This category contains 35 posts

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


Risks and rewards of Hong Kong’s Press Club

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

Lord Jones is Dead – a loving kick in the guts for newspapers everywhere

There’s a touch of the eulogy about Lord Jones is Dead, a new film based on the play by Australian journalist Matthew Clayfield.

The film is a loving tribute to the ailing newspaper trade and it’s packed with clever references that will be instantly recognised by any Boy and Girl Reporter who takes a passing interest in the history and traditions of their business.

And it’s also a biting, sniping satire of everything that’s trivial and wrong with mainstream media – a glorious kick in the guts for an industry that’s never been more down on its luck. That’s journalism for you.  Continue reading

And then he Walkley’d away with my heart

THAT dressWhen the current Mr Baxter was nominated for a Walkley there was only one thing on Your Girl Reporter’s mind: A pesky kilo which would need to be banished if I was ever going to fit into the perfect frock for the occasion, a frock that just happened to be hanging accusingly in my wardrobe. 

I’d joked with the saleswoman – at a market stall in Byron Bay – that she might see it at the Walkleys one day. “You never know,” I said.

And then I took it home and left it hanging at the non-business end of the Baxter Collection, just waiting for that perfect occasion which turned up, as it happened, in August.  Continue reading

Michael Ware walks a fine line on the frontline

Only the DeadAt some point in his service as a war correspondent in Iraq Michael Ware crossed a line. In his documentary Only the Dead, which screened at the Palace Centro in Brisbane on Monday 26 October 2015, he goes looking for it.

Ware was working for Time magazine when he arrived in Iraq just before the 2003 invasion where this story begins. He was there for seven years, reporting for CNN from 2006. Through the personal footage he shot on a handycam, we get to go along for the ride. It’s a bumpy, brutal journey and a rare personal insight into the daily grind of being a war correspondent.  Continue reading

Should we see dead people?

image not shownThe image of the body of a little boy washed up on a Turkish beach was widely credited for the change of heart which briefly swept even Australia into a more compassionate response to the wave of refugees fleeing the horror of the Middle East. But should it have been shown at all?  Continue reading

Doing the rounds in ever decreasing circles

A reporter’s rounds are as much about people as they are about the overnight crime stats and the latest council decisions. If you want to know what’s going on you have to be there. You have to be familiar with the mundane before you can recognise the extraordinary. And sometimes it’s only by knowing the people who are providing the information that you can get behind the dry report to what’s really going on. They’re called contacts for a reason. And staying in contact is probably the hardest part of the ‘local’ reporter’s lot, even with the glories of mobile technology. Continue reading

Greste, Page, Ware and Wockner – a century of journalism on the frontline

It was an ambitious undertaking to cram more than 100 years of experience of war correspondence into the ceremonial Banco Court at Brisbane’s Supreme Court building for an hour-long discussion of armed conflict and the media.

Peter Greste, Tim Page, Michael Ware and Cindy Wockner rose to the occasion, running only half an hour over time to include some questions from the floor, in a discussion moderated by Tara Gutman from the Australian Red Cross.

The focus was International Humanitarian Law, which provides protection to journalists, recognising them as civilians in conflict situations. It’s a concept that is increasingly under threat. Continue reading

Francis James – the long stumble to freedom

Francis cropOn 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 Jack Spackman.

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 Jack, their local stringer – get a photographer.  Continue reading

China Watching masterclass: Why was Francis James in jail?

Why would the Chinese detain Francis James, a man long regarded in Australia as being sympathetic towards China and North Vietnam? That was the question posed by my father Jack Spackman in the final part of his series for The Age newspaper in Melbourne in 1971, which we’ve been revisiting as an example of the arcane art of China Watching.

If it was true that he was being held for “profiting from lies about China” what might those lies be? China had already denied that James’ visit to Sinkiang had taken place at all, putting a seal for many observers on their own doubts about his story that he had interviewed nuclear scientists there and found their program far more advanced than had been widely believed.

Since James had been widely discredited, there seemed little point in going to the trouble of locking him up. But what if there was enough truth in his report to make the Chinese keen to check his story out for themselves?
Continue reading


Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.