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Hong Kong Deadline

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A prior engagement for Hong Kong’s last governor


Hong Kong 1993: Jack Spackman on his return for the 25th anniversary of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. It was a chance to pick up on his old habit of Governor Watching.

When the Royal Navy lowered its flag for the last time on Hong Kong island in 1993, commander-in-chief Governor Chris Patten was elsewhere.

In a carefully calculated political move, he was dining with the men and women of the press, at the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s 25th anniversary ball.

Sitting next to him was my father Jack Spackman, a Governor Watcher since 1967. Continue reading

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My Extraordinary Aunt: The Adventure continues…


A couple of years’ back Your Girl Reporter was at a family reunion – we hold them often, but not often enough. We’re a good bunch, by and large, and I missed them growing up. I feel like I am a missing piece of the puzzle, slotting comfortably into place, whenever I attend.

The occasion was my uncle Mick Fogarty’s 80th birthday. Mick is my grandmother’s youngest brother and we gathered to celebrate, on a dry and dusty afternoon, somewhere in New South Wales.

Mick’s daughter Suzanne had done her work well and we were surrounded by displays of pictures, telling the stories of each of the many branches of the Fogarty family tree, of which the Spackmans are but a twig, as any Fogarty will tell you.

I was looking at a picture of my dad and his cousins, sitting around a table made of packing cases in the backyard of their place in Grenfell. I didn’t notice the small, older woman at my shoulder until she spoke. “That was my birthday,” she said. “We had raspberry cordial.” And with that she walked away. “Who was that?” I asked my cousin. “That’s Joan Byrne.”

The last time I had seen my extraordinary aunt was in 1969 at Hong Kong’s Ocean Terminal. She sailed for Japan that day in the Russian ship Baikal on the next stage of her long journey to London. Continue reading

Battle for a mixed Grill at the Hongkong Hilton 1973


A postcard from Hong Kong commemorating that time when women were kept on a pedestal and honoured by the gentlemen of The Grill. It was the 70s and the style at the time.

Australian journalist Richard Hughes was a lunchtime fixture at the Hongkong Hilton’s Grill bar right up until his last days in 1985.

In the 1970s it was men only at The Grill for those famously long lunches of the era and that’s the way Hughes liked it.

When a couple of Girl Reporters from the China Mail stormed the barricades, he rang their boss and demanded their sacking. The boss was Norman Barrymaine, another heavyweight in China Watching circles. Continue reading

Dad’s childhood spent clinging to the sheep’s back


My father Jack Spackman grew up in abject poverty, a widow’s son, in the tiny town of Grenfell, way out past the Blue Mountains in rural New South Wales, Australia. He was the second of four boys born to Charles Spackman – known to all as Jim – and Doris Fogarty.

Jim died in 1937, just months after the birth of their youngest son Bob. The eldest, Alf, was four years old. Doris and her sons survived through the kindness of relatives but the extent of the debt was mostly hidden from the family history Jack told, coming up in oblique ways that were never truly explained or understood by your young Girl Reporter.

For example, Jack loathed lamb – couldn’t stomach the smell of it cooking and wouldn’t have it in the house. To this day, it’s a meat I associate with restaurants and other people’s tables, not my own. Continue reading

Absent from duty for the 1997 Hong Kong handover



My father Jack Spackman said, when we arrived in Hong Kong in February 1967, his questions about what would happen in 20 years’ time when Britain’s lease on the New Territories expired were routinely brushed aside.

“With few exceptions, no-one wanted to talk about it,” he said. “Whether it was government officials, business people with Chinese interests, journalists – the common response was that it wasn’t something to worry about.”

Dad said exceptions included David Bonavia, Hong Kong-based stringer for The Times of London, and Dick Hughes, whose 1968 book Borrowed Place Borrowed Time was an early attempt to provide some answers. Continue reading

In to the deep midwinter with a backyard banana or two


Dad always said those freezing Grenfell winters convinced him early on that the best place to live was within sight of a banana tree. So it was pretty special to finally put in two banana plants – they’re not really trees – in sight of the back deck.

After two years as the overwhelmed owner of a traditional Aussie backyard here in Ipswich – west but not too far west of Brisbane in the south east corner of sunny Queensland – the results of my modest plantings to date have boosted the confidence of Your Gardening Girl Reporter and given me ideas…

Continue reading

My Extraordinary Aunt: College days in 1960s Hong Kong


When the school year started in September 1967 my honorary aunt Joan ‘The Bone’ Byrne took up her post at Hong Kong’s Wellington College in Caine Road and I began my undistinguished academic career at Kennedy Road Junior School.

It was a steep learning curve for us both.

Wellington College was a private English language school for middle class Chinese. The college was owned by a millionaire who spoke no English and owned four such establishments, according to Joan who was engaged to teach English and ‘oral,’ which I don’t believe had the same connotations in 1960s Hong Kong as it does today.

Salary was by negotiation and there was no sick pay. In fact, not only was there no sick pay, teachers who had to take a day off were required to find and pay for their own replacement. Continue reading

Hong Kong 1967: Snapshots of my grandmother


Macau 1967 Perfectly composed amidst the chaos: My grandmother Doris Estelle Spackman, taken either just before or just after a Communist demonstration. Picture by Jack Spackman

Those first months in Hong Kong for your Young Girl Reporter are a series of snapshots which must be connected by the memories of others. Hong Kong in 1967 was a very different place to the city I left 20 years later. My memories are small but so was I. And it was a small place, on the verge of becoming something bigger.

Traces of an older society were still visible. One day my grandmother and I were walking on Macdonnell Road when we saw an old woman hobbling on bound feet. We were amazed that she could walk at all. Continue reading

Hong Kong 1967: So you say you want a revolution


Like a burst of spring thunder China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution arrived in Hong Kong in May 1967. The catalyst was a strike at a factory which made plastic flowers – one of the colony’s biggest exports at the time.

Labour disputes were not uncommon in Hong Kong, nor were violent clashes between workers and police. This time, however, there was a political element. The Little Red Book of Mao’s Thought was everywhere, along with loud and violent calls to overthrow “British fascism, imperialism and tyranny.”

Bloody clashes between demonstrators and police outside Government House on 22 May led to 167 arrests and prompted David Bonavia, The Times of London’s Hong Kong stringer, to observe that the worlds of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) and Somerset Maugham had come face to face – and both had retired baffled. Continue reading

My Extraordinary Aunt: In the shadow of Lion Rock


There’s a mountain in Kowloon called the Lion Rock which has come to embody the spirit of Hong Kong. It’s a spirit that had yet to rise in February 1967, when my family disembarked from the SS Chusan at Ocean Terminal and settled into a small room at the YMCA in Tsim Sha Tsui. But its first stirrings were only a few months away.

Education was not compulsory in Hong Kong in 1967 and children from poor families either went without or crammed their learning in between working and caring for their siblings.

It was perfectly legal for women and children to work a maximum of 60 hours each week with permitted overtime of 100 hours per year. Prosecutions of firms violating this maximum were not uncommon but there was a simple way round it: Take home piece work! Fun for all the family! Continue reading

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