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
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
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
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
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
Journalists’ dollars alone had been unable to keep the Blue Sky Bar afloat after the end of the Vietnam War (Suzie doesn’t live here anymore – the night Old Wanchai died) and so the opening of the Hong Kong Press Club was a huge risk.
But my mother in particular recognised that the vast majority of Girl and Boy Reporters were local people who did not necessarily want to socialise in a girlie bar.
If the Press Club was to survive it could not afford to be another cheap Wanchai drinking hole. It had to win the support of local Chinese journalists as well as – perhaps in spite of – the hard core of the international press corps who stayed on after the war. Continue reading
Bargirls and journalists have a lot in common. They are basically lazy, but work very hard for short periods of time – Arthur Hacker.
The numbers of foreign journalists in Hong Kong ebbed and flowed to the tides of the war in Vietnam so it’s fitting, and not entirely uncoincidental, that the Hong Kong Press Club was opened in Wanchai in December 1973, just months after the rock n roll war finally ended.
Its arrival sits right in the middle, between the end of old Wanchai, made famous as The World of Suzie Wong, and the new one, with its smart office blocks and trendy bars.
During the war of course Hong Kong was awash with young Boy and Girl Reporters who came from all corners of the world hoping to make their names as war correspondents. Many stayed and took jobs on local newspapers and magazines, both during and after the war. Continue reading
I don’t know much about golf, but when Australian Adam Scott won the US Masters in 2013, I did know that he would bear the heavy cultural burden of choosing the menu for the following year’s Masters Champions Dinner.
Way back in 1997, Fuzzy Zoeller earned his own special place in the annals of golfing history by suggesting that then first-time Masters champion Tiger Woods would be putting fried chicken and collard greens on the menu.
I had to get my dad Jack Spackman to explain that one. I was familiar with fried chicken but I’d never heard of collard greens. Jack was living in California by then, so was more up to speed on matters of American culture. As in most things for that nation, it turned on the issue of race. Continue reading
There was even more colour and movement than usual at Hong Kong’s premier dragon boat races when the 1974 craze for running through a public place naked reached the shores of Stanley. They called it the Streak. Your Girl Reporter was on the scene. “Don’t look, Sally!” But it was too late. I’d already been mooned. Continue reading
On 16 January 1973 Australian Francis James emerged from three years’ imprisonment in Canton (now Guangzhou) with just a brief announcement from China to herald his expulsion to the border and into the waiting arms of Hong Kong and Australian officials.
He collapsed at the Hong Kong border into the arms of John Slimming, Government Information Services director, and an Australian consulate official and was taken straight to the Matilda Hospital, a fair wreck of a man, according to my father the Big Baxter.
Australian newspaper The Age, which had secured a contract for the James story, dispatched top gun Creighton Burns to Hong Kong and had just one instruction for Bax, their local stringer – get a photographer. Continue reading