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The China Mail

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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

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After the siege: China Mail job hunt tough for some


My father Jack Spackman was never terribly good at looking after his finances and his role as militant unionist Red Jack in the China Mail industrial dispute was never going to contribute to an improvement in the baseline requirements of a steady income.

In my teens I hit a brief insomniac phase and often ended up in the wee hours drinking endless cups of lemon tea with my fellow insomniac father, whose delight at having some company overrode his responsibilities of ensuring I was in good shape for school.

It was on one of those nights he told me that he and the other seven contracted staff had nothing to gain from the China Mail dispute. “In fact, we had everything to lose. Who was going to employ us after this – especially me,” he said. Continue reading

After the siege – a fair go for Hong Kong’s China Mail


On Saturday 17 August 1974 a newspaper died but she did not go quietly. The China Mail was in her 130th year and was Hong Kong’s oldest English-language newspaper. A hastily-organised protest led by my father on her final day turned the China Mail Affair into a defining moment for the Hong Kong Journalists Association, for workers’ rights and for my family.

The Siege of Tong Chong Street, as the workers’ sit-in was dubbed, was just the beginning of a hard negotiation for a decent settlement for the China Mail staff, who also needed to find jobs – and fast.

Fortunately, there was a trades union for that. The Hong Kong Journalists Association had been founded in 1968 by my parents Jack and Margaret Spackman shortly after we arrived in Hong Kong.

And perhaps even more fortuitously, just months earlier, the HKJA had moved into its first permanent home, the Hong Kong Press Club, a pet project of my mother’s.

But most fortunately of all, as enough of them have told me over the years, the China Mail staff had a great leader. Spackman was the right Aussie battler in the right place and time. He had laid the groundwork. It was time to take the field. Continue reading

After the siege – the China Mail battle for hearts and minds


The first thing the China Mail’s journalists did after deciding to stage their sit-in over the closure of the newspaper was to get the news out. The job fell to Linda Siddall and Debra Jopson who rushed to contact outside media before joining their colleagues in the South China Morning Post’s production room.

It was the first move on the public relations battlefront, which my father and his fellow journalists were determined to win and where they held an immediate and obvious advantage. But they had no way of knowing whether the first shots had landed effectively as they sweltered in that glass and police lined room on that hot afternoon in August 1974. 
Continue reading

Death of a newspaper, birth of a movement


On Saturday 17 August 1974 a newspaper died but she did not go quietly. The China Mail was in her 130th year and was Hong Kong’s oldest English-language newspaper. The Mail was not a great newspaper but she was a very good one and had been making some big waves in Hong Kong before her untimely death. Most notably in 1973 the newspaper had been at the forefront of investigations into police graft which led ultimately to the formation of the ICAC.  Continue reading

In a corrupt town the dirty cop is king – remembering Peter Godber


It’s 1973 at the start of another long, hot summer in Hong Kong and already it stinks. The jokes about Hong Kong and its Fragrant Harbour have long been stale but visitors still crack them. When you step off a plane at Kai Tak the first thing you notice, especially at this hot and humid time of year, is the stench of the nullah, or stormwater channel, which oozes alongside the runway. Continue reading

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From the vault