Paul Davey was born in England in 1947 and migrated to Australia in 1966. He became a journalist in 1966 and worked with the Press Gallery in Canbera 1969 and the 1970s. He also worked overseas and around Australia before becoming Senior Private Secretary to the Hon. Peter Nixon (1978-83) and then Federal Director of the National Party of Australia (1983-92). He was later a Senior Adviser to the Hon. John Anderson (1995-96) and General Secretary of the National Party (NSW Branch) (1997-2000).
Interview with Paul Davey part 1
B York: This is an interview with Paul Davey who will be speaking with me, Barry York for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. From 1978 to 2000 Paul Davey held several senior positions with the National Party of Australia, including ten years — nearly ten years — as Federal Director of the party. I should also point out that Paul Davey is a historian and writer. Today I’m hoping though that we can cover the early period of your life, including your migration from England in 1966 and of course, your career as a journalist, including your time in the Canberra Press Gallery. On behalf of the director of the museum I want to thank you for being part of this program, thank you also for completing the Rights Agreement, and as you would understand, the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview and the Rights Agreement has allowed you to set down conditions of access to the interview.
The interview is taking place today, the 12th of April 2011 in Canberra at the Museum of Australian Democracy. Now may we begin at the beginning? I’ll just ask for your place and year of birth.
P Davey: Yeah I was born in, well in England, Kingswood, south of London, Surrey, 22nd of April 1947.
B York: And can you tell me a bit about your family background? You know, your parents, their names, their occupations and so forth?
P Davey: Yeah, my father whose name was Charles Davey, he was in the outside advertising business; billboards, and it was a company that was started by his father James Davey, who I never knew, he died before I came on the scene. So he was the managing director and the company director of James Davey Sights. And we lived in Kingswood, he worked in the city. My mother’s side of my family came from the other end of the country, Huddersfield in Yorkshire, and her father, my grandfather who I knew very well, Harry Cockcroft, he was in the wool industry and built up a company there, JH Cockcroft and Company Limited, which basically dealt with blending wool stocks, and I remember we used to go up there when I was a young kid and we’d go up there for Easter and times like that and I’d spend all the time with my brother playing in these huge bales of Australian Merino wool, which at the time of course I didn’t realise anything about, but it was good fun playing in those bales of wool.
So that was — they were the two key sorts of family links. I have a brother and his name’s Steven and he’s five years older than I am, currently living in France, and it was just the two of us and that’s it. My father died when I was eight, he had a coronary thrombosis, and my mother died from stomach cancer when I was 11, which put my brother, that sort of five years further on, so 13 when his father died, and what, 16 when his mother died. And I think they were very impressionable ages for him because I think the death of our parents hit him a lot harder than it hit me. I was almost at the age where — I mean of course I knew what had happened and I understood all that, but it didn’t — it just didn’t sort of strike home the way it did to him, and in fact it sort of derailed him, he never managed to get over it I don’t think, and it was — frankly he’d never been much of a success in his life at all. But I guess you know, that was part and parcel of the reason why I thought by the time I left school that I’d look for a life outside England.
B York: Did your brother look after you? Or who cared for you at that age?
P Davey: No. Yeah once our parents had died or our mother had died, her sister, my aunt Peggy — and she’d recently married an ex-Army captain whose name was Tom Cowan and they lived just outside Birmingham — now they took us in, they looked after us and as I say, my brother was 16 then and he — Tom Cowan was a very disciplinarian sort of character, almost what you’d expect from an ex-army officer, and you know, to the point where he made us clean the insteps of our boots and all our shoes and all of that sort of business. It was quite strict, and my brother Steven just didn’t take to that at all, you could see it all over him; he just wanted to get away. And he did, he left home and he went up to Yorkshire, he worked in the wool firm up there for a while and then he got himself tied up with music and he also went to NIDA, the National Institute of Dramatic Art, to become an actor, but he seemed to think, once he’d got through there, that it was virtually a passport to automatic stardom, you know, he’d be the immediate Charlton Heston or something, and he wasn’t too happy doing rep theatre up and down the provincial England.
But I stayed with Tom and Peggy, and of course I went through my senior school with them, I went to a school called Wellingborough which was near Northampton in the English midlands — a private school, boarding school, not up to the standard of Eton, Harrow or Winchester or something, but nonetheless a private school complete with all its, you know, its fagging and its standard things that happened in those days — until I left school at the end of 1965, and then started the move out here.
B York: Did your aunty have children or…?
P Davey: No, no they didn’t. They married fairly late and no, they didn’t have any children and whether it was something of a bonus for them to have a couple of teenage kids thrown onto them out of the blue or whether they found that that was something horrendous I really don’t know, but they were wonderful. I look back on them both — I was always very fond of my aunt — Tom I used to find, you know, a bit intimidating — but again, I look back on him now, he was probably the best thing that happened to me because he drove a bit of discipline and sort of respect into me which I don’t know whether I would have quite had it as much. So you know, they did a wonderful job, and they took on a huge responsibility and it must have been a huge burden to them.
B York: And did your parents own the house in Kingswood, or…?
P Davey: Oh yes, my father was an inveterate mover of houses; I don’t quite know why but we moved — I was born in a house called Little Thatches, which was a beautiful place, I went back to visit it once on a trip back to England some years later and it’s still there, it’s still got a thatched roof and everything which was lovely to see. Then we moved to another place not far away, still in Kingswood, and then we moved to a house opposite the Epsom racecourse. And we went through one derby, and all the rubbish from the derby in the front garden and everything else and Dad said, ‘Well that’s the end of that, we’re out of here.’ So we sold that, went back to Kingswood, and I mean he just loved moving houses.
B York: Did your parents have any particular religious values or practices?
P Davey: We were all Church of England, all the family was Church of England, but not hugely so, although you know, going to church on a Sunday was a reasonably regular thing, but not every Sunday, but it was quite a regular thing, and yeah, you know I think we all had those basic sort of Christian beliefs that, you know, I still hang onto today, but these days I tend to only find myself in churches for weddings, baptisms or funerals [laughs]. But I’m still a believer of sorts, I sort of loosely say my prayers every night before I drop off to sleep, you know, and I sort of hope in the afterlife — although I don’t think I believe in it quite to the extent that maybe I did when I was a kid.
B York: And what about politics? Were they politically minded?
P Davey: No, not particularly. They were conservative, they were conservative, and I had absolutely no interest in politics whatsoever, didn’t understand it and yeah as I say, it wasn’t really something that was discussed around the dinner table, only very occasionally after an election or something like that, you know, and of course elections five years apart were fairly few and far between.
B York: How — when you look back — what would you say about their influences on you? How did they help to shape you?
P Davey: Yeah, I mean they obviously did, despite the fact that I’d lost them at such a young age. My father was a mad keen golfer, he was a very good golfer and he made the crippling mistake I think of trying to get me interested in it by forcing me to caddy for him when I was about six, and that turned me off golf forever, even though I’ve played a fair bit of it and I’m reasonably good at it, not having had any specific training or anything, but I just don’t enjoy it. So that was one impact I suppose. Dad enjoyed his beer, he was a good beer drinker and I think I certainly followed that trait. And Mum, she enjoyed a gin and tonic, I wouldn’t say she was a heavy drinker but she enjoyed a social drink, and they enjoyed a party, they enjoyed getting friends together, you know, at Christmas time or some other appropriate occasion, putting on a party for adults which, you know, us kids were kept away from and then after it had all finished we’d go around and pick up the cigarette dog ends and light them [laughs] and empty out the glasses of sherry.
But you know, I guess beyond having fond memories of them — we were a very close family and you know, an average middle class family you would say I think, we were a very close family but I guess their influences on me were not extremely extensive because they — I hadn’t reached the age where they could really have a huge influence on me I suppose.
B York: And the other family that you moved to? Your aunty and…?
P Davey: Yeah well they clearly had a more significant influence on me I suppose is the word, as I say you know, my uncle Tom put into me some sort of discipline; I guess respect for people and for property and for society and communities and things like that, respect for other people, your elders and betters. Some of all of this you get from school of course as well, but I think clearly, you know, I clearly got a lot of that from him. And Aunty Peggy, she was just a sweetie, she was a softie and she was a lovely, lovely person. And that was good, I suppose she offset him in many respects in terms of the relationship with me, but yeah, no it was — I was very fortunate given — and so was my brother — I mean you know, to have suffered the loss of your parents like that but then still have a family, and a direct family, to look after you as opposed to being either put into some sort of an orphanage or completely taken away into some other sort of society, you know, that was extremely lucky, extremely lucky.
B York: That was quite a change in environment I would imagine though, from Kingswood which is what, that’s the south east is it there?
P Davey: Yeah, well it’s south of London, about 40 minutes drive I suppose from London, in the middle of Surrey, and yeah, I mean Surrey was, you’re right, a huge change because where we went to live where they lived in the Midlands, a place called Solihull, which was about a 40 minute drive out of the centre of Birmingham — Tom worked in Birmingham with the Midland Electricity Authority, he had a management position with them — and you know, I mean it was really an extension of Birmingham, so yeah there was nothing, there was no ‘countryside’ about it if you like, it was quite a difference, yeah.
B York: Could we talk about your school years briefly? What subjects did you take to and…?
P Davey: Well I was never too good a scholar at school; I enjoyed the playing field too much I think. I started as so many did in those days in England, I was sent off to boarding school when I was just seven, or maybe not quite seven, went to a junior prep school called Cottesmore which was near a little town called Pease Pottage near Crawley in Sussex, and I was there until I was about 12 and a half, or13 I guess, and then I moved out from that school and got entrance into Wellingborough. An interesting aside, I suppose the school was quite small and it was a private, family owned school, you used to drive up this rhododendron-lined long driveway and it opened out into this hugely imposing castle-like building, it was sort of, I used to call it ‘Colditz’; very frightening to a seven-year-old kid. Magnificent piece of architecture in reality, just a beautiful building, and it was run by a family called the Rogersons, and he headmaster Mr Rogerson, he was mad on golf so he put a nine-hole golf course into the grounds. It had a lake which the kids, we all used to go swimming in; they had horses so you could learn horse riding, they had a rifle range so you could do 22 shooting, 22 rifle shooting.
The opportunities that were given through that school, as a junior boarding school, were just phenomenal. But he — Mark Rogerson his name was — he called me into his office, I got a message from a Master, came in and interrupted a class and said, ‘Look, the Headmaster wants to see you.’ So I went down into his office and I knocked on the door as you have to do, ‘Come in,’ I went in, and he said, ‘Come and sit down,’ and sat me on the arm of a big leather armchair that he had, and he sat me on the arm of that and he said, ‘This is the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had to have because,’ he said, ‘you probably remember that three years ago I had to call your brother in here and tell him that his father has died, and it’s now my terrible duty to call you in here and have to tell you that your mother has died.’ He was a remarkable man actually.
My aunt came down and picked me up from school after that and you know, things started to move from there, but that — those were my biggest recollections from that period of my education I suppose. But as I say, I passed the qualifications, the exams to get into Wellingborough, and Wellingborough was fine, I enjoyed it. I’d never liked school up til then; I used to, you know, I used to hate going back at the start of the term and things like that, and initially when I first went to Wellingborough I was very apprehensive about it because you know, you were a new brat, you had to fag for your prefects, prefects could cane you, they had some crazy rules. But the school uniform was a grey suit; if you were under fifth form you had to walk across the quadrangle with your jacket done up and you weren’t allowed any hands in your pockets, and if a prefect caught you it was straight off to the prefect’s room and he’d cane you with three strokes of the cane without even referring it to any Masters or anything. Then if you were in the fifth form, still had to have your jacket done up but you could have one hand in your pocket — privileges you see, privileges — sixth formers and prefects could swagger with both hands in pockets and jackets undone, I mean, these were crazy sort of rules when you think about it but that’s the sort of schooling it was.
Academically, no I was pretty woeful academically; we had what was called a General Certificate of Education, I passed O Levels, it took me three years to pass five O Levels, which didn’t give me any hope of getting into university, not that I’d ever really thought I wanted to go to university I don’t think — I don’t think I’d really thought about it too much, but I knew I couldn’t go to uni — and of course then you started to get the family saying, ‘Well look,’ you know, ‘we’ve paid for your education, what are you going to do with yourself?’ And that’s when I first started thinking to myself, ‘Maybe I need to get away from here,’ because the options were going to the bank or something of that nature. I did enjoy enormously at school the Cadets, and I was quite a good marksman with 303 ranges and 22s, I got up to being a Sergeant in the Cadets, and I thought, ‘Well maybe a short service commission in the Army mightn’t be a bad idea.’ And this was stuff going through my mind in that final year of school you know, late, mid to you know about the middle of 1965 I guess. Anyway, I got an interview with the Regular Commissions Board and went off for a three or four day, you know, sort of interview and assessment, and I was only barely eighteen, I was the youngest one there, most of the other guys going for it were in their 20s and I just couldn’t work out — they had these obstacle courses, you know, things painted green and red and you were told you had to get your unit of five blokes over the obstacle course without touching anything red because red represented electricity and if you touched that you’d be killed. Well, I couldn’t work that out for the life of me! [laughs] They were very kind at the end, they said, ‘Look,’ you know, ‘you’re probably a bit young, come back in a couple of years time.’
You know, so I was thinking about what I was going to do with my life in that year of ’65. It crossed my mind to be a game warden in a national park in South Africa and I actually wrote to the National Parks Board in South Africa and enquired about it and I got a nice letter back saying that yes, you know, and depending what you want to do, you know, there are jobs for rouseabouts as it were, but if you want to really handle animals you’d have to be a vet which means you’ve got to go to university and all of that sort of business, so that was out. But what really nailed it was that no matter you were doing a key criterion was that you had to speak Afrikaans, which of course I couldn’t do so I didn’t think about that anymore.
But my two greatest mates at school were, coincidentally, both Australians, yeah. One was a bloke called Peter Nankervis and he was at school there because his father and his family were based in Bahrain; his father was a chief pilot for Gulf Aviation. And the other guy, Charles Horsfall, his father was the Chief Justice of the Cayman Islands, hence his being sent to England for schooling. And God, the three of us got into all sorts of strife; we got caught in pubs, we got caught under the headmaster’s strawberry patch smoking, we just got caught doing everything [laughs]. And we had a great time together, and they were great mates, the three of us were great mates, and funnily enough I mean, or unfortunately in a way, I’ve never seen Pete Nankervis since. I have seen Charlie Horsfall twice but a long, long time ago now. He did get back to Australia and became a doctor; where he is now I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know whether life moves on and you sort of, you know, these ties tend to drift, but they were great mates and that’s the key reason that sort of put me on the course to come to Australia.
B York: Because I was going to ask what interested you in Australia in the first place; had you met any other Australians before then?
P Davey: No, no, no not really. Australia of course in the mid 60s was heavily promoted in the UK for, you know, potential migrants, and I’d been talking about it loosely with Pete and Charlie, hadn’t really done much about it, but I was in Birmingham one day, obviously it would have been during school holidays, and I walked past the Australian Consul and they had all these photographs in the window of you know, Bondi Beach and this and that and all sorts of things, and open paddocks and wheat crops and sheep and all these great Australian, iconic Australian sort of scenes. And I wandered in there and I just said, ‘Look I might be interested in applying for migration,’ and they gave me a whole heap of stuff and sent me away, and I started to look at it and then I started to look at the atlas of Australia more; I’d learned a fair bit about Australia at school because being a Commonwealth country, you know, you learnt a lot about it in terms of history but also geography; we studied it quite extensively, and I found it fascinating. I mean just looking at a map of this massive island continent, which to me back then was, you know, almost like going off on a trip of exploration if you like, you know. It seemed such a distant and also deserted sort of piece of land, and so it did fascinate me. And then Charlie Horsfall’s mother was married to a farmer at a place called The Rock just outside Wagga, about 20 miles from Wagga in New South Wales, and I suppose somewhere — I probably haven’t thought about it very much — but somewhere I must have had subconsciously in my mind a desire to go on the land — maybe that’s what made me start to think about being a game warden in South Africa or something like that — but it suddenly, you know, struck me that this wouldn’t be a bad life; get out to Australia and become a jackaroo and go on the land. And that’s what was sort of arranged, I was going to — this was if I could get through the immigration tests and things okay — the idea was to come out here and go to The Rock and go and work for the Stuart family — then they were Stuarts — on their property at The Rock.
So I then, you know, I had a target so I went back to the Australian Consul and oh, you know, they gave quite a rigorous sort of an interview session, and then I had to pass medicals, and then I had to wait. And in the process of waiting we formalised if I was going to come — because I was under 19 so I had to be sponsored, and of course if you, you know, anyone is prepared to take on a sponsorship of that nature that means they’re legally responsible for you and they’re also responsible for any legal problems you get into if you happen to, and that’s a big call — and the Stuarts, while they were quite happy to look after me and all the rest of it, I think they quite rightly thought that, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t really want to have that around our neck.’ So the Apex Club of Wagga was my formal sponsor. And then yeah, then I got notification that, ‘Right,’ you know, ‘your application’s approved, you should get yourself ready to leave England at short notice,’ and you know, ‘do you want to fly or go by boat?’ So I had no hesitation there, I mean why would you fly when you could have six weeks on a boat? [laughs] Which I’d never had before you know, that was quite an exciting idea.
But all of it, you know, getting ready, all of a sudden you’ve got to sort of pack up your life and shove it into a — I still had my old school trunk, it was a big green school trunk, and that was basically it — I had to pile my life into there and take it with me and that was it. And getting all that ready and then sitting back and waiting, and you didn’t know how long this process was going to take at all, and in the meantime I was doing, you know, I had left school then and I was — I did some work, I was just doing work to try and get some money — I worked in a furniture store in Solihull, just you know, selling furniture, I’d also worked in Birmingham’s Smithfield Markets on the fruit and vegetable thing; that was a shocking job, you had to be there at about three in the morning, you know, but it paid fairly good money, and a few other things around that neck of the woods, four probably, you know. I think I left school around about October or something like that of ’65, so I had a few months in which to work and earn money so I could have something to bring with me if I was going to go; not a hell of a lot, but I’d done that, and then the letter came. It would have been probably towards the end of January — oh no, it might even have been earlier than that — but early in 1966 anyway, you know, ‘You’re designated to board the Castel Felice at Southampton dock on…’ whatever date it was. And that’s when it really hit home, you know, ‘My God, what have I done? What have I done?’
And you have that sort of sickening feeling in your stomach I suppose, because it suddenly hit me that, ‘Well look, I’m going off on my own,’ and any links and ties that I’ve got to people who can immediately help me are, bingo, they’re severed. I didn’t really have second thoughts, but I had that sickening feeling for sure.
B York: How did your aunty and uncle feel about it when you told — how did you tell them?
P Davey: Ah look, we’d discussed it over quite a long period of time and they were very supportive; they thought, they really did think that England in the mid 60s was a country that was going through quite a transformation in a way, you know, different values, you know, it was full of flower people, it was the Beatles, it was — the ideologies which they had grown up with if you like, and particularly the sort of post-war 1950s periods where you know, you still had respect for people, you still got out a fair day’s work, a fair day’s pay, things like that, were sort of slipping away — people were — it was becoming more acceptable for people to sit around and do nothing and go on the dole and things like that, conscription had ended, you know, there wasn’t a lot around in England. And they thought that yeah, the idea of getting out to, as it were, the ‘new world’ and seeking opportunities there was fine.
Of course once the time came to go — my uncle wasn’t well at that stage, he’d got tuberculosis in his legs and he’d had one leg amputated so he was in bed when I left — and we shook hands and he was very stoic about it and I think I was, but you know, I’m sure, I’m sure he knew that this was the best thing I could do so he was prepared to take it that way. My aunt drove me down from Birmingham down to Southampton and you know, we loaded everything on and, as you do, and I got on board — I mean we kissed and I got on board and she stood down on the dock there and watched the streamers flying out, tears started streaming down her eyes; she was very upset about it at the end, but I mean, again, she wasn’t against it, she was just very upset that it was happening, and so was I, I mean I think I probably cried myself as the last ropes were dropped off and the boat started to drift away, it’s quite a moving sort of scene when you know it’s basically for the last time. I mean of course it didn’t have to be at all, but at that point where you’ve surrendered your passport to the Australian authorities, you’ve been issued with a single page document of identity, and they say to you, ‘You’ve got to keep this, this is the most important document you’ll hold for the next two years under the Assisted Passage Scheme because it is the only proof of who you are,’ and you know you’re going, what, ten thousand miles away, you think ‘My God,’ it doesn’t cross your mind that you might be able to get back again at some point; you sort of think, ‘My God, this is a one way ticket to the arse end of the world.’
B York: Did you think of it as a permanent move?
P Davey: Yes, yes I think I did. I certainly thought of it as — yeah you know, to be honest, I’m still hesitating — I had no thought in my mind that I’d simply do the two years required under the Assisted Passage Agreement and then come home, I never had that in my mind at all. So I certainly thought of it as a permanent move, yeah, yeah. And you know, at the time I was coming out here to be a farmer.
B York: Yep. I’d like to ask a little bit more if I may about the interview process, you said that they were quite rigorous in the initial interview; do you recall much about what they asked? Or what was the point of that initial interview?
P Davey: Yeah, it’s a bit hazy now but they certainly, you know, they wanted to know — well they wanted to know my family background, family history and everything else — they asked questions that were obviously aimed at — but they were very nice about it too, they were very friendly, and broad Australian accents, you know, which you sort of — you immediately know you’re talking to Aussies — and very gentle about it, but a lot of the questions were clearly targeted at being able to judge what my mental capacity was to do what I was going to do, you know, how secure was I within myself about doing this? Or was I going to potentially get over here and be a burden on the Australian society? And then it was a matter of — yes they wanted to know what I understood, what I knew about Australia — there were no trick questions in it or anything like that, and it was nothing like, you know, well who was the first prime minister of Australia and all that sort of business, I mean there was none of that there — but broad understanding of what Australia was, what it was about, what it did, what it’s major economic strength was, and again, just to see how much you’d genuinely sort of understood about the place I guess. All part of the assessment to see how suitable you were to be an Assisted Migrant.
And then the medical side of it — that wasn’t — it wasn’t too rigorous as I remember — they assigned me to a doctor, I had to go to a doctor, but it was — I’d had a medical when I went for the Short Service Commission in the Army too and it was a bit similar to that, I mean they were particularly keen to make sure you didn’t have TB. They wanted to know, you know, you had to be immunised, have polio immunisation, all of this sort of stuff to make sure you weren’t going to be a potential health burden or import some exotic disease into Australia. And beyond that it was, you know, the standard sort of deep breathing, blood pressure and that sort of stuff, and I had no problem there.
So I think overall it was a pretty solid sort of assessment on a person’s suitability to go, both from a physical point of view and health point of view and a mental point of view.
B York: Was there a character check at all?
P Davey: I suppose there probably was, I suppose there probably was, but they didn’t tell me about it [laughs]. But of course I had to fill in everything about my family history and forms and things like that, and they probably checked that, they probably checked that, yeah.
B York: Sometimes they ask about police records and that kind of thing, you know?
P Davey: Well, I really can’t remember whether they did ask that, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Or if they didn’t, I’d be surprised if they hadn’t checked, if they didn’t check for…
Interview with Paul Davey part 2
P Davey: The British police authorities. I can’t remember them directly asking me about it though, but as you say, I’m sure it would have been done.
B York: Did you think at all of other destinations apart from Australia?
P Davey: Not really, as I say, I had that flirting idea about going to South Africa which just never got off the ground; I was obviously influenced in thinking about Australia by my mates at school and by what we’d learnt about the place at school. The other place we had learned a lot about of course, again being a dominion country, was Canada. But I never thought about going to Canada, I think my view of Canada was that the place was just too bloody cold. I don’t like the cold [laughs]. And that was a shock to the system when I got here of course, because there are parts of Australia which are extremely cold and you just never, you know, from that distance you never think of Australia as being cold at all.
B York: How did your brother react?
P Davey: By this stage he was living in the north of England, he was, you know, he was doing his own thing, he was tied up with rock bands; we saw each other not all that frequently, but we were still great mates and close brothers. He — I think he, you know, he thought it was a good idea as well because he wasn’t doing very well for himself anyway. But there was no, you know, we weren’t that close that we, you know, you sort of hug each other as you say goodbye. I can’t actually remember physically seeing him for the last time before I left; I don’t know whether I did or whether I just spoke to him on the phone and said, ‘Mate I’m off tomorrow,’ and he said, ‘Well all the best,’ you know, ‘keep in touch and good luck.’ We wrote to each other, we still write to each other regularly, but that’s an interesting question, I cannot remember actually seeing him for the last time. One of the last times that I saw him, but it certainly wasn’t the last, he was a pretty good guitarist, and I was, again, being five years younger I was at the age where I thought, ‘Well if he can play a guitar I want to too.’ And I said to him, ‘Look,’ you know, ‘I want to learn the guitar.’ And he got out a piece of paper and he just drew the lines of the six chords — you know, the six strings of the guitar — and wrote down nine chords and said, ‘Learn to play those, get your rhythm going all right and you’ll be able to play just about any song you want,’ and he said, ‘It won’t be brilliant, but just rhythm.’ And I did that, and that’s probably the greatest gift he gave me because I enjoy music and I’ve had a lot of fun out of it over the years, but that was very much down to Steven.
B York: And that started in England?
P Davey: Yeah. By the time I got here I couldn’t play the guitar at all hardly, you know, I mean I was just slowly trying to get used to the chord sequences and I didn’t have a guitar, but I kept that bit of paper nonetheless, and in years to come I took his advice [laughs].
B York: You were fairly young weren’t you, to leave on your own? Were you literally on your own or…?
P Davey: I was, I was and I can’t recall that there was anybody else on that boat that — there were certainly people on their own — but there was nobody on their own of my age, they were mid 20s. I was 18 and I had, you know, 18 and a half anyway, and the guys in the cabin that I was — there were four of us in a cabin, we were on sea deck — this boat was a converted Italian troop carrier; a lot of the boats were converted — or had been — converted from liners into troop carriers and back to liners again — and it wasn’t huge, I’m not sure how many passengers it would have had in all, probably around 700 or something like that — mostly families, and just a few who were single travellers and as I say, there were four of us in this cabin on sea deck — if it wasn’t below the water line it was on the water line — and it was tiny, it was a dog box, it was literally just two up and down bunks on each wall, there was one tiny little cupboard at one end of the room in which we all had to share to put things. Basically we lived out of our suitcases that were under the bunks, I mean the big trunk was in the hold and I had one little sort of suitcase. But these guys were all mid to late 20s, and they were good guys, they were great blokes actually, they sort of looked after me because I was that much younger. And I can’t remember any of their names; we literally got off at the other end, went our own ways and what happened to them I don’t know, and they probably don’t know what happened to me either, but in a way that’s the way life goes I suppose. But yeah, they were good blokes, we had fun on the boat.
B York: I’m keen to ask more about the voyage, but just one more question about Australia; you clearly would have learnt a bit about Australia from your two school friends and also of course the official Consular information that was given to you; were there any other sources of information about Australia? And school of course, you’ve mentioned, but…
P Davey: No, not really, not really. And even the two mates, I mean we didn’t — we didn’t have deep conversations about Australia and what it was and all the rest of it — these two guys had Australian accents, that was about it you know, they were Australians and that was sort of it. And of course, you know, we talked about the style of life over here and how it differed from what it was like in England, how they found England and things like that. But beyond that, and the information that the Consul gave us which was the standard sort of government hand out stuff if you like, and what I’d learnt at school; I’d just poured over maps of Australia, got maps of Australia and looked at them and studied the rivers and the towns and things like that, you know, but of course didn’t have the internet or anything in those days where you could just Google something and see how big a town was, you know, it was — there wasn’t that immediacy of information.
B York: I’m thinking about some films or television programs…?
P Davey: No, I hadn’t seen anything that I recall as being totally Australian. My biology master at school, just before I left — because I’d actually sort of got to the point of the decision had been made that I was going to migrate before I finally left school late in ’65, my biology master was an interesting bloke whose name was Elwick; he went on to become a biology master at Eton not long after I’d left — but he gave me a copy of Alan Moorehead’s Cooper’s Creek and said, ‘There you go boy, read this.’ Which I did and I found it a fascinating book, fascinating book. And that certainly — that spurred my interest; I hadn’t been much of a reader up to that point in time, you know, reading to me was a waste of time, as was golf. You should be out doing something else! But that spurred my interest in reading more about Australia, but I didn’t go rushing off to libraries to get books about it.
B York: Well let’s talk more about the voyage. You’ve described the living conditions; what about the actual routines?
P Davey: Yeah it all became quite monotonous. You start off with this very sort of romantic view about what a long ocean voyage is going to be like, you know, and life aboard a big, big ship, and it’s quite an exciting prospect I think at first. And when we got on board, everybody got on board, once we’d sort of sailed out of Southampton, you know and there was nothing — no more of England to look at as such and not much else to look at — then you started to explore the boat, around the decks and they had games rooms and they had a swimming pool, you know, they had libraries, there were evening movies, there were two shifts for meals, the standard breakfast, lunch, dinner, standard sort of stuff. And of course booze and cigarettes were duty free! Which made them as cheap as chips, absolutely as cheap as chips and that was fairly fatal in some respects, but it wasn’t difficult to, you know, as I say, the four of us in the cabin, well we struck up another four blokes from other cabins and you know, not too hard to sort of say well, ‘We’ll see you in the bar at six thirty and have a few sessions.’
And in some respects it’s just as well because you know, you explore the boat, it takes you about three hours and then you know it from sort of top to bottom and it then all sort of starts to become fairly monotonous, fairly monotonous. They did have — they had trap shooting off the back of the deck, 12 gauge clay pigeon shooting, that was good fun, that was good fun. You had to pay but it was quite cheap, you know, but that was good fun and yeah, you know, the usual deck quoits and things like that which I didn’t sort of do much of. And I mean the conditions were very cramped, there was no — for instance in the cabin we had there, there wasn’t even a sink, you had to go down quite a lengthy long walk down a thin corridor to get to the men’s toilets and showers — and yeah, she was quite a cramped boat, quite a cramped boat.
But beyond that I mean, we went — I think — I’m fairly sure we pulled in at Gibraltar, only for a few hours but that gives you an opportunity to get off, because I’ve got some old photographs of Gibraltar Rock with all the monkeys all over the place, and I can’t recall I’ve ever been to Gibraltar before or since! It must have been on that voyage I think. We had a bit of rough weather down at the Bay of Biscay which, yeah, you know, it made me a bit queasy, I didn’t know whether I’d be a good sailor or not, but it didn’t upset me that much. We stopped then at Alexandria and we got off there and went around Cairo and the pyramids, back on the boat, and then to — was it Suez at the top of the canal and Port Said at the bottom?
B York: Yeah.
P Davey: Yeah, so we had an option; you could get off the boat at Suez and go overland down to pick up the boat at Said, or you could stay on board and go down the Suez Canal, and I and the guys in my cabin all decided we’d get off and go overland, and I can’t really remember much about it, I don’t think it was all that exciting actually, it probably wouldn’t have been all that exciting sailing down the canal either. But we definitely went overland, and I think we just went by bus and that was it, you know, that was it. Anyway back on the boat again, and then you had this huge haul across the Indian Ocean down to Western Australia, and I was looking up the other day — well we crossed the Equator on the 31st of March, 1966 — because I’ve got a certificate for that — and I disembarked in Sydney on the 19th of April, 1966, so 19, 20, 21, 22 — three days, three days before I turned 19. Had I actually disembarked after I’d turned 19 I would have had to shell out the ten pounds for the assisted passage, ten pounds Assisted Passage Scheme, but because I was under 19 the Australian tax payers very kindly paid for the whole thing [laughs] and I didn’t have to pay my ten quid.
But yeah, so you had that long, long haul. I don’t know exactly how long it would have taken us to get from — and I don’t have the date when we left Southampton. I could probably find out somewhere from some shipping records, but it was early in the year…
B York: It was usually about a six week…
P Davey: Yes usually about a six week voyage or something like that, but yeah. That big haul, I mean it was, it was — there was some beautiful times, we’d see flying fish and dolphins coming up through the water and following the ship, big birds, albatrosses probably and things like that, magnificent sunsets. The weather as I recall it, was very kind to us all the way, it was very calm and very pleasant, and it just, you know, you just watched the bow wave or the stern wave just fading away into the distance. That gives you a time to reflect and think, ‘Jesus, what am I doing? What have I done? Have I made a blue?’ It’s still that doubt, still sort of grips from time to time when you’re in that sort of situation, yeah.
B York: What about the food on board?
P Davey: Yeah, it was all right, there was nothing special about it, but it was all right and very English, you know, bacon and eggs and sausage and mash and things like that. It might have been an Italian-owned boat but they knew they were hauling Pommie immigrants and they gave them pommie food! [laughs]. Yeah, nothing special about it and nothing un-special about it; very much actually what I’d been used to for ten years in boarding school, it was very much boarding school-type food. Plenty of it, no problem there.
B York: And entertainment? Was there entertainment?
P Davey: Well just the movies, that was it. They had movies, you know, in one of the lounges each night, I don’t think I ever went to any, if I did I certainly didn’t see anything memorable.
B York: What about among the passengers? Were there people with musical instruments and might get together and have a play or…?
P Davey: There were people with musical instruments but I don’t remember them getting together and having a play, no, I don’t remember that at all. It was — there was nothing too memorable about the trip other than the fact that, you know, it was a long way and it took a long time and it was — it was basically quite monotonous.
B York: Were there provisions for religious services?
P Davey: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah they had church services which I didn’t attend any, but they certainly did, they had Catholic services, Presbyterian services and C of E services.
B York: Were there different nationalities? Any other than English and…?
P Davey: No, all Brits, all Brits. Yeah I mean these were the sort of halcyon days of the migration from the UK, well getting towards the end of them albeit, but they were still pulling out Brits in very large numbers.
B York: Yes. You mentioned — was it Apex who was sponsoring you?
P Davey: Mmm.
B York: Before you left, to what extent had they been helpful? Like had they been writing to you and giving you advice and that kind of thing?
P Davey: No, because it was, as I say, they were the formal sponsors and I think that was to get over the legality of being a sponsor, but I had had no contact with the Apex Club directly; all the contact I’d had had been with Hope her name was, Hope Stuart, so the Stuart family, and Hope Stuart was Charlie Horsfall’s mother’s sister, and she and I, we exchanged correspondence quite regularly and I would ask her questions about you know, what sort of things should I bring? What should I not bring? You know, what do you want me to do? And things like that, and she gave me advice on, you know, what I’d be doing, and in particular as the time got closer, what would happen when I got off in Sydney and how I’d get down to Wagga. And she explained the fact that the Apex Club were the formal sponsors, she didn’t go into the reasons why and I probably, I just, I didn’t ask I guess, and certainly that I’d be meeting the Apex people when I arrived. So that was really all the communication was with her.
B York: And did it turn out as she said? Were Apex there to actually meet you and take you to Wagga or…?
P Davey: No, no, no, no, there was a funny story there. You know, it was all her family and her people that met me. Before we got there of course though we had to go through Immigration which was on the boat off Perth. When the boat stopped at Perth, before anybody could get off, Australian Immigration boats, Customs and Immigration guys came out, and they seemed to be a lot stricter then than they seem to be today, I don’t know whether I’m just thinking that, but they were — the Customs guys — no, sorry, there were no Customs guys, it was Immigration — and they were, you know, they wanted to know where you’d been, if you’d been off the boat where had you been off the boat? If you’d been into any area where, you know, you could be in danger of bringing in diseases into the country and of this sort of stuff, and you’d have to get your shoes disinfected if need be or your clothes, all this sort of stuff, it was quite — and you know, again, broad Aussie-accented people, but these guys weren’t so gentle, they weren’t impolite, but they were very direct, they asked you questions and they expected straightforward answers, there was no mucking around with these blokes, they were very efficient. And also, then coming on board were representatives of the private health funds and the banks, and they were there on board for a couple of days to — you didn’t have to go and see them but you know, if you wanted to sign up for private health insurance — and this was always one of the frightening things, always one of the frightening things that, coming from a country which had a complete national health system where everything was available for nothing, coming into a country where, basically if you didn’t have private health insurance and you got into strife you could be in big trouble, and this had been discussed by the Consul guys in Birmingham, and their strong advice was, ‘Make sure you get private health insurance because.’ So I signed up, I joined the MBF, so that got that one out of the way. And then the bank, well he bank was interesting, it was the Bank of New South Wales, and really all they were there — I’m sure they would have opened accounts for you — but I didn’t have enough money to open an account, but I had to change money because at this point everything was going over to Australian currency. And of course, the Australian currency had just been decimalised so — literally that month, virtually, or the month before — and these guys, I was handing over my pommie pound sterling and everybody was getting in return these brand spanking new Aussie notes, dollar notes, and they were, I mean, they were so colourful. None of us had ever seen money this bright, you know, you had your blue ten dollar notes and your orange twenties and the green two dollar notes and the brownish sort of one dollar note, but they were all crispy brand new, and of course we got so many of them; all of a sudden you felt you were rich because the exchange rate was pretty good! And that was quite a novelty, all these crisp notes, you really didn’t want to spend any of them because they were just so beautiful [laughs] that, yeah.
And then the boat docked at Fremantle. People getting off there got off and they got hit with Customs; we hadn’t got hit with Customs. We then sailed on and it stopped at Adelaide and it stopped at Melbourne and finally got to Sydney, to Pyrmont and I got off the boat at Pyrmont.
B York: Before you were talking the disembarkation; Fremantle would have been your first sighting of Australia?
P Davey: Yeah.
B York: Do you recall the impression?
P Davey: It was not very impressive in a way because Fremantle was nothing more than a port basically, it wasn’t a very attractive place. The trains, we saw a couple of trains, we might even have taken a train into Perth, but it was a very old fashioned sort of a train; everything seemed sort of behind, you know, like five, ten years behind what things were like in the UK, which it didn’t concern me, I sort of thought it was quite quaint. We yeah, went to a pub in Fremantle, and you know, the pub — pubs really were a big shock to the system ultimately! [laughs]. But that’s about all, you know, it wasn’t a hugely impressive impression if you like, but as I say, it didn’t sort of disturb me, I think if I’d thought — if I thought about it at all I would sort of probably have thought these, you know, it looks a bit like an American town, you know, with the awnings and sort of almost boardwalks along the shops and things. But we weren’t there long of course, I mean basically we were only there a couple of hours, two or three hours, enough to get people off, unload their baggage and then get them off and then get going again. The boat never spent much time anywhere. Its one mission in life was to get these buggers over there as fast as possible.
B York: You mentioned the trunk that you had with you; apart from clothing what else did you bring? What did you bring?
P Davey: I had my collection of Johnny Cash albums, which numbered then only about six because that’s about all I had, but that’s another thing my brother did for me, he gave me an LP of Johnny Cash Ride This Train which had the front cover of Cash standing on top of a big hill with a big old American Western steam engine chunking along down in the background and here he is dressed up as a cowboy loading a six gun, and you know, and singing all these Western songs. I was a mad fan of cowboys and Indians if you like, and I had been since childhood and so had my brother, and in some respects that’s one area where — I’m digressing backwards a bit — but where he was really good, because when I wanted to play cowboys and Indians, he was five years older than me and probably got past it, but he still played with me, you know, and he was wonderful, and he gave me this album and I’d never heard of Johnny Cash in my life, and I really liked it so I started to look around and I found a few more, so I had — to answer your question — that was one thing I had there.
I had a couple of books, I had my book on Cooper’s Creek, a few other things, clothes and a few bits and pieces that you might regard as your favourite bits and pieces; I had a fountain pen and a pencil that had been my father’s, I had a couple of things that had been my mother’s keepsakes, and not much else, not much else.
B York: After Fremantle did you stop at Adelaide at all?
P Davey: Yeah but again, very briefly, because they must have done because immigrants were getting off in all ports. Quite a few got off in Fremantle, quite a few got off in South Australia, because from that point on the boat was nearly empty, or you know, half empty, and all of a sudden there was all the room in the world! They didn’t take anybody on board when they dropped them off. But I don’t remember spending any time in Adelaide, and again, you know, it might very well have been if there was, you know, 100 people getting off in Adelaide they probably would have shovelled them off in an hour and got the baggage off in an hour and got going again. Likewise Melbourne.
B York: You mentioned the group of young men who you became friendly with; did you mix much generally with other passengers?
P Davey: Yes and no, you know, yes, I mixed with a whole, probably quite a large number of them, but only in a pretty casual, polite sort of fashion, not in — it didn’t really — and again, probably because I was so young, most of these people were families, I didn’t sort of get into discussions with people about, well you know, ‘Where are you going? What are you going to do?’ I certainly would have done with those four guys in the cabin, we would have talked about what we were going to do. I remember saying to one of — they were all staying in — I think one or two got off in Melbourne and the others in Sydney, but they were all going to stay in the cities. One was a motor mechanic I think, one was a brickie, one was in the printing trade, they were, you know, they were all in trades, so you know, and I don’t think any of them had any jobs lined up as such but they had the trades and they were all quite happy to, you know, they’d decided, ‘Well I’m going to stay in Melbourne,’ or ‘I’m going to stay in Sydney and I’ll get work there.’
They thought I was mad, they’d never heard of Wagga. Neither had I until I first sort of started to get an interest in the whole scheme anyway, but they thought I was completely nuts, you know, going out to the, absolutely going out to the middle of nowhere, you know. But yeah, then coming into Sydney the officers on the boat made the point that we’d be sailing into Sydney Heads at about five o’clock in the morning and that it really is worth getting up and watching the approach to and as we sail under Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was something I really wanted to see because, you know, this is the iconic vision of Australia, particularly then, didn’t have an Opera House in those days. And so I yes, got up and we came in through the Heads and it was a magnificent morning, beautiful sunrise, and you saw around the Harbour bit there and you start to see Sydney Harbour Bridge, and at first it’s off in the distance and it looks like a matchbox toy, and you slowly get closer and closer and closer to it, and as we got closer to it I was still disappointed, I thought, ‘This bloody thing’s tiny!’ you know, I thought it was massive, thought it was a huge thing, and I was quite disappointed at how seemingly small it looked. I still wonder about it to this day, and whenever I go over Sydney Harbour Bridge I still think what a magnificent structure it is and of course I never realised it was actually a hell of a lot bigger than it might have look from the water. But that first sight of it was a complete shock, complete shock. You know, it didn’t concern me, it didn’t worry me, but I just thought, ‘Jesus that’s nothing like as big as it ought to be.’
And we sailed under it and docked at the Pyrmont Finger Wharf just nearby, and yeah everybody piled off and you had to hang around and wait until your baggage was offloaded…
B York: Can you describe for me — sorry to interrupt — but what does it seem like at the wharves as the boat came into the wharf? I guess you would have been looking out at the wharf?
P Davey: Well yeah, yeah, yeah, oh yes, everyone was looking out and watching it, you know, being pushed against the side of the wharf and the tugs there and all of that. It didn’t take too long to get organised, and we got off quite quickly, and once you get off it was the two storey warehouse basically. You got off on the second storey and you got — a lot of people have people there, you know, waving placards for names and things like that to get families together and all of this sort of business, or new passengers. And you had to wait to get downstairs to identify your hold baggage and then stand by and wait until a Customs official came across, and they’d go through your baggage. And again, they were — there was no mucking about with them either, you know — the bloke came up to me and said, ‘Right,’ you know, ‘is this yours?’ ‘Yes Sir,’ ‘Okay open it up,’ you open it up, ‘What have you got in here?’ Boom, boom, boom, and that’s where he looked at the Johnny Cash records and I don’t think he was too impressed. And I had a few other records there too but he was quite — I probably had in all, I don’t know, a dozen or 20 albums, you know, big 33 albums and he pulled every one out, every one out to check that there was no illegal music, well banned music coming in. And he looked at all of those quite closely, he went through everything quite closely and said, ‘Righto, thanks very much,’ you know, good luck, and off he went to the next bloke.
Now I got met by a relative of Hope Stuart’s. I think he was her brother who lived in Sydney, he lived in Hornsby and I had a day in Sydney, and he helped me get — well, we got my trunk taken over to — we got that over to Central Station and that was put in the left luggage areas so we didn’t have to cart it all the way up to Hornsby. And then we went by train up to Hornsby and I stayed a night there with them and then he brought me back and dropped me back at Central Station the next day, and then he had to go to work and left me for a few hours it was before the train left. And a couple of things I suppose, you know, you sort of ask about impressions…
B York: Yes.
P Davey: Well the Red Rattler was an eye opener!
P Davey: I loved the Red Rattler, I thought, ‘This is absolutely bloody wonderful!’ Here we are — and I remember it was hot, in you know, February, where are we now, March? No we’re not, we’re April — oh well, it was still pretty warm anyway, but here we are rattling along in a train with the doors wide open; I had never been on a train with the doors open before, I thought it was absolutely fantastic. The other thing that really struck me was men’s clothes. Men in Sydney, you know, particularly suits, because as I said, we wore suits at school, I’d been used to wearing a suit — I’ll just for a second take you back to the school time — when you were a prefect or a sixth former, and I was a house prefect for the last 12 months at school or so — but when you were there you could go and get your own suit tailor made. Now the school uniform was a college grey suit, but when you were a house prefect you could get a charcoal grey suit, almost black, and you could get it tailor made — guys got these things tailor made with flash red, gold or royal blue lining in the jacket, pockets that sort of go down the front of the trousers instead of the side, and of course, you know, as I say, Beatles period time, almost drainpipe trousers, not quite, but certainly narrow trousers, no cuffs on the bottom of the trousers. All of a sudden, walking down Sydney here were guys wearing hats that were sort of 1950s trilbies and suits that looked like they came out of the 50s…
Interview with Paul Davey part 3
P Davey: Baggy trousers, cuffs, double breasted, everything that in England had sort of gone out of fashion and style so long ago, and it was, it was quaint, it was really quaint, and somehow it was rather nice; it was sort of reassuring that Australia still had some catching up to do, you know, hadn’t got to this sort of — how would I explain it? — this almost sort of over the top social position that England had got it into and which was clearly going to take England, you know, down a very questionable path in terms of its prosperity and things like that, and I found Australians extremely friendly, I really did, I was quite surprised. And these broad Aussie accents, I mean these accents were just sort of, well obviously coming at you from all over the place. But it was — and Sydney, I mean Sydney was, you know, it was a city and it — compared to — I never liked cities in England at all really, I mean London was, I found, always too big. Birmingham was too dirty, too industrial and Huddersfield was absolutely foul, it was just filthy, you know, but hence the saying, ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’, you know…
But Sydney I mean, it had an openness about itself which was totally unique to me, I hadn’t experienced before, I mean this beautiful harbour. I didn’t have much of a chance to look around it, but I did have a bit of a look, and in that brief sort of glimpse it just seemed that here was a city that really sort of had its feet on the ground, knew where it’s going. And yeah, so in the few hours that I’d had waiting to get on the train that was sort of an impression. And then it was on the train — trains were a big disappointment; God they were hopeless, so slow, so slow! And that would have been the South Aurora that I would have been on, I wouldn’t have known that at the time — but again I had no appreciation; I thought it was so slow, it probably actually was quite reasonable, but I had no real appreciation of distance. And even travelling from Sydney to Wagga, well, you know, you drive it today, it’s a six hour drive so it’s a long way, and I suppose if you were doing that in England you’d be virtually going from London to Huddersfield or more, or more. But the train — and I was thinking about — trying to think about it the other day, I can’t remember whether it was an overnight trip — I got a feeling it must have been — but in any event we got to Wagga, got off at Wagga, I was so, you know mid-afternoon, two, two o’clock-ish or something like that, and you’ve asked me whether the Apex Club was there to meet me — no. A guy that was there to meet me was the, if you like, the Stuart’s farm manager, and I got off the train onto the platform at Wagga, I had my bag and I pulled the green trunk out of the baggage compartment and I was standing there and most other people had got off and drifted off, and this tall guy, tall, lanky bloke with a broad brim hat came wandering over, and he cocked his head up at me and the left eye — he’d lost the left eye, all that was there was the white of the eyeball — and he sort of cocked his head up and he just said, ‘You’d be the Pom,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I think I’m probably the one you’re looking for,’ you know, and he said, ‘Well grab your bag,’ and he didn’t help, and I’m dragging my damn trunk, and we got out of the station and there, to greet me, was a photographer from the Wagga Daily Advertiser newspaper.
I was something of a novelty because I was this pommie migrant coming to live in the Wagga district, and they took a photograph and just did a little block line story in the next day’s paper saying you know, that this guy had arrived and he’d been sponsored by the Apex Club at Wagga, which I sort of thought, ‘Geez, this is interesting if they think that’s news!’
But anyway, I heaved this trunk into the back of the ute — old Holden ute with three gears on the steering column — and we got in there and this old guy — and I can’t remember his name, I know he’s dead now and he was a delightful bloke — I keep thinking it was Archie but I don’t think it was, but for the time being I’ll call him Archie — anyway he sat there and he started the car up and he said, ‘Do you like a beer?’ and I said, ‘Oh yeah, I don’t mind a beer.’ And he slipped her into second and we just dribbled down this bit of dirt road, round a corner, for all of about 50 yards and stopped, and there we were outside the Railway Hotel, which is still standing in Wagga, I took a photograph of it a few months ago, coincidentally. It’s empty now, it’s an empty building, but it’s still the Railway Hotel. Now Archie had obviously been in there before the train arrived because he had a couple of his mates there — it was only a small bar — and he wanders in and the two other guys are there, he wanders in in front of me and said, ‘I found the pom,’ and wanders up to the bar and said, ‘Well what do you want?’ so I said, ‘Oh I’ll have a beer,’ and he said, ‘Yeah well what sort of beer?’ you know? And I mean, you know, being a pom and coming from England I said, ‘Oh, just a pint,’ and he said, ‘Righto, give him a pint.’ So they poured me a pint, I took a swig of it, and I noticed that his glass was extremely small. I didn’t think much about it and he didn’t touch it, and I was swigging away and we were having a bit of a yarn about nothing in particular, and I’d probably got about three quarters — oh, a quarter of the way — into this pint of beer, and Archie picks up his little glass — it was one of those little ponies, five ounces — and he just went bang, and it was gone in a hit, you know, in a flash, and he just put the glass down and said, ‘Your shout,’ and I thought, ‘What on earth is this?’ I’d never heard of the expression ‘shout’ before.
Anyway that was my introduction to Australian beer drinking habits and I learnt very fast [laughs]. I didn’t drink pints after that again either [laughs]. But no he was great. And then we started the drive out to the farm. Well it was a dirt road all the way in those days, 20 miles, not quite that far, but it was getting, you know, late afternoon, early sunset or dimming sun, ‘gloaming sun’ you call it or something I think, but that beautiful time of the day, and the thing that absolutely struck me were these rosellas; I’d never seen a bird like that in my life and I couldn’t get over it, and they were flitting in front of the car and things like that, just absolutely magnificent, you know, and that’s sort of something that very definitely helped me — I don’t know, I mean I took to Australia like a duck to water — now that’s one reason why I don’t know, I don’t know why but I have the love of animals and things; those birds, they just blew me away, just blew me away.
B York: In that initial period, we’re just talking about a couple of days aren’t we now? Is it three days? Four?
P Davey: Yeah, about three days.
B York: Did Australia meet your expectations? Like were you expecting it to be the way you actually found it?
P Davey: Well I think — I probably hadn’t — I probably hadn’t worked out what my expectations were or whether it had met my expectations by that stage. I’d found that, as I said, it was, it seemed to be certainly behind the times in terms of Britain, at least in Sydney. Now in terms of the country, a country town, well I’d barely sort of seen the town of Wagga at that point, I went straight out to the farm, and the Stuarts were wonderful people, they said, ‘Look, the problem we’ve got is that we’re in the middle of a shocking drought, so we can feed you, we can clothe you, you can stay here as long as you like, if you want to go try and pursue a life on the land we’ll help you to the extent we can, we’ll teach you what we can, but we can’t pay you any money because there’s no — it just can’t be done.’
And they were, as I say, they were wonderful. It very quickly became clear that, you know, you couldn’t live without money, I’d have to move into town and get another job, but the one thing that I suppose, the next thing that really hit me was, after the first night there getting woken up at about six in the morning, again by Archie, for breakfast, and here he had this big electric frypan full of chops, bacon, eggs, tomatoes; this was meat to die for basically, and I mean you never had that much meat available in England; I have vague recollections still of rationing as it applied in England as late as 1955, and you know, we’d been, as a family of four, rationed to a quarter of a pound of butter a week, one pint of milk a day, you know, pretty strict rationing, and here’s all this meat all of a sudden. But not just — that was breakfast — then came lunch, and there were more chops. And then came dinner, and it was a roast, you know, a leg of lamb, and this went on day in and day out, and I mean, it was just unbelievable, it was brilliant, it was just unbelievable, I just could not — I couldn’t get my head around the availability of so much food.
But I didn’t stay there for long though, because it unfortunately wasn’t going to work. So I moved into town. I had in the meantime gone to an Apex Club meeting mind you.
B York: Oh yes?
P Davey: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They all say the right thing; the Apex — local president of the Apex Club had you know, got in touch with me and said, ‘We’ve got a meeting, come say gidday,’ and I did and it was just a meeting and I went to that and introduced myself to them and we all had a bit of a yarn, and nothing too sort of memorable, and I think I probably went to a couple of other meetings subsequent to that, and then it probably faded by the board. But I moved into town and I shared a flat above a hotel, the Royal — well not the Royal — the Exchange Hotel — we had a flat with another Aussie, a guy called Williams — who subsequently became my best man — and two kiwis. And we really got on well, and they made me so welcome, they were good — they ribbed the crap out of me, you know, ‘Oh you Pommie bastard this and Pommie bastard that’ — as did everybody else in Wagga, you know. And this is what I sort of discovered very quickly, that if — all this sort of ribbing was basically good natured, but it was also a test to see how you responded, and if you responded by giving it back about as well as you were receiving it, they loved you, they loved you. But if you — if your hackles got up or you got sour and you sulked and you didn’t like it, they would see that they got under your skin and they’d just keep riling and riling and riling. I learnt very quickly that Australians have got a tremendously good sense of humour, very much like the British sense of humour I think, but they love to take the piss out of people, they love to see how they’re going to react, and if they react badly they’ll it out all the worse. And you know, and somehow this just appealed to me, this just appealed to me, I don’t know why, but I really started to — that’s when I, as I say, I took to Australia like duck to water — I really started to feel deep affection for the people of Australia and for the country.
And I got used to, you know, once I was living in Wagga, I used to — I mean I still found the towns or the — Wagga for instance — more like an American town than an English town, particularly the main street, you know, because you had the awnings and things like that — not that I’d ever been to America, but what you’d seen in the movies and things like that — it was more akin to an American design than it was to an English design. Wagga was a very prosperous and thriving town and I know that at the time I was there there were 21 pubs in the main street; there aren’t that many pubs there now, but the four of us would start off with a middy at the Exchange on a Friday night, and we’d go around and end up at the Exchange having done all 21 pubs, and we wouldn’t end up in good shape.
The Exchange was interesting because it was the classic sort of Australian pub of the time where everything was bolted down, little round tables that were bolted down, stools around that were bolted down, green tiles up to about shoulder height at the bar, and after the place closed each night the barman just got a two inch hose and just hosed her out, just hosed it out, and you know, it’d all fly out into the gutter in the street. And the pubs in Wagga were still, when I first got there — although it had formerly been abolished — that they were still running to the six o’clock swill. And the swill — the six o’clock swill sort of ended progressively according to various council, local council things I think, but oh dear, that was an eye opener. That was an absolute eye opener, you know, guys would come into that bar from five o’clock, basically after they finished work, and they’d start off on a few middies, and as she got a bit closer to six they started ordering jugs, and they were drinking out of jugs, and then you know, six o’clock would come around and they — usually the barman would say, ‘Righto, you’ve got five minutes for last orders.’ This bloke, the barman he said, ‘Come on you buggers, you’ve got five minutes left for your last orders,’ you know, ‘Get it into you,’ and down would come the jugs and people were pouring the stuff into them and I mean, they were being sick all over the floor and everything else; it was totally uncivilised, totally uncivilised, particularly compared to the sort of genteel atmosphere of a country pub in England where ladies were welcome and all the rest of it; this was just a men’s, you know, binge swill hall basically.
B York: What was the rest of the — were the English country pub — like ladies are welcome you said, and the rest of it; what are the other…?
P Davey: Well I mean, you know, the sort of classic English pub I suppose had atmosphere about it, you know, it might be an ancient old building, two, three, four hundred years old with big oak beams in it, a big open fireplace, horse brasses down the walls, bits of pottery here and there, hunting horns, you know, this sort of stuff, and of course you know, the very genteel English pint of beer, you know, they serve — it was all very peaceful and very quiet and very civilised, and of course their opening hours were quaint too, you know, they were open from, what, twelve til two and then they closed for the afternoon, opened up at about five and stayed open til about ten. And as I say, very genteel sort of pubs, and even the city pubs in England were similar to that, you know, you had little sort of dog box areas where you could have a private conversation and things like that, where you, you know, you could get your pork pie for lunch or a ploughman’s lunch or what have you, whereas I mean here, yeah they might flog you a meat pie but there was — there was nothing to make the session at the pub enjoyable other than the fact that you bought beer and you drank it, and that was about it.
But the six o’clock swill was an experience, and it didn’t last long; I literally caught probably only the last few weeks of it and then they changed so the pubs closed at ten, which was a move in the right direction. The other quaint thing about drinking habits of course, is that on a Sunday you had to be a bona fide traveller to get a drink. So we couldn’t have a drink anywhere in Wagga because we lived there, and you had to be 20 miles away from town to get a drink and you had to sign a visitors’ book, so a group of us I suppose by then, I don’t know, about ten, fifteen of us, quite good mates from around various traps in Wagga, we’d all get together, we’d drive out to the rock, to the pub at the rock, sign the visitors’ book so that we could have a few beers on a Sunday, and you know, and then turn around and drive back, which is all somewhat quaint when you think about the fact that you’re not supposed to drink and drive in this society; in those days you were encouraged to drink and drive!
And again, you know, another one of those quirky things about Australia that I just found so enjoyable [laughs].
B York: Well what I’ve seen on documentaries and films there seemed to be sawdust, if I remember that correctly, in the pubs…
P Davey: On the pub? Yeah, yeah some of them did, yeah, yeah.
B York: What was that…?
P Davey: Oh it’s supposed to absorb the slops more than anything else.
B York: Oh yeah.
P Davey: I don’t remember it in the Exchange actually, this guy was very keen on — because he didn’t need it, everything was tiles — and he had a two inch hose, I vividly remember that, and it had some power in it too you know, and it was just like putting out a fire, he just hosed the joint down and shut the door.
B York: Now you’ve mentioned that you were sharing accommodation above one of the pubs; how were you earning an income?
P Davey: Yeah well when I came into town, because as you say, I realised that I’d have to get a job; well I got a job at a place called Maples which was a furniture shop in Wagga, and having worked in a furniture shop in Solihull in England, you know, I just wandered in there and I think that was probably my first port of call, and you know, I explained who I was and what I’d done, vis-a-vis selling furniture, and they gave me a job no problem, I got a job there; didn’t enjoy it very much because it sort of was a bit boring I think, and I wasn’t there very long which was probably a mistake; I left and I left you know, without having anything else lined up to do, so that was a mistake, and I ended up working on a couple of building sites and then I ended up on a steel foundry, or a steel works on the way between Wagga and Forest Hill, painting stark posts, you know, fence posts, steel fence posts, we were painting them with this tar-based epoxy paint, and that was a shocking job, I mean, this paint would get all over your jeans and everything else, and you know, take your trousers off at night, they’d virtually stand up on their own because they were just coated in this stuff.
And I did that for a while, and things were getting a big sort of grim in some respects because I wasn’t enjoying that work. I also did a brief week’s work picking asparagus out at Gundagai. You could go to the employment office, and in these days it wasn’t a matter of registering for the dole as much as going to an employment office and seeing what jobs they had available, and they’d say, ‘Right okay, you can go and pick asparagus at Gundagai, here’s a letter of introduction,’ and if you didn’t go, well you didn’t get any dole. I never applied for the dole in my life and I never — I never received any and I never applied for any — but the employment office you went to to find out where there was work available. But I met, in Romano’s Hotel in Wagga one Friday evening, totally by accident, a journo on the Wagga Advertiser, and we were just talking casually about nothing in particular, and I spent the weekend thinking to myself, ‘By gee this guy’s got an interesting life being a journalist.’ And the only thing that I’d been remotely good at at school was writing; I didn’t know how well or otherwise I could write but I had enjoyed it, I quite enjoyed doing essays and things like that.
Anyway on the Monday I thought, ‘Well there’s only one thing to do here and that’s go and find out,’ you know, so I went along to the Wagga Advertiser office and I asked if I could see the managing editor who was a bloke called Gordon Jackson, who was quite an intimidating sort of personality as it turned out, and I had no appointment or anything like that but he agreed to see me. Sat me down, said, ‘What do you want?’ you know, and I said, ‘I think I’d like to be a journalist,’ and he said, ‘Well what do you mean, you ‘think’?’ And I said, ‘Well I met one of your journalists the other night and I think he’s got a fascinating life and I think it might be suited to me.’ And we had a bit more of a talk and, you know, he wanted to know what my qualifications were, and all I had really was what I’d left school with, which meant virtually nothing to him of course. Anyway at the end of this he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going soft or if I had a bad night last or I’ve had a bad day today, but I’ll give you a job, I’ll give you a try,’ and he said, ‘You can start next Monday, you’ll get paid $23 a week which means you’ll get $19 in your pocket, you’ll wear a coat and tie to work every day, you’ll have clean shoes and you’ll have a decent haircut. Now get out.’
And so I became a cadet journalist, a first year cadet journalist on the Wagga Advertiser, and yes I did enjoy it, I did enjoy it. But in those days, I mean journalism wasn’t a university course or anything in those days, it was a four-year, well basically, a four-year cadetship, training on the job sort of situation. The first thing I did was, initially, was to get cups of coffee for senior staff who wanted a cup of coffee, you know, and the subs and things like that, and you graduated to writing a block line under a photograph to go with something, you know, and it might be two lines, and when you see your first two lines in print you think, ‘Oh gee! That’s good, that’s good!’ Then you might get a little bit to do here and there, a bit of a rewrite of some press release or something, see how well you sow it down, you’ve got a senior journo saying, ‘No, that’s no good,’ you know, ‘this is the way to do it,’ and ‘No, you’ve put the lead down at the bottom there, you’ve got to bring the lead up here,’ or, ‘No, this is far too long,’ and yeah you get knocked into shape pretty quickly, and the subbies knock you into shape a bit further, and gradually you get used to it I suppose.
The other thing you’re supposed to do is do a TAFE course or tech college course on shorthand. I hated shorthand, absolutely hated it because I just couldn’t get my head around it, I couldn’t do it. So I used the excuse basically, that I write left handed; so I used that as an excuse in my own mind as much as anything else to say well, I couldn’t do shorthand because the thick strokes always turned out to be thin and the thin ones turned out to be thick — that was my story anyway. I ended up doing my own sort of — or developing my own sort of bastardised short-stroke-longhand, which did me reasonably well but was dangerous when it came to the need to quote very accurately, particularly on the court rounds. And you know, on a country paper you get thrown out of all sorts of things pretty quickly, you know, and some of it’s boring, some of it’s good, some of it you understand, some of it you don’t, but local council stuff, court stuff — and anyway I stuck at that, I think I was at The Advertiser it would have been from, oh, May/June of ’66 through — I was probably there — I was certainly there over 12 months — and I thought by then at that stage, it was just what everybody did in the industry in those days, you’d try and truncate your cadetship by either getting a promotion in the same organisation or whatever. So I went to the editor and said, ‘Look I think I’m worthy of a four-year cadetship,’ and he said, ‘Well I don’t. Get out.’
And I thought, ‘Oh well, the only other way to do it then is to apply for a job somewhere else,’ which I did, and I got a D grade on what was then called Australian United Press, which is now owned by Australian Associated Press, but it was a wire service which produced material for regional papers in Australia, and it would take the Reuters stuff and it would take Associated Press of America’s stuff and it would take stuff from its own reporters in Australia and send out — it was a wire service as I say — send out on the wires two newspapers like The Advertiser and other regional newspapers — a sort of a compendium of domestic and international news which those regional papers, they’d subscribe to this service and then they could publish.
Well I got this job with AUP in Canberra and I was in the press gallery; three of us on staff, a guy called Ken Broderick was the head of the bureau, a guy called Ken Begg had just come back from London and he was the next bloke and then I was the new chum and the junior journo. Well it was a disaster from a number of points of view, not the least of which being I had never been in a parliament before in my life, I knew nothing about politics, I knew nothing about the workings of parliament and I wasn’t interested, I wasn’t interested, and here I was stuck in Parliament House in the press gallery in Canberra day in, day out, having to cover politics. So it wasn’t going to work; I was too young, I was too naive — yeah I was just too young for politics at that stage. My biggest recollection though is McEwen, so — I mean as a junior journo I didn’t really get to, you know, to interview ministers and things like that, but I remember coming down the press gallery steps one day and onto the government side of the House of Reps, and there wandering down the corridor was McEwen looking very grim and dour and sort of hobbling as he tended to do because his feet got very painful, and you know, I just hit the wall, just hit the wall, ‘Morning Sir,’ and he wandered past and just went, ‘Grrrumpphh,’ just this grunt you know, and…
Yes, there were a number of other reasons that sort of require a bit of backtracking I suppose, that led to, again, my making the stupid mistake of leaving a job when I had no other one to go to, and that is, that when I was with The Advertiser they put out an annual supplement called ‘Riverina Unlimited’ which covered the circulation area of The Advertiser newspaper, and they gave journos — they assigned journos to particular areas of the circulation, and I got sent off to Tumut to find a bit of a story to put into this supplement, and one of the things that was happening there was that the Blowering Dam at Tumut was completing and, you know, it was all about to be opened, the end of the Snowy Scheme per se, and while I was there I met a group, a musical group, called The Settlers, which was a bloke called Ulick O’Boyle and his wife Anne — Ulick of course was Irish, with a name like that — his wife Anne and a Pom called Peter Barry. And the three of them, they all worked on the Snowy Scheme, or Ulick and Peter did — Ulick was in the First Aid — he was a First Aid man there; he had been a construction worker, a blast, a powder monkey, blasting — and Peter Barry was a dozer driver. And they’d written an album and recorded an album of songs on the construction days of the Snowy Mountain Scheme which had been recorded in 1966 on the RCO label.
And anyway, I met these guys and I did a bit of a story for them as well, a bit of a cover piece, you know. We went into the Tumut Star Hotel and we drank fairly substantial quantities of booze and you know, struck up a bit of a sing-song, and by this stage I had actually learnt my nine chords and I sang a few Johnny Cash songs and we had a generally good night, and that was that — so I went away and that was that.
Now if I fast track forward to 1967 when I’m in the press gallery with the AUP and hating every minute of it, out of the blue I get this telephone call from Ulick O’Boyle: ‘Pol,’ he said, ‘we’re making another record. Now Peter Barry, he’s buggered off, he’s gone to …’ He went up to Hong Kong in fact, to open an Australian hamburger joint in Hong Kong, he’d gone so, ‘Pol, we want you to sing on the next album.’ Well I thought it was fantastic, you know, we’re all moving to Sydney — because they’d been living in Tumut, they were going up to Sydney too — and sure enough, we went up to Sydney and we made this second album, more songs of the Snowy Mountains, and it was quite good, it was well-recorded. George Golla, who’s probably one of Australia’s — if not Australia’s finest — jazz guitarist these days, he was in those days the session guitarist on the RCO label and he did a lot of the backing guitar work, and it all came up — it was great fun to do, a lot of fun, you know, made you feel famous, thought you’d hit the big time, this was wonderful — so we were going to, we were going to, yeah get onto the club circuit in Sydney. And so I left, I left AUP, drove out of Canberra, and I at that stage had a beaten up Ford Cortina, and as I drove up Northbourne Avenue and going out of Canberra, I sort of went, ‘Whoopee! I’ll never see this place again! I’m never coming back here!’
Incidentally I had a flat in Curtin when I came into Canberra, just near the Curtin shops, and the big topic of conversation at that time was that they were building the hospital, Woden Valley Hospital. And everybody — the big question on everyone’s lips was ‘Why would anybody build a hospital so far out of town?’ You look at it today, it’s almost in the centre of town, but I mean Curtin was virtually the end of the line and Woden Valley Hospital was well beyond the end of the line, you know, as far as Canberra was concerned. It was very much a sort of a village if you like, it was a quaint place, it was — I mean I subsequently spent 13 years here, and I love the place — but before I get onto that, I mean, in those days I didn’t have many friends, it was a single, little single room unit, a flat, you know, I was in strange place — the guys in the gallery were great and that was all fine, the people I worked with, but I didn’t like the work.
So this opportunity came along and I thought, ‘You cracker, this is it, I’m going off to be famous.’ Much more fun to be famous [laughs]. Well of course the thing we didn’t count on was that the clubs at the time were only interested in hard rock, because again, this was the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, you name it, you know, I mean all of this, it was hard rock music; they didn’t want a group of people singing folk music. And also it was a disaster, but I suppose things have silver linings; one thing we did get was a gig on the Reg Grundy Channel 9 television program called I’ve Got A Secret — which was a pretty shocking piece of television, very low budget, where you had a panel of people, one of whom I remember was Stuart Wagstaff — and you’d go on there and you’d sit down in the…
Interview with Paul Davey part 4
P Davey: Your secret would be splattered up on the screen for the TV audience to see, and the panel got a couple of clues and they had to guess what your secret was. Well our secret was that we were the men from the Snowy River. Anyway, these were recorded in Brisbane and they used to record them on a Sunday, and they’d record three or four programs in one hit on a Sunday, so pre-recorded you see, and Ulick and I walked into the studio there and there was this girl doing her piece for, you know, an earlier program, a very stunning pair of legs, and she was a very attractive lady, and didn’t see any more of her at all but Ulick, when I went on we did our bit, we got out to the airport and there were these people, a whole swag of people who’d been on these earlier programs and they were well and truly on the way because the plane — the earlier flight from Brisbane back to Sydney had been cancelled because of some mechanical problem — and we were all going to be flown back on a Fokker Friendship when it arrived. In the meantime, beers on Reg Grundy, you know, so it was good. And of course this lady was there, her name happened to be Lindy MacGregor, she came from Orange, and we ended up getting married in July 1968. But before I could ask her father if I could marry his daughter I had to have a decent job.
Once all this music had completely fallen through I, you know, basically I’d been working on building sites. I did a stint in a kitty litter factory too somewhere out near Parramatta which was a dreadful job, and I used to end up going up to Taylor Square at two o’clock in the morning to pick up the Sydney Morning Herald, find out whether they wanted builders labourers and get out to the site in time to be, you know, first in line or whatever; it was all pretty horrible. And so I suddenly realised, well, you know, ‘I’ve got to have a decent job if I’m going to ask Doug McGregor if I can marry his daughter, and the only way to do that is to get back into journalism.’ And the only way I could do that was to — I tried to hobble myself around Sydney without much success — and I ended up getting a C grade job on the Northwest Courier in Narrabri up in northern New South Wales. And I went up there and I wasn’t there all that long; I literally used it as a stepping stone and I was probably only there three, four months and I got — successfully managed to get myself back into AUP, but in their Sydney office. And so I thought, ‘Well this is great,’ you know, and things all sort of started coming together. But when I first turned up at AUP the general manager came out and said, ‘Oh yes, so you’re the new chap aren’t you? Paul Davey, that’s right. That’s right, you worked for us down in Canberra in Parliament. Okay, well your first assignment is state parliamentary rounds,’ and I thought, ‘Oh my God, not back into bloody politics.’ But I sort of realised that, you know, I was going to get married and I had responsibilities so there was no more room for idle mistakes and things like that [laughs].
B York: Were you more interested in politics at this stage?
P Davey: Not particularly, and I actually went back to the boss and said, ‘Look, you know, I’m not too good on the political stuff,’ you know, and he actually put me onto general rounds. He did that and then I worked on the overseas desk as well, subbing overseas wires and things like that, and I got married while I was working there, we got married up in Orange. He very generously put me on an early shift on Friday so I finished at two o’clock in the afternoon, and put me on a late shift on Monday so I didn’t start until two o’clock in the afternoon [laughs]. We got married in Orange, had one night at Jenolan Caves for our honeymoon and got back to work.
B York: And that’s 1968 is it, there?
P Davey: That was ’68, yeah, yeah, yeah. July 13th was the date we got married, yeah.
B York: I’d like to go back a bit to ask a bit more about the press gallery and Canberra; I know you didn’t like your time there, but were you there — what a few months was it, or…?
P Davey: Yes and it would only have been a few months. Alan Reid was undeniably probably the doyen of the gallery in those days, but Laurie Oakes was around in those days, Michelle Grattan was around, I think Paul Kelly was there for The Australian — which was a pretty young newspaper then, it only started in about 1964 — and the gallery, I mean it was very small, tiny. The AUP office was, it was a little long section just opposite the door that went into the House of Reps from the right hand side of the press gallery, so you went in there and the AUP office was just running along there, and it literally — you had enough room in there for barely for three people — and a couple of telex machines and that was it, and everything was really crowded. But it was, I mean I enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, it was just I didn’t understand politics basically, and I’m just out of my depth with the job. But I enjoyed the sort of camaraderie of the gallery and it always felt good walking into Parliament too, you know, you were — you sort of felt that you were someone a bit important walking into a building like this, but I was nonetheless very pleased to get out of it at that point.
B York: Do you remember what the issues were at the time?
P Davey: Oh no, no, and that’s probably because I didn’t understand them [laughs], probably. I was again trying to wrap my mind around this — a bit earlier on, you know, when Holt disappeared in December ’67 I don’t think I was around, I think I must have bolted before then, so I would only have been here quite a short time, because I’m sure, you know, obviously had I been in the gallery at that time I would certainly have remembered that, and I don’t.
B York: Well how did the job actually come about? What, did you have connections here who…?
P Davey: No, don’t know. It was advertised, I saw an advertisement; it would undoubtedly have been in The Sydney Morning Herald, you know, ‘Deep road journalist, Australian United Press, Canberra’ and I applied — ‘Applications to’ so I wrote a letter and applied.
B York: And then was there an interview for the job?
P Davey: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
B York: And you had to come to Canberra for the interview?
P Davey: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I drove to Canberra for the job and I had this interview with Ken Braddock. From what I recall it was a very brief interview and I mean, maybe he had no other applicants; it seemed to be that he basically decided he was going to offer me the job anyway, and he did, and of course I accepted. I mean I was delighted to have got the job because I was really looking forward to going back to the editor at The Advertiser and giving him my notice on the grounds that I’ve got a promotion to a D grade journalist [laughs].
B York: Was there any kind of security clearance?
P Davey: Not in those days, no, not at all. That all came in, you know, to varying degrees considerably later on. No anybody could wander in and out of the place then.
B York: And was that your first time in Canberra?
P Davey: Yep.
B York: And can you give us a description of what Canberra was like back then?
P Davey: It was very small, I mean what you now have as the central business district of Canberra, you know, East block, West block, they were there and that was it, and there was a bit around East block and West block but nothing like there is now, so it was much smaller. It really was just a sort of large country town; it was nothing like as bustling as Wagga was.
B York: Ah yeah, that’s interesting.
P Davey: No, I mean Wagga was quite a bustling place and I’m guessing that it must have been bigger than Wagga I would have thought, but not by much, you know, the key buildings that we still see around Canberra today were by and large there; your National Library and all those iconic sort of buildings, but as I say, you know, I mean Curtin was the sort of southern most extremity of the place. They were in the process of building the hospital and I think — I think the Woden Valley Shopping Centre was being built, so Woden Valley was beginning to be being opened up, certainly nothing beyond that, and when you drove out of town going north, well it sort of stopped at the showground, there was nothing else beyond that, you know, and it was a sort of a goat track out to Hall.
B York: What about the social life here?
P Davey: I didn’t have much of a social life beyond — and that’s another reason probably why I didn’t particularly like it, you know — beyond a few beers with the guys after work or you know, in the non-members bar, they’d all go home, I’d go home, my home was a single room unit in Curtin, didn’t even have a TV, so really it was probably a bit lonely, it was a bit of a lonely existence, yeah.
B York: Were you homesick at all during this period?
P Davey: No I don’t think so. I don’t think so, I’d basically pretty quickly resolved myself to the fact that I was going to make it a success in Australia, and the earlier time, or the time in Wagga I think helped me get into that frame of mind a lot, because I really enjoyed living in Wagga; I started to really appreciate how lucky I had been in actually having that opportunity to go there because had I not had that I probably would have ended up in a migrant hostel in Sydney full of the classic ‘whingeing poms’, and I might very well have become one myself and gone home, you know, I mean it could have been a complete disaster. But the fact that I got out into a country town and into country communities — and I’ve always loved them since, I regard myself more as a bushie now even though I spent a lot of time living in Sydney now still — but I’ve got a place out at Mudgee in New South Wales and you know, my wife was a country girl, I really — my heart’s out there, but it’s that experience there, as I say, that sort of really convinced me that Australia is going to be my home. So I don’t think I got homesick. I probably sat there on my own in that little flat and thought, ‘Christ, what have I done?’ Not meaning leaving England but, ‘I buggered it up, the way I got out of the Daily Advertiser, and I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here,’ and you know, ‘I’ve made a mistake.’ And when you do that, when you’re on your own, there’s not much you can do about it.
B York: Were you in regular contact with your aunty and uncle?
P Davey: Yes, yes, but I never — I never wrote to them about my troubles, I kept them — I just wrote, you know, friendly, newsy, happy letters to them, I kept any difficulties to myself. Didn’t want to worry them about it, didn’t want them to know that ‘Oh God,’ you know, ‘is this bloke going to turn out like his brother?’ [laughs] ‘Be another burden.’
B York: How was the press gallery organised then?
P Davey: Well, what do you mean by ‘organised’?
B York: You know, you turn up for work, is there a manager who kind of — who would tell you what to do and…?
P Davey: Oh well, you know, with us, the three of us there, we did shifts, generally starting sort of midday, late morning, midday if the Parliament was sitting, because it’d sit through til, you know, 11 o’clock or more at night and you had to make sure the place was — that Parliament was covered, and Ken, he was the chief of staff, Ken Broderick — sorry, Ken Braddock — so I mean he worked out the shifts, he’d tell Ken Begg when was on and what he was going to do and he’d tell me when I was and what I was going to do. And the same thing happened in all other bureaus, so I mean the ABC had a chief of staff, they would organise their staff, they would organise their staff, I mean, AAP would organise theirs and likewise the newspapers, so it was all done individually, there was no sort of central manager if you like of, ‘Right, I’m in charge of the press gallery and this is how it’s going to work.’ Everybody worked independently, all trying to scoop each other.
B York: Did you have any particular successes yourself?
P Davey: Not then, no, not then, not then. When I was back in the gallery but we’re moving forward to 1978, then you might want to hold that.
B York: Yeah, we’ll talk about that. Was there a pecking order among the journalists?
P Davey: Yeah, yes there was, I mean the like of Alan Reid for instance, you know, I mean he had enormous respect, not only amongst the journalists but amongst the politicians, I mean, they knew that he was a man who, you know, commanded a lot of influence, who could get onto stories and sources of information which were quite mind-blowing to some extent, and then when you got down to my level, you know, I was just a grunt in the place basically, I mean, really doing the dogsbody work, you know, cover the adjournment debate because it’s the last thing on at night and usually not much there, but you’ve got to cover it just in case, you know, stuff like that. There’s a debate going on on wool stabilisation, get out there and cover that because we service country newspapers and they’re going to want a story on it. Wouldn’t have to be a long story because it’s wire services, only need to be fairly short, but you had to know, you had to know what was the key point you were looking for or the key point to report. And I knew absolutely bugger all about wool stabilisation so it was [laughs] you know, it was a bit of a challenge, and I didn’t, you know, I wasn’t going to turn around to Ken Braddock and say, ‘Look mate, I’m sorry but I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,’ that would have cost me the job, so I had to bumble on. And oh, you know, you could ask a journo sitting next to you or who you knew was covering the same story, ‘Look, I think I’m a bit stuck here, can you help me at all?’ and they’d either say yes or no depending how big the story was, but if it was just a general piece of legislation or something, nobody minded.
B York: So there was no mentoring or anything like that?
P Davey: No, no, no, no.
B York: What about friendships? Were friendships formed among the journos in the gallery?
P Davey: Well they certainly do, but I wasn’t there then at that stage long enough to strike what you might call ‘strong friendships’, although I mean, Ken Begg and I still — we don’t see each other very frequently, but any time we run into each other we recognise each other and we both remember that, ‘Oh yeah, we first worked together at AUP in 1967!’ you know, so it’s possibly associations rather than friendships, but yeah.
B York: What about the accessibility of the politicians? Did you have any experience of that at that time?
P Davey: Again not a lot because again, because I was such a junior reporter and basically if there was a politician to be interviewed it was done by one of the other two.
B York: And did you get a sense of the journalists having a political persuasion at all?
P Davey: No I didn’t, I didn’t at that point, and again, probably because of my ignorance; I wouldn’t have known if they had or not.
B York: And were there things you liked about the job in the gallery?
P Davey: No, there was nothing I liked about that job, not a thing. I really got myself into a bit of a cold sweat about the fact that here I was, I’d taken on a job I’d been accepted for, and I’d taken on a job, A: that I knew I couldn’t do, B: that I didn’t enjoy, and therefore C: I was in trouble here and how was I going to get out of it? And yeah, it was, you know, it was a bold thing to try and do, and as it turned out it was a good thing, but at the time it was — it was quite sort of frightening because it dented my sort of faith in my ability to become a journalist, you know, I mean I was still a very a very raw, young guy, and I should not have had a grading, I mean, basically I shouldn’t have had a grading, I should probably have been a second or third year cadet, but it happened in the industry at that stage, you know? Everybody truncated cadetships, it was just a done thing to do, you know, and that was the way it happened for me. It would been far better if I’d managed to get a grading for instance, on maybe a metropolitan paper, or maybe another regional paper, but had I done that I would never have had that introduction to Canberra, and who knows? I mean, would I ever have gone to Canberra at all? I mean I’ve never planned anything in my life, it’s basically just about everything, I mean even coming out with the decision to come to Australia was hardly planned, it evolved. And just about everything else that’s happened to me, it’s either been good luck and/or taking advantage of opportunity as it’s come along, and you know, over the years I think luck has shone my way quite a few times, quite a few times.
B York: Paul I’m thinking that’s quite a positive note to conclude today’s session.
P Davey: Yep, sure.
B York: Thank you very much for today, and I look forward to doing at least another session in the future, and of course, we’re heading towards the 1970s now aren’t we, with the chronology, so thank you very much for today.
P Davey: All right, that’s a pleasure Barry, thank you.
B York: I hope you enjoyed it…
Interview with Paul Davey part 5
B York: I’m continuing the interview with Paul Davey. Today is the 7th of June 2011. Paul, to begin with I’d like to ask, is there anything arising from the previous session that you’d like to comment on or correct?
P Davey: Just a couple of points Barry if I may, I notice — and I don’t know whether the times that I’ve got here are accurate but anyway — on the first CD at about 24:30 minutes in I say that Charlie Horsfall’s mother was married to a farmer; it should be: Charlie Horsfall’s mother’s sister. Her name was Hope Stuart and she was married to the farmer Stuart, so that’s one correction. At about 30:52 minutes in, I say that my uncle wasn’t well, that he’d got tuberculosis in his legs; well that should have been thrombosis in his legs, not tuberculosis. On the second CD, 12:15 minutes in I talk about sharing a flat above the Exchange Hotel in Wagga with a guy called Williams who subsequently became my best man; his name is actually Mike Williams, and I should have remembered that at the time, Mike Williams, we’re still very good friends.
Just a couple of other points that I haven’t previously mentioned on the second CD, if I may just make these points; having docked in Sydney on the 19th of April 1966 and gone to Wagga, I was quite surprised to receive call up papers to register for national service. That was in January 1967. It just hadn’t occurred to me that I might be required to do national service, and of course the Vietnam War was on. I didn’t mind at all having received them, I had no objection to it and in fact I thought, ‘Well, a stint in the Army, given my previous interest in the military, might be quite fun.’ So I registered, I received my registration certificate, it was dated the 27th of January 1967, the registration number, and I’ve still got it to this day: 1068272. And I kept that because the strict instruction on the card was to keep it in a safe place.
I also, on this tape, refer to this television show I’ve Got A Secret, which was being recorded in Brisbane, and I talk about seeing a young lady on the program and then again at Brisbane Airport, and I say that her name was Lindy MacGregor, she came from Orange, and make the point that she and I were subsequently married; it sort of begs the question of what was her secret on the program, and hers was actually a lot more interesting than ours in that she had hitch hiked through Vietnam on her own at the height of the Tet Offensive in 1967, which was no small feat, especially for a young woman travelling, as I say, on her own, she was on her way back from a world trip. And oh, she got quite a bit of publicity and a front page cover on People magazine and things like that, so it’s just — anyway that’s it, yeah.
B York: Thank you for being so thorough, and I believe that we’re adopting a chronological approach to this interview; we’re now up to about 1969 and I’m very interested how it was you came to end up in London working as a journalist that year.
P Davey: Yeah we — having got married in ’68 and we then came back to Sydney and went back to work — my wife Lindy worked with Kays’ Rent-a-Car, was a rent-a-car chick in William Street and I was still with Australian United Press — and we sort of got to the point, I mean she had travelled extensively before, she still had a bit of a travel bug if you like, and I was reaching the stage where, I guess like a lot of young journos at that time, the idea of trying to work on Fleet Street was appealing, so we decided we’d go over to the UK and I’d have a go at that. We didn’t have much money. The cheapest way to get to England at that stage — and we left in February — was just travel by boat up to Japan and then get a connecting boat from Japan across to Vladivostok and then get the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia. And that was the cheapest way to get there, and we did this, we turned up at the Pyrmont dock in Sydney to find that the boat that was going to Japan was a Women’s Weekly world cruise. And well I think the point about that really was probably 90 per cent of the passengers were in their 90s, and I really think a lot of them were going to sea to die at sea because two died at sea before we got to Japan [laughs]. But anyway, it wasn’t the most enjoyable of sea voyages, it was all right.
The voyage across to the Russian mainland was absolutely unbelievable; it was only a small ferry and I’d never been tossed around in a boat as much in my life, it was terrifying. The train trip was fascinating, if a little bit worrisome if you like. Intourist was the Russian tourist organisation, they took your passport from you when you arrived and they didn’t give it back to you until you left, which means you travelled right across mainland Russia with no ID papers at all, and that was quite disconcerting. But we made it, and then we got across Western Europe, got to London, and it took a while and I had to get a job to start with working on a weekly regional in Uxbridge, out of London. And then I got a job with a wire service, it was a financial wire service, Universal News Services. Not quite in Fleet Street, New Fetter Lane, just off Fleet Street and that was close enough for me. And that was a learning curve too because I had to suddenly sort of work out how to report company reports, annual reports and business news, which again was something that up to that point I didn’t know a hell of a lot about. But it was enjoyable, and we stayed there until deciding to head down to South Africa.
B York: And how long was that, before you went to South Africa?
P Davey: I think we’d have gone down to South Africa in — I don’t know if I say in my sheet, I’m sort of guessing a little bit — probably ’70, ’71, something like that.
B York: Oh yeah, so you were in London for a couple of years, a year…?
P Davey: Well actually yeah, not that long, we — no, actually I’d be wrong there — it would have been early ’70 we’d have left because we went down to South Africa and I worked in South Africa for about 18 months too before we then came back to Australia in — yeah my years are probably a little bit out here — if we came back to Australia it would have been towards the end of 71, so we were in South Africa probably yeah, if not the end of ’69, certainly early ’70 and most of ’71.
B York: How did you feel being back in England?
P Davey: Look I enjoyed it, I certainly enjoyed a pint. That’s something I missed about England when I was, you know, while I was here and I still do to this day, a pint of English beer. And of course we took the opportunity to go up north and see my relatives and all of that sort of stuff. But yes I enjoyed it but I didn’t find that I was saying to myself, ‘God, I really want to come and live back here.’ I mean that just didn’t occur to me, I didn’t want to come and live back here, I felt myself far more an Australian in England than an Englishman returning. Even though at that stage I didn’t have citizenship, Australian citizenship, I was still very much a pom, a British subject. But no, it was a good experience, it was worth doing and we had great fun, but there was never any doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to stay there all that long. It was purely an experience trip.
B York: Now you were in South Africa at a very important and I’d imagine fascinating, time with all the anti-Apartheid struggle happening. Now did you report on those events at all?
P Davey: Oh yeah. I first got a job — when we first got down to South Africa, and we’d travelled half the way there overland across North Africa — we got a ferry from England down to Morocco and then went overland by the cheapest means through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia — couldn’t get into Libya because at that stage I think Gaddafi actually had probably just taken over — but the Brits were banned from Libya so we had to get a ferry from Tunis across to Greece — sorry not Greece, Sicily I think — and then from there get another ferry down to Alexandria. Then we went by boat and train, fourth class and deck class down the Nile, all the way down the Nile to Juba in Southern Sudan. From there we had to fly to Entebbe because of the war — religious civil war that was going on in Southern Sudan and had been going on for years — and then we got to Nairobi and then from there we flew to South Africa, because my wife was three months pregnant at the time we did this trip you see. So anyway we lobbed in South Africa fairly broke, I think we had about 20 pounds between us and I had to get a job pretty quickly, which I was fortunate enough to do on the Rand Daily Mail in the business section of the Rand Daily Mail…
B York: Paul, sorry to interrupt, but did you already have connections in South Africa or…?
P Davey: No, no, none whatsoever, absolutely none whatsoever, no. I’d always wanted to go there. Lindy didn’t, she thought South Africa was too much like Australia in terms of its geography and things like that so it didn’t sort of appeal to her, and part of the deal of going was that, she said, ‘All right, well we’ll go but only if we go overland so we can see the rest of Africa,’ that was partly it. But no, I got the job on the Rand Daily Mail and I wasn’t there very long, only really a matter of weeks, probably six, eight weeks, because a position came up with Associated Press of America as one of its foreign correspondents based in Johannesburg, and because my experience was basically wire services anyway I jumped at that chance and I got that job. And it was a wonderful job, and that was when, yeah, to go back to your direct question, obviously the international media was a lot more interested in what was going on vis-a-vis Apartheid and the struggle for freedom if you like, than was a lot of the press within South Africa itself. That’s not to say the Rand Daily Mail wasn’t a leader in that area, it was a very good leader in terms of human rights for South Africans, for black South Africans, and of course that’s probably one reason why the paper doesn’t exist today.
But yes, one graphic example, there was a — and this is how the South Africans used to manage to overplay everything, you know — Apartheid in those days was at its sort of obscene best if you like, you know, they had park benches for whites only, they had public buses for whites only, toilets for whites only, and then similarly for blacks only; I mean it was total segregation. Obviously any relationships across the colour line were completely and absolutely barred, you could get into deep trouble for having a relationship with a non-white if you were caught. And there was a demonstration I remember quite vividly down the main street of Johannesburg — President Street I think it was called, down towards the President Hotel anyway — and quite a few people there, and it was an anti-Apartheid peaceful march led by the Bishop of Johannesburg, the Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg who was an elderly frail gentleman, and he was out in the front of it all, and for no reason whatsoever, out came these khaki-clad South African police, and absolutely beat into him, absolutely beat into him, and they hit him with batons and of course he went down, and they just sort of left him there having done that.
Well of course, that was a good story, you know, and the other funny thing in a way was that we had to file — because you were filing via teleprinter through to London, and from London it was circulated on the Associated Press Network worldwide — but to get anything through to London you had to go through the main teleprinter communications network in Pretoria and everything was monitored. So you’d put your tape in, click out your story, you’d put the tape in to send it, and if it was going to get blocked, bingo, the thing would suddenly stop. So you’d try again, and boom, same thing would happen. You’d try one more time, boom, the same thing would happen. And the South Africans obviously thought that they’d blocked you being able to send your story, well you just picked up the telephone and dictated it through to London anyway [laughs]. That used to happen quite a lot, you know, the so-called censorship, they’d say, ‘Oh, there’s no censorship here man,’ but there certainly was.
B York: That incident on the demonstration, you were actually there or are you talking from experience of…?
P Davey: Yeah I was, I was, yeah, yep, absolutely, absolutely. And there were others, not as direct as that but the push was definitely gaining momentum, I mean Forster was still Prime Minister, the Afrikaners and the Nationalist Party still had a very strong grip on the way the country was run. And there was no momentum verging towards the violence at that point to you know, uprising against Apartheid, it was still very much, you know, the lid was kept on it if you like, but the momentum was rising for public marches and things like that, and the international community was beginning to look much more at South Africa, whereas it had already started to look at Rhodesia. And one memorable occasion, we used to get sent — there were only three of us in the Associated Press office — and every now and again you’d get sent off on a mission into another country. We were covering nine central and southern African countries, and I got sent up to Rhodesia for the fifth anniversary of UDI where there was old Ian Smith cracking the Independence bell in the main street of Salisbury, and that was the key story to go in cover, which I did, but then if you were sent away on these missions you had about ten days and the idea was that you’d have to do an economic situationer on the country and how the country’s economic situation was holding up, and then virtually anything else you could find that would make a useful feature story, or they used to call them ‘mailers’.
I learnt about a guy who was a white farmer who lived 150 miles out of Salisbury in the sticks who was agitating very strongly, a very strong agitator for equal rights in Rhodesia, and I hired a car and off I went and I met him and we had a long talk and I got the story I was after. And a couple of people back in the local information office people in Salisbury had said, ‘Look, don’t go, don’t go,’ you know, they’d sort of tried to politely say don’t do it but I ignored them and off I went, and I came back and I had my story in my bag. But as I left to go fly back to Johannesburg I walked out through Immigration at Salisbury Airport and these two guys in plain suits, white blokes, came up and one of them just said, ‘Oh Mr Davey, I hope you enjoyed your stay in Rhodesia,’ and I said, ‘Yeah it was very good, thanks very much,’ and he leant across to me and said, ‘And don’t you ever try to come back.’ Which was quite scary, quite scary, and that was the reason, you know, they put tabs on you and things like that, but that was memorable.
B York: And then back to South Africa from there?
P Davey: Yeah, I just flew back to South Africa and filed the stories and you know, that was that basically, I heard no more of it.
B York: Have you been back to South Africa?
P Davey: Yes, we went back — well my eldest son, not long after we arrived there, I think Lindy was probably three months pregnant when we first got to South Africa, three or four months pregnant — and he was born in Swaziland. Two reasons for that; one was because we weren’t South African citizens or residents, the cost of hospitalisation in South Africa would have been very expensive, whereas in Swaziland she had to be a private patient at the Mbabane Hospital, and the cost of that was two dollars a day [laughs]. So there was an economic reason. The other point was in the back of our minds was the fact that we didn’t necessarily, the way things were going, it didn’t seem a very good idea to give your child a birth certificate in South Africa, whereas Swaziland was an independent Commonwealth country. Plus it was a gorgeous little place and it was great fun, and fortunately everything went well.
So yes, we went back in 1985, partly to show our eldest son Jim Swaziland. So we went around Swaziland and we went around South Africa and did the Kruger Park, and we went back to Salisbury, which by then of course was — what have they called it now? Anyway, the country’s no longer Rhodesia of course, it’s Zimbabwe, and we went down to the big falls, and then we flew out to London, because this was a holiday. And we left Zimbabwe, it was January and it was the middle of summer and it was as hot as hell and we landed in London and it was freezing, and there we were in summer clothes, you know, yeah.
B York: So you haven’t been back to South Africa since Nelson Mandela was released?
P Davey: No, I went back again in about ’90 — no, no, no, not ’90 — I went back again in it would have been about ’89, and no, I haven’t been back since, no. I’ve been through it, we went through to — because our daughter worked in Botswana for quite a long time — and in ’96 — ’96, that’s where I’m getting that from — we went to Botswana, but we only literally flew into Jo’burg Airport and flew out again.
B York: Now you returned to Australia in late ’71 you think, and I’m wondering, why did you decide to return then?
P Davey: Oh, it was just a matter of we both felt that it was time to go home; we’d been away for, what, three years or thereabouts or something like that, and yeah, we both felt ready to come home, and of course, you know, Lindy had a son that she wanted to show her parents, they hadn’t seen him before. So we came home, and I thought that, particularly having been a foreign correspondent for Associated Press and having worked in London would stand me in pretty good stead, you know, getting work back in the media in Australia. It wasn’t that easy at all; I ended up having to start off with taking a job as a public relations officer with the NRMA in Sydney for a while, and oh God that was terrible, it was so boring, it was bureaucratic, you know, if you drafted something it had to be vetted by about ten people in various divisions of the NRMA and by the time it got back to you you’d sort of look at it and think, ‘Well it’s not even worth talking about it, not even worth putting it out.’ Fortunately that didn’t last too long and I got a job with Channel 9, so I was moving into television, which I quite enjoyed — but I didn’t enjoy it. A, I didn’t enjoy it because, quite understandably, television is pictorially based, so you know, you’re chasing fire engines more than anything else, for the pictures of fires and the bits and pieces like that rather than doing stories which might have some sort of meaning about them — I found that a bit boring.
I also found very inhibiting the fact that in those days when you’re taking film and the sound, you had Mag-Stripe on film to produce the sound and the sound was either 19 frames — yeah, 19 frames — behind the picture. Now that was very inhibiting when it came to cutting and editing, so yeah this is why you had to do ‘noddies’ and all this sort of business, you know, to allow for time gaps and things like that.
B York: ‘Noddies’ being where you just…
P Davey: ‘Noddies’ being where you stand in front of the camera and say nothing and nod your head, make it look meaningful and things like that. And the prime purpose of that was not just for a cut away shot but to enable an edit to be done with that 19 frame time lapse. I found it — compared to what I’d you know, otherwise been doing — I found it quite restricting. But nonetheless you know, it was a good experience, it was good to know that, it was good to learn television, but I never felt particularly comfortable in television, I just felt, no, you know, I mean I had been happy on wire services and I guess I was thinking, ‘That’s probably where I want to get back to.’
B York: Were you on camera?
P Davey: Yeah, oh yeah,: ‘Paul Davey, Channel 9, Sydney.’
B York: That sounded good! And you also worked for ABC Radio during this period didn’t you?
P Davey: Well because I wasn’t all that comfy with television I knew I didn’t want to, you know, and my career path wasn’t going to lie in television, and I happened to see in The Sydney Morning Herald, and it was a small ad for the ABC, wanted a reporter, I think it was a B grade reporter for its office in Port Hedland in Western Australia, and so I applied for it. We thought, ‘Well that’d be fun, go up to Port Hedland, see the Pilbara and the Kimberley and things like that a bit,’ — parts of Australia we’d never seen before. I must have been the only applicant, because I spelt ‘Hedland’ H-E-A-D-L-A-N-D when it should be H-E-D, and I also addressed the application to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation — sorry, Commission — and it had by then become the Corporation, and I’m sure if there’d been any other applicants I wouldn’t have seen the light of day [laughs].
But as it was I got the job, and it was a fantastic job, because I was based in Port Hedland, I had an ABC car, we had a house provided by the ABC with air conditioner in the bedroom because the breadwinner had to have a good night’s sleep, and no air conditioning anywhere else in the joint [laughs]. It was fairly basic, but it was a one man job, one man operation, one man office. When we first got there we didn’t even have television reception in Port Hedland in those days, it was radio only, but we had no broadcasting capacity out of Port Hedland so I was effectively working, as it were, a wire service situation where I would get stories, I would file them down to Perth and they got broadcast from Perth back up to Port Hedland on the regional news or on the national or state news if the story was good enough. And again, because it was a one man job, my territory basically went from the Northern Territory border down to about Carnarvon. It was the whole of that part of north Western Australia, and I was given an enormous amount of latitude, you know, within reason. I was employed by news, the news department of the ABC, therefore my priority consideration had to be the news department, that’s pretty obvious you would do anyway because that’s the immediacy, but I could also file for Radio Current Affairs for the rural department, the education department, virtually anything, and once you got into that area within the ABC, if you could vary your output across all avenues there were huge opportunities that opened up, you know, and I did, I used to bludge rides for the aerial postman and with the flying doctor and go to the deep inland Aboriginal missions and get colour stories and this and that and all sorts of things, and it was, yeah as I say, it was just a fabulous job.
And I did a lot of work also for the AM and PM programs which must have been noticed by the hierarchy of Radio Current Affairs in Sydney because after I’d done the two year — it was a two year stint, two year appointment — and under the AJA Award then you had five weeks annual leave a year, and because it was a hardship posting there was two weeks local leave, so that’s seven weeks, and you could accumulate the two lots of seven over the two years, so you could take 14 weeks — you know, just work straight and then take 14 weeks off straight — which is what I did, which then took us back overseas again for another holiday. And then I lobbed back into Sydney to go and see the ABC hierarchy on the way through which was what was required, and I saw the head of Radio Current Affairs, a guy called Russell Warner, who was quite an intimidating sort of a fellow, and he said, ‘Well laddie, so you’re on your way to Brisbane?’ and I said, ‘No, why would I be going there?’ you know, he said, ‘Well where are you going?’ I said, ‘Well I’m going back to Port Hedland,’ and he said, ‘Well laddie, if you’re going back to Port Hedland it’s only to pack a bag because you’ve been posted to Brisbane with AM and PM.’ That was the first I knew of it, so that’s how I ended up there, yeah.
B York: You’re certainly building up a very big curriculum vitae in all this travelling and…
P Davey: Yeah, it seemed to be the way to get on a bit in those days, although I didn’t apply for that job with Radio Current Affairs, I’d been — Russell Warner headhunted me for it — and I was delighted to get it, I mean it was a promotion, I was — we were a bit sad to leave Port Hedland in a way, but we’d done a two year stint there and in that part of the world, that is almost enough, you know. But it was a lot of fun, Port Hedland, a hell of a lot of fun, and you know, an absolute hole. We went back there only two or three years ago. It’s a worse hole now unfortunately, because they’re all fly-in fly-out people in the iron ore mines, whereas before they were people who were posted up — they went up there for a year or two, and if they got a house well they tried to build a garden out of it and maintain a bit of a garden. Now, you know, all of that’s gone and a lot of the housing up there is sort of just falling apart a bit, so it’s yeah, I’d say now it’s a complete dump. But it was a lot of fun, yeah.
B York: And from Brisbane, is that when you came back to Canberra in the press gallery?
P Davey: After Brisbane, after Brisbane yeah.
B York: How long were you in Brisbane, roughly?
P Davey: In Brisbane for yeah ’74 — we got there in ’74 after the floods and we went down to Canberra I’d say end of ’77 or late ’77 — yeah but in Brisbane the best part of three years or thereabouts I suppose. That was great, I mean the key to success in working in Radio Current Affairs in Queensland in those days was an ability to have access to Bjelke-Petersen the Premier, because he was a very colourful guy apart from anything else. Also after the ’74 federal election you started to get into the murky area of the loans affair with Gough Whitlam, and Joe was determined he was going to smash Whitlam and he was going to do it single-handedly, and he had this strange American bloke called Wiley Fancher up on the Atherton Tablelands who reckoned that he could crack the funny money trail. And so I mean, there was a lot of political intrigue going on there at the time, and Joe, I got on very well with Joe because Joe knew that the best way for him and the most immediate way for him to get his message nationwide around the country was through AM and PM because they were totally national programs, they went to air right around Australia at the time, and the only programs that actually did, you know, the news bulletins were sort of state based and everything else. Joe wanted to get a message out into Western Australia; AM and PM was it. For my part, I knew that if I could get Joe on tape I had every chance that my piece would get on air [laughs], so it was a good deal, it worked both ways. And I did get on well with him, not for any political reason, but I rather enjoyed Joe, and he was extremely good to me in terms of access, you know yeah, very rarely would he say, ‘No I’m not going to talk to you.’
B York: Were you becoming more political at this stage, after these experiences?
P Davey: Yes, yes I was I think, although probably subconsciously a bit at the time. The Whitlam Government if you like, sort of arose a bit more of a political interest in me in that up until his election, from the time I’d been in the country of course, the country had been under a conservative coalition rule from Canberra for so long that it almost seemed sort of, well almost impossible to be anything else. And then Gough came in with a program of quite radical change; he wanted to change the fabric of the nation basically, as far as I could see it, and I wasn’t too sure that it needed changing that much, you know, to me it was a case of, ‘This guy Whitlam really wants to impose change for the sake of change, when really there’s nothing broken anyway.’
So that sort of stirred my political interest a bit, and of course, working with AM and PM involved me in a lot more political stories that were of a federal nature. So it was awakening in me if you like, and oh dear, there were some not very edifying times. There was a Queensland Labor senator called Bertie Milliner who died, and his death precipitated Bjelke-Petersen’s appointment of Albert Field into the Senate which tipped the Senate numbers potentially in favour of the Coalition to block supply. Now Bertie Milliner died and I remember Gough came up for his funeral in Brisbane, and there was a whole stack of journos of which I was one, and we trying to get some comment out of Whitlam about what he thought about the replacement for Bertie Milliner and these sorts of things, and would he, you know, would he be calling an election? Because the hype was getting up there at this stage, and of course Gough wasn’t going to say anything, but you had this rather unedifying scene of us reporters literally pointing microphones at Whitlam across Milliner’s coffin as it came out of the church [laughs]. It wasn’t very nice at all, but really, these things happen.
Then of course, you know, Gough — at the time of the dismissal I was in the office around midday, about one o’clock, the telephone rang, it was my producer, PM producer in Sydney who just said, ‘Gough’s been dismissed, Radio Current Affairs are taking over the airwaves, we can butt into any program throughout the whole afternoon. Get out there, get reaction and feed it in.’ And the program just sort of went on an ongoing basis, and you’d get reaction from people on the street because the first target was Joh, what was Joh’s reaction, you know, and I got that. And in those days we had a big, quite a big, sizable, heavy Nagra tape recorders, they were beautiful old things, they were great to use in a demonstration because you could get a swing up on them off your shoulder and get people out of the way. But you know, you could get a piece for instance with Joe, and to get it back down to Sydney you’d hit the pinch button on the thing, you’d line up the tape, hit the pinch button — well, before you did that you’d get a public telephone, unscrew the front of it, put the alligator clips onto the mouthpiece part of it, plug it into the tape recorder — and then you’d get your tape lined up and you’d hit the pinch and turn her on, and you’re on the phone sort of half listening to it here with the mouthpiece hanging out, you know, and suddenly the producer at the other end will say, ‘Right, okay, and now we cross to Paul Davey in Brisbane who’s just been talking to the Queensland Premier, Bjelke-Petersen,’ you’d let the tape go and she’d fire off down the line and hit the tape again at the end [laughs]. And off you go, do the next bit and back you go…
Interview with Paul Davey part 6
P Davey: It was all — it was very exciting stuff, very exciting stuff. So yeah, so I mean, the Brisbane days were good, I enjoyed Queensland, love Queensland, I enjoyed Brisbane and again, we had a lot of fun there, and then, as you say, then it was well Russell Warner again on the phone: ‘Well laddie, you’re going to take over the Canberra office,’ you know, well again that was, you know, it was a big promotion. But I sort of — I hesitated, I mean I didn’t hesitate in terms of accepting, but I hesitated in my mind because of my previous experience in Canberra which I had not enjoyed at all, you know. But I’d clearly learned a lot and matured a lot over the years between and so yeah, moved down to Canberra and became the chief political reporter for AM and PM in the gallery in Old Parliament House.
B York: Now how had the press gallery changed, if at all, since you were last there?
P Davey: Not a lot, you know, the personnel had changed to a degree, but the actual gallery accommodation and everything else was pretty much as I had remembered it; if there had been any improvements they were very minor to the point where you probably wouldn’t have noticed them. The people that were there in those days — Laurie Oakes was there, Michelle Grattan, Paul Kelly, a guy called David Jensen was the head of the AAP Bureau, Australian Associated Press, Niki Savva was there for the Sun Pictorial, the Melbourne Sun Pictorial, quite a large number, and Alan Reid was still there, very much the doyen of the gallery then — and yeah, you know, it was — oh Mungo MacCallum, another one — you know it was a good crew, it was a good crew of journos there — Tony Walker was there for the Melbourne Age — it was a good crew of journos and we all got on well, I got on well, I enjoyed the work. My offsider in current affairs, there were two of us, was a guy called Geoff Duncan, and he was a great guy, we had a lot of fun together. So all in all it was a good experience, yeah.
B York: Had the technologies changed?
P Davey: Not really. The news department had put in a — decided to put to air a program called Newsvoice, which went to air from five until five fifteen each evening, which was clearly an attempt by the news department to undermine Radio Current Affairs and the PM program. I mean the ABC was a bit ludicrous in those days, I mean you had these separate departments and never the twain shall meet. I think that’s probably changed a fair bit now, but we were extremely competitive, and the two of us in Radio Current Affairs were in the same office space area as the news journos. And we all got on very well, there was no problem there, but if a news guy had got a story that he didn’t think we had, or vice versa, you know, it was, ‘Well wait a minute mate, we won’t talk in here, we’ll go out in the corridor and say look, you know, we’ve got such and such here, we don’t want these news blokes to get onto it as well.’ [laughs]
But the technologies were pretty much the same, pretty much, yeah, and hadn’t modified very much, we still had the big Nagras, you still had — we still cut edited the tapes and you know, cut edit the audio tapes, and yeah, yeah, no it hadn’t changed a hell of a lot.
B York: I’d like to ask about any memories you have of particular prime ministers at this point, because I guess it’s possible you would have met Gorton and McMahon? Would you have had any dealings with Gorton and McMahon?
P Davey: Well now, not as prime ministers; McMahon certainly, I remember doing an interview with McMahon at the start of one of the parliamentary years because he had become father of the house, and that was really for want of anyone else to interview in some respects, it wasn’t a huge story, but they wanted something on, you know, the opening of parliament, and so I thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll go and have a yarn to Billy McMahon.’ I can’t really remember much about the interview, I don’t think it was all that good and certainly not all that memorable. John Gorton, again, certainly his prime ministership had been and gone, in fact I think — I think Gorton might well have been out of the parliament by the time I went back there, I think he’d gone. I did meet John Gorton, but many years later when the National Party reopened the — renovated John McEwen House Secretariat building in Barton, which I think was about 1996 or thereabouts — and John Gorton, who had opened the original building in 1967 when he was prime minister, he opened that building with McEwen, and John Gorton was there as a guest of honour at the opening of the redeveloped John McEwen House, but he was a very frail guy then, a very frail guy. So no, I didn’t have a lot to do with either of those.
B York: What about McEwen? Did you meet McEwen at all?
P Davey: Yes but not — only when I was in the gallery in that late 60s period, ’67. But I didn’t meet him to talk to him, I just knew him — knew of him — I knew of him and I, you know, as a young guy then you knew very much to respect a bloke like that. And then by the time I came back of course, McEwen had been and gone too.
B York: Well Fraser would have been the main one when you came back I guess and…
P Davey: Absolutely, Fraser was the prime minister, and he, you know, he was the key person to, you know, keep an eye on, get interviews with, go to press conferences with and things like that. You never really get to know a prime minister or a — in a hugely informal sense as a gallery journalist — there is that understandable barrier I think. Fraser was probably better at maintaining that sort of a barrier than many other prime ministers, although Fraser didn’t really — Fraser didn’t like them, he didn’t like the press and he, you know, the less he had to do with them in some respects the better I think from his — you know, I think that was his mentality about it.
I remember doing one story for PM — we’d got onto the fact that Fraser had gone down to Melbourne in a VIP aircraft, supposedly for a meeting, an official meeting with business or industry — anyway the meeting didn’t take place, and Fraser went to his tailor and got measured up for a suit. And we got onto this, and you know, and I rang the executive producer in Sydney to discuss it with him and he said, ‘Yeah let’s go with it, let’s run it,’ you know, so we ran this story about the fact that Fraser’s abusing tax payers’ money because he’s using the RAAF VIP fleet to fly down to Melbourne and get measured up for a suit! It was a good story. Well, Fraser had three press secretaries; David Barnett was the senior press secretary, a guy called Alistair Drysdale was the middle guy and then the third guy was a bloke who we all knew was ‘Occa’ Lloyd, who was a hell of a good guy. They operated in an interesting way; Barnett was very much the hierarchy, you didn’t often get to see Barnett. Drysdale was the one you’d most usually see, and Drysdale was if you like, the ‘nice guy’. Lloyd was the head kicker, and Lloyd spent most of his time down in the non-members bar, and if you’d done something that upset the PM, you know, Drysdale would come in and say, ‘Oh you shouldn’t have done that,’ you know, ‘it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right,’ this and that, blah blah blah. And you’d go down to the bar and Lloyd would absolutely climb into you, you know, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ this and that, quite abusive, almost trying to be intimidating. And then probably the next day, you know, you’d get the call from — or the summons — from Barnett, would you come up and see him, so we’d go in and see David and David would give you a bit of a lecture about the fact that, you know, you’ve got to be responsible as a journalist, you’ve got to realise that you shouldn’t be doing anything that destabilises the government and all this sort of — all this sort of rubbish. And that treatment happened a few times, but particularly after that occasion, particularly after that occasion, yeah.
B York: How would you respond to that?
P Davey: Oh look, well with Lloyd you’d just say, ‘Oh shut up. Occo, it’s your bloody shout, buy me a beer,’ and he’d still carry on, carry on, he didn’t take much notice of that. You’d give Barnett a bit more respect but you’d take no notice of him, take no notice of him. And it wasn’t only on the government’s side, I remember doing an interview with Bill Hayden, which his office or he got quite upset about; I can’t remember exactly what it was about but I know there was pretty strong complaint to head office about the fact that I was clearly biased in the way I approached him and this and that and everything else. And Russell Warner called me up one day and said, ‘Laddie, you’re stirring the possums down there,’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘Well you’ve got to be doing the job right because I’m getting complaints about you from both sides.’
B York: Very good, yeah [laughs].
P Davey: Yeah. You’ve got to be a bit thick-skinned, you know, it doesn’t matter which side of politics it is, they will try and protect their interests very astutely and straightforwardly, and yeah as I say, you’ve just got to, you know, be a bit thick-skinned about it all.
B York: Anything else you’d like to say about the gallery there?
P Davey: About the gallery days? Oh no, you know, they were a lot of fun. The old member’s bar in Old Parliament House was a very memorable place because everybody went there, you know, politicians, occasionally you’d get senior ministers even drop in for a beer. But the journos got down there, the press sects, the backbenchers across party lines, and the non-members bar stayed open I think for two hours after the last house rose; well if the Senate was sitting til three o’clock in the morning you could still be on the turps at five, you know. But it was a very convivial atmosphere, you know, everybody sort of relaxed and enjoyed it. Once you were down in the non-members — apart from when you’re getting a lecture from Lloyd — really the serious part of politics was over, although you could always keep your ear open for a bit of a lead or something that you could follow up or some little titbit that somebody drops that perhaps they shouldn’t have done, a bit of an indiscretion about something gives you a lead here and there, you know. So everybody had to be on their — you know, everybody was — everybody was relaxed and convivial and social, but at the same time on the alert.
No, you know, the gallery was great, and it was a good experience for me, which I guess would probably lead you onto your question about, well how did I then leave and join Peter Nixon?
B York: Yes, yes.
P Davey: And that was frankly more economic than anything else. I mean a senior A reporter, senior A grade — which is what I was on in the gallery — paid all right, there was no problem there — but a senior private secretary for a cabinet minister paid quite a bit more, like you know, something like probably $15,000 a year more than what you were getting as a journo, which in those days was quite a lot of money. And this job, again, was an advertised position for ‘Principal Private Secretary’ they used to call them, to the Minister for Transport who happened to be Peter Nixon, who I’d — I mean, I knew Nixon because Nixon had made quite a name for himself bashing the ABC, which he started doing back in the Whitlam Government days, bashing them with being full of socialists and communists and biased and this and that and everything else, and he got quite a reputation for himself doing that, a bit of a hard man of politics. But I was hesitant to apply because I thought, you know, these sort of positions usually went to senior people from within the department. Anyway, no, my wife was the one who said, ‘Look, get the application in,’ and, ‘you never know if you never try.’
So I applied and a couple of weeks later I get this call from his office, you know, ‘Would you come down and see the Minister?’ So I went down, and I sort of thought to myself, ‘Gee, what have I done wrong?’ you know, ‘I haven’t done anything,’ you know, I was sort of half expecting Nixon to sort of get into me about being with the ABC, you know, because I’d filed some story on him, and I couldn’t sort of think of anything I’d done to upset him. And anyway I walked in there and he basically just said, ‘Oh, you’ve applied for this job,’ and it sort of came into focus and I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Are you a member of any political party?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m not, but, you know, if that’s a prerequisite of the job I’d consider it.’ ‘No, no, no,’ he said, ‘no, I don’t want any member of — I wouldn’t mind if you were a member of the Labor Party, but I don’t want anybody as a member of the National Country Party because I want people to give me objective advice, not sycophantic advice out of the branches.’
I sort of thought about that, you know, and then he said, ‘Are you a member of the AJA, the Australian Journalist Association?’ and I said, ‘Yes I am,’ and he said, ‘Well I want you to keep that.’ I didn’t quite know — well I didn’t ask him — but I didn’t quite see what the point was there, but obviously he wanted, if he was to employ me, he wanted to be able — if the necessity arose — to be able to say that his press secretary was a member of the union. He said, ‘Oh, you’ll have to go down to see the head of the department.’ It was a guy called Holton, which I did and — Charles Holton I think — he was an interesting bloke, he gave me one of these typical sort of public service, bureaucratic base sort of IQ type tests, you know, with very strange sort of questions and things like that.
Anyway a couple of weeks later Nixon said, ‘Look okay, yep, you’ve got the job.’ So that’s how that started, and you know, I mean, I couldn’t have worked for a better minister than Nixon in that he was a great teacher — you talk about McEwen — he had learnt from McEwen. McEwen had taught him basically everything he knew about politics, and he was a head-kicking politician, Nixon was, he was as tough as nails. He was also extremely perceptive. He could smell a problem coming before it even got over the horizon, you know, and to have that perspective, that ability, it’s very handy in politics. And a lot of that rubbed off on me I think, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Nixon because we had a lot of fun together, he had a great sense of humour, but by gee, when he wanted to put the boot in, you know, he wasn’t backwards in coming forwards with it.
We had some tough times of course, he was Minister for Transport when I first went there, then Ian Sinclair got accused of forging his father’s signature and had to stand down for the time being as the Minister for Primary Industry and the Deputy Leader of the Country Party. Nixon was appointed as Minister for Primary Industry as well as, for the time being, holding the Transport portfolio; well that put a hell of a lot pressure on us. And the staff in those days — I think there were six of us altogether in a ministerial office, these days I think they have 20 or something you know…
B York: And where was the office?
P Davey: Next to the Treasurer’s office; so if you walk down the government side, which is what, the left hand side, yeah the front car park side from Kings Hall of the corridors off Kings Hall, and then down the stairs, and then there was a little sort of corridor — it was actually almost underneath the PM’s office — a bit hard to explain, but they had the Treasurer’s office at the end and then Nixon had an office here. Opposite him was Eric Robinson, the Liberal from Queensland, and next to him, Jim Killen, and then Peter Nixon here. A pretty small office, you know, nothing too luxurious, I mean his office was quite good but staff accommodation was very tight, very tight indeed. And he operated — each minister sort of structured their personal staff in different ways — Peter Nixon, I think he had a good system going, he had a girl called Thea McCabe, a lady called Thea McCabe who was his cabinet secretary, and she handled all the cabinet documents. I wouldn’t cite a cabinet document unless I needed to, it was a need to know basis. Nixon imposed that because he didn’t want to compromise me in the context of my talking to the press and being asked a question about a cabinet minute which, you know, if I had seen and I had to tell a direct lie and say no, I didn’t know about it. He was quite meticulous in those areas. Then he had diary secretary and two stenographers, plus me, so yeah; Thea, diary secretary, two others and me, so there was five of us and later on he got an extra one, so there was five or six, that was it.
And he had this system where under his desk he had a bell which would buzz out in the office area, and if it was one buzz he wanted to dictate a letter or something, a stenographer would go in there. Two buzzes would get Thea McCabe in there with the cabinet papers; three buzzes would get me in there, as the Principal Private Secretary; all sounds very primitive these days doesn’t it? But it actually worked very well.
B York: That sounds very efficient, a very effective way of doing it, yeah.
P Davey: Yeah, yeah, no it worked very well, yeah, very well.
B York: And what were your duties as Senior Private Secretary?
P Davey: Well, speech writing, press release writing and liaising with the press, and then you know, liaising with industry organisations and lobbyists and things like that, they were mainly it. I did quite a few overseas trips with him. But Nixon used to think that, you know, speeches and press releases were sort of the key things that needed to be done well and he didn’t like depending on departmental drafts, he wanted his speeches — I mean an industry speech for instance, would usually originate out of the department — and in typical public service sort of style and fashion, they were drab, they were boring, they were statistically accurate and everything else, but he wanted the stuff taken out of that that was necessary and he wanted the politics put in on top of it; that was very much my job in that regard.
It was quite interesting; one of the first speeches he gave, or that I helped to supervise — was to a shipping conference, and we got the draft from the department and it was probably went about half an hour and I read the thing and I rang a couple of departmental people and said, ‘Look, does this really need to get in there?’ and, ‘Oh yes, look, the industry needs to be reassured about this, and they should know about that,’ and blah blah blah. So I thought, ‘Well bugger me, there’s not much I can take out of this.’ And I tightened it a bit here and there, and he gave the speech, and coming back he said, ‘Well, what do you think of that?’ you know, and I said, ‘Oh, yeah it was all right,’ and he said, ‘Well what do you mean?’ you know, ‘you wrote it,’ and I said, ‘Well it was really the departmental draft,’ and he said, ‘Well what are you saying?’ I said, ‘Well it was too long and it was turgid and it was boring,’ and he said, ‘Well, you know, that’s what I’m paying you for, what would you have done with it?’ and I said, ‘Well for a start, I’ve always believed that if you can’t say something in ten minutes you shouldn’t even be up on the stage,’ and he sort of smiled at that, and he said ‘Okay, okay, so what do you propose to do?’ and I said, ‘Well I’ll make one deal with you here and now; you will never get a draft speech from me that runs longer than 15 minutes,’ ‘All right,’ he said, ‘that sounds all right, that sounds all right.’ But he also, in saying all of that, gave me a lot more confidence about cutting, you know, if you like, upsetting some of the departmental guys a bit, but really cutting into departmental drafts and getting a lot more political about what we were doing.
But you know, the most memorable thing with Peter Nixon I guess was the meat scandal, which was a horrifying experience where he — this was what, about 1982, ’81, might have been late ’81,’82 — bang, bang, bang, the three buzzes; I walked into his office and he was sitting there and he was as white as a sheet. Then I just said to him, ‘Christ Minister, are you okay? What’ s wrong?’ and he said, ‘Read this.’ We’d got a cable from the United States Department of Agriculture through from the Bureau of Animal Health, which was attached to the DPI which confirmed that they had found suspected horse meat in shipments of Australian chilled beef packs out of a works called Profreeze in Victoria. And I mean, Nixon knew exactly what this meant, this was, this was devastating stuff, I mean the entire Australian export beef trade was absolutely, you know, under the gun at this point, and it got worse because further tests in America confirmed that not only was there horse meat in it, there was kangaroo meat in it too. And I mean it was, it became known as ‘the meat scandal’. It was a huge rolling, developing crisis, and the government ended up setting up a Royal Commission. Fraser sent Nixon overseas immediately — once we’d got everything in place, we’d tightened the laws and the regulations for this and that and everything else, you know, we’d changed the locking system on the back of freezer trucks and on the — all sorts of things, the way meat packs were marked — got all that locked down, and then he took me with him and we flew direct to — out of Canberra — direct to Denver, Colorado where we met with the American Cattlemen’s Association, and then we went on to Washington, we had rounds of talks with secretaries of agriculture and all sorts of other people. We went on to the UK, and likewise there with government officials, on to Brussels with the European Union people, back to the UK, then over the North Pole down to Tokyo for the Japanese government, and across to Seoul with the South Koreans, and back to Australia.
We worked out we were actually in the air more time than we were on the ground; we were away for a total of nine days and it was just go, go, go. Then the Royal Commission Report came down and the Commissioner and had found that the minister had not acted adequately on an earlier report known as The Kelly Report — it had been done by a former Liberal South Australian member, Bert Kelly — into Australia’s meat inspection services. And Bert Kelly had questioned — the whole idea of the Kelly exercise was to see whether we could get a uniform national system of meat inspection as opposed to separate Commonwealth and state ones — and Kelly had raised unspecified allegations of corruption in the meat industry; well that sort of thing happened all the time. Nixon referred it to the Bureau of Animal Health and that was that, and nothing further ever noted.
Well the Royal Commissioner had seized on that to say that the Minister hadn’t acted adequately on that report. Nixon felt that, ‘Well that’s it, that’s the end of the line, I’ve got to resign,’ and he called me into the office on the Sunday — he got the report on the Friday, flew home — he rang me on Friday night and said, ‘You better get yourself ready to come in the office on Sunday, I’ll ring you Sunday morning.’ Rang me on the Sunday morning and I got into the office; he said, ‘I want you to draft me a letter of resignation,’ and I said, ‘Look, surely it doesn’t have to come to this does it?’ He said, ‘Paul, don’t argue with me, just go and do it.’ So I went out and started doing it, and then Doug Anthony turned up; he’d flown down from Murwillumbah, and the two of them sat there for the Sunday afternoon — I think they probably got rid of most of a bottle of scotch, if not all of it — and then Doug left, oh with quite a twinkle in his eye and a bit of a smile on his face, and said, ‘I think Peter might have a few changes on that letter Paul; you’d better go in and see him.’ And the change was — the change was basically that instead of saying: ‘I therefore tender my resignation’, the change was: ‘I therefore place my future in your hands.’ In other words, Anthony — it was basically his idea, Anthony’s idea — was saying to Malcolm Fraser, ‘Well, it’s on your head, and if you want to sack this minister you try and sack him, but by Christ you’ll have a fight with the Country Party if you do.’
As it turned out, Fraser had no intention of sacking Nixon. He had gone through the Royal Commission Report quite meticulously — he called in up to the Lodge myself, Doug Anthony’s senior secretary, a bloke called Barry Virtue, a couple of senior people from his own department, his own principal private secretary who was David Butt, the press secretary, David Barnett — so a small squad of us to pour over all the things to pull together if you like, a defensive position, and Fraser got up in the Parliament and he lambasted the Royal Commissioner — who was a guy called Woodward — in no uncertain terms, no uncertain terms, basically for being highly selective in the way he chose to interpret the evidence. That was quite an interesting exercise, but by God, I wouldn’t want to live through that again [laughs].
B York: Yeah, and you used the word ‘horrendous’ and…
P Davey: Oh it was horrendous, it was horrendous, absolutely horrendous. And you know, those are the things that I suppose you basically — it’s just adrenaline that drives you because there’s very little sleep, you’re working late, late, late into the night and from virtually the crack of dawn and it is just constant. Gathering and maintaining all the evidence that you can get to make sure you’re in a position to be able to rapidly defend your — give your minister the material he needs to defend himself against a barrage of questions at question time, follow it by a censure motion against him and all the rest of it, and you’ve just got to be there and on top of it all so that if somebody bangs a question or puts an allegation to him, that you can refute and you know you can, you’ve got to have that paper there, bang, give it to the minister, get it out to him, you know, so…
Yeah we got over that. A lot of people suggested, because that happened — by the time the Royal Commission Report came out you know, it was ’82, and then Fraser called the election in ’83. Nixon decided to retire at that election and quite a few people speculated that he was retiring at that point because he’d been so burned by the Royal Commission. In fact he wasn’t retiring because of that, it’s quite interesting, I didn’t know at the time but subsequently found out that he had actually told Fraser and Anthony at the election in 70 — there was an election in either ’78 or ’79 — but at that time, that election he’d told them both that that was going to be his last; he wanted to retire at the following election which happened to be 1980, and they’d both persuaded him in 1980 not to go then, and by 1983 he had absolutely determined that he was going to go, and he got his announcement out just before Fraser; he sensed that Fraser was on the verge of announcing an election in March ’83 so he announced in about February that he wouldn’t be contesting the election, and the interesting thing is Ian Sinclair subsequently told me that had Peter Nixon decided to stay on; he Sinclair, would have not contested ’83, but Sinclair of course went on to stay in there for many years more. Interesting quirks of politics.
B York: Now you’ve mentioned that you had to be on top of the politics in this position, but does that mean you were now kind of philosophically, politically allied or — with the Country Party, National Party?
P Davey: Yeah in a way I think, well yes, you know, I enjoyed the Country Party — I wasn’t a member of it, and I had not been a member of any political party and still wasn’t — but I mean I’d obviously come from conservative-minded origins if you like, even way back in England. I had now, was now well associated with — I mean I was married into a country family, my wife’s family, her mum and dad were in Orange and the rest of her family were principally in Coonabarabran and also in Warialda, so very much a country family, country people, she was a country girl — I had spent time in Wagga in the country, I enjoyed the country, I was regarding myself far more as a country Australian than a city Australian, I just didn’t like living in cities. Canberra was okay because it was really a country town [laughs].
So it was, yeah, philosophically I think my, you know, my natural leaning was towards the Country Party because of what it was representing, country people, country interests, as opposed to the Liberals.
B York: And going back a bit to Whitlam, did you have a reaction to the dismissal of Whitlam? I didn’t ask that.
P Davey: No, not really, other than the fact that, you know, you had Clive Speed on the phone, the executive producer of PM saying he’s been dismissed, get out there and get what you can; I didn’t have much time to have much of a reaction, I was trying to find other people’s reaction. The lead up to it, while the whole — the actual dismissal, you know — came as a huge sort of shock and surprise to everybody, in some respects it shouldn’t have done because the lead up to the dismissal had been going on for quite some time — the toing and froing with vis-a-vis the Wiley Fancher and the ‘funny money’, The Loans Affair and all of this sort of stuff — so no I didn’t. I must say that after the election, when you saw the results of the ’75 election, it seemed to me that that election result justified the means absolutely, I mean it was an overwhelming victory for Fraser and the Coalition, and a complete repudiation of Whitlam. So I mean, bleat as he may and as he did about the fact that the Constitution had been torn up and you know, nothing will save the Governor-General and all this sort of business, well I mean, I just don’t think that stands up when you look at the December ’75 election result, and indeed the following election, which again was resoundingly won by the Coalition. And of course, many people would say now in hindsight that those two elections, when Fraser had control of both houses, were the period when he squandered his opportunity, particularly to crack down on trade unions. You know, people look back on the Fraser government basically these days and say, ‘Well he was a total failure, he didn’t do anything.’ And you know, I can understand why to some degree, because he did seem to be a disappointment.
I have spoken to Fraser about it since, and Fraser, Fraser needless to say of course will argue to the contrary, saying that they did actually do most of what they intended to do, you know, establishing the Industrial Relations Bureau, various other things. But he just never seemed to — the big seeming failure I think to the majority of people who remember back at that time — I mean there was huge industrial unrest going on under Whitlam, and Fraser was going to crack down on that and he just never seemed to do so.
B York: Now during the period with Peter Nixon you mentioned how allegations were made against Ian Sinclair regarding his signature on his father’s will; how did that affect the party? Were you close enough to the party in general to know how the impact…?
P Davey: Oh well in terms of the Parliamentary Party it was devastating. Here was the third most senior man in the party — well, sorry, the second most senior man in the party and the third most senior man in the government, third or fourth most senior man in the government…
Interview with Paul Davey part 7
P Davey: Who’d been, at least temporarily, struck down by the New South Wales Attorney General, Frank Walker because of this inquiry, this report into the financial family affairs of Ian Sinclair. I mean, he was quite shattered by it all; when I say shattered, he was shattered that he had to stand down, he knew that there was no option because of the allegations there, he wasn’t shattered in the context that, ‘My God, how could this happen?’ he was, on the contrary, very confident: ‘The fact that they can raise these allegations against me but there’s no way in the world they can make them stick.’ And he was subsequently cleared of all allegations. But I mean it rocked, it rocked Doug Anthony, it rocked the party as a whole, and that’s why, when Ian stood down and Nixon was put in as the Deputy Leader — he was only ever appointed as the acting Deputy Leader because it was always assumed that once Ian was cleared he’d come back as the Deputy Leader — there was never any dispute about that.
One thing about the part in those days, particularly the hierarchy of it — because you had Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair, Peter Nixon, Ralph Hunt in particular as the four primary leaders, cabinet ministers, but leaders of the party — they were all four of them great mates, the party respected all four of them, the party absolutely stuck together like glue, you know, so there was never any — quite often you find when a politician falls foul in one sort of sense or another, some of his colleagues start to say, ‘Oh gee,’ you know, that ‘this guy’s a lead weight in the saddlebags, we’d better get rid of him’ or ‘dump him down’ or ‘put him on the back bench’ or something like that — that was never in question with Sinclair, which is why he came back into the cabinet too as soon as he was cleared. But in terms of the wider party, of course, the New South Wales Party organisation — I mean everybody rallied behind Sinkers, particularly the New South Wales Party, which was his own base party.
B York: Were you expecting the change of government in ’83?
P Davey: Yeah I was expecting it in 1980 [laughs]. They were not travelling too well in 1980, and there’s a funny little story there; Peter Walsh, who was a West Australian senator, was the Shadow Minister for Primary Industry in 1980, and the campaign got underway, and Countrywide — as it was then called, I think it’s now called Landline — but the ABC’s television rural program arranged to do a live debate between Peter Nixon and Peter Walsh, and it was to be done out of the studio here in Canberra. And Nixon and I were driving from Parliament House up to the ABC Studios and Northbourne Avenue, and he was not in a very good mood, Nixon, you know, sort of saying, ‘Oh, you know, ‘what have we got on this bloke?’ you know, ‘how are we going to nail him?’ and this and that. And I just said, ‘Look, I don’t know, but,’ you know, he had a whole lot of briefing papers on policy and I was saying, you know, ‘They haven’t got a policy on this and this and this,’ and Nixon was saying, ‘Yeah I know that, I know that, but that’s no good, I mean what have we got on this guy?’ We were just pulling into the car park and I just said to him, ‘Well Minister, don’t forget that Peter Walsh is well and truly on the public record on several occasions as supporting reintroduced death duties or wealth taxes,’ and again, he turned around and his eyes were twinkling and he said, ‘Right, right.’
And in we go and this program gets going and oh, you know, it was trailing on in its usual fairly monotonous sort of way, and it was actually the interviewer who turned around to Peter Walsh and said, ‘Well Peter, the Labour Party and you yourself have been advocates in the past of wealth taxes or death duties,’ you know, ‘where does the party stand now?’ And Walsh tried to, you know, he said, ‘Oh well,’ you know, ‘we’ll have an inquiry into wealth taxes,’ and Nixon just said, ‘Oh you’re trying to wiggle too much, Peter,’ and Walsh said, ‘I’m not trying to wiggle!’ and Nixon interjected again and said, ‘So what will it be? Will it be wealth taxes or death duties?’ and he said, ‘We will either have wealth taxes or death duties,’ — words to that effect, but he made the commitment — as opposed to the being a review — he made the commitment.
Well, we got back in the car, I raced out a press release, and Nixon rang me the next morning, we got together the next morning, and didn’t get a run anywhere, not a bloody word, you know, Nixon was furious: ‘Rewrite the thing! Get it out again!’ So I did, by which time we were up in Cairns because we were flying up to Cairns to campaign up there; still hadn’t got a run. So Nixon then gets onto Tony Eggleton, the Liberal Party’s Federal Director, told him what we’d got and you know, sent him a fax of the transcript and said, ‘Look, we can’t get it up, you’re going to have to put money in it. Put some money into it, run a TV ad,’ and Eggleton, ‘Yes Peter, well I’ll see what we can do,’ this and that. Nothing happened, nothing happened, nothing happened, nothing happened. Anyway, the beginning of the last week of the campaign sort of from the Sunday through to the TV advertising blackout midnight on the Wednesday, the Libs came up with this TV commercial which was a real el-cheapo thing, it was just aerial shots of roofs, probably in western Sydney, you know, warning that, you know, ‘Under Labor you’ll get a wealth tax or death duty, or ‘Labor will reintroduce death duties,’ words to that effect; it was a negative scarer. And we got back in and many people credited the fact that that was the issue that put the nail into lid of Labor at that time.
But coming back to your point, ’83 I had very little doubt that we were going to lose in ’83, it was, yeah, you could smell it in the air.
B York: A question arises from what you previously said; how is it that what you would think would be a real news story of importance doesn’t get picked up?
P Davey: Yes particularly a story like that, but a lot of the key gallery journos of course at the time, were travelling, either with the Prime Minister or the leader of the Opposition on their campaign trail. So what you’ve got left behind in Canberra are more junior reporters, and I’m not saying that that’s the reason that it just didn’t get picked up, but it could be a contributing factor. The other point is that it’s off the mainstream, if you like, and it’s not coming from the leader. I’ll bet you had it — I mean had this been something that had happened between Fraser and Hayden it would have been picked up and run because they were leaders. The focus on the primary party leaders, first and foremost, the Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition — whether it’s Labor/Liberal, Liberal/Labor doesn’t matter — but that there is the key focus; much less of a focus on the leader of the Country Party or the National Country Party as it then was, and even less focus again, on any ministers who are not one of those top three.
So you know, I mean, contributing factors I suppose, but it certainly annoyed Nixon and it annoyed me. I thought it was a good story, that it was worth doing, I tried to hammer around, rang people in the gallery, rang people, this and that and everything else, and it just didn’t bite. And of course they might have thought there was nothing really new in it because it was a known fact that Peter Walsh favoured these taxes, but they just didn’t read closely enough the fact that he had actually got to the point of making a commitment.
B York: By the way, did you eventually join the party?
P Davey: Yes but not for quite a long time. After the ’83 election Doug Anthony asked me to stay on and be a sort of special advisor to the Parliamentary Party and Opposition, which I did for ’83, and at the end of ’83 he asked me if I’d go down and take over the federal secretariat as the Federal Director, and I did that, and I didn’t join the party — oh, I joined the party when I actually — I’m jumping forward a bit here — I didn’t actually join the party until I became the New South Wales Party’s General Secretary, which was 1997 or thereabouts, and the reason I joined — well the reason I hadn’t joined, I had no philosophical reason for not joining, I just felt that — in myself I just felt that you know, by not being a member I could argue a greater degree of independent professionality, objectivity; it’s a lot easier. When you go into a Party Room for instance — as a federal director, into your own Party Room — and say to the guys, ‘Look, you’re intending to go down this path on a particular policy line, but you need to be aware that your Federal Council has got a totally opposite line; you are contravening the policy of a party.’ Not that that is something you cannot do in the National Party; the Parliamentary Party is not bound by the policy of the organisation, but it’s a lot easier to be able to say to them, ‘You’re heading down a dangerous path here in going against the party line,’ if you are not a member of the party line, if you see what I mean.
The reason I joined was because, to be General Secretary in New South Wales under the party’s constitution, the General Secretary was the returning officer at all elections — internal elections — of party officer bearers, and the returning officer was constitutionally required to be a financial member of the party!
B York: Now we’re now at 1983 when you become Federal Director as you’ve mentioned; how are you feeling? Do you want a break at this stage?
P Davey: No I’m fine.
B York: Should we keep going?
P Davey: Yeah I’m fine, yeah.
B York: Okay, all right, good, all right, well now, what — how do you think you were qualified for that position?
P Davey: I probably, in many respects, wasn’t qualified for it; Doug Anthony asked me to go down there and so I did. But I mean I had a pretty good grounding now as to how the party worked, both at federal and state levels and I understood that the, you know, each state national party is an autonomous organisation, operates under its own constitution. The Federal organisation basically is simply — it’s an affiliation of those affiliated state parties — federal organisation basically doesn’t have power, it has no constitutional power to intervene in the affairs of the state parties. So I knew this. I also knew what the Parliamentary Party saw as the failings of the Federal Secretary because of the time I’d been in Parliament, the history of the secretariat in a way was the fact that McEwen — McEwen wanted to establish a federal secretariat because he knew the time would come when the party would be in opposition, and when it was in opposition he didn’t want the Country Party to be beholden to the advice and the policy directions that were coming out of the Liberal Party Secretariat for the Liberal Party, and he knew very well that if the Country Party didn’t have its own capacity we would have to turn around cap in hand to the Libs and say, ‘Look can we take your material that’s come out of your resources and use them?’ So he wanted that degree of independence. Now the Parliamentary Party, by the 1980s, was pretty dissatisfied with the Federal Secretariat because they didn’t feel it was doing really anything at all, particularly to help them. It’s less important when you’re in government because, you know, in government you’ve got the resources of the departments to draw on and things like that.
But moving into a period of opposition, you haven’t got that, where you need to be seen to have a certain degree of independence, at least of thinking, from the Liberal Party, even though you might be in Coalition and Opposition, you’ve got to have an ability to be a little bit independent, and there was a view that that wasn’t happening. There was also a view in the state parties that the federal secretariat was a complete waste of time and money because the state secretariats could do what the federal secretariat was supposed to do in any event.
So I went in there basically with a view to try to make sure that we provided the federal pollies with the sort of material that was useful to them in terms of briefing materials, so that they could get back to their electorates, and also with a view to getting a far better working relationship between the state and the federal secretariats and head offices. And over time I think we did it quite well; we had, for instance — there was a TV camera down in the secretariat, quite a good quality one, a big huge JVC thing — and when the federal budget — Labor would bring down its federal budget for instance — we’d take it up to the party room in Parliament House and we would video all our backbenchers if they wanted to do it, any backbencher, and we’d do a video interview — I’d do the interview with the guy on his reaction to the budget — and we’d overnight courier it up to the local TV stations, and it might have been, for instance, Ray Braithwaite up in Mackay, we’d fire a piece up there, and it would be on the air the next night. And this was a brilliant sort of service, this was getting — it was really like a televised press release if you like — but because we’d done the interview — and I’d quite deliberately put aggressive questions to them, I told them I would, you know, and they were all happy to go along with that — that worked very well.
And then we developed a system of what I called ‘dot dotters’; you’d just do draft press release, you know, ‘The member for dot dot dot, Mr Dot dot dot said today’ on any good issue, any issue that I thought was worthwhile for the backbench members or even the front bench members, and I’d fire those out to them. And then we put out a weekly political bulletin which contained all sorts of briefing materials, background notes and things like that, that got mailed out, and come elections, we had what was called the Federal Leaders Campaign that was funded by the Federal Organisation, and that was basically a television campaign, which was a nation-wide television advertising, which basically sat on top of the TV ad campaigns that the state parties had put together, which might sound a bit complex, but there was a lot of sense in that in a way because you’d get your federal leader sort of taken at top high ground in a manner that highlighted the priority issues of the party in a broad sense that would quite happily be acceptable right across the country, and then if you wanted to get into a particular issue, say it was assets tests or something like that, you might want to run a campaign in Queensland a lot differently to the way you would in New South Wales or, for that matter, Victoria. That’s why each state party was left to develop its own television advertising for what we called ‘issues-based ads’ and ‘candidate ads’.
So the federal campaign was that television campaign for the leader and also paying for and organising the federal leader’s launch, the venue of it and all the bits and pieces that went in behind that. And then beyond that, through the state organisations sending out election bulletins, which were sort of a weekly bulletin, but by facts by mail by whatever means we could, to all the candidates, all the National Party candidates Australia wide, and also to the head offices so that they knew what was coming out of Canberra, and it cut down unnecessary duplication; they understood what I was doing, I didn’t intervene on what they were doing and it actually all sort of worked out quite well. So those were the key things that I did, really I suppose.
B York: The first one you mentioned, of televising or filming responses from backbenchers and sending them interstate to different TV people, was that new? Were other parties already doing that?
P Davey: Yeah, no other parties were doing it, and it lasted a few years, but the regional television stations got together — and quite justifiably I think, there was enough of them — they got together and they said, ‘Look, there’s obviously potentially enough news that can come out of Canberra which is of value to broadcast in regional areas, so why don’t we pull some money in and set up our own regional TV news office in the press gallery?’ Which they did. Once that happened they basically banned the use of anything that came out of a party political organisation or anything that wasn’t recorded through their journo on the ground here, so that sort of killed it in the end. But no, it was very innovative, it hadn’t been done before and I don’t think it’s been done since.
B York: Well I think that maybe something similar has been done with the internet, you know? The grabs that they provide and…
P Davey: Well nowadays I’m sure that’s probably right, I’m sure that’s probably right, but it’s probably done by individuals too, as much as anything else I think. Yeah, you’re right, technology has moved on rapidly and vastly since those days. We did the same with radio too; we’d send little radios, audios, out to radio stations and things like that. That wasn’t as necessary because the pollie could ring up the radio station and do it himself, so you know, there wasn’t as much done on radio, but getting the pictorial, the picture and the movement and the pictures onto TV was the important one.
B York: And in 1983, what was the staffing of the…?
P Davey: Federal Secretariat?
B York: Federal Secretariat?
P Davey: There was myself, there was Jan Hurst, she was a researcher, Cecile Ferguson was a researcher and Chrissie Incher was the receptionist; four of us. And come elections we all mucked in and you know, did it all, we all sort of mucked in and helped each other and did various things. It was very small. Later on we got another lady, Sunny Willis; she joined so we went up to five, and even today, well today it’s only about the same, yeah, it’s only about the same, so — oh, we had Susie Mitchell, sorry, so that’s — there were five of us and then — yeah Chrissie stayed on so we must have — oh no, no, Jan Hurst left, that’s when Sunny Willis came in, so we were always five, five. Well today it’s about the same.
B York: Can we talk now about the rebranding of the party name, you know, from Country Party to National Country and then to National? What are your views on that?
P Davey: I always think it’s such a shame that it dropped the word ‘country’ in its name; I mean ‘country’ is a lovely word, it’s warm, it’s friendly, it’s sort of, yeah, it gives you a nice feeling, you know? And I’ve had many arguments with Doug Anthony about this, not nasty arguments, but discussions with him because he and I are very good friends, but I mean it was his — it was his initiative to change the name from ‘Country Party’ to ‘National Country Party’ back in — it began basically after the ’72 election; he started analysing the election results, the demographics, and came to the conclusion that basically, the party would not have a future if it just continued to market itself as a ‘country party’. He felt that that was just too sectional, and look, he was probably right I’d have to concede, he was probably right. He was helped a lot by the Queensland Party, which coincidentally, at the same time, was also moving to change its name; it was called the ‘Country Party’ in Queensland, and they, in about 1983 or thereabouts, changed to ‘National Party’ for very much the same reason; more aggressively though, they wanted to break into Brisbane, into the, you know, outer Brisbane, Brisbane seats, so they’d changed to ‘National Party’.
That did help Doug in terms of his campaign; he had a very strong campaign to wage in New South Wales which was very strongly opposed to any change of name, but he managed to get — he managed to get the parties around — Victoria was, yeah, Victoria was also not all that in favour — South Australia and Western Australia were also probably more country party — in favour of ‘country party’, but New South Wales was the key I think, and Doug managed to get a motion through — well there was a motion — yeah, he no doubt engineered it a bit — that got through one of the New South Wales state conferences, which called on the Federal Organisation to commission an independent assessment and analysis etcetera, etcetera, which came down in favour of changing the party’s name, and you know, went into all sorts of reasons as to why, etcetera, etcetera. And so it came to pass. Not — certainly not without a lot of internal, you know, debate and heart rendering and everything else.
New South Wales, when they — because each state party, as I said, was autonomous, so each state party had to change its name itself too if it was going to — I mean, federally they changed in May 1975 — and Doug did have a compromise as I say, Queensland had gone from ‘Country Party’ to ‘National Party’ — Doug thought that because it was a federal party and there was a need to sort of maintain a link with the state parties, he sort of took the middle line and called the federal party ‘National Country Party’. That way, ‘National Party’ worked with the Queenslanders, ‘Country Party’ worked with the parties that were still ‘Country Party’. And gradually they changed. Victoria went straight from ‘Country Party’ to ‘National Party’, then South Australia and Western Australia went to ‘National Country Party’. New South Wales I think was the last to come aboard in about 1987 or thereabouts, and they had a very acrimonious debate on changing the name of their annual conference in Wagga, very acrimonious. And you know, I mean there was a lot of heartache there; one state guy — Bruce, Bruce — his name will come to me, but the moment the vote was taken, he left the conference, resigned from the party and sat in the state parliament as an independent in protests, those sort of things happened. Ralph Hunt — who only died recently, but good old Ralph, he was another lovely friend of mine — he used to say, ‘Changing the party name was outrageous!’ [laughs]
So, but as I say, I think actually Anthony got the call right, because the party, clearly its pure rural base was declining, the number of traditional rural electorates was declining because of demographic economic changes and everything else, and if the party was to survive it definitely had to appeal to a broader demographic. The name change was part and parcel of that.
B York: This is a good time to ask about Doug Anthony; now he retired from Parliament in, what,’84?
P Davey: Beginning of ’84.
B York: And you know, you’ve written about the Anthony family and you knew Doug Anthony as you’ve said; this is an opportunity, if you would like, to put on record how you see his particular contribution to the party and to the parliament, and if you can give us an indication of how you experienced him as an individual, a character, you know?
P Davey: Yeah, Anthony was, again, one who was taught by McEwen, and I think that is so important. John McEwen was a succession planner extraordinaire, I mean it was an obsession with him, and he was very fortunate in having those four guys — not so much, not for as long, Ralph Hunt, because Ralph didn’t go in until ’69 and McEwen retired in ’71, but Nixon, Sinclair and Anthony — McEwen really, really trained those guys up so that any one of them could have taken on the leadership when he retired. As the cookie crumbled it was Doug that took the job on and Doug that became McEwen’s deputy too, before that. Doug Anthony was a very — I mean, a couple of the guys in the gallery used to regard him as a bit of a hayseed, you know, just a country bumpkin, a pig farmer from Murwillumbah — he was a pig and dairy farmer — he was a very astute one, and it was very easy to sort of write off somebody who’s just been a bloody pig farmer. Gough Whitlam definitely underestimated Doug Anthony, absolutely underestimated him in terms of Anthony’s political acumen, no doubt assisted, particularly by Sinclair whose knowledge of the workings of parliament and constitutional affairs was extremely strong. But Doug, yeah Doug trumped Whitlam time and again, particularly over, well the memorable occasion of blocking, preventing Vince Gair from handing his resignation in to the president of the senate so that — or in a timeframe which would have enabled the senate election in Queensland to have six senators elected instead of five. So a complex issue, but if Vince Gair, who was appointed by Whitlam to be ambassador to Ireland for the purely political expedient purpose, so that the Whitlam government might win an extra senate seat in Queensland and therefore break the deadlock of the senate numbers in ’74, Doug Anthony was absolutely the key behind thwarting that objective by getting Bjelke-Petersen to issue the writs for the election earlier than otherwise would have been expected. Gough never saw that coming. Gough Whitlam was a QC, so was Lionel Murphy. Doug Anthony was a pig farmer [laughs].
But he was — quite apart from that, I mean his other key thing of course, he was Trade Minister, he did an enormous amount of trade work of benefit to Australia, he was, you know, I mean the live sheep export trade, controversial certainly, but an extremely valuable trade to the rural sector. He opened up a lot of trade opportunities with the Middle East; Doug Anthony loved the Middle East, absolutely loved it, and it wasn’t only live sheep exports, but all sorts of other business and commercial links with the Middle East that Doug Anthony was responsible for. He went to Russia quite a few times; he opened up a lot of opportunities in Russia. One memorable occasion he got sick on a trip to Russia and the press gallery speculated that the Russians had actually tried to poison his food and all this sort of business, and it was all quite bizarre. Doug to this day doesn’t know quite how or why — I think he actually picked up a dose of hepatitis, and it knocked him around a hell of a lot.
But yes, so on trade he did an enormous amount of work. In terms of the party, yes, he certainly thought to the future of the party in terms of the name change. He didn’t need to think too much about succession from his point of view because it was always going to be Sinclair or Hunt. But on the other hand, there are some within the party who I think — with some justification — say that he didn’t give opportunity to some of the younger members of the Parliamentary Party that McEwen had done, for instance with Anthony. And there were younger people there with some potential, you know, the likes of Stephen Lusher and Sandy MacKenzie; these were guys who were backbench members who, as it turned out, lost their seats subsequently, but I mean, had they been given a bit of opportunity, even in a parliamentary secretary type role, you know, might have been able to blossom a bit more.
But Doug certainly held — he was held in high regard too, his leadership was never threatened once in all the time he was leader from ’71 until his retirement in ’84 — that’s a long period of time not to have any internal rebellions. And when he was sick with hepatitis, I mean he was out of action for seven months or more, and again, you know, politicians, parliamentarians are impatient people by nature, it’s quite staggering that nobody, nobody over that period of time ever turned around and said, ‘Well gee, Doug’s a bit too crook for the leadership, we’d better move on,’ you know, nobody did. So he was fortunate, he had great support from his comrades there and was able to retire after a highly successful political life, I think.
B York: What would you say about his personality? What was he like as a bloke?
P Davey: Well he was often a bit hard to read; I’ve only really got to know him in more recent years I suppose, but he was interesting, I think it’s probably best put by one of his — a former head of — who was actually the former head of the Department of Interior — this is going back a long time when Doug was the Interior Minister — and his departmental head recalling Anthony as the Minister for Interior said to me, ‘We used to have this body called the National Capital Development Commission, and we’d have this meeting with the Minister, and Doug would sit there with his blue eyes, with a smile across his face, he always had this benign smile, happy look about him, and these people would prattle away about what they wanted and what they wanted, and Doug would say this and Doug would say that, and they’d all leave thinking they’d got absolutely what they wanted when in fact they got absolutely nothing.’ [laughs]
In a way that sums him up, you know, you can’t quite — you can’t quite read Doug, you don’t quite know if he’s listening to you, if he’s bored with what you’re saying — but he’s always got this very pleasant smile on his face, lovely blue eyes, but by gee, stubborn, absolutely stubborn; if Doug wanted to go in one direction and he’d set his mind to it, there was nothing going to change him, nothing. But he’d be very polite in putting you down, he was a very polite man, I’ve never heard Doug Anthony lose his temper, I just don’t think that was in his nature, but loved to play practical jokes too, loved to play practical jokes. And you know, he was cheeky, he was a cheeky bloke, they all were I think, so was Nixon, so was Sinkers, and so was Ralph Hunt; they were all out of the same mould because they all came from the bush, they all came from farm families — well Sinclair was less a farming family, but he’d gone on the land anyway — and you know, they all had that — they had that sort of larrikin sort of country attitude about things.
There’s a famous story that Doug tells himself, when, again, shortly after he got elected to Parliament; there was him and there was Barnes who was a Queensland member and Peter Nixon — this would have been in early 60s, ’63 or something — they were kicking a football around in Kings Hall — this is when you know, the ‘greed men’ as we used to call them, the ‘attendants’, they used to go off and — there weren’t that many of them and they’d go off and around, you know — and these guys were kicking a football around and it hit a picture of one of the presidents of the senate that was hanging on one of those main central columns, and it had glass and of course the glass shattered: BANG! You know so these three guys scriddle around like school kids picking up the broken glass, picking it out of the side of the frame, chucking it away, making themselves scarce; Doug said it stayed like that without glass in it…
Interview with Paul Davey part 8
P Davey: For years until someone suddenly realised!
P Davey: You know, that’s the sort of cheeky larrikinism about the guy I guess. And he hasn’t lost it; I went up, when I was doing that book on the Anthony family to stay up at his place at Murwillumbah because he’s got a whole heap of material in a barn up there which I needed to look at — and they’d renovated the dairy, an old dairy into a beautiful, beautiful, you know, like a self-contained flat, it’s lovely, so I was staying down there — anyway, Doug’d get me up every morning at about six, go for a walk, you know, God help me, I mean I’m just not an early morning bloke at all — but on the day that I was coming back — and I was flying out of Coolangatta probably at about midday, Doug was going to give me a lift up to Coolangatta — but sure enough, belt on the door five thirty, ‘Is that you Paul? Are you there Paul?’ ‘Yes, Doug, yes,’ ‘Get up, I thought you might like to come down and have a look at the cattle.’ Well, he and his farm manager who’s a guy called Barney, they’d got a mob of probably about 80 odd head of cattle yard and in the yards, and I go down with Doug, and of course Doug says, ‘Oh, I thought we might put you on the gate there, Paul, and you can help and I’ll shove them in the roast, you can do the goat and Barney can change their ear tags,’ and I said, ‘Yes, sure Doug, okay.’ So I’m doing this, no problem, I’ve done this sort of work, the only trouble was I only had a decent pair of boots on, I had no work boots, and here I am slopping around in all this cow crap and everything, and the job gets done and we get back up there and I try to hose off the boots, but you know, a fair amount of it had sort of dried on the bottom of my boots and it was halfway up my trousers and everything else, and you know, Doug’s smiling away quite benignly as though nothing has happened, drops me off at the airport, and I get on the plane, but I’ll tell you one thing: nobody sat next to me on the plane going back! [laughs] Yeah, he would have done that on purpose, yeah.
B York: Anything else about Doug Anthony you’d like to say?
P Davey: Oh, no that probably sums him up. Margot of course is most certainly worth mentioning, and I mean, she is a — she undoubtedly is the strength behind him, you know, behind every man there’s a strong woman, there’s no doubt Margot Anthony — Margot Anthony was a huge help to Doug’s political career in that, apart from the fact that she’s just got a delightful personality — when you first meet Margot Anthony, you know, her face lights up and you feel that she’s known you for years. It’s that sort of personality. She was a brilliant — and still is — a brilliant concert pianist, and she used to go and play at embassies when they went overseas, they’d invite, you know, ambassadors to the Australian embassy, or she actually went to — yeah, she went and played in the residence of one of the Russian ministers on a trip to Russia, and playing all this, yeah, concert-type stuff, opera — well not opera — but yeah, made music very well, and that was an enormous little help in terms of international relations, you know, it’s just — Doug used to, quite often here when there were visiting ministers coming out here from overseas countries, he’d invite them around to his house here in Canberra, just for a barbecue, just to relax, Margot would play the piano; so many of them would put that down as the greatest memory they ever had of a visit to Australia, you know, so, no they were a great team and they still are, yeah, yeah.
B York: Well thank you for that; that was a very good response. I’m hoping now to move on to 1986 when the Nationals in Queensland won an outright majority in the State Parliament and the Joh for Canberra campaign was launched the following year I think, in ’87, the aim being that Joh Bjelke-Petersen would become prime minister. You were Federal Director still, weren’t you?
P Davey: I was
B York: So, how did you respond to this?
P Davey: Yeah well that was another…
B York: Did you see it coming?
P Davey: No, I don’t think we did, don’t think we did. Joh won almost a majority in 1983 in Queensland, and then he was able to govern in his own right because two Liberals defected to the Nationals and that gave him the majority. And then, as you say, 1986, all the polls in 1986 in Queensland were predicting that Joh would lose, right across the country, just the whole lot of them, yep, he was absolutely on the nose, and I wasn’t closely associated with the campaign, but Joh won, and he not only won, he won in his own right. I mean, it was such a staggering turnaround from what the opinion polls were saying. It was quite amazing, and of course everybody was delighted in the party, good luck to him, this was great stuff. And then as you say, out of the blue — I think it was probably, you know, early January of ’87 — he came out with this bizarre sort of line in typical Joh-speak that you know, that he was going to take over the policy of the Federal Party and the Federal Party would follow his policies, and oh my goodness me and this and that and everything else, and off she went, and it started from there. And this became another absolutely horrendous time, and Joh upped the ante on Sinclair, you know, saying that Sinclair should stand down and Joh was going to be the leader. We had a Federal Council arranged for March of that year, and the Queensland delegation to the Federal Council was going to move, that the Federal Party immediately break from the Coalition — Coalition and Opposition this was, with John Howard — there was a lot of toing and froing going on at organisation level there because if the Queenslanders got the numbers on Federal Council, not only did they force that through, but basically they’d have the numbers to take over the finances and the assets of the Federal Party, and virtually do what they like with them. I mean it was — and you know, Ian Sinclair wasn’t going to allow that, and New South Wales certainly wasn’t going to allow that — there was a lot of behind the scenes anxiety there about the assets of the party and what would happen to them.
And the numbers were very closely, very finely balanced, I mean the whole of the Queensland delegation — I mean, Federal Council in these days you had about 45 voting delegates or thereabouts and Queensland probably had six or seven delegates, New South Wales would have had about the same, Victoria, yes similar, South Australia and Western Australia smaller numbers — but Queensland had a block, at least half of the delegates from Western Australia supported Queensland, South Australia was a bit iffy, Victoria was a bit iffy, it wasn’t 100 per cent behind the status quo if you like, New South Wales was.
So the numbers were pretty finely balanced. In the end, in the end Joh actually backtracked a little bit himself; he announced that because of the possibility of an imminent federal election he wasn’t going to force a break in the Coalition at that time, but he expected the Coalition to break, you know, as early as appropriate and was convenient. So he stood there in Federal Council, stuck his hands up in the air and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I have good news for you this morning; my goodness me, the Coalition is dead. Now you may say, as a Federal Council, you may say and do and make the decisions which you are entitled to make, but it will make no iota, not one bit of iota of difference to what I am going to do for the betterment of this country.’ And off he went, just left, then he took off and went back to Brisbane. But he had stepped back that little margin — not that it was very helpful because of course the whole issue kept boiling on and on and on and of course Bob Hawke, as he absolutely should have done, called an early election to capitalise on it.
Sinclair — it was extremely hard on Ian Sinclair because even during the election campaign you had the likes of the Queensland President, Bob Sparkes, who was a very powerful character in the party, saying publicly on radio in the middle of an election campaign, you know, that Sinclair should stand down, that even if he’s re-elected leader, even if he gets back into parliament, if he is re-elected leader he won’t be there for long, all of this sort of stuff. And the whole plan though, the Joh for PM campaign, it seemed — it was so unprofessional, it was almost as though somebody had had a bad dream and tried to put it immediately into place without, you know, without even thinking it through even remotely! Because it didn’t take long before it got watered down from Joh for PM to Joh for Canberra, so he was stepping back from that bit, then he turned around and he was caught on the hop when Hawke called the election, which was — he called it in about July. Joh had gone off to America to the States to promote Brisbane’s Expo, the ’88 Expo in Brisbane to promote it to business and industry over there; he was over there, he had to high tail it back to Queensland faster than fast, and then he realised that, you know, there wasn’t a seat available for him, could he find a seat in time? The close of nominations was rapidly coming along, then he made the decision that no, he wouldn’t be running for a federal seat, so there was another back down. But he still continued to make a complete nuisance of himself by supporting and endorsing Joh independent candidates all over the country. There were Joh independents that ran against both Ian Sinclair and Ralph Hunt, who was then Sinclair’s deputy, and other people; Joh independents ran in every seat, or they were funded by Queensland to run in every seat in Western Australia and in South Australia, about 13 seats, didn’t win any seats; the vast majority of those candidates even blew their deposits. But nonetheless, it was a thoroughly destabilising and it caused enormous damage and splits and divisions within the National parties at all levels.
Of course, the result of the election was that Howard and Sinclair lost. They argue to this day, very strongly, that they lost because of Joh. And there could be some justification in that because Hawke was not travelling too well at that stage; I think Hawke was beatable, and when you look at the destabilisation caused by the Joh campaign, the result for the Coalition, and particularly for the National Party, was actually quite strong, so had that Joh campaign not been in play, I think the National Party vote would have been a lot stronger, it would have been a lot more unified, they might have won more seats and it might have got rid of Bob Hawke at that point, might easily have done.
But the upshot of it all was, I mean you had a hugely divided party, the Queenslanders totally not recognising the Federal Party; during the campaign in fact, I had a couple of occasions where I was told by the Queensland campaign director that I couldn’t put out — or I was told not to circulate — the Federal policy, which at the time was to abolish Labor’s assets tests — don’t circulate that in Queensland because the Queensland Party was supporting a tax policy that had been drafted by John Stone, who was a former Treasury head and subsequently became a senator, and who Joh employed to draft his tax policy — and the Stone Tax Policy was not going to abolish assets tests so we weren’t allowed to put out to our candidates in Queensland what a federal policy was. And when I told Sinclair about this, he said, ‘Right, well go and get printed up a flier, a brochure on our policy that we’ll abolish the assets test; let’s get some radio ads cut, 30 second radio ads,’ which we recorded with Ian Sinclair, and he said, ‘Right, now send them all up to Queensland, book the radio ads direct from Canberra onto Queensland Radio Stations, ignore the Queensland Organisation, get the stuff out to the candidates.’ And so you know, it was horrendously acrimonious, I mean it was a shocking time.
But the upshot of it all was that we, you know, how the hell could we try and heal the party? That was the challenge, and oh, you know, as you do, I was talking to Ian Sinclair about it, the Federal President, then, newly elected, was Stuart McDonald who’d taken over from Shirley McKerrow, they were both Victorians, and we came up with the idea that we’d better have a serious — and it had to be a serious — it had to be seen to be a serious — review into the party, and who would we get to undertake it and how could we make sure that all the parties would be happy to go along with it? Well the answers came up as, well you get Nixon to chair it, because Peter Nixon, who of course had retired from parliament, was still well known and well regarded by the parties right around the Commonwealth, and in particular, got on reasonably well with Joh; Joh quite liked him. So Nixon was to chair it. Righto, obviously you had to have somebody on that committee, the review committee, who would represent Queensland. We chose a guy called David Russell who was on the Queensland Executive, who was a QC so would be handy in terms of constitutional issues and things like that. He was a, you know, he was a pro-Joh guy, or had been a pro-Joh guy, but he wasn’t a complete lunatic in that context, you know, so he would be useful. The one concern about him was that he was an amalgamationist, but nonetheless, you know, he could represent Queensland.
We got the West Australian President, a guy called John Patterson, who was, as it were, representative of the smaller states, and then Ralph Hunt who’d just retired from parliament at that stage, came on to represent New South Wales and also the interests of the Federal Parliamentary Party. Now that committee went off and did its work, and I was the secretary to it, so you know, I did most of the drafting of the report and everything else. The report came out; it completely revised the Federal Constitution of the Party so that you could never have, for instance Joh Bjelke-Petersen or a state organisation endorsing candidates to run in federal electorates in a state where there was a registered, or an affiliated federal party.
It did, it basically made the amendments that were necessary to constitutionally protect the party federally from that sort of assault, either electorally or in terms of party assets. And party assets were important. The Party Organisation federally, the Federal Secretariat, which is owned by a company called John McEwen House Proprietary Limited, and that building, it’s prime real estate virtually within the Parliamentary Triangle sort of area, opposite the current Kurrajong Hotel; it’s a beautiful bit of real estate that is owned outright by the party. That’d be worth a lot of money, so you’ve got that plus the invested assets of John McEwen House in other areas. I don’t know what those are anymore, but nonetheless, I mean you’re not talking about simply a shell company, you know, you’re talking about something where, if it was taken over by a state party it could have serious implications, obviously, you know, for the federal party in terms of its, well, financial security anyway.
But we did this report, it was accepted by Federal Council meeting in 1988, and of course there were necessary subsequent amendments that needed to be made to state party constitutions, and they by and large were taken on board and progressively implemented, and everything sort of settled down, and you know, yeah, settled down back to the status quo if you like. But Sinclair, you know, thwarted the thing, you could say Sinclair won; he did, he beat Joh Bjelke-Petersen, but it was the beginning of the end of Sinclair too; it damaged him in an almost irreparable way. He was challenged for the leadership after the ’87 election, certainly by Ray Braithwaite who was the Queensland member for Dawson, not because Ray was a Queenslander, Ray was actually a pro-Federal Party guy, but because he felt that Sinclair had not adequately addressed how he was going to handle the Joh factor if you like, in the future, and at that stage of course he didn’t know that this committee was going to made up, neither did any of us probably. But Ian Sinclair’s leadership was weakened, and of course only two years later they dumped him in favour of Charles Blunt, which was an absolute disaster. And in a way, Ian brought it on himself; he sort of became a bit too distant from the parliamentary members, he was more inclined to go out and have, you know, dinner in the dinner break with his staff than with his parliamentary colleagues. Some unfairly believed that he, you know, he was favouring some members over others and not giving them promotion when they deserved it; I dispute that myself, I think the evidence clearly shows that Ian gave some of the younger members responsibilities which you know — promotions, responsibilities, so they might not have paid money though because we were in Opposition — but he gave them parliamentary secretary positions within the party and things like that.
He did try to do a bit of grooming, but he just alienated himself, and I remember, I remember we used to have these leaders dinners once a month in Opposition, in John Howard’s office in Parliament House. By this stage we’d moved into the new Parliament House. So there was Sinclair and John Howard and then the deputy leaders; well at this stage was Bruce Lloyd from Victoria for the National Party and — who was the Deputy Liberal leader? I’m not sure — but then you had Fred Chaney from the Senate — anyway, it was about of us six of us — and then two directors, Tony Eggleton and myself. Well after one of these dinners I remember saying to Ian — there was a half bottle of red wine left and we both agreed we had time to sit there and finish that off, so we did — and I said to him, I remember saying to him, ‘Look Ian, you’ve really got to be careful with the troops, you know, I’m hearing rumblings the troops aren’t too happy,’ ‘Oh yes Paul, I know, look I know,’ I mean, Ian was always a bit like that, ‘I know Paul, yes I know, I know and yes I’ll fix it, don’t worry about it.’ Well Ian never did, not adequately, and the party, the Parliamentary Party rebelled, and on the same night that they rebelled against John Howard; because there was a rebellion against Howard going on in the Liberal, the Nats felt they’d better do the same. And we got Charles Blunt. Charles Blunt was — he was ex-State Director in New South Wales, as an administrator, an administrator-director he was extremely good. He had a good political mind on him too; I mean Doug Anthony was sufficiently confident in him to, in a way, facilitate — he didn’t facilitate per se — but to encourage Charles Blunt to stand in the seat of Richmond and succeed him, Doug Anthony, when Anthony retired. And Charles Blunt did that and he won the seat handsomely, So that was ’84, and he retained the seat, you know, he had a good political mind, but he was thrust into that leadership; he might have been ambitious for it, but he wasn’t ready for it and it was a complete disaster, it didn’t work. And of course, we went into the election in 1990, and that was an absolute disaster because Blunt lost his seat, he was a federal leader and he lost his seat, and I think the party was reduced to about 14 members, which was getting down, you know, down to the skid levels.
They were difficult times, those, very difficult times. Ian Sinclair, I mean, I’ve always enjoyed Ian, he’s great fun, very sociable guy, very sociable guy, very generous guy in many respects, but also in other respects infuriating! You could go into Ian’s office in the morning and there’d be a stack of papers this high on the left hand side of his desk, and he was always complaining about how busy he is and this and that, and you’d go there in the evening exactly the same stack of papers has moved over to this side of his desk, and basically, he’s looked at them, procrastinated, decided to do nothing and shoved it over there. And that was — particularly in opposition, I never worked with him when he was a minister — but of course he had staff, a lot more staff then, and departmental staff, but as Opposition leader I had a lot to do with him because I was the Federal Director; he, you know, he procrastinated too much. He wouldn’t bite the bullet on something enough. Although having said that, I mean he may — don’t misunderstand me — when the Joh campaign was getting underway, one of the key arguments of the Queenslanders were that we had to split from Coalition because we weren’t allowed to put forward our own policies, and Ian said to me, ‘Right, well we’ll put the note into this, we will write our own set of policies and I will present them at the Federal Council Meeting in March.’ This was ’87.
In fact in ’84, after he took over the leadership, Ian asked me to pull together a draft for his approval and everything else, a booklet of Federal Party policies, which we did, and it was, you know, a quarter of an inch thick. There were policies across the board — only bullet point stuff, but that’s really all you need — which you know, covered everything from the environment to Aboriginal affairs, to primary production, to exports, to the economy, women’s affairs, you name it, youth, all sorts of things. And we did the same thing for 1987, just to prove that the party could indeed put forward its own policy positions separately from the Liberal Party while still being in Coalition.
So I mean, he knew, he had, again, like all of them, he had a good political mind in terms of knowing what needed to be done to fix a problem. But there were times I think when he, as I say, he shuffled the paper from one side to the other without paying too much attention to it.
B York: What was the real basis of the attack on Ian Sinclair by Joh Bjelke-Petersen? Well, I mean, when I say ‘real’ do you think there was a more — a kind of fundamental, even political, philosophical type basis to it or…?
P Davey: No, I don’t think there was anything too politically or deeply philosophical about it, I think a lot of people, after that election win in 1986, a lot of people in Queensland — on the Gold Coast, business people, the so-called ‘White Shoe Brigade’ type people, people seemed to have a lot money — they got into Joh’s ears and said, ‘Mate, we need you, you should be the Prime Minister of this country. We’ll put money behind a campaign.’ And I think it really took off from that; I don’t think there was any deep philosophical thought about it, I think they got into Joh’s ear and Joh was at the stage where he thought, ‘That sounds like quite a good idea.’
And he went off and started running the race on it without talking to Bob Sparkes or the Queensland Organisation, and I know that Bob Sparkes was — Bob was basically quite horrified at the direction that it was going. He realised that he had to try and do something to help Joh because Joh was just flying off like a Catherine wheel out of control. So Sparkes would think a lot more about it, and Sparkes would have discerned that ‘Well wait a minute, is this salvageable or is Joh just going to end up looking an absolute idiot?’ Which clearly, Sparkes would not want to happen. So Sparkes hauled the thing back and tried to put it onto a course that may be, or that might conceivably have been workable; that is to say, ‘Get the man into parliament, let’s see how we, you know, if we get him elected into parliament then let’s see how he goes in terms of party elections and things like that.’
But right at the word go I think it was as simple as people getting into Joh’s ear saying, ‘We need you as the prime minister, you should be the prime minister,’ I think it was as simple as that, yeah.
B York: He struck me as being a very different person to Ian Sinclair, as somebody who was merely an outsider following politics at the time.
P Davey: Who, Joh?
B York: Yes.
P Davey: Oh yeah, totally different to Sinclair. The two never got on very well. I think Joh would have regarded Sinclair as, well you know, ‘you’re a lawyer,’ whereas, you know, Joh was a, as it were, you know, self-taught peanut farmer basically, and I don’t think he had much time for Sinclair. He did have a fair bit of time for Nixon, he had fights with the likes of Doug Anthony over various things, but they all sort of got on, but no, he didn’t like — he didn’t like Sinclair.
B York: And wasn’t Sinclair, like, Liberal, in some of his attitudes? I mean the small ‘L’ Liberal…?
P Davey: Well he was accused — and this was one of the things that led to the downfall of his leadership yeah — and indeed in that — well throughout the period of his leadership if you like, that year of his leadership, that’s what, ’84 to ’89 — he was seen on some issues to be too accommodating to the Liberals, or too willing to go along with a Liberal policy direction on, you know, issues which were of core value to the National Party. And wheat marketing was one, and wheat marketing in fact was the, well the excuse which caused the revolt, ultimately, against his leadership, because the Liberal Party — this was to deregulate the domestic wheat market — the government was going to deregulate the domestic wheat market, the Liberal Party was reasonably happy to go along with that, the National Party was basically very strongly opposed to it, and Sinclair was seen to have reached a sort of a compromise with the Libs without adequately referring to the Parliamentary Party, and that was the excuse or the reason they used to nail him. But the interesting point is that having nailed him, they never made any attempt to change the policy on export wheat marketing, so you know. But there were other issues, there were other occasions where people thought that Ian was, yeah, too willing to accept what the Liberal Party said.
B York: I was thinking not just in terms of Liberal Party, but I’m actually thinking of the Playboy interview that he did, you know, that sort of — I could never see Joh doing such a…
P Davey: Oh no, no, Joh would have been horrified at that, that would have been sacrilege to Joh. Yes, look that’s right, and I mean Sinclair was, you know, he — Joh would have regarded Sinclair as being small ‘L’ Liberal, far too debonair, you know, just not the right sort of person to be leading the Country Party, I mean he just would have written it off like that.
B York: You mentioned that you had dealings with Joh directly when you were a journalist, and liked him and got on well with him; did you have actual personal dealings with him during this period, when you were Federal Director and he…?
P Davey: No, no, I didn’t. I remember saying gidday to him when he came to that Federal Council in 1987, early ’87, and it was just a polite, you know, ‘How do you do Mr Premier?’ and you know, ‘Oh yes Paul, my goodness me, how are you?’ and this and that. But no I didn’t. I was in probably a bit of a difficult situation in that there was quite evidently a battle royal going on between Sinclair and Bjelke-Petersen, and I was quite obviously in a role where my responsibility was to support the federal leader of the party, so I had no reason, myself, to directly try and get involved or to talk to Joh about things like this. Others did; Peter Nixon was sent up to Queensland and also came up to Canberra to talk to him, try and persuade him to change his mind, and the Federal President did, Sinclair tried to. And my liaison was certainly with his office, with is [press sec 0:33:59.1], but that didn’t get anywhere either, you know, I mean they — we were just — it was just enemy stuff, you know, they were in one camp, I was in another, and that’s all there was to it.
Ken Crooke was with Joh at the time, and I knew Ken very well beforehand and I know him very well now; even at that stage I mean we were good mates, and we were great mates, but we didn’t contact each other much when that was going on! There was no point, there was no point.
B York: Would you say that was the biggest challenge of your period as Federal Director?
P Davey: I think so, yeah, I mean it was, yeah, yeah definitely. I mean when you’re faced with a situation where you’re trying to organise and help run a federal election campaign in which your own party is split, spitting chips at each other and running separate campaigns, and then you’re faced with a situation where, in the post election sense you — again, you have the state and federal parties that are grossly divided in a way that probably hadn’t been divided to such an extent at any time in the history of the parties, and you’ve got to try and fix that up — yeah, it was — it took a long time and a lot of work, a lot of work.
B York: Now you left that position in 1992; had it been healed by then, would you say? The division?
P Davey: Yeah, yep. It came back on track — it came back on track quite quickly actually — as it was then called, became known, The Nixon Report — that laid down the framework for constitutional and other operational changes in terms of relationships between state and federal parties and the secretariats and all the rest of it. That helped a lot. Joh of course, didn’t last that much longer as premier in Queensland, he retired, so that took out of play that sort of contentious element if you like, and Mike Ahern came in — I think it was Mike Ahern — he got on very well with Sinclair — so the relationship between the parliamentary parties settled down and by the time ’92 came around; yeah, everything was running quite sweetly and back…
Interview with Paul Davey part 9
P Davey: On track. I left — well I’d been there nearly ten years, and my wife’s family — mother and father owned and ran the newspaper, The Mudgee Guardian newspaper — they at that stage were getting on, Doug MacGregor wasn’t at that point in the best of health, so really, they asked if we would be interested in moving to Mudgee and helping to run the newspaper and buying into the family business and helping to run it.
Well it was about the right time to do that, I mean ten years, basically it was long enough, I felt I’d been there long enough, and as you say, you sort of [laughs] been through to hell and high water and back [laughs]. It was a very competent offsider I had in Cecile Ferguson who’d been at the secretariat longer than I had, and she was a very good operator and I was more than happy that if I left that she could take over and become the Federal Director, which she did, and she became the first female Federal Director of a political party in Australia I think, and held the job for quite a while. So we went off to Mudgee and had that, you know, change of lifestyle and back into — well, running a local newspaper.
B York: What was her name sorry? Cecile…?
P Davey: Cecile Ferguson.
B York: Is she still in Canberra?
P Davey: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely, yeah, yeah, yeah, no we’re good mates, we keep in touch, so yeah, I’ll give you her phone number at some point. Oh yes, she was a dynamo and as I say, she’d been at the secretariat — actually she was at the secretariat when I got there — so she was there from before I got there, and she was the Federal Director through until about, I think ’97 or something like that, from ’92 til about ’97, and she did a great job. But yes I went — we went to take over and run the paper; it was a challenging time that, running a small — it was a bi-weekly, it came out on a Monday and a Friday — and it wasn’t easy I must say. The guys in the print shop were pretty solid unionists, they demanded their rights and this and that and everything else all the time as the printing union does. It was — Doug had been very happy running it in the way a newspaper, you know, would have been run ten years previously — it needed bringing into the modern world a bit, and most of the guys employed there didn’t particularly want to go into the modern world, they didn’t see that really there was much need to change the way it had been done all the time. So I found it a bit challenging. I also found that it was very demanding; people would ring you up on, you know, two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon and say, ‘Oh look,’ you know, ‘Willie’s just done this, can you come and take a photograph ?’ or something, or someone would demand you go and take a photograph of some wedding or something. I mean there was never any time for yourself, never any time for yourself. But that’s what a country newspaper’s all about of course. But I found it difficult, but I found it very satisfying too, and we did very well, we won what was called an [? 0:03:52.0] Award, a Memorial award for journalism through the Country Press Association, Country Press Australia I think, we won the award for editorial writing in one of the years I was there.
We only had the paper for a bit over two years I think before we sold it, and we’d bought in, we’d bought ten per cent of the company, and we sold it and so we got ten per cent of the return on it which was nice but not a lot of money. And the reason we sold it was because the real estate and used car guys came into see me one day and they put down what was, effectively, a glossy magazine — looked like a Bulletin magazine, about as thick too — full of ads for used cars and houses in the Dubbo region basically. And they said, ‘Look, we get this printed — full colour, glossy paper — we get this printed in Perth, and we can householder it to every house in Dubbo free of charge. Now all you can offer us is black and white images in your newspaper at a cost,’ you know, ‘what are you going to do to upgrade that for us? Otherwise we’ll go into this thing and you won’t have our ads.’ Well if you lose your housing, your real estate guys and your used car guys you’ve lost your revenue basically; they’re the core part of the revenue.
And we had a, you know, we did some calculations and went into it all; well if I put in the sort of technology required to get us up to the standard that was necessary I’d have put my grandchildren in debt probably for most of their lives. And this was the sad thing about family-owned country newspapers, they, you know, they get to the point where, to meet the market demand, a small family business just can’t put in the — can’t afford the technology that’s needed, even though the cost of technology these days is coming down. We sold to Macquarie Publications, which about two years further down the track sold their entire stable of about 62 banners to Rural Press. But Macquarie Publications did what was needed I mean, and a guy called [Jonah Marty 0:06:17.5] who owned Macquarie, a good guy luckily, you know, a big company, he had the financial wherewithal to do the necessary renovation of the building and of all the plant and the equipment and turn it into a modern publication. So that was the long and short of that. It was a fairly brief return to — if you want to call it ‘mainstream journalism’ — it’s not capital city journalism but …
B York: How far back did The Guardian go?
P Davey: Oh, a long way, you know, the 1870s. Oh yeah, it’s an old, long established…
B York: And was that in the MacGregor family all that time or…?
P Davey: No, no, no, sorry no, Doug MacGregor bought it in — it would have been in the 19 — when we were over in London/South Africa — so about 1970, and we sold it in what, 1994.
B York: And what printing press was it using?
P Davey: It used to be using an old Heidelberg, a flatbed and then we did a deal with Macquarie over in Dubbo where we’d do the negatives in — get it up to negative plate stage in Mudgee and then they’d get sent over to Dubbo and then Macquarie Print would print them. But the old press is still there in the print room because you can’t get it out because, you know, literally the press was put down and then the building built around it.
B York: And would that be the original press from the 1870s or…?
P Davey: Probably not, but it certainly is an old one, it would have been, you know — I can find out what the age of it is but I don’t have that in my mind.
B York: Now we’re coming to the point where you worked for George Souris, but I’m wondering if — you know, we’re heading for four thirty now — if you don’t mind, could we maybe pause here and continue on Thursday morning?
P Davey: Yeah sure, sure, I’m more than happy to do that.
B York: And I also will ask you about the Hawke government too, and Bob Hawke.
P Davey: Okay, yep.
B York: But thank you very much for today, it’s been another marathon session for you, and you’ve done very well! I hope you just enjoy doing it because…
P Davey: Yeah look it’s — I find it quite interesting, I don’t know why but…[laughs]
B York: Well it’s very gratefully received by us, believe me. Thank you.
Interview with Paul Davey part 10
B York: Today is the 9th of June 2011. I’m continuing the interview with Paul Davey. Now Paul, we recorded a session two days ago; I’m wondering is there anything you’d like to say about that session or arising from…?
P Davey: Just a couple of things that come to mind, a couple of anecdotes I guess about my time working with Peter Nixon; I mentioned that he had been, you know, he was quite, well renowned in the press gallery for being someone who continually bashed the ABC for being full of commos and socialists and everything else; he took it on as a bit of a soul mission for himself, so he had quite a reputation of being, you know, campaigning, a personal campaign against the ABC at the time. The interesting thing is that in his office he had a bookshelf, and behind his right shoulder was a bank of books probably about two and a half feet wide, and there was a four or five volume, thick volume set of the history of broadcasting in Britain, and he had a whole stack of ABC, previous year ABC annual reports. He had nothing to do with the portfolio of course, he was transport, but he was still carrying on this campaign, and this was in the early days, and you know, of the — well, he took it to its height in the Whitlam government years — but he was still running this anti-ABC line a bit even in the early 80s. But the point was he had these books behind his shoulder and they were just in the camera shot line for when journos came in or TV crews came in to interview him, so that this rack of seemingly pretty official looking books was in shot over his shoulder, and it gave the impression Peter Nixon was quite an expert on international broadcasting policy, let alone Australian broadcasting policy. He did concede or confess to me on one occasion some years later that he’d never opened one of those in his life [laughs], which was quite amusing.
And another little example of the guy’s sort of political acumen if you like; I remember we were up in Cairns campaigning for David Thompson, who was then the National Country Party member for Leichardt. And we arrived in Cairns, straight from Canberra — and of course there were no mobile phones or anything in those days, so after a long flight like that you’d get into the office and there was a whole stack of messages from people who had rung in, this and that and everything else — and Nixon and David Thompson were going up to Mareeba to talk to tobacco growers, and it was quite an important section of the community up there. I said to them, ‘Look, you guys go,’ we were running late of course, it was March, it was hot, steamy and everything else, I said, ‘You guys go, I’ll stay in the office and go through this bank of messages and clear the backlog of messages.’ So off they went, but I’d barely sat down, and suddenly the office door burst open, and there’s Peter Nixon who points his finger at me, hauls me across, waves me to come over, and off I go and he bolts out into the car, and I pile in the car, and at that stage there were sort of three or four of us stuck in the back seat of the car and it’s hot and sweaty and everything else; Nixon’s in the front, and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ and he turned around and he said, ‘Well you’re the only bugger who smokes.’ And my job was to sit there and chain smoke, literally, while this meeting was going on with tobacco growers. So just a couple of little asides, but [laughs], it’s just a bit of fun.
B York: They’re asides but they’re insightful too aren’t they, you know?
P Davey: Yes, yes, yes; the things you do on a campaign trail [laughs].
B York: Now I wanted to ask, how do you think, if at all, was the National Party different in 1992 compared to 1983 when you became Federal Director? How had it changed over your period, if it had changed?
P Davey: Yeah, well it had changed because it had gone through — well it was weaker, in a nutshell, it was weaker in terms of parliamentary strength and everything else — reasons being, we’d gone through that debilitating Joh for Canberra campaign in 1987, we’d gone through the situation in 1989 where Ian Sinclair was dumped as the party’s leader, first time that it had ever happened in the Party’s history. I mean arguably, Williams, who was the first federal leader in the early 20s, but he was only put in as the interim leader, and the situation then was that we’ll go for 12 months and see how things settle down, and Williams wasn’t showing as a popular leader and he was replaced by Earle Page, but he actually stood aside in favour of Earle Page anyway, and certainly Archie Cameron would not have been re-elected, so you could say that Ian Sinclair, being dumped by the party was almost not a precedent, but in fact in was, he was the first federal leader who was actually thrown out by the party room, and he was replaced by Charles Blunt, and that was in 1989. And Charles Blunt was the member for Richmond, he had been the state director in New South Wales, and he was elected to Richmond in 1984 after Doug Anthony retired. But the big shock then was in the 1990 election, Charles Blunt, as the leader of the party, lost the seat; that was a tremendous blow, to have an actual incumbent leader lose his, and that was the first time that had ever happened too. And with that election we lost a number of seats as well; I don’t recall exactly how many but our parliamentary numbers federally were dipping down to dangerously low levels.
So it had been a very difficult period actually, and certainly the party, in that immediate post period, you know, had to do some really hard work and rethink its strategies and its place in the electorate and how it could reconnect if you like, with the electorate. Tim Fischer became the leader, and Tim was very popular and he was very good at getting media grabs, the fame sort of Tim Fischer one-liners, and he did very well in hauling back the electoral performance of the party; he won back at the next election I recall two seats, which took us — I think it took us from 14 and I think we ended up with 14 seats after the Blunt election in 1990 — Tim’s first election took us back up to 16 — and that sort of took it back into a level of respectability.
Tim, if there was a criticism of Tim, because he was personally — very popular with the press gallery and he got on very well with the media and he was very good at tapping in on issues — but under Tim really the party almost became known as the Tim — it was almost identified as the Tim Fischer Party as opposed to the National Party. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was — Tim’s personal success in getting media tended to undermine the brand of the party, if you like. But nonetheless, he went on and of course, after the Howard/Fischer year, the election in ’96, yeah Tim Fischer and John Howard formed a coalition.
So I mean, yes the party had changed a lot, and I suppose it’s an onward going thing, it’s always changing.
B York: When you look back on your ten years as Federal Director, is there anything you think, ‘Oh I wish I had done that differently’? Anything of importance that you would have done differently?
P Davey: No, I don’t think so. I think in my time I had taken a secretariat organisation from a situation where its pure — you know, its relevance — was being widely questioned anyway, not only by some of the parliamentary party but also by the parties at state level — into a situation where it was respected as an organisation which actually could do useful work for the parliamentarians, and also useful assistant work if you like, for the state organisation. I was quite satisfied with what I’d done, I don’t think there’s anything I’d do differently. And of course, the issues I’ve just related to you there about Ian Sinclair, Charles Blunt and things like that, they were beyond my control anyway, you know? What the parliamentary party does is entirely up to itself, and at times yes, you know, they do something like that you’re left sitting there tearing your hair out thinking, ‘Oh my God,’ you know, ‘we’ve now got a mess and we’ve got to try and help fix it up.’ Well, you can only contribute to the best of your ability to do that.
B York: Now the period we’re talking about was a period of a Labor government, the Hawke government; did you have any personal dealings with Hawke at all?
P Davey: No, no. I had interviewed Hawke a few times with it when I was with the ABC for AM and PM, so he knew me, you know, if he saw me he’d say Gidday, wouldn’t necessarily say, ‘Gidday Paul’ because he probably wouldn’t remember who I was but he’d recognise the face; there was a familiarity there. I did know very well a couple of Hawke staffers because they had been in the press gallery with me, and I’m now trying to think of their names: Walsh was one…
B York: Geoff Walsh?
P Davey: Geoff Wash, yeah, Geoff Walsh…
B York: Barrie Cassidy?
P Davey: Yeah well Barrie Cassidy I knew very well, and the one other one I’m trying to think of who was — he was up in the ABC with me and had been the ABC correspondent [in Delhi 0:10:35.5] and I think he’s now with Gavin Anderson, or he certainly was — his name will come to me anyway. So I knew those guys, you know, and we used to jibe each other if we crossed paths.
B York: What about the politics of that period? What was your view of the Hawke government?
P Davey: Well when it first came into office, like a lot of governments that come back after being out for a long time I suppose, or a fair time, they made some bad mistakes so far as rural policy was concerned, and I remember that they got really under the skin of the National Farmers’ Federation over tax and things like that, and there was a huge farmers’ rally outside this Old Parliament House building, about 4,000 of them came to town to rally outside the building. The interesting thing about that was that was that we had, in the secretariat, generated a couple of fliers which we had, you know, had printed off in hundreds, and we were just going to go around and circulate them amongst the guys there — I mean we were the National Country Party, we were saying exactly the same things as these farmers were saying in terms of what they wanted for policy changes and everything else — but the NFF hauled me across over there to their offices and said, ‘Look, we don’t want this to be a political rally, therefore we’d appreciate it if you don’t distribute your fliers.’ And yeah, I had quite an argument with them about that, I mean, what’s a rally in front of a parliament house if it’s not a political rally? So we did, we ignored it and we just, we went and distributed them anyway, but the NFF wasn’t too pleased about that.
But that’s one example, and look, Hawke in 1984 in the 1984 election, Andrew Peacock and Sinclair, they hauled back his majority quite significantly, they came within striking distance of government, which you know, was no mean feat I think; Hawke had been overwhelmingly elected in ’83. And then in ’87, had it not been for the Joh campaign I think Bob Hawke could very well have been in deep trouble electorally, but the Joh campaign gave him a golden opportunity, a golden handshake and he grabbed it, and of course pulled that election early — the early election in July. And after that I think the Hawke administration settled down a lot more successfully. And then of course they had their internal problems when Keating was trying to dump Hawke, and ultimately did, but you know, they’d been there a while, Paul Keating won the election in what, ’93 I think it was? That was the one where he said, you know, ‘This is the sweetest victory of all.’ And it was — I mean he shouldn’t have won that one but he did. And then of course ultimately, ’96 comes around and the time factor kicks in quite hard then.
B York: Can we move onto George Souris now? Because after you left the Federal Secretariat you worked for George Souris, is that right? The way the chronology…?
P Davey: Yeah well I left the Federal Secretariat to buy into the family newspaper in Mudgee, ’92, and then when we sold in ’94 I wrote to all the parliamentarians who were within the circulation area of the newspaper, just a letter to let them know that the newspaper had been sold and was changing hands. George Souris was the local member at the state level, and he was in government at the time, he was the deputy leader of the state parliamentary party and the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. He rang me up and he said, ‘Right,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a job for you; you can be my Chief of Staff,’ he said, ‘I’ve had the role here, I’ve never filled it.’ And this was, yeah ’94, and I said, ‘Oh thanks a lot George, so you’re offering me a job for a year?’ and he said, ‘What do you mean? What do you mean?’ and I said, ‘Well you don’t think you’re going to win the next election, do you?’ [laughs]. And George is very Greek and he waves his arms around and gets very excited and everything else, ‘You can’t say that! You can’t say that!’
But anyway, I’d known George because he had been the local member around the Mudgee district, and I liked him, and frankly I was — I had no plans to do anything else. Lindy, my wife, she wanted to move to Sydney, so this was a great opportunity to be able to do that, so that was the circumstance that took me into George Souris’s office. And true to fact of life of course, it was a job for 12 months because the state government lost office in ’95.
B York: And were there any particular challenges in that role?
P Davey: Oh yeah sure, it’s, you know, certainly land and water conservation is always a pretty hot topical issue, and George, George got [ICAC-ed 0:16:00.0]; not because of anything to do with his portfolio, but because he was Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Parliamentary Superannuation, and there was an issue where a Liberal member, former Minister, was up on charges of tax evasion. And he resigned from parliament, he was found guilty, and the issue was whether or not he should have received his superannuation, or the question was, did he resign before he was committed or did he resign after? I mean it was a very technical sort of issue, but the whole issue went before ICAC and George Souris, as Chairman of the committee of course, was pretty well under the gun, and he was most nervous about that. As it turned out there was no finding of any wrongdoing against George. That was something out of the blue, unconnected if you like, but I ended up having to write most of his brief of evidence for the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales, which was yeah, you know, quite a challenging thing to have to do.
The other thing that I was heavily involved in was with Ian Armstrong as the party leader, and they wanted a complete rewrite of the National Party’s policies, state policies. And we did this and produced a booklet of about 93 pages of policies under the banner of National’s Country First, that was the slogan. And they actually received pretty high acclaim from The Land newspaper as one of the most comprehensive set of policies that the party had put out in, you know, for many years. It still didn’t help; it didn’t win the election, the next election, but anyway.
B York: What’s the process for drafting a policy document like that?
P Davey: Well it’s a lot more, if you like, professional now I think, but in those days, as indeed when I was in the federal organisation with Ian Sinclair, it was very much an issue — a matter of sitting down with the leadership, Sinclair federally, Ian Armstrong and George Souris and a couple of senior staffers — and basically going through what might have been there, or saying, ‘Well look, there’s no policy on X or Y, we’d better do something, we’d better draft something.’ So you go through the resolutions of conferences and things like that that give you a bede on the directions that the Party organisation wants to go in. And by and large they’re in tune with what the Parliamentary Party wants to achieve, and you’d just draft them up, and I think I said the other day, they’re not detailed policies, or they were not detailed policies, they were simply a single page per portfolio area of interest with an introductory couple of pars on the top and then bullet points; bullet points being objectives that you want to achieve. Which sounds quite simple, and indeed it was fairly simple, but you know, it took a lot of doing.
B York: Anything else about the Souris time?
P Davey: No, no, no, I enjoyed working with George, and I still know him very well, and you know, we run into each other frequently.
B York: And then from working for George Souris, you moved on to work as Senior Advisor for John Anderson?
P Davey: Yeah, well after the election, the state election in ’95 — we lost the election of course so I had no job to do — so we went, as a family, we went overseas for six weeks or so for a holiday, and we went back through South Africa and through Europe and England, had fun, came back, and came back to Mudgee where my wife’s family was living, her mum and dad were there, so we went back there. Plus by this stage we’d bought a farm out there ourselves, so we had a, you know, we had a direct link there. But we turned up on a — we got back home on a weekend, and it just so happened, unbeknown to me, the New South Wales National Party’s Annual Conference was on at Wagga on that — not Wagga, Mudgee — on that weekend. And I’d known John Anderson, I’d known him for quite a few years, and I was just having a talk to him asking how it was all going, and he was talking away and he said, ‘Oh look,’ you know, he said, ‘my senior advisor,’ who was lady, was in hospital for a breast cancer operation, and he said, ‘If you’re interested, you know, I can give you a couple of months fill in work for her and you can,’ you know, ‘taking over from her for a couple of months,’ which I said, ‘Okay, fine,’ because I had nothing else to do.
Unfortunately, this lady subsequently died, and so I stayed with John up until the election in ’96, after which, you know, he became the Minister for Primary Industry, the Deputy Leader, the Minister for Primary Industry, and he asked me to stay on as his Chief of Staff. And I thought about it and I thought, ‘Oh look,’ you know, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I really don’t need to do it anymore.’ So I helped him just establish the staff in his office and then I pulled the pin on that. Having been affected with Chief of Staff, they used to call them Principal Private Secretaries in those days, but with Peter Nixon in Primary Industry, I, you know, you have the sort of memories of the stresses and strains of it, and then it’s pretty exacting sort of work. The hours are extremely long, particularly when parliament sits and things like that, or when a crisis comes up, and I just thought, ‘No, I’ve been there, I’ve done that; I don’t need that again.’ So we parted ways.
I went back to Sydney, and then I think at that point I got a job as the Government and Media Relations Manager for an organisation called Australian Business Limited, which was in its previous name — its previous name was The New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures, and they changed their name to Australian Business Limited to try and modernise it and all the rest of it. And that was — I mean effectively lobbying on behalf of New South Wales business and industry, the members of the organisation to both state and federal governments on policy issues. And that was quite interesting, quite fun, a bit different, and not vastly different; I didn’t find it difficult to do because of the previous experience I’d had I guess.
B York: Was this at the time that Howard was elected? Or was it still Keating in power?
P Davey: No, no, no, Howard was in government, Howard was in government; it was ’96, ’97 or thereabouts, yeah ’96,’97, so the Howard government had recently been elected, and the Chamber of Manufactures was associated with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry or Australian Business Limited, associated with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Canberra, so there was a fair amount of lobbying going on with the federal government, and I guess they probably gave me the job because they probably realised that I had pretty good connections amongst the ministers, you know, that mattered within the new Howard government.
B York: Yes, yes. Now talking of Paul Keating, did you have any dealings with Keating?
P Davey: Yeah, not directly in a political sense; I knew him, I know him, he — his wife was from Orange and she was friends with my wife’s sister’s family who still live in Orange, so there was a connection there, and they knew the Keatings a lot better than I did. So if I knew Paul Keating at all it was more on a social level rather than the political level.
B York: How well would you say you knew him socially?
P Davey: Oh look, not all that well, I mean he — we, you know, we’d occasionally go to a function which Paul Keating was at that more than likely was, you know, a party or something arranged by John and Dina Hayter — this is my wife’s sister’s family in Orange — but not really all that well.
B York: Okay. I ask because we’re always interested in those kinds of prime ministers; who are they as people, their characters, but…
P Davey: I used to think that Keating as a political operator actually, I always enjoyed Keating, you know, he was a head kicker, almost in the Nixon frame, and I mean, some of his, you know, his one liners if you like are legendary aren’t they, you know? I just enjoyed his style; I mean, a lot of people didn’t, they thought he was too rude and crude and nasty, but he just appealed to me, and I could see where he was coming from and what he was doing too, you know [laughs].
B York: And what about generally among the Nationals? How did they…?
P Davey: Sorry?
B York: Generally speaking among the National Party people, do you think — how do you think they regarded him?
P Davey: Possibly in a similar vein, I mean — but I think possibly they would have — if you want to use sort of terminology, Keating was probably more of an enemy than Hawke was, if you can understand what I mean. I mean, Hawke was an enemy, but then Hawke was a good bloke if you like; a lot of National Party people would have empathised a bit with Bob Hawke; not so many would have empathised with Keating at all. But overriding all of that of course is the fact that this is a Labor government, it doesn’t matter who’s running it, the primary objective is to kick it out.
B York: While we’re thinking about Keating’s, you know, deregulation and…
P Davey: Yeah well that was very unpopular, and indeed Hawke — well, Keating did it when Hawke was prime minister, I mean it was a Hawke/Keating thing — extremely unpopular, put a lot of pressure on the National Party because of course a lot of the grass roots membership were totally opposed to it all, whereas I think those if you like at the political level, probably across the issues of it a little bit more, realised that deregulation was almost something had to happen for the betterment of the long term interests of the rural industries, but there was a lot of pain on the way through, an enormous amount of pain, you know, with farmers going off the land and being forced off because of deregulation, partial deregulation of the dairy industry and all the rest of it. And of course the abolition of the wool floor price by the Labor government — that was in about ’92 — and that caused a lot of pain too.
B York: This fits in nicely with the next question which is about Pauline Hanson and her rise with One Nation. Now that was 1997 that she formed the party; how did you personally react to that and did you have any sense of how the National Party people were responding to Pauline Hanson?
P Davey: Well Pauline Hanson was pushing all the right buttons from the National Party Constituency point of view. I mean you know, the party membership — there would have been nothing that Pauline Hanson said almost on any issue that the grass roots members of the National Party would not have agreed with, by and large. So she was a major concern, absolutely major concern. And I mean you know, you had the — and again a lot of pain for the National Party after the Port Arthur massacre and the tightening up of gun laws, and again, you know, most of them the legal gun owners in Australia, probably people who would be National Party members, not necessarily most but a hell of a lot, you know, people on the land and things like that, most of them all had guns, most of them were licensed, but they had to, you know, that licensing regime was quite substantially toughened up. One of Hanson’s great lines of course was to, you know, almost an Americanism of, you know, people should have the right to bear arms, but she was very opposed to that.
So yes, she was going to be a major problem. Now John Howard of course, really latched on to her if you like, negative attitudes towards Asian immigration, and to some degree Aboriginal affairs, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission; she wanted to abolish that. And Howard sort of perceived that she was a danger to — potentially to Australia’s international reputation, so he was the one who drive this line that, ‘We’ve got to put a ‘last’ on the how to vote cards.’
Tim Fischer took it on — you know, he made a big call for himself there, it was a pretty dangerous or a bold move for Tim to make to say that the National Party will do the same — but his big problem there was again of course because the state parties are autonomous and all work under their own constitutions, and indeed the state parties endorsed the candidates, so if you had a candidate in Queensland for instance, who said, ‘No, I’m not going to put Pauline Hanson last, I’m going to give her my second preference,’ what could Tim Fischer do about it? And the answer was fundamentally nothing. But he used a lot of persuasion, he went exhaustively around the country, he almost became persona non grata in Queensland, they didn’t like Tim very much at all, particularly over gun laws and over his attitude to Pauline Hanson.
But he stuck to his guns, and I think at the end of the day in that the election — that would have been what, 1989 I think — there were only two National Party candidates Australia wide who did not put Pauline Hanson last on their how to votes. So I mean really, what Tim Fischer was doing was taking the fight up to the Hanson Party and saying, ‘Well okay, it’s gloves off, you’re going last on our how to votes, we’ll see what the people think, and one of us is going to get voted out of existence,’ basically. And it worked for him, it worked for him. We suffered a lot pain electorally, even in seats that we managed to hold; I think John Anderson for instance in Gwydir had a swing against him of something like 17 per cent or more; I mean there were huge swings against incumbent members but they all managed to hang on, and the two seats that I think we did lose were both — oh no, I’m thinking about a different period, no don’t worry about that — but yeah, no, by and large the party survived it, and of course the Hanson Party didn’t get any seats. So they got a big score of the primary vote but they’d stood a lot more candidates, but the National Party managed to survive that. But yeah, it was a huge problem.
B York: That was the 1999 election, was it?
P Davey: Yeah, yeah.
B York: And thereafter the One Nation fortunes declined didn’t they?
P Davey: Well they did, and they were still an issue in the next election, but nothing like to the same extent, nothing like to the same extent. And then of course, in subsequent years Pauline Hanson’s popped up from time to time in various areas, but she’s — look, she’s a very colourful person, calls a spade a spade and there’s no doubt she appeals to a lot of the electorate out there. I think if I have a, personally a criticism of Pauline Hanson was that she would touch the button as I say, you know, she’d touch the right button to get community interest up and running and get public debate going on two way radios and all the rest of it, but she never really came up with any policies, she didn’t come up with — she was good at identifying a problem, but she never really — she wasn’t very good at identifying an answer to it.
B York: Now from the Australian Business group, you again, got involved with the National Party in an organisational leadership role as General Secretary of the New South Wales branch, so can we talk about that now? Again, how did that happen and…?
P Davey: Yeah I’d sort of, in a way, sort of got to that point; I was sort of — the State Chairman or incoming State Chairman, a lady called Helen Dickie, who I’d known from the federal days because she’d been president of the Women’s Federal Council, so we knew each other and she rang me up and said, ‘Look, the state General Secretary’s leaving,’ — that was a guy called Liam Bathgate, who I also knew well who used to work for Ian Sinclair, I mean it’s a small family in many respects — but Liam was leaving, he’d been the General Secretary for quite a few years, and Helen Dickie rang me up and said, ‘Look,’ you know, ‘we want you to come back and take over the state party.’ I had to give that a fair bit of thought; I wasn’t too sure if I actually wanted to get back into direct involvement in politics. But anyway, I said yes, so I did go back there, and coincidentally, the Federal Organisation had done this renovation to the Federal Secretariat building of John McEwen House in Canberra — and they’d taken a pretty substantial loan to get the building done, about three million dollars I think — and the idea was that the secretariat would occupy a very small amount of the building and the rest of it would be rented. They found it very hard to get tenants in, partly because the new Howard/Fischer government, A, was cracking down on the public service, but also was getting quite openly antagonistic towards government departments renting space in political buildings, and their target was John Curtin House and, you know, the Labor Party and everything else, but they were doing enormous damage to us. And the situation financially for the National Party got quite critical at that stage, and they had to trim back the staff completely, make a number of staff redundant and as a result of that — I was — well I was the New South Wales General Secretary; I was also the Honorary Federal Director again for the three years that I was in New South Wales, and that was a pretty difficult time because, you know, I was running a New South Wales election in ’89 I think and a…
Interview with Paul Davey part 11
P Davey: A federal election in — sorry — not ’89, where are we now?
B York: Ninety-nine.
P Davey: Yeah ’99, and the federal election of around that time anyway — I know that I’m getting my years confused — now the state election might have been’98…
B York: Yeah the federal one was ’99.
P Davey: Federal one ’99 yeah, I know there was one very — you know, we had the state one and then we had the federal one and I was trying to run both and all the rest of it — those financial troubles at the secretariat in Canberra ultimately worked themselves out and it turned out be an extremely worthwhile redevelopment project and it’s all going well now and they’re all back on stream doing extremely well. But it was a difficult time, and yeah. So I was there until 2000, and at that point I really sort of felt that I — I’d sort of done enough at this level in politics, I felt it was time for a break. So I thought about it a bit and wondered what to do, and I thought ‘Well I’ll leave here and just set myself up as a private consultant and do a bit of lobbying,’ which I then went on to do for a few years, and you know, with reasonable success. I found the biggest thing with being a consultant if you like, a lobbyist, political lobbyist, the biggest thing is you’ve got to spend — to be really successful you’ve got to spend more time trying to find clients than you actually do working for them [laughs], and that’s where you’ve got to — that’s the grindstone there. But I did set myself up and it went quite well for a while, yeah.
B York: What were the issues that you were lobbying on? Can you tell me that?
P Davey: Oh, I did a bit of — I did some freelance work for the National Party on elections, you know, helping out on campaigns and things like that, but I got a couple of commercial clients. One was trying to do a — it was an education project he had on the go, the details of which I sort of forget now — but it never quite got off the ground but he kept me going for a while. A couple of other things; nothing major, I mean it wasn’t like sort of working for the Wheat Board of major corporations, they were more fairly small sort of organisations. I did occasional bits of work for Australian Business Limited too in a private capacity for them on their behalf quite a bit, yes. And then, well I was still doing that and in a way I still am, but 1993…
B York: 1993 or 2000?
P Davey: No, no, 2003, 2003, George Souris rang up and said, ‘Look, would you like to write a book on the history of the party in New South Wales?’ Because the New South Wales parliament had set aside a million dollars to have written and published a series of books to mark the Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government in New South Wales which was coming up in 2006, and George rang me and said, ‘Look,’ you know, ‘do you want to do the book?’ and I said, ‘No, no, no, I’m a journalist mate, I mean a story to me is three pars and that’s it.’ I’d never ever conceived that I could write a book, never. And I hung up and my wife said, ‘What was that?’ and I said, ‘Oh George Souris with some crazy idea about wanting me to write or something,’ and she just said, ‘Well get back on the phone and say yes you’d love to do it.’ [laughs] And of course she who must be obeyed, so I did, and that sort of got me — well that sort of activity has occupied me from that point up to this point really, one way and the other. It was an exciting thing, it was a totally different course for me to take; it was challenging because as I say, I never thought I could write a book, and I enjoyed the work; it was very slow work, it goes on and on and on, you know, you delve into a hole here and you find it — it’s like a rabbit warren, it’s got some other pieces flying off here and there — and it really keeps you going. But our dining room at home, it was just piled up with boxes and boxes of papers and bits and pieces and everything else, and you know, couldn’t get to the fireplace, couldn’t get to the dining room table, and that situation went on for years; it’s only literally in the last six months that I cleared all that stuff out of there and we can actually go and have a meal in the dining room again.
B York: And that’s in Sydney is it?
P Davey: In Sydney, yeah, yeah, yeah [laughs].
B York: And you’ve written three important books haven’t you, on the Nationals…?
P Davey: Well that’s kind of you; three books [laughs]. Yeah, the first one was that state one on the history of the State Party. There was a fair amount of federal history involved in that too because they interweave, but because of doing that, obviously I went up and interviewed Doug Anthony among many other people, and in the course of doing that on one occasion, Doug said he thought he’d rather like to have a book done on his family’s history in politics because the Anthony family is still the only family that’s had three successive generations in the House of Representatives, all for the same seat and all becoming ministers; his father was a minister, then there was Doug and then there was his son Larry. And I thought, ‘Yeah,’ you know, ‘that’s quite an interesting story,’ so I did that one. And then as a result of that dear old Doug again very kindly — kind old Doug — said, ‘Well look,’ you know, ‘we’ve got the 90th anniversary of the Federal Party coming up in 2010; why don’t we get you to write a book, update the federal history of the party?’ So I did that, yeah. And they were all worthwhile projects, I’m very pleased that I’ve done them; not because it’s me that’s done them, I’m pleased they’re there because I sort of discovered fairly quickly that there’s an enormous amount of material — published material, and very good published material — on the Labor Party, there’s a considerable amount on the Liberal Party, and up to that point there was not a hell of a lot on the National Party or the Country Party, and I thought that’s a bit unfortunate because, small though it may be in numerical terms in the parliamentary sense, it has for 90 years been an extremely important party to the economic and social development of the country, and I think it deserves — or I thought at the time — it deserved more recognition in a publicly documented sense than it had thus to that point received.
B York: While writing the book did you feel constrained in any way by politics and party considerations?
P Davey: Not at all, not at all, in fact quite the opposite; the party, parliamentary, state and federal parliamentary levels and organisational levels were all well aware of what I was doing, they were more than happy about what I was doing, they were more than willing to help in any way, they gave me unfettered access to party records and all sorts of things, as did Doug when I was doing his story, I mean all his personal letters you know, it’s an interesting thought; I would never, ever have conceived of the idea getting off that migrant boat in Pyrmont in Sydney in 1966 as a ten quid pom, that at some stage further down the line I would be reading very personal letters and writing a very personal account of a story of a man who was the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, it was an enormous leap [laughs]. But no, I didn’t feel constrained in any way at all, quite the opposite and so they were — everybody was really helpful you know, I mean I could ring up any of the current members; John Anderson for instance, you know, Mark Vaile, Tim Fischer, they all gave me time, they all sat down, I didn’t feel inhibited about what I could ask them, they never turned around to me and said, ‘Oh look,’ you know, ‘maybe you shouldn’t mention that.’ So I think — and I’d made the point right from the word go on all of these exercises — that what I wanted to do was to come up with a genuinely objective and credible manuscript; I didn’t want something where you get a book critic turn around and say, ‘Well this has just been written by some sycophant.’
I think the fact that I’ve worked for so long in the party was an enormous help to me because I understood the structures of the party, and also I had a fair beat on some of the more monumental landmark issues if you like that obviously would have to be addressed and written about, you know, like Ian Sinclair’s demise as leader for instance, and the Joh for Canberra campaign, Pauline Hanson and many other things going further back. I mean Nixon and the meat scandal, I mean I knew all about that, and these were pretty core issues so I think that background knowledge helped me enormously, but yeah.
B York: How was the book — the most recent one on for the 90th anniversary — how was that received? How was it reviewed?
P Davey: Reviewed extremely positively actually; there was a review quite recently which is surprising because the book was published in June of last year, 2010, and there was a review in The Australian’s Weekend Review section by Ross Fitzgerald which was actually a half page review. He referred to it at some stages as being ‘as dry as a drought’ [laughs] which you know, well it’s probably quite right; when you’re doing a book like that there are going to be issues which are sort of heavy if you like, and yeah, dry as a drought. But he did end up by saying that it was a well researched book which was an important addition to the political history of the country and a thoroughly worthwhile read. So yeah, all of them have — you know, where they were reviewed — received quite positive reviews, so yeah, I’m quite happy with the way they went.
B York: When Julian McGauran went over to the Liberals, you know, in 2006, you said there was no longer any real distinction between the Liberals and the Nationals in policy and in philosophy; would you like to comment on that?
P Davey: Bullshit [laughs], in a word. Yeah Julian — it upset his brother Peter too — Peter and Julian — Peter had told me subsequently I think probably when I was writing this federal book — but Peter McGauran told me that he had tried to persuade Julian not to do this for quite a long time, but Julian was adamant, and Peter had said to him, ‘Mate if you do this, you know, you’re going to be regarded as a rat, you’re going to be ostracised in parliament by your former colleagues and it’s going to be a very uncomfortable time for you.’ And I suspect it probably was. Julian didn’t do it lightly but I think he was totally wrong, I mean there is a huge difference between the Liberal Party and the National Party in many ways, some of it sort of broad philosophy. To say that there’s no difference between the Liberal and the National Party in rural policy — I think he specified, and he specified in Victoria — is just an oversimplification. I mean the National Party is made up almost exclusively of people who live out in the regional and country areas, whereas the Liberal Party is dominated by people who live in the cities. There is a different philosophy between country and city people in this country, I’m absolutely convinced of that, and certainly the Liberal Party has tried to encroach on National Party territory, there’s no doubt about that, and to some degree they’ve been successful; look for instance at when Tim Fischer retired and his seat of Farrer went to the Liberal Party; well that was our fault, it should never have happened, I mean the National Party should never lose seats like that. But conversely, the Liberal Party quite frankly shouldn’t be getting into those sorts of electorates when they are, demonstrably in some areas, particularly in capital cities, failing to win seats that they ought to win in metropolitan areas. And that’s where you get some tension between the Libs and the Nats, you know, the Nats see the Liberals encroaching on those sorts of bigger regional areas and yet not putting in as much weight as they ought to in Western Sydney for instance, or areas like that.
There will always be a philosophical difference between the two parties which is why I — personally I’m a totally against amalgamation — I believe that there is still a very fundamental, a very useful role for an independent, conservative party i.e. the National Party, exclusively representing regional Australia and being able to work in a coalition situation and therefore be part of a government with the Liberal Party. I think it will be very interesting to see how the amalgamation in Queensland pans out over the years, whether it holds up or not. There was an amalgamation of the two parties in Queensland between about 1929 and 1936; well they came together and formed the Country and Progressive National Party, the CP and P, and they were actually in government for a term, for three years in the 30s. But the interesting thing is that it fell apart, the Country Party reformed itself in Queensland, and the reason was that the country-type members felt that they were just being dictated to by Brisbane, and they didn’t like that, they wanted a party that was far more representative of the country interests, the interests of people of country Queensland. So whether the LNP ends up going that way or not, and I mean, time will tell, it’s an interesting experiment and at the moment you know, what is it, three years old? You’d still say it was basically in its infancy.
But no Julian McGauran — well I just think Julian made a mistake and he’s now paid for it because he’s lost his seat — and interestingly, as of July of this year, of 2011, Julian’s out of the Senate, and who comes in? Bridgett Someone, delightful lady, but what is she? National Party Senator for Victoria. So Julian’s action denied the Victorian National Party of a Senate seat for two, three, four years or whatever, however long it is, but it’s now got that seat back.
B York: Do you think the Nationals have a bright future?
P Davey: Well I think the future — the future of the National Party is very much in its own hands. If the party wants to continue, is determined to continue in its own right, then yes it can have a bright future. And as of the moment I would say it does have a bright future; it’s got its sort of identity back on track if you like; it lost it in recent years, you had these dreadful convoluted sort of phrases about, ‘Oh we’re the party for regional and rural Australia’ and then the coastal members would say, ‘Well you can’t say that because,’ you know, ‘you’re ignoring the coasts,’ so, ‘Oh, well we’re the party for regional coastal and rural Australia,’ ‘We’re the party…’ Well I mentioned before we did have a slogan that said, ‘Country First’ that got up the noses of the coastal people because they said, ‘No, we’re not in the country.’ And then we had people also when we were saying ‘country’, we had people in places like Tamworth saying, ‘Well wait a minute, we don’t regard ourselves as country people, we’re regional people.’ And they struggled with this for quite a few years, but now they’ve finally decided — everyone agrees — that the simple way to say it is: ‘the Nationals for regional Australia’. And even the guys on the coast and the guys in the bush and out in the remote areas, they’ve accepted the fact that okay, yeah, simplicity’s the better way to go. It’s made an enormous difference; the last federal election its performance was pretty good. The last election in New South Wales its performance was startling; I think we got five or six — five new members — into the assembly and two additional ones into the council. So New South Wales is looking extremely strong and again, New South Wales is the key in a way to any future sort of amalgamation-type move, for instance, had, at that election, the New South Wales Nationals not performed as well as they did the pressure from the Queenslanders to amalgamating New South Wales would have been far — you know, it would been enormous, it would have racked up enormously — and it might have been very hard to resist.
The NSW party’s always really been a pretty solidly anti-amalgamation party, but in that sort of trough period where its numbers — its numbers never went to critical levels in NSW but in the federal house where the numbers were getting down to I mean — at the moment I think we’ve got what, 11 members — prior to the last election I think we had nine — you know, that’s getting down to critical levels, this is in the House of Reps. When you get that sort of scenario that’s when the amalgamation debate comes back up again and you get, you know, more people. John Anderson did a review into the Federal Party in which he basically said, ‘Look,’ you know, ‘your options are stay as you are and you’ll end up going out of business, become a regional party and concentrate purely in regional areas in which case you’ll never the chance to grow, try and take on the Liberals, which A, will be costly and B, will be, you know, cause extremely bad relations between the parties, or you can amalgamate. And he leant very strongly towards the amalgamation line, A, because of the difficulty for a smaller party like the Nationals to gain much of the corporate dollar, you know, the corporate support of the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, or the Labor Party and what they thought was the Coalition, but he money went to the Liberal Party, the National Party has always been a very sad and bad third cousin when it comes to raising corporate dollars.
But also, from John’s point of view the fact that you would have a stronger block in an amalgamated federal organisation, a stronger block of rural and regional members who could have an impact in the party room, effectively working as a, if you like, a rural, regional block of members within the party, the single amalgamated party, and the fact that the, you know, one day you could have a prime minister who came from regional Australia. And I remember saying to John, ‘Well, yeah, pigs might fly,’ because the city dominants of an amalgamated party, the city dominants are still very much there, the chances of getting a prime minister from regional Australia are pretty remote and I think you’re far better off, far better off having the position of Deputy Prime Minister for an independent national party, that’s a very powerful position to have, which otherwise you know, I don’t think you’d even get that, in fact you might be very lucky to have any so-called former National Party members in an amalgamated ministry at all. So you know, John and I agree to disagree on that [laughs].
B York: There’s a couple of final questions Paul that we like to put to most of the interviewees in this program; in what ways if any, has politics in Australia changed over the years? Would you say that Australia’s become more democratic or less?
P Davey: That’s an interesting question. Politics has changed dramatically but only really because of the change in technology and in communications. And politics when all’s said and done, the activity of politics takes part if you like, in the parliamentary sense you know, in a parliament. It’s the dissemination of the decisions that are made that sort of gets it out and about into the country, and the way that has changed has revolutionised politics; you know, you’ve got people twittering, you’ve got people on the internet, you use internet and Twitter for election campaigning and all of this sort of stuff. Gone is the day or are the days when a rural member of parliament would come down to Canberra, could go back to his electorate and give a little bit of a report to the local newspaper or perhaps the local radio station about what has happened in parliament in the last month or something, and you know, it sort of just gets run in an unquestioned manner. And up until the time when that guy comes back to the electorate nobody knows what’s been happening in Canberra at all; I mean those days are just absolutely, absolute history now, I mean everything is instant. So it’s a 24 hours a day 7 days a week industry, that’s what it is.
But the second part of your question, has Australia become more or less democratic? It think it’s — well, first and foremost I think the observation is that fortunately it is still a robustly democratic country, and that is vital in my view. And when you look around the world there aren’t that many genuinely robust democracies left, you know, I mean so-called democracies, and a lot of them are such, you know, they’re almost puppet democracies, they’re you know, a tealeaf away from actually being some sort of benign dictatorship with a parliament as a bit of an excuse if you like to make it look as though it’s democratic when really it isn’t. But democracy in this country I think is very much alive and well. I think we’re probably more democratic now than we were, and I don’t know, from my perspective in some areas whether that’s good; I think we’re more democratic in that we are — we allow — greater freedom to descent I think. Now certainly I mean we had, you know, you had massive moratoriums against the Vietnam War and things like that, but it’s a lot easier these days for people to get up on any little issue and whip up a bit of a demonstration down the main street, Macquarie Street in Sydney or something, and you know, get out there and campaign for social issues in particular. I’m not saying they shouldn’t happen at all but I just think that in some respects maybe we allow people to exercise their democratic to right to demonstrate, possibly a little bit more freely than perhaps is necessary, let me put it that way without being specific on things. But that I think is an example of where we have become more democratic. You know, in the 1960s if you wanted to get out and demonstrate on something, unless it was huge numbers and a very genuine issue, a la Vietnam moratoriums or something, but if you wanted to get out there and just pull on some fairly mediocre disruption of traffic over something, well the cops would come in and lay into you. I think possibly in some respects it’s gone a little bit overboard the other way. But having said that I mean, the absolute key to a successful democracy is the ability for a country to go to the polls on a Saturday and find that as a result of that there is a change of government and everybody goes back to work on Monday totally accepting that outcome. And I think for a society to be able to do that, not only does it display, you know, a maturity of the people per se and a maturity of the country and of its institutions, but it displays a continuation if you like of the absolute bedrock upon which the society of the country is built.
B York: Good, thank you for that, and I’d like to invite you now if you want to, a closing word for the interview…
P Davey: Closing words; I don’t know Barry, I’ll simply close I think by saying that I have been an extremely fortunate person, I mean the — predominantly by accident, or as I said I think right in one of our earlier interviews, I never really planned anything, everything that’s happened to me has happened by way of good fortune, taking advantage of opportunity and a very large degree of luck, but I mean certainly, my decision to come out to Australia in the mid 60s was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I made a lot of bad decisions between then and now all the way down the track and I’m sure we all have, but where I sit now in 2011 I’m an extremely happy person and I’m an extremely satisfied Australian citizen.
B York: Thank you very much Paul.
[End of transcript]
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
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