WANDERING AND RESEARCHING ASIA AND THE PACIFIC...
I'm fascinated by the history of the Asia-Pacific region and how it relates to Australia, and it becomes even more interesting when you can wander the huge region with an old friend, who knows so many countries throughout Asia. Willie Phua, the subject of my latest book Capturing Asia, has often travelled with me in Asia.
Although I had been to Japan earlier, I guess my real interest in the Asia Pacific region began in 1970 when I was posted by the ABC from the Sydney newsroom to Port Moresby during the lead up to self government (well before independence) in Papua New Guinea. In one memorable trip I drove from Goroka to Mount Hagen over the highlands highway often peering down at the trucks that had slid off the narrow pass scores if not hundreds of metres below.
PNG was a truly amazing experience. I toured the country, including some of the most remote parts, with a special United Nations mission examining independence for the country. In Goroka, thousands of tribesmen and women in warpaint and traditional clobber met our aircraft. Later in Rabaul I covered the trial of 14 Tolais who murdered the East Britain district commissioner, Jack Emanuel. He was a great bloke.
I remember some Tolai friends taking me to his grand house on the hill, uninivited, to a formal government garden party. He left his guests and made us welcome, grilling the Tolai journalists about local politics and enjoying a joke with them. He was later - as a symbol of the white Australian rulers - knifed to death by Tolai extremists protestinjg about the takeover of local land for a power station. I covered the trial of the 14 Tolais charged with Jack Emanuel's murder. Most were found guilty but the penalties were light, given the circumstances.
I walked part of the Kokoda track in 1972 and returned in 1977 with an ABC team and walked the whole trail, as well as walking between Popondetta and then Gona and Buna, along the coast, where the Japanese landed for the Owen Stanleys campaign and where they fought a fierce last-ditch battle prior to their defeat.
In 1981 I was posted to Singapore, which was the ABC's head office in Asia. From Singapore I became a relief correspondent to the correspondents in New Delhi, Bangkok and Tokyo. ButI most frequently covered the Philippines, including the mass murder charges laid against Australian Father Brian Gore and eight others on Negros Island and the gradual downfall of Ferdinand Marcos. In 1985 ABC Books published my book Justice in the Philippines on the Gore case.
In 1983 I was at Manila International Airport with cameraman Sebastian Phua when the Opposition leader Benigno Aquino was assassinated when stepping off a plane after returning from the US. A month later with Willie Phua was swept up in the protests and rioting in Manila that began at the start of the People's Power revolution that later brought Ninoy Aquino's widow Cory to power as president.
(Sebastian, Willie and I are pictured below, left, in Manila, and I'm pictured with ABC friends on the Kokoda trail in 1977, right.)
In 1984 with Willie Phua and Phua Tin Loon we covered the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. We became embroiled in the coverage of the genocide of the Sikhs in New Delhi, when the military and police stood by as hundreds of Sikhs were burnt and killed in the streets and in their homes. We witnessed appalling rioting and killings.
In 1984 and 1985 I managed the ABC's Asian offices from Singapore before returning to Australia as the ABC's radio news editor in Queensland. I returned again to manage the ABC's Asian offices in 1988. But I eventually became the ABC's Manager for Queensland, which entailed new radio and TV production. I left the ABC in 1999 to write full time and have produced three non-fiction books on Asia since. One of the first things I did after leaving the ABC was to return with an old ABC friend, Vince Madden, to Rabaul, where we had worked. But Rabaul was then mostly a ruin, with ash from the Tavurvur volcano three metres deep in places and then still falling.
Research and writing now is a full-time occupation. I returned to PNG many times after 1972 and in the 1990s trained journalists with the National Broadcasting Commission.
I have a special interest in Japan's intentions towards Australia in 1941-1942 and have made quite a number of research trips to Japan and other countries in Asia in the last 10 years and I take every opportunity to try and capture Japan's beauty in photographs, as below. (See the Asia/Pacific Travel Gallery on this site.)
In terms of the war years, my research shows that the Japanese threat to Australia in early 1942 was both genuine and imminent. I am happily at odds here with a few revisionist historians who downplay, if not dismiss, the severity of the Japanese wartime threat to Australia. One of the most memorable trips to Japan was for the book 1942 Australia's greatest peril when I travelled the Seto Inland Sea with Willie Phua and travelled to the remote island of Hashirajima, where the Imperial Japanese fleet would anchor prior to their wartime missions.
In Japan I keep returning to a beautiful coastal fishing town of Manazuru in the bay of Sagami, well south of Yokohama, where ambassador Tatsuo Kawai, the subject of my 2006 book Saving Australia, had a retreat house overlooking the Izu peninsula. In that beautiful little house, above, I found some 42 photograph albums which
proved to be a pictorial history of the life of the former wartime ambassador to Australia.
I live on Queensland's wonderful Sunshine Coast and am on the beach almost every day. My favourite dish in Singapore is chicken rice, with lots of chilli and ginger, and also fishhead curry, but alas, the best fishhead curry house, Our Makan, haunt of foreign correspondents, is now closed. But there are plenty of other good eating places in Singapore, including Samy's banana leaf restaurant atDempsey Road in what was the old British barracks.
Research and writing now is a full-time occupation and I'm working on two new books.