’t have that quite sort of intimate thing. I mean, in Brisbane, I got stranded at the Courier Mail office, getting a copy away, and Ken Shapeland, me and Fisher were organising the transport so I got left behind in the Courier Mail building and they all went out to the meeting. I had no means of getting there, so I rang Freudenberg and said — And Arthur came by in his car and picked me up and took me out to the meeting. The only other similar incident I’ve had of that with Menzies was we were at a, in a meeting out in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and we were coming back, I think it was Ken Shapeland, John Bennetts and myself and Lady Lloyd-Jones picked us up at her, offered us a lift in her Rolls. [Laughs]. To get us into the city, which was were acceptable. But you know, it was, things were done quite differently, you know. We certainly had to make our own way around but we were looked after, too, by the politicians of the day. We were with them.
M Richards: Is that different today though?
J Farquharson: Well, I suppose it is. But I, of course, can’t really speak but it seems to me that, that there is a lot of contact, I agree, I suppose there is. But it seems to be — It was more, what shall I say, it was more adversarial atmosphere about everything today to what it was. I mean, there — Things got pretty intense in those times too. There was a sort of gentlemanly approach to things.
M Richards: One of the things that people talk about, as a contrast, is that today it is said that the politician is much better skilled at managing the news, or has staff that can do that, whereas it was far more a question of you reporting what was actually happening. Have you got any comments to make about that?
J Farquharson: Well, that’s so. I think that the politicians have more staff available to do it and more skilled staff, I think, who have been brought up — I mean there are always people coming up through the media who are on politician staff in those earlier days, the Menzies days. But they were a different era of journalist and with television, you see, and the development of radio — When I came here in ’52 it was hardly, apart from The ABC, there were really no radio journalists here. I mean, some, some of us strung for radio people. I think Kevin Power or somebody in The Mirror did some stuff for 2UE or somebody and a few other stations but there wasn’t the great interest. Oh, Macquarie did something through The Sydney Morning Herald but there were sort of people on the spot sort of radio people. And of course, there was no television so it went on at a different tempo, you could say, and there were formal press conferences. Door stops and things like this were unheard of. You know, you went around to your ministers’ offices or there were formal press conferences. But, you know, so that I think is a difference. And I think we, our approach was to think a bit more objective. There was a strict newspaper rule that you didn’t mix news and comment. Everything was separate. Now it’s much more interwoven. News stories are laced with comment whereas everything had to be kept separate. The political correspondent’s weekly column, or editorial, or a clearly marked comment piece for the order of the day. But now there’s much blurring of those lines, go on all the time. And, so there were those things and I think the press were a bit more active in the political sense too. We were strictly, you know, tried to keep whatever things or convictions we had out of it. We reported what was there – tried too. I suppose you can’t do that completely. Nobody can be completely objective obviously. We certainly made a good effort I think.
M Richards: Was there any sense in which anyone who moved from the Press Gallery to working with a minister or Prime Minister was thought of as having let the side down? Was that simply something that people did and then would come back from?
J Farquharson: Oh, not exactly. It wasn’t as common then as it later became. But, I mean, Rob Macklin came up here for The Age and went to McEwen and people like that and there were other people who had been pressman who had gone to ministers and then Hal Myers, who was The Sydney Morning Herald, went to Eric White when Eric set up his PR company and of course Eric White had been around the Gallery. He and, he and Don Whittington were in business together until they split and Eric went off and formed Eric White Associates and Don Whittington went on with his Australian press services. And they had contacts amongst journalists so they sort of began the thing, the sort of turnover of journalists into PR and things like that. And of course people like Myers saw that there was money to be made that way too. So, but — Oh, no people seemed to accept it after a while. I always was thinking, ‘Are you making the right move?’ because people became attached to the papers they worked for I think.
M Richards: One of the other great changes, of course, of these years is the arrival of women in the Gallery. Were there any women in the Galley in ’52?
J Farquharson: Yes.
M Richards: Who were they?
J Farquharson: Helga Sundstrup was here. She worked for The Daily Telegraph. And she was married to Bernie Freedman, who worked for The Argus. They split up later but she was here. She was the only that I can recall at that time. In earlier years there were a few of them, you’d see a few of them in the Gallery pictures. AUP had one, Cath Coin came here for the Gallery rest times and Telegraph and The Sun had women at various times. And later, of course, the ABC did too. But in the main it was a male preserved — A male domain.
M Richards: And still so in ’64?
J Farquharson: Yes. Some women had come, I mean, I remember her surname, can’t remember her first name. That’s Corbell, the ABC. And I think a few others began to appear, I can’t quite remember. But Helga was here through that time.
M Richards: What was the attitude of your colleagues, and yourself, to those women?
J Farquharson: Oh, just as any other colleague. I mean, newspaper offices always had women in them and there was always equal pay in newspaper offices between men and women journalists. Equal pay, same gradings and so on. Same grading system applied. So it was more accepted in the newspaper, in the media and newspapers and perhaps other areas of the workforce in those days so it wasn’t — And we were used to having, you know, what we used to call the women’s side of the paper, like — And you see in ’54 when the Royal visit, the Queen, which was a big event, we were flooded with women and all sorts of people. I mean, at the opening of the Parliament by the Queen, the people who were here were sort of pushed aside by all these people who’d come in and, you know, we were all accredited to the tour but — And I reported a lot of events that happened in Canberra at that time but these other people came in, see the women and these guys were going around with the whole tour.
M Richards: So you didn’t follow the entire tour?
J Farquharson: Oh no, no. We did things here. We covered the Queen planting a tree at the War Memorial and Prince Philip at University House opening that or whatever he did there. Just a dust bowl when he was, when we did it. So, yeah, there were those things. It was a big things because it was the first visit by a reigning monarch so and everybody was agog. I went to the garden party at Government House and things like that. So, you know, yes. It was slightly different.
M Richards: We’ve talked very briefly, so far, about the arrival of the electronic media. When you come here it’s the ABC. Are the ABC fully accepted as members of the Press Gallery?
J Farquharson: Oh absolutely. Yes, yes. I mean the ABC news service had been set up by Wally Hamilton. He had been one of the leading journalists at the Sydney Sun and it was well regarded. Nobody felt any sort of animosity towards the ABC. And Jack Commins was head of the ABC and was well liked. And there were a lot of good characters at the ABC. And…
M Richards: So there wasn’t any sense that they were thought of as second rate?
J Farquharson: Oh no.
M Richards: Or government employees? Public servants in disguise?
J Farquharson: Oh no, no. They were regarded just as we were. M Richards: Where did they work? Where was their office place? Did they have the black hole at that stage, down in the basement?
J Farquharson: No, no. Nothing in the basement. They had rooms just at the back of the, where the handout boxes were. Between that and there was a toilet along there. They had rooms there, they had two rooms there. And they had those two rooms before they were moved into the Common Room. They had those two rooms there.
M Richards: When did they go into the Common Room? Do you recall?
J Farquharson: I don’t quite recall when that happened. It happened before while I was there. But I just can’t recall precisely when.
M Richards: Did that do anything, the loss of the Common Room, did that do anything to the Gallery?
J Farquharson: Sort of affected a bit of the social thing. We didn’t have the table tennis then. There were a lot of good guys. [INAUDIBLE] was a real whizz and other people and it was a great thing, the table tennis. We used to have competitions at times. And so it sort of broke down those things. But, you know, we did lots of things together. I know on weekends we’d organise trips to Goulburn we’d hire a car. They’re not everybody, very few people had a car when they first came. We’d hire cars and take trips to Goulburn to get a — We’d briefly go for a Chinese meal to Goulburn [Laughs] and things like that. We did a lot of things together, you see. So used to often go swimming or on a picnic or somewhere or rather. And then there was — There used to be the ball, the Press Gallery ball every year. At the Albert Hall was a big calendar social event, the Gallery ball. And we used to produce a little publication called The Midnight Thing which was a little glossy thing like that with, you know, send ups, gossips, anecdotes and things like that.
M Richards: About once a year or?
J Farquharson: It was published for the ball. It was distributed before the ball. But there were generally copies around the Gallery before then.
M Richards: And it was called The Midnight Thing.
J Farquharson: The Midnight Thing.
M Richards: Do you know if The National Library has a copy of that? We’ll obviously have to try to get one.
J Farquharson: I’ve been trying to find one. I haven’t, I should have kept one. I’ve asked Bob Chalmers and I’ve asked Bernie Freedman and they haven’t got any either but Les Love was one of the people involved in it with other people from The Sun. There were a few people around the Gallery that put it together anyway, but Les was one of the main ones. And they’d used turn out this stuff, and there used to be pictures in it too and so forth. And that was distributed at the ball. And it was quite sort after thing. And a lot of Canberra people came, politicians sometimes and legal people, public servants. It was a popular event at the Albert Hall.
M Richards: How long did that last for?
J Farquharson: A few years and then it sort of faded out. I don’t quite know why, I can’t quite recall that. But certainly went on for a while. And, you know, people — It was a good community thing. It put the Gallery in the community in a significant way.
M Richards: Are there any non ABC electronic media here by the time you’d finished in ’64?
J Farquharson: I think they began to come. They certainly — The TV began to come, I remember. We had a, well, maybe Menzies’ first Canberra press TV conference when he came back from overseas. He’d been to Britain and Africa. The Rhodesian question, you know, building up to — It was a problem and it was being dealt with. So he was very interested in that. He’d come back through there.
M Richards: It’s about ’63 then.
J Farquharson: Yeah, we’d had a press conference here.
M Richards: Where would that have been held?
J Farquharson: I think it was in one of the Senate Committee Rooms. It was either in the Senate — I don’t think it was in the Government Party Room. Although they did hold some there. I think this one was in a Senate Committee Room.
M Richards: Which Government Party Room? The one of the Reps side?
J Farquharson: Yes, yes.
M Richards: So that was used for press conferences.
J Farquharson: And it was a very formal affair, this TV — There was a long table. We sat around this, on either side of this long table, there was Menzies at the end. We may have been in the middle. Anyway, somewhere. And asked our questions, you know.
M Richards: And that was the first televised press conference?
J Farquharson: Certainly one of the earliest, in terms of, in Canberra that Menzies did. I think he may have done one in Sydney or something. Or maybe that wasn’t TV but it was the first sort of big press conference that we’d set up at this table, straight back chairs. [Laughs]. It was a very, sort of, not a very flowing thing. It was very formal and in contrast to the things around Menzies desk that we used to have.
M Richards: That’s, that’s actually something I was going to ask you about. There are tapes, of course, in the National Library of Menzies’ press conferences, and some of them at least, the tape recorder seems to have been left running long after the formal part of the conference had concluded and you do get this very informal give and take, usually once the whiskey and the sherry been produced. Was that normal?
J Farquharson: Not normal. The whiskey and sherry was only produced on some occasions. I’d say, I wasn’t there when the whiskey and, and the thing but some others were. Because initially, when I first came, only, only heads of services and their, and one other went to press conferences. Later I did go to them when I was more senior but, yes, and of course it was Stewart Cockburn who introduced the recording of press conferences. And he may have let it run a bit because — I haven’t asked him, and I’ve interviewed Stewart too. So he introduced that and it created a bit of an incident because people were doubtful whether they wanted a record like that but after a while they saw the advantage of it so we were always avid for it but initially around the heads of services’ were a bit doubtful. But it proved a great success.
M Richards: And how often would that sort of less formal conference have taken place?
J Farquharson: Oh, well, it varied. There was no set procedure like in the, with the state sphere where we had a set meeting with the Premier each day. These were more or less at the whim of a PM or a, you know, responding to requests from journalists, you know. And we used to talk to — There was a good flow of information from the PM, in between, through the press secretaries. Tony Eggleton, in earlier days, Ray Maley and Hugh Dash.
M Richards: And would they actually come and see you, or was that more a question of references?
J Farquharson: Oh, yes.
M Richards: They’d actually come up and knock on the door.
J Farquharson: They’d come round and see you. You always had access to their offices too.
M Richards: Where were they located? On the main floor?
J Farquharson: Just near here.
M Richards: Just near here. Oh, I know the room. Yes, I know the room you mean.
J Farquharson: They were very tiny. And they had, they had a separate — There was a press secretary and the secretary.
M Richards: Tony Eggleton has told me a story which I think is probably after your time. Because I think it relates to Holt and Holt only. But he set up a hidden recording system so that the PM could push a button and record a press briefing or whatever without the knowledge of participants. And the microphone was hidden in the pen set on his desk. That’s not something that you ever came across?
J Farquharson: No, no. I wasn’t aware of that. Oh know, the press secretaries were good. Menzies press secretary’s name — Did a good job mostly.
M Richards: So is there anything equivalent to that process, which is, you know, very careful maintenance of good relations with the press over on the other side? Is, is there somewhere — I mean, did Freudenberg do the same thing?
J Farquharson: Oh yes, yes. Freudenberg was good.
M Richards: But it’s only with Freudenberg that that begins on the other side? What about Don Rogers? He was a bit famous wasn’t he, as a —?
J Farquharson: I didn’t — Don was before my time, before I got here. But he was very good, yes. Don Rogers and of course, excuse me, there was Curtin you see. Curtin had established this thing during the war years, where he fully briefed the journalists and gave them a lot of off the record material. They were in on everything, really, as those documents that Fred Smith and Don Rogers produced show. And that, it was maintained to some extent by Chifley but there was good relations with the Labor Government in Chifley’s and Curtin’s time.
M Richards: Does this, this doesn’t carry over to Evatt?
J Farquharson: No. Rogers played a big part in, in that. And he was a good operator. He’d worked for the Labor Daily, he’d been a member of the Gallery and he was well liked and so that had all been established. And people liked ‘Chiff’ and so on. And as time went on, of course, things changed and people got used to Menzies and so on.
M Richards: Alan Reid was of course famous for his contacts with the Labor Party.
J Farquharson: He was famous for his contacts with the Labor Party, that’s right. He had a load of them. He was a member of the Party too, although nobody really much knew but he was. And he had very good Labor Party contacts because he’d been with the, with The Sydney Sun. And then went to The Telegraph and he wrote a very good column for The Sun in his day and then a bit of a different style for The Telegraph but he was a good operator. But of course he also had good government contacts too. And Fitchett had good contacts who were, well when he was with The Age and later with The Sydney Morning Herald, with both Menzies and McEwen particularly. Although Menzies and Fitch used to rubbish each other from time to time or have great exchanges but there was a real respect between the two. They were both similar in build and so on and in their manner.
M Richards: Did you ever have anything to do with Fadden?
J Farquharson: Briefly, oh, yes, Artie was alright. Artie was, you know, very jovial, a bon ami sort of person, yes. I suppose, one person who got on very well with Artie was Michael McGeorge, who was Fitchett’s offsider at The Age. Because Michael used to live at the Hotel Canberra and Artie always stayed there. So, yeah, he was always a very approachable person, Artie.
M Richards: Hal Myers has got some very good stories. J Farquharson: That’s right, he knew him very well. And, see, but you know, in those years a lot of big things happened like, well I suppose big things happened earlier and have happened since, but Petrov was a pretty unprecedented thing. The other unprecedented thing was the Fitzpatrick and Browne, Browne and Fitzpatrick.
M Richards: Yes, I was going to come to that.
J Farquharson: In 1955.
M Richards: But how’s your voice holding out?
J Farquharson: Alright. Let’s just pause for a minute. Yeah, now, Fitzpatrick and Browne was a very, another unprecedented thing in the Parliament in that people were brought before the bar of the house and then actually sentenced to jail. And it had arisen because an article in The Bankstown Observer, which was owned by Fitzpatrick who was a businessman and a contractor in the Bankstown area and edited by Frank Browne, who was a, sort of a knockabout journalist who produced a newsletter called Things I hear. A pretty scurrilous sort of a sheet. Required reading in the Gallery and amongst politicians, nonetheless. [Laughs]. So, I suppose, when Charlie complained about this article being intimidating, seeking to intimidate him over immigration matters, it was taken up by the Privileges Committee and they brought a report that supported Charlie and the upshot was that Browne and Fitzpatrick were brought before the bar of the House and it was in 1955, I think it was in around June I think, and these two men appeared. Very different in stature. Fitzpatrick tall and six foot or so and Browne very short and belligerent. They were brought, came into the front of Parliament House, taken into custody by Jack Pettifer who was the sergeant of arms, rigged out in his sergeant of arms garb with sword and so on. And held in the room behind what was the mail area, just at the top of the stairs of Kings Hall there, as you come up the front entrance and then brought into the chamber. The bar was lowered in the House.
M Richards: Were you in the Gallery at the time?
J Farquharson: Yes, yes. And Archie Cameron was the Speaker and Archie could be relied upon to get the upmost out of the occasion with his full bodied wig and so on, and stern demeanour. So they were asked to explain and they were questioned and you know, it was really charged atmosphere. I mean, Morgan, Charlie Morgan, had brought the complaint against Browne and Fitzpatrick, was a Labor Member, was a member for Reid, which had been Lang’s seat earlier. And, but it was the government who brought the proceedings against them and while Charlie was supported on the Labor side, there were others like Calwell and so on, who were divided about the matter. Particularly in bringing people before the bar of the House with the prospect of going to jail. So some people abstained on the Labor side. And the vote was taken. And some tried to have the, mitigated, the charge mitigated and not result in jailing. So the vote was carried and they weren’t jailed but there were moments in it, when Fitzpatrick broke down at one stage and sort of wept really.
M Richards: Did he really?
J Farquharson: Whereas Browne was quite the opposite. He was belligerent, defiant to the end. And I remember Archie Cameron, the speaker, telling him to take his hands off the bar of the House. Off the bar. So they were committed to jail and they were held in the police station, Jolimont, until the Commonwealth made arrangements to take them to Goulburn. And the story is that they, they used to be brought over at night to the Civic Hotel and they’d drink in the back lounge. Of course the Civic supplied all the meals for the police station so they were on pretty good tucker while they were there but the story is that every now and again they would bring them over for a drink at the Civic at the back lounge. We’ll never be able to verify it but I’m told it went on.
M Richards: What was the feeling in the Press Gallery about this whole business?
J Farquharson: Oh, well, I think they were a bit this way and that. You know, they were caught up with the story because it was a terrific story and also, of course, Frank Green I think was still the clerk of the House and his advice was very much against all of that had gone on. And Frank had a lot of friends in the Gallery so a lot held to that view.
M Richards: And he would have discussed that with them?
J Farquharson: Oh, yes. Yes, he would have. Yes, he did. Yes. And so they probably sided with him, but in their hearts. But on the other hand it was a great story and nothing like it had ever happened. The only comparable thing I can recall was in State House and it’s not quite the same circumstances but Joe Arthur, who was the Minister for Mines in the Labor Government, the Cahill Labor Government, Cahill had succeeded, Joe Cahill had succeeded Jim McGirr as Premier. And Joe Arthur got involved with a shady property developer named Reg Doyle and he had obviously done things that he shouldn’t have for Doyle and this was all brought out and Joe had to resign. Yes so, it had — Joe had to resign and this was a great blow. He was, you know, a great figure in the Hunter area, and around Newcastle. And he, when it came to the point when all the proceedings in the House, Joe also broke down just like Fitzpatrick and I haven’t seen that — They’re the two things I’ve seen that come close to each other in that sphere but of course, Joe Arthur’s resignation was nothing like the, or didn’t have the implications that Browne and Fitzpatrick had. And…
M Richards: But it wasn’t an issue, from the sound of it that had the press really concerned about the issue of freedom of the press. They didn’t put themselves in the same pair of shoes?
J Farquharson: No, no. And you see it was reported as a case — I mean, I think it reflects, I think the attitude would have been different today to what it was then and — So they accepted it and after all it was a terrific story [Laughs] to be involved in. It was, you know, one of the great things of journalism at that time. Just as Petrov had been.
M Richards: Is there anything else that you want to talk about, in terms extraordinary moments?
J Farquharson: Well, the other extraordinary moment that I always remember, of course there was the dismissal. I of course was no longer here, for the dismissal, and that was a tremendous — I suppose that’s the other great thing. But the other thing that I was personally involved in was, I was thinking of the Voyager. When the Melbourne aircraft carrier collided with the Voyager.
M Richards: In ’64.
J Farquharson: Yes, in ’64, in February. ’64 and of course, as you know, it was the bow section that was was cut off the Voyager and 82 lives were lost and it ended the career of Captain Robertson who was the captain of the Melbourne, the aircraft carrier involved and that was a tremendous moment too. It was for me personally, because as Tony Eggleton will bear out, I really wrote the story because we were here late at night. I was in the Gallery, we were all going to go home. It was about 11 o’clock. It was out of session. I was, there were only a few of us left, John Dennis was then in The Age office or he had just gone. I think the ABC were around and one or two others. Not many. And I was about to go and a phone call came from Sydney and said, ‘We believe there’s been a collision between a couple of naval vessels. What do you know? It’s about to be down at the coast somewhere.’ I said, ‘You must be mad, joking.’ It was an absolutely, one of those brilliant, clear, moonlit Canberra nights. And this guy said, ‘I think we’ll just check it out.’ I said, ‘Oh, you must be mad.’ At any rate, I thought I’d better do it. So the only thing I could think of was to ring Tony Eggleton who was then, he wasn’t with the PM at all. He’d come here as public relations officer for the navy. He’d been brought up by Broughton, who was then Minister for the Navy. So I rang Tony Eggleton’s home and Mary, his wife, answered and said, ‘No, he’s not here. He’s at the office.’ I went, ‘God, well perhaps there is something going.’ So, because, he wouldn’t be at the office at that time, particularly when there didn’t seem anything for him to be there. So I rang Tony. He said, ‘I’ve been sitting here for an hour, waiting, just pondering whether I would ring someone to suggest they’d ask me some questions.’ So I said, ‘This is what I heard. Our bloke in Sydney was making his final police round check, got a crossed line with Garden Island, and he overheard something, which, you know, lead to him ringing me and putting this in train.’ And he said, ‘Yes, it has happened. This carrier has collided with the Voyager.’ He didn’t know much more at that point. So it was a big thing and I got onto Canberra Times, let the office know and Canberra Times was able to get out a special edition. The only other paper we had in, with the late edition time, was the Newcastle Herald so we got out and as things went, I knew — Well, I just couldn’t hold it to myself. So John Bennett, who as we had a relationship, a working relationship with The Age, we still supplied services for them. So he’d gone home. I rang him at home and he came back in and then I had my friend John Webb from The Daily Telegraph was still in the Gallery and we were personal friends and mates and so I let him know and then as we got going, we began to get ourselves organised. And I got staff in and we worked out, with The Age that we would send people down to Nowra, to Jervis Bay. We’d get a car together and we’d go pool our resources and so I decided I’d let the ABC know and Gordon Burgoyne was around, and I told Gordon and then Stan Hutchinson from Sun-Pic got onto it as well. So, but, and that set off an extraordinary sequence of events too because this had — The House was sitting.
This happened overnight and it was a peculiar situation with the Cabinet. There had been a Cabinet change, reshuffle, and the, there was Gorton had moved out of navy and had gone to education I think. And, so, Jim Forbes had been made Minister for the Army and Fred Chaney Minister for the Navy. But the Cabinet had been enlarged which meant it had to be legislation to provide for that so although Chaney had been named as Minister for the Navy, he hadn’t been, he wasn’t formally in that position so Jim Forbes was made acting for both. He was Minister for the Army but also acting for the navy. And so it was a difficult situation for them. We were here in the Gallery till I don’t know what hour, in the early morning. I got home at about six o’clock I think by the time we’d dealt with everything and provided to Calwell with a copy with Gorton and so on. Because there were developments throughout the night. Tony was ringing and we were in contact and so I got home, got a few hours, a bit of breakfast, had a few hours’ sleep because at ten o’clock press conference. Because I think Forbes and Chaney had flown down and come back and so we had this press conference and of course, Forbes and Chaney had only just become ministers. This was their first portfolios. So Alan Reid, at this press conference — Menzies spoke first and they announced about the enquiry and so on and then it was thrown open to further questions to Forbes and Chaney. So Alan Reid threw up the question of whether they would consider resigning [Laughs], and of course these guys just got this promotion to Cabinet or to ministry and they were, they stood there opened mouthed as Alan finished his question. Obviously there was no way, but you know, it sparked off. Things went on through the day.
I remember we went home and there was another press conference at seven o’clock that night so I’d gone back for that press conference. I’d been there all day and must have been nine o’clock before I got home again. And my wife and I, we’d been out black berrying along Lake George over the weekend. She’d made this wonderful blackberry pie, expecting me home for dinner at, you know, the normal time, around seven or something, half past six. And of course I was, there was no way I was getting there. And I walked in at nine o’clock and she was in tears about her blackberry pie. [Laughs]. It didn’t happen, but it, you know, it was one of those, also one of those things. You strike only once or twice in a career when things like that happen and there when you’ve been in the middle of it, they’re great moments you remember.
M Richards: One of the questions I, I always ask people about this stage of an interview is how you feel coming back to this building, all these years later? What are the thoughts that come to your mind?
J Farquharson: Oh, well, I have a great love of this building. You know, I think it’s one of Canberra’s really great buildings.
M Richards: What does it stand for, for you personally?
J Farquharson: It stands for the thing where the big part of my career was sort of put in place, and which held great moments in that career for me. And I’ve always regarded it quite affectionately because it’s a, it’s a building you feel good vibes from. It, you feel, well you feel history here. I think. There’s something about it. And I suppose it may have something to do with you know some of the things that have gone on here, you’ve been involved in them. But it has a feeling that the — And I’ve worked in the new place on the hill, and that place doesn’t have — There is an intimacy here that is non-existent there. And it stands for a different era in Australian history and politics I would say. And when politics was played in a perhaps slightly more honourable way than it is today, with — People stood up for what they believed in. But there were great characters here. The present politicians are a much blander lot of people. They were really colourful people here in this House. There was Menzies for one, there was Evatt. But there were people like Rowley James. You know he was lame, he’d walk with a stick and he’d bang his stick on the table and so on. And all sorts of things went on like that. And there was Winton Turnbull, Country Party member from the Mallee, brought in a big weed. It was called skeleton weed, into the House and said, ‘This is, this is, gets into tractors and does terrible things to machinery on farms and things like that.’ All those characters and there was Billy Hughes was here when I came briefly in ’52 and he was still alive. And I’d met Billy at the Premier’s office, earlier when I was doing State politics, outside Joe Cahill’s office. So I met Billy and he was still here and made that last speech of his against the sale of COR, Commonwealth Oil Refineries. And, you know, there were people like that around. And Reg Wright, they were all characters in their way and you don’t have that sort of…
M Richards: Why do you think that’s the case?
J Farquharson: I think, well a lot of them were people who had come up hard. You know, that had had hard lives. They’d come through the Depression, you know, a lot of Labor — Certainly Arthur himself and people like Matt Mullins, who went over to the DLP, had been a prison warden and they were, those sort of people and they brought a lot of character and even Eddie Ward and Les Heylen and even Eric, you know Eric Harrison. So Eric Harrison, who was on the government side. I mean, he was a big, burly figure but he could mix it with Ward and all these people very well. Handled himself very well. And they were around and there was more individualism. You know, people like Jo Gullett would get up and attack the government. All sorts of people would, you know. They were, it was more, more happened in the House if you understand. And there was more, I think the quality of debate was better. There were more real speakers and people knew procedure and how to handle themselves in Parliament. And you know, Hasluck, and then of course Whitlam came and the famous incident when Whitlam threw the glass of water at Hasluck’s face and so forth. And you know, there were characters in the Press Gallery [Laughs] as well you know. It was all a good, great mix. There was Fitchett and Frank Jost, who was the ABC, he was a big man, he had been a bike rider in his day. All these people were around and there was Hugh Dash who was Menzies’ press secretary for a while. One of the characters of the place also. So, yeah, this place is really — If it was ever lost it would be a great tragedy to Canberra, really. Considering all that’s, the fact that it’s been kept and made what it is today I think is absolutely wonderful. One of the better decisions we’ve seen made in Canberra. Considering it was going to be knocked down at one point.
M Richards: Well we might stop at that point.
Interview with John Farquharson part 3
M Richards: This is tape three of an interview with John Farquharson. The date is the 27th of March 2003. We’re at Old Parliament House in the Deputy Speaker’s office and the interview is for the Old Parliament House Oral History Program. The interviewer is Michael Richards. John, thanks for coming in again today to finish this, well, to keep going with this interview. Perhaps we could start with some clarification regarding The Canberra Times. I think that’s where we finished up on.
J Farquharson: Sure. Oh, I just wanted to say about The Canberra Times, from the time that I arrived in Canberra, first in ’52, I had a close association with The Canberra Times. I had been given an introduction to Charlie, Charles Meakem who’d just been appointed editor of The Canberra Times, was the — Arthur Shakespeare had been managing the editor and continued in that role but he’d handle the whole of the editorial side and the business side after his father died so — and then they appointed Charlie Meakem who had been press secretary to Menzies earlier on. And so I came down for AUP and one of Charlie’s sons worked at AUP in Sydney so I had an introduction to him when I arrived and they sort of gave me hospitality and things when I first came here, the Meakems, but AUP, Australian United Press, was in service country newspapers and Arthur Shakespeare was actually chairman of AUP and at that time earlier The Canberra Times had had it’s own people in the Gallery. That ceased, I’m not quite sure when, and then AUP was then responsible for all the political coverage of The Canberra Times.
M Richards: Why did they cease to have their own people in the Gallery?
J Farquharson: Oh, I think, well the Depression, you see. And they only, the paper only just survived the Depression, really, because all the projections of population growth and circulation based on that, you know, went to pieces once the Depression took grip and it had to be revised so they survived, just survived through the Depression. So everything was cut back.
M Richards: Can you put the year on it, when they ceased to provide their own coverage? There was a long running column called From Above the Speaker’s Chair, which they…
J Farquharson: I can’t — I’d say it was…
M Richards: And it was certainly going till about ’31.
J Farquharson: Yes, well I’d say it was in the 30s they stopped. It was certainly before the war, I think. Yes, it was before the war. I could ask Heather Shakespeare but I just don’t, I can’t quite recall that. And I became, had a close relationship with Arthur Shakespeare ultimately too you see. And also, when The Canberra Times was looking for a new editor, this is some years later in the 50s, when – or maybe early 60s – when, when Ray Walker died, who’d been editor, I was then second in charge at AUP and we were asked by Arthur who we thought, who we’d suggest as an editor. We suggested John Bennetts, who was then political correspondent of The Age, having earlier been on The Melbourne Herald and also The Adelaide News. And Bennetts declined but proposed David Bowman, who had come across to the Gallery from Adelaide, to represent The Adelaide News after Bennetts left and went to The Age. And so David Bowman got it and of course, we’d known and worked together in the Gallery and we had a close link through all that we did for The Canberra Times but there was a non-poaching agreement between AUP and The Canberra Times so that they wouldn’t recruit people from AUP for The Canberra Times direct so after I’d gone to New Guinea then that didn’t apply. So…
M Richards: Why was there that non-poaching agreement, given that there was this close relationship anyway?
J Farquharson: Well, they didn’t feel that they should encroach upon each other’s staff, that we were supplying a service for them, which they were happy with and they didn’t — Anyway, that was the way it stood. And, so then when I was up in New Guinea my wife got sick and indicated she’d like to come back, well David made that possible then. After Alan Fraser had made some suggestions to him, that I was ready to come back.
M Richards: So was that a happy, happy transition?
J Farquharson: Oh yes. Oh, yes, very. Oh, yes. Very happy transition. And of course by the time I got back from New Guinea, the paper had been sold. Oh no, not sold, it happened before I went to New Guinea. It had been sold to Fairfax in 1964 and I went to New Guinea in ’65 so yes, it was a very happy arrangement and I sort of progressed through things at The Canberra Times from there on.
M Richards: So perhaps we could talk just briefly about that in itself. It had been sold to Fairfax, so it’s no longer owned by a local family. Did that change the paper much?
J Farquharson: Oh, dramatically, yes. Well…
M Richards: In what way?
J Farquharson: Well, resources and we, it had been — The Canberra Times was a broadsheet publication and then in, after Charlie Meakem left, which I think was about ’53, ’53 I think, then Liam Young, yes, Young was appointed. He’d been editor of The Illawarra Mercury down at Wollongong and he was appointed editor in the place of Charlie Meakem and under him, with the Shakespeare’s family approval, the format of the paper was changed was changed from broadsheet to tabloid. But when Fairfax took the paper over in 1964, the decision was to go back to broadsheet because it was agreed that serious morning newspapers, it was necessary for them to be broadsheet. John Pringle was appointed editor, who had come out, the Herald had brought him out and he had had a term as editor and then he came back to Australia and was appointed down here as managing editor, which left David Bowman in a slightly awkward position. But he was retained as editor. And then of course when [INUADIBLE] went back to edit The Herald again, David Bowman became managing editor and that continued.
M Richards: And what did you come in as?
J Farquharson: I came in as a sub-editor. And then did various things, did the local political reporting and the advisory council and so on, and beginnings of self-government and then was appointed chief of staff.
M Richards: When was that?
J Farquharson: In, probably in ’67, 1967.
M Richards: And that was your job until you retired?
J Farquharson: No, no. Then in 1969 I was appointed news editor and later assistant editor and my title was finally changed to deputy editor and in my last transformation I was editorial manager.
M Richards: What does the editorial manager do?
J Farquharson: The editorial manager, well, in overseas, in Britain and America, their title is managing editor but it means that — It doesn’t mean that in Australia but editorial manager means here looking after services, handling the industrial work, and legal work and so on. And of course one of the things I did in that job was also, I was the liaison for the officer for the, project liaison officer for The Canberra Times when the Mort Street building was sold and the paper was moved to Fyshwick so I did all the work between the company and the architects and the builders and so on in getting that building up and running.
M Richards: And tell me, what does the chief of staff do?
J Farquharson: The chief of staff, well, the proper title is the chief of general reporting staff. He organises assignments, and assigns reports to things through the day and so on. It requires quite a bit of organisational work and you’ve got to read all the other papers and you know, go through your own paper and follow things up and develop things and so on.
M Richards: But all the time, you’re keeping your one hand in as a journalist?
J Farquharson: Well, more or less. You don’t chance to write in the same way, particularly as chief of staff. It’s not generally a writing job but it during that time when I was chief of staff, that I was approached to write this column for The Sun Herald, a political column. And which I think I explained was initiated by Angus McLachlan, who was managing director then of the Fairfax papers. And so the question was whether there would be union objection if I did it, you see, because as chief of staff, you become exempt so you no longer, you don’t have to, you’re out of the union.
M Richards: You couldn’t even belong?
J Farquharson: No, you had, you had to resign. And so the decision was it wouldn’t appear under my by-line, it would just appear as by our political correspondent.
M Richards: Did people know who was writing it?
J Farquharson: Oh, well, as you do things, people have to know, yes.
M Richards: So it was a polite fiction, more than…
J Farquharson: It was a polite fiction, yes, and so I did that for about two years, until I was appointed news editor. Then I felt I couldn’t keep it up.
M Richards: So what years were you doing that?
J Farquharson: Well I became news editor in ’69 so it was about…
M Richards: So it’s through those early years of the Whitlam leadership leading up til ’69.
J Farquharson: Yes, we were doing it when Whitlam was — That’s right. Yes. And it was good fun because I used to go to Parliament House, come over here to Parliament House and go round and talk to people who were close liaisons with Tony Eggleton and so on. And Billy McMahon didn’t like it because he was — Well, I had a good flow of information about Billy. When I was critical of him he used to race down and get the paper and ring up the editor every Sunday morning [Laughs] when things he didn’t like appeared.
M Richards: What did the editors say to it?
J Farquharson: Oh, jollied him along and I went down to see Billy and worked a few things out with him but didn’t come to anything, you know, that was one of those things that happened.
M Richards: So let’s talk about those years. It was an interesting time to be around the house. You were quite friendly with Arthur Calwell, weren’t you?
J Farquharson: Yes, Arthur, before he became — Well when he was Leader of the Opposition, I got to know him particularly on that election tour of 1961 and I used to go down and chat to him now and again in his office and, oh we just maintained it. It wasn’t a close thing but we maintained a link and when he wrote his book, he inscribed one for me and things like that.
M Richards: Can you sum him up? What sort of a person was Arthur Calwell?
J Farquharson: Well, he didn’t go down well with everybody but I found him, you know, quite a warm, friendly sort of person, really. And as I say, he had quite — He and the Doc Evatt didn’t get on but he had a good relationship with Menzies and with quite of few and he built up things within the Labor Party. I think the, well the ’61 election campaign boosted his position tremendously. But of course he couldn’t — The odds against him were pretty — The odds were against him and repeating it so then — And of course Whitlam was in the ascendancy, became to be in the ascendancy and they were completely different people. Arthur had come up through the trade union side of the Labor Party. He was a sort of old style Labor man. Whitlam was the new, younger Labor person coming up with an academic and professional background in the law, which up until then we didn’t have so many people like that in the Labor Party. Most people had come up through unions and through the Labor Party organisation branches and so on. And these guys, you know, they had a lot of Depression background which hung well over the 60s and 70s really. So it was different. So they didn’t really get on, Calwell and Whitlam. And then of course, Arthur gave it away and Whitlam became the leader.
M Richards: Did they have very different styles as leaders as well?
J Farquharson: Oh yes, I mean, Gough was, you know, sort of highs so to speak and then, though yeah, though they were completely different. Although of course, a lot of people didn’t like Calwell too, I suppose, some people, but still, Whitlam brought a so much more imperious sort of style to the leadership compared to, what Labor had had before. But then of course, his success I suppose was built on a great deal of solid policy work leading up to that ’72 election which helped him tremendously. And of course McMahon had become Prime Minister and it was an uninspired time, really, for the government under McMahon.
M Richards: How would you sum up McMahon?
J Farquharson: Well, he built up a bit of a reputation as a minister of being in command of things but when he became Prime Minister it didn’t carry through.
M Richards: Hang on, there’s a bit of a truck, a forklift would you believe, going past. And a tractor. We might just hold on for a second.
J Farquharson: Sure.
M Richards: I think they deliberate choose Thursday mornings [Laughs]. Wait for the light to go in this room. Sorry, can we just go back to McMahon.
J Farquharson: And, you know, he didn’t sort of have the command or, or the presence that you expect of a Prime Minister I suppose. And he didn’t have the same respect.
M Richards: Did he have any sort of relationship with the press?
J Farquharson: Oh yes, well he leaked considerably to the press, to selected press people.
M Richards: And that didn’t win him respect though.
J Farquharson: It didn’t win him respect, I mean, he was — And if you read what Hasluck says about him, in The Chance of Politics, that really sorts of sums Billy up. And it pretty — Menzies didn’t like him. But he had a certain backing in the New South Wales’ civil party amongst people like the Lloyd-Joneses and people like that. And of course Packer, there was a close link there with Packer and The Telegraph and so on.
M Richards: But not with the Fairfax —?
J Farquharson: Not so much with the Fairfax Press, no. No, he still managed to [INAUDIBLE] himself, and of course he used to ring people up endlessly and go on and complain to editors and things like that. But…
M Richards: And that had some effect some of the time?
J Farquharson: Oh, some of the time I suppose. You know, when he used to ring up the Sun Herald and complain, they’d go down and say, ‘Talk to him and see what you can do,’ and I did that and I got around a few things about him a bit more positively than before. But you know, we didn’t really compromise our position.
M Richards: Do you think journalists from the major press groups have in your time compromised under that sort of pressure? Can you think of any glaring examples of that?
J Farquharson: I can’t think of an example of that. Not really. I think we were, the sort of principles we worked to were, you know, were held to I think. And of course, and were greatly respected by the Fairfax organisation. It may have been a bit different at other papers, like The Daily Telegraph and so on but in the main, that was adhered to. I know when I was in New Guinea and the paper had been bought by The Melbourne Herald, and I had trouble with Burns Philp over a story we ran and the managing director of The Herald, Williams, wrote to Burns Philp and threatened to close, close The Herald papers to their advertisers. And that they had, he told them, that they had to accept that they couldn’t influence the editorial columns of the paper, of The South-Pacific Post or any other Melbourne Herald paper. So, you know, I didn’t expect to get support to that extent but it was quite a, you know that was the general sort of principle. And of course in those days, I think we tried to be as objective as possible, as you can be, you know, in handling political things. And most — There were a few exceptions, you know, we never had any political links, we never belonged to any party although Alan Reid was a card-carrying member of the Labor Party.
M Richards: And the Lang part of that. [Laughs]. To be precise.
J Farquharson: Yes, so — But he was, that was an exception, you know, people tried to keep their — Adhere to not having those involvements.
M Richards: ’69 campaign is often talked about as the first campaign in which television played a really major role.
J Farquharson: I suppose it was. Yes, see I wasn’t — I was at The Canberra Times then, I wasn’t directly involved so much.
M Richards: But were you conscious that there was this new kid on the block, as far as political reporting was concerned.
J Farquharson: Oh, yes, well I think before I left the Gallery, we had been conscious of that, that it was certainly coming. And of course it was in its early days when I described that press conferences of Menzies. It was in its early days and it developed from then, from that and of course, the — And, and you see radio became much bigger too than it had been previously in, in terms of political reporting. And those developments, the TV and radio matching it, changed the sort of, the way of political reporting, I think, to a large extent.
M Richards: Changed it in the, in the newspapers as well?
J Farquharson: In the newspapers as well.
M Richards: What was the change to the newspapers? Were you trying to compete on the same terms?
J Farquharson: Well, yes you were competing on those terms but you know, they were really different mediums and you had to approach things differently. But gradually, the parliamentary coverage shrank in the print media. And that proceedings in the House became secondary to, you know, the things outside and question time was given pride of place. The concentration was on that and on the clashes in politics. We had certainly covered those but they didn’t have the, they didn’t dominate in the way they began to, with, you know, who wins, who loses in question time. And the complexion of question time changed. See, it was meant to, question time was meant to be a, where members and others can extract information from ministers about the administration and running of their departments. Whereas, you know, the answers and the questions became more political and more structured. You see, both the parties, as this trend gathered momentum, they had, there were meetings before the House met to decide on questions, the line that would be taken on questions and who would ask the questions. So there wasn’t just free for any member to pop up and ask a question as it had been. See, it wasn’t structured in that way before that, through those Menzies years at all. Nothing like that went on. But it, so it developed.
M Richards: And what do you think was the larger result of that change? Does it change the type of leadership that is exerted in the floor of the House?
J Farquharson: I think it does, and it, it diminishes the actual role of Parliament in the, I think the way it probably meant to, meant to perform. You know, members do have a responsibility. I mean everything became much more controlled and I don’t think that adds to the quality of what happens in Parliament. Well, that’s my view. And I think, see Keating used to talk about the drip. He’d give information to selected people. And if you’re on that, well then you’re compromising your position, I think. And he up to, ring up and abuse editors and so on about things he didn’t like and so forth.
M Richards: Well that’s going back to the relationship with proprietors. Not so much to do with question time.
J Farquharson: No, no. That’s so, but that’s, you know, all that. And then of course the, the old style of press conference changed. You know, we didn’t have those sort of — As TV — Oh, sorry. And the radio developed, you didn’t have those sort of formal, more formal press conferences. Then the door stop developed.
M Richards: When did the door stop develop?
J Farquharson: I don’t know. Must have been in the 70s I think. But it was certainly in the 80s, yes, and developed. So that, that changed things again.
M Richards: Does it change more than simply the way that politicians communicate? Does it actually change the type of people who succeed as politicians? I’m just wondering how someone like Sir George Pearce would have coped with a doorstop.
J Farquharson: I don’t think he would have, myself.
M Richards: Or even, even Menzies, but then Menzies could cope with that sort of pressure.
J Farquharson: Well, he could probably adapt to that but with some difficulty I think. You know, he wasn’t that style of person. He was a more, person who expected things to be done in a certain way. And so I don’t — He probably would have adapted to it but it would have been with some difficulty I think, yeah.
M Richards: Does the doorstop come in because the technology change, or changes, or is it something that comes in from overseas perhaps?
J Farquharson: I think, probably, the Americans, it developed over there I think, more than anywhere. And I think it — Politicians like it. I think probably because it doesn’t last long. And it’s generally on a specific subject, whereas at a broader press conference you have wide ranging exchange and more time for the press to question.
M Richards: That was one of the great Whitlam innovations, wasn’t it? The regular press conference.
J Farquharson: Yes, yes.
M Richards: What about McMahon? Was he comfortable with such things?
J Farquharson: Oh, he had them. But I don’t know if he had them as frequently as, as Whitlam. And I mean, Menzies didn’t have a regular press conference. There were, perhaps earlier on, there was more — We saw him more — There were more regular press [INAUDIBLE] but then they fell away too, rather as he felt like it, you know. But you could make representations through the press secretary and all that and ask things and so on. It wasn’t that we didn’t have access – we did. And Eggleton, people like that Dash, Hugh Dash and Ray Maley were good at, you know, fielding you stuff and trying to get stuff out to you.
M Richards: What was Gorton like? We haven’t talked about him at all.
J Farquharson: Well, difficult. I had some [INAUDIBLE]. Gorton was, he became Prime Minister while I was still doing The Sun Herald column. And I got on okay with Gorton. He — I could arrange through Tony to see him if need be, which I did on one or two occasions, I think. And so the editor of The Sun Herald wrote to him and asked that I be given access and so forth so that was quite good. I think he was different. People found it hard and they found it hard to cope with Ainsley Gotto, as his principal private secretary.
M Richards: What was difficult about that?
J Farquharson: Well, state senior public service like Jack Bunting, who was then — Initial stages then it changed later, head of Prime Minister of Cabinet. Well he, Ainsley would, he’d appear over there and he’d say, ‘Is the Prime Minister free?’ she’d say, ‘Oh, not just at the moment, John, would you mind taking a seat?’ Well, the familiarity of being called John by the secretary, the 20 year old secretary was a bit hard to take for some of these guys. [Laughs]. It was a different style and Gorton was friendly. I think, you know I think he was put down as the thing with Fraser and it all blew up and Gorton was out. But there were things I think he did and he helped to, you know, free a lot of things up in ways that hadn’t been before. And there was a bit more flexibility I think, in policy.
M Richards: Did he have a good, a honeymoon with the press? Were the press fairly critical from the start?
J Farquharson: Oh, no. He was quite good. I mean he’d been Navy Minister, Minister for the Navy and then Education. And he’d done well at the Navy. It was he who brought — I think it was under him as Minister for Navy, they brought Eggleton to Canberra and put him into the navy as public relations officer and Tony handled that well. Before the Voyager incident, there had been another incident, down at Jervis Bay where the — involving I think the destroyers, Tobruk and Anzac and that was a practice target shoot. And a shell had gone astray and Tobruk had, and Anzac had been holed below the water line, or on the water line and this was quite an incident of the day and the — on Eggleton’s advice, Gorton informed the press immediately and told them what had happened and then arrangements were made for a party of us to be flown down to Nowra and then to Jervis Bay to have a look and go to the Nowra Base and then out to the, well we were flown out to Melbourne, which was off the, which was doing things off the coast of Jervis Bay and in the afternoon we were taken out to the ANZAC and able to interview and talk to the captain. So all that went down, went down well.
M Richards: Now you’re implying that that’s different from how it might have been handled earlier. Would there have been a cover up, do you think?
J Farquharson: Yes, it might have been, well more played down. Whereas this was laid quite open and we went down and got the story and like from the people involved.
M Richards: Does that come from Tony Eggleton, or does that come from Gorton? Or both?
J Farquharson: I think it was on Eggleton’s advice. Yes, I know it was. But Gorton was open to go with those sorts of things and to give the, and it went down well, you see. And perhaps Voyager might have been handled a bit differently if he had been there, but he wasn’t and there was Peter Reid. He’d just moved to Education in that Cabinet reshuffle, ministry reshuffle.
M Richards: What went wrong with Voyager? From your perspective, what was going on?
J Farquharson: Well, it was difficult to see. There was Chaney who had been appointed for Minster of Navy but hadn’t, the legislation hadn’t gone through to enlarge the Cabinet and so that Jim Forbes, who had been appointed Minister of Army, had to act. Although everything was going through Tony and he was making decisions in concert with Forbes, but it was difficult and it was a disaster that came out of the blue that everybody was a bit at see as to how to handle it. But I think Menzies was probably right. He set up a Royal Commission and so on, but the — And there was, you know, people looking for who to blame, who was at fault and it fell between Robertson, the commander of the Melbourne, and Stevens, the commander of the Voyager. The allegations were at Stevens being under the influence of a drink and so on and, but of course, he was dead. But Robertston was there and perhaps Robertson got the worse end of it, because it really finished his career. And of course there was the initial inquiry and there was a move through John Jess, and people from Victoria, for a second inquiry and it didn’t clarify really all that much, things all that much I don’t think.
M Richards: How important was the media in pushing for that continuing enquiry, or was it already coming from within Parliament?
J Farquharson: Well, it was coming within Parliament and we were removed from what the editorial stance on it was, but I think people were looking for answers so anything that might bring, might produce an answer, they were willing to go with. And it was a very interesting thing, you know, how an action like that would happen on such a night with perfect, almost perfect weather conditions.
M Richards: But just looking at it in a larger sense, we don’t really have the investigative reporting tradition that some of the American newspapers have.
J Farquharson: And the British too.
M Richards: And British. Why do you think that is?
J Farquharson: I don’t know. We have given it a fly at different times and it’s been done, but not really well. I suppose, today, most investigative stuff seems to come from the ABC, through Four Corners and programs like that. I mean Four Corners particularly I think. And there are risks involved in investigative reporting. I mean, legal risk but then the papers would be equipped to deal with them. They all have lawyers at hand whenever needed. Well, and I think of course, you see, commercial interests come into play much more now than they used to as far as the press is concerned – particularly newspapers. And the bottom line tends to dominate. That’s my view.
M Richards: Is that because the papers are part of larger ownerships groups that will include those commercial interests or is it simply they are not as good at standing up to them as in the instance that you quoted.
J Farquharson: They’re probably not as good at standing up to them, and the proprietors are not as clear in what they’re about. Their, well you might call it their mission, you know. The old Fairfax company, not the present one, believed from coming down through the family, that they had a responsibility to publish newspapers in a certain way. In a way that, you know, they thought they were doing a public duty. So that a lot of things were done and there wasn’t, so even if you overspent or things like that, if it could be justified from an editorial point of view, it was accepted. That sort of flexibility is not always there these days, as I understand. I mean I’m out of it now, but this is what I understand. It’s —you don’t have that freedom.
M Richards: Did you see that change take place, do you think, while you were still in the industry?
J Farquharson: Not really, because, I think it was beginning but I, see I left The Canberra Times in 1988 which was just after The Herald papers, the Fairfax papers, were sold after Warwick’s debacle, young Warwick’s debacle. So, and — Sorry, I didn’t see it then. I’ve been an observer, I think I learnt more. But at The Canberra Times, see we would, we were there. I was deputy editor and I was often, I was often acting as editor for quite considerable periods over the years I was there. And I can hardly remember, only a single incidence of interference from Fairfax, from Sydney, about anything that we were doing, really. And, you know, we were able to virtually run the paper as we thought we ought to. And we did. That same freedom I don’t think is available today. I mean, there was only one instance, maybe two instances I can remember, when John Pringle, who had been editor of The Herald of course, had written book called Have Pen: Will Travel, and in it he made a reference to a Herald sub editor, chief sub editor, or acting news editor on a Sunday, who got frustrated with someone who was throwing things out the window and so on, and we were told, ‘Well, just be careful in how you treat any reviews of the book.’ We did it all to what we did, just went ahead and reviewed it any other way. And the other instance I remember was, or two. There was a person out in the country somewhere who was on a charge of buggery and we’d reported the charge as on the charge sheet of the court, as buggery. And Sir Warwick made a bit of a sensation to the editor. He didn’t think we should have sent that. We should have used some euphemism to get around it. But that was the sort of approach in those days.
M Richards: And did you change it?
J Farquharson: No, it had already appeared.
M Richards: It had happened.
J Farquharson: It already appears so we took it on board and that was that. And then in 1980 we had a strike. And the journalists went on strike for about six weeks and so about half a dozen of us, executives and the exempt people got out the paper, we still had the printers and all that, but, you know, it meant working, being in in the morning, at about 11 and going through too late at night, really early hours of the next morning. Then starting again all over again. So after that we, me and Matthews decided to write a, he was then editor, wrote an article about describing how we’d done this, you see. But we were told we shouldn’t have done that because The Herald played things very straight and the union way, they felt it might upset the unions, you see. Rather being a union matter and they’d caused the trouble but they thought we shouldn’t sort of beat our breasts about it in any way. But they were really minor things when you consider it and we didn’t have to — If we contradicted Herald policy or any other, it didn’t matter. Nobody worried about that. We wrote editorials as we thought they should be written on the subjects we thought we should deal with.
M Richards: So what, in what capacity were you working at the time of the dismissal in ’75?
J Farquharson: ’75 — I think in ’75 I had been news editor that year. I was news editor in ’75 but I’d — In that year, I’d had a, we’d had a family tragedy and my eldest son was killed in an accident and it was on Canberra day. And I always remember because Gordon Bryant, who was Minister for the Capital Territory, he had declared it, that the holiday would be held on the day, the 12th of March. And so had to go off and we, my wife and I had a break away and so on after that. And I came back again, briefly, acting as chief of staff again to give me time to work out — And I was offered, well I could have done that or I could have gone to the — We had a little other paper called The Courier which we were bringing out as a free paper as well and I was offered to go there. But I stayed as chief of staff, for a while, filling in and then later on when I got it more back on top of things, I became assistant editor.
M Richards: So it was a difficult time for you, ’75.
J Farquharson: Yes, ’75 was a difficult time and Max Prisk, who later became editor of The Herald, Sydney Morning Herald, he came in as news editor and he sort of worked under me as news editor and so, and then I moved more, as assistant I had charge of all the feature side of the paper. And ran a library and all that non-news side of the paper. It ranged from reviews or the arts, books and all those sorts of, and ordinary news features as well.
M Richards: Well, bearing, bearing that in mind, I’m just wondering if you had particular reflections on ’75.
J Farquharson: I was a little detached from it but, of course, it was a tremendous news story. And you know, the way I was involved and the way we handled it and so forth. But well it was unprecedented. And…
M Richards: You didn’t see the writing on the wall? Was there a general expectation in the media?
J Farquharson: No, I think it was a surprise. I don’t think it was considered that it would come to that, or that it was expected that it would quite come to that. I mean, Fraser was going on about supply and all that and the government, the Opposition was being difficult in saying they were doing this and that but I think, the way it happened was not expected.
M Richards: What was the general feeling in the press? Was there outrage or simply detachment in reporting it?
J Farquharson: Well, it was, well, a bit of both I think. I think they thought that Whitlam probably had been hard done by, certainly initially. And so, yes I think, well the sympathy was with, was for Whitlam. Rather than with…
M Richards: Even though the previous year had been a chaotic one?
J Farquharson: The previous year had been chaotic with Khemlani and all that loans affair which was the sort of lead up to all this and I think by that time a lot of people had become, were beginning to be disillusioned about the Whitlam government and the way things had, were going on. At the same time, the way it was done was a bit of a shock to people, I think. Well, certainly a surprise. But having adjusted to it, of course, and as things came out I think the, you know, things swung behind Fraser, well as the election in December showed.
M Richards: But you felt that was happening in the media as well as in the population?
J Farquharson: To some extent, but not entirely. There’s always, there always, Whitlam has always retained in the media and outside, you know, that he was a bit hardy done by.
M Richards: And the real sense of there being a following, of having admirers.
J Farquharson: The admirers of Whitlam and you see, the Labor Party tends to make martyrs and heroes of failures so, [Laughs] a trend through Labor history and I think that’s happened. Because I think Whitlam did a lot of initial things that were good, I think, as Gorton had done on the other side of politics. You know, it wasn’t it, it really wasn’t a good, it wasn’t really a good government in the end — well, over the loans, Rex Connor and all those other things that, that went on.
M Richards: How has he been able to retain that respect and even that love and admiration?
J Farquharson: Sort of a, well, he’s a commanding, he commands a presence, Whitlam. And, and he’s also able to, he’s arrogant but he’s able to get away with his arrogance somehow. I mean, I first met Whitlam at the, when I was in Sydney at the, doing the state political correspondent when — and earlier on, before I went to that, when the liquor Royal Commission was in progress under Justice Maxwell, and Dovey, Whitlam’s son in law, Dovey QC, was…
M Richards: Father in law.
J Farquharson: Yeah, father in law, was appearing as assisting the Royal Commissioner. And Whitlam was his junior. And you know, you’d go up to the court and try to get some briefing of something from Whitlam and he was most objectionable and arrogant in giving you information. And you know, short and sharp, you know, difficult to deal with. I mean, he did get out, grow out of that a bit when he got into politics, but of course he wasn’t in politics at that stage. He was just a lawyer at the bar, working at the bar. And that, yes, it was — I don’t know, it just remains there but I think it’s a bit — I think he’s a bit overrated, that’s my personal view but other people may see him differently to me. And of course he has this tendency to make speeches that go on forever these days. [Laughs].
M Richards: Indeed. Is there anyone else you want to talk about? Who would be the journalists you have admired the most in your career in relation to Parliament especially? Who were role, your role models perhaps, or the people you’d hold up as very good examples as somebody entering the profession now?
J Farquharson: Well, it’s difficult to say. Of course, Alan Reid was a good operator. There’s no question about that. But then there were people equally as good, I suppose, in different ways. I mean, Howell Cox from Melbourne Herald was good. And so was Ian Fitchett. I think out of those, I like Fitchett best.
M Richards: Tell, tell me about Fitchett. What made him good?
J Farquharson: Well, yeah, he, sort of, he was a person you could underrate but he had good contacts with Menzies, with McEwen and with other people. And he wasn’t, he was a character but he produced the goods. He wrote a good column each week for The Age and then later for The Herald. And but then you always had to watch what Cox was like, come up with. He was a good operator for The Melbourne Herald. And Hal Myers, as political correspondent for The Herald was good too in his day, before Fitchett, when Fitchett was still with The Age.
M Richards: But we began this interview with you talking about your admiration for Phillip Gibbs. None of them sound like a Phillip Gibbs character, and Gibbs walks a larger stage, doesn’t he?
J Farquharson: He walks a larger stage. He wasn’t confined to politics. And he was a more free-ranging person and as I say, he’d been a war correspondent and so on. I mean…
M Richards: There’s no Australian in that mould?
J Farquharson: Oh well, there is. I mean, Alan Morehead would come close to that. Alan Winchester-Willmott and probably Osmar White but perhaps in a different, a different way. But they were good correspondents and they produced good material, good stuff.
M Richards: George Johnston?
J Farquharson: George Johnston, well George approached the war differently. George was never up with the fighting. George operated back at headquarters. Whereas Moorhead and people like that, Willmott, White, and of course Damien Parer, photographers and others, well, there were out there where the action was. And Fitchett too. See, Fitchett was a war correspondent too. He was Australian, well he became assistant official Australia war correspondent in the Middle East, assistant to Slessor, and acted as the correspondent till Slessor got there. And then of course, he was appointed Australian official correspondent of the 8th division in Malaya, before the fall of Singapore. Fortunately he got out in time and then on to work for The Daily Express for the rest of the war later. But, so, you know, they were paraded on a stage that perhaps, you know, you didn’t have that scope when you’re just confined to politics. So, and of course, as Rohan Rivett said, some of the best reporting of World War II was produced by Australians. There were others, British, like Christopher Buckley and so on, who did great things in the war as well.
M Richards: But what is it that makes a good reporter? Can you sum that up? Got about four minutes here.
J Farquharson: It’s difficult. That’s a difficult question, Michael. I really don’t know. It’s a determination to get the story I suppose and be in the right place at the right time too, often. Sometimes you’re not. And you’ve just got to — It’s an indefinable thing, I think. Some people seem to be able to come up with it and some are not so good but you’ve got to be, you know, strive for accuracy and to really tell the story as you see it. If you can do that then I think — And you’ve got to have a feeling for whatever situation you’re in. And really be able to convey that and convey what the people, the actors in it all, you’ve got to get them across too. But it’s — That’s a difficult question.
M Richards: Well, perhaps we should finish on that one. Thanks, many thanks. Last question. There are lots of stories about the fact that there was no toilet for women in the Reps Gallery. Do you remember that?
J Farquharson: No, that’s the strange thing about it. I don’t. And we had, at the time, we had, you know, we had women senators. So Dorothy Tangney, and others. A couple of others. And also we had Helga Sundstrup who was from The Daily Telegraph in the Gallery, then later a girl from the ABC. Nobody ever complained about it. I never heard anything about it. It just didn’t sort of impinge at the time.
M Richards: So in your day, it was a gent’s toilet on the Reps Gallery side. And it remained that.
J Farquharson: And it remained that as far as I can remember. And I don’t remember. I think there was one down — wasn’t there one off Kings Hall, for women?
M Richards: On the floor below.
J Farquharson: On the floor below, yes.
M Richards: So a long way to go if you were in the Gallery.
J Farquharson: A long way to go, yes, but obviously somehow they must have worked something out, those girls who worked here earlier. [Laughs].
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3
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