From Singo (2002)

US-born former TV journalist and news producer Gerald Stone in his biography of Sydney advertising man John Singleton describes Singleton’s seemingly unlikely friendship with the Reverend Bill Crews:

Reverend Bill Crews and John Singleton at Loaves and Fishes Restaurant in Ashfield. (Brett Costello, News Corp)

‘John hates to admit it but in a funny way, he is quite religious,’ Crews smiles. ‘He reminds me a lot of King David. We’re told David was a real bastard, you know, but God loved him.’

At Crews’ mention of King David, I think to myself what an excellent choice. If Singleton could be compared to any character in history, that’s the one. David was, of course, the little boy who was brave and resourceful enough to kill Goliath; but he was also much more than that. He was the absolute larrikin of the Old Testament, filled with mischief. When his future father-in-law, King Saul, ordered him to bring back the foreskins of 100 Philistines as the price for marrying his daughter – a mind-boggling task by any measure – David somehow manages to come back with 200! He was a notorious womaniser who grabbed the beautiful but married Bathsheba for his own by ordering her warrior husband to certain death in battle. With a few drinks in him, he was also known to whip off his clothes and dance naked in front of a throng of admiring maidens. He tempted the wrath of God constantly with such misbehaviour, but always found a way to win back Divine favour with an audacious deed or, better yet, a few well-chosen words. David, like John Singleton, was a brilliant copywriter. His psalms were the jingles of his day, proclaiming the greatness of the Lord.

Crews acknowledges that some of his clerical colleagues in the Uniting Church and any number of his parishioners have been scandalised by his friendship with that ‘dreadful’ Singleton. Like Ted Noffs before him, he refuses to pass judgement when he knows how little can separate the best from the worst in a man.

‘I think it’s all part of being such a passionate person,’ Crews suggests. ‘People of that nature aren’t quite sure where they fit in because their negative passions are as strong as their positive – both come from the same source. So it can be very difficult for them. A section of the community sees John as capable of behaving badly and he probably has convinced himself he is too. But the fact is he has this intensely religious streak. Sometimes I’m sure he does things just to prove to himself he’s not a goody-goody!’

Singleton, to this day, occasionally drops by the Loaves and Fishes just to show support by his presence and chat with the patrons. At lunch hour the rows of tables are filled with those on hard times: the unemployed, the homeless, the elderly or disabled, battered old winos and pale-faced young drug addicts, or people who are just plain lonely and desperate for company.

Crews especially remembers one day when Singleton told a group of men: ‘Well, guys, today I’m up so I can help you. Tomorrow I might be down and I might need help from you.’ Which, as the minister points out, was not as far-fetched as it might seem. A lot of the people he dealt with had the rebellious spirit of Singo – a compulsion to push their limits and test their luck. It was really a very thin line dividing the high and mighty from the down and outs.

‘If they’re up, they’ve succeeded; if they’re down, they didn’t. There’s really not all that much difference either way.’ So says a man who has witnessed human nature from every angle.

Crews and Singleton organised a breakfast program for children in Redfern’s Aboriginal community:

Portrait of two men on Eveleigh Street Redfern, 2003 (Patricia Baillie, City of Sydney Archives)

 ‘the Block’, as it was known, had developed into something akin to a war zone. Expecting a hostile reception, at least to begin with, they wisely decided to swap Singleton’s Bentley for a ute when they visited the embattled area to begin negotiations with local community leaders. As they wandered around, their worst fears seemed about to come true. A hostile looking drunk staggered up to Singleton.

‘You’re John Singleton?’

‘Yeah, mate’

‘Your horse didn’t do too well on Saturday?’

From then on, Crews remembers, it was much like the Loaves and the Fishes, where the millionaire businessman showed a stunning ability to communicate on any level. ‘The next minute, honestly, there are half a dozen Aborigines with the arses out of their jeans, and they’re all of them sitting in the dirt with Singleton talking about horses. It was just amazing.’

They got their breakfast project off to a promising start, using a caravan painted in the red and green colours of the South Sydney football club to make it more acceptable to the Redfern kids. Eventually the program was handed over to a local church group.

  -Gerald Stone, American-Australian, 1933-

From Keating (2015) – 2

In his 2015 interviews with Kerry O’Brien, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating describes being approached by Canadian newspaperman Conrad Black, who told him in 1992 that Kerry Packer had acquired 23.5 per cent of the Fairfax Media organisation, owners of the Sydney Morning Herald, despite being restricted by media ownership rules to 14.9 per cent:

PJK: When I checked, Black was correct. Packer’s organisation had taken advice from some barrister specialising in media law who found what they thought was a loophole. From memory, Packer was in Argentina playing polo, so I spoke to one of his representatives and said ‘Conrad Black’s been to see me and I understand Consolidated Press has 23.5 per cent of Fairfax.’

The answer came back immediately. ‘That’s right.’

I said, ‘You understand what the law says? The prescribed limit is 14.9.’

He said, ‘Everything we are doing is legal.’

I said, ‘You may think so but I made the law so I have a particular interest in its maintenance, which means your interest in Fairfax must return to 14.9 per cent.’

He replied, ‘Well, as long as you understand that will mean war, I’ll relay the message.’

…I said, ‘Well, conflict is what I do.’

KOB: This was actually reported at the time in the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘I told Packer yesterday I was in the conflict business. I don’t take the troubles. I give them to people like that.’

PJK: Yes, I said ‘conflict is what I do.’ I then asked Michael Lee, who had become Communications Minister, to get an amendment together and I saw Cheryl Kernot and the Democrats and pushed it very quickly through both Houses, which meant the loophole Packer was using was shut off.

I came to understand that Kerry wanted to control Fairfax to get square with the journalists he believed had gone after him maliciously over the references to him in the National Times under a code name in the Costigan Royal Commission. I understood his anger but we had a media diversity policy that he was not entitled to break…

Paul Keating and Kerry Packer (AAP/Reuters)


I’m the only person in public life who ever took Packer on. Ever. This was a person who wielded great influence over a succession of governments, and not one single individual in the polity ever crossed swords with him. I not only crossed swords with him, I gave him a number of beltings. I wanted to make it clear to Packer, you may think we are a bunch of toadies there to do your bidding, but not me.

But Packer came after me after I’d left politics. If you read Niki Savva’s account in her book of how Paul Lyneham volunteered to do Packer’s bidding on the piggery claims against me, aided and abetted by the former Liberal Party President Tony Staley, you’ll see this was all payback for stopping his attempts to control Fairfax…I then lobbied Brian Harradine and a number of other senators to stop the cross-media rule change in the Senate.

A journalist said to me at the time, ‘Mr Keating, are you going to take a defamation action against Channel Nine and Mr Packer?’

I said, ‘No, I have much more expensive remedies in mind for him.’

The remedy I had in mind was to beat the cross-rule amendments in the Senate, which I succeeded in doing…

All those Sydney Morning Herald journalists who went on and on about my delinquency as far as the Herald’s interests were concerned forget the fact that I stopped two major proprietors getting hold of Fairfax. One was Rupert Murdoch, who sought my support in 1995 to take control of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Financial Review, and the second was Packer’s creeping ownership with a view to controlling the whole organisation, at which point I have no doubt he would have wrought vengeance on some of those same journalists.

KOB: When you knocked Murdoch back, how did he react?

PJK:…I said, ‘Rupert, the thing is, you own the current stable of newspapers. No one else is going to buy them from you, and while ever you own them, whether they’re in trust or not, we can never think of you owning any of the other mastheads.’

KOB: Did he accept that with equanimity?

PJK:  He didn’t remonstrate about it at the time but I think Ken Cowley [head of his Australian operation] had conditioned him that that was the answer he would likely get.

KOB: Was there a difference between Murdoch and Packer in that regard, as personalities? There was always that bullying side to Packer that he was notorious for. He could be charming one minute and verbally ripping your head off the next.

PJK: Rupert was always polite and, in the main, charming, even when you said no. You may pay a price later, but he was always polite.

-Paul Keating, Australian, 1944-

-Kerry O’Brien, Australian, 1945-

From Keating (2015) – 1

In a series of 2015 television interviews, veteran ABC journalist Kerry O’Brien probed former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating – who had always insisted he would never write an autobiography – on what made him and how he governed. Born in Darlinghurst in 1944 and growing up in Bankstown, he left school at 14 and joined the Australian Labor Party as soon as he was eligible. Here he recalls one of his earliest mentors, the tempestuous Jack Lang, who had been Premier of New South Wales before his 1932 dismissal by Governor Sir Phillip Game, and was later expelled from the mainstream Labor Party:

PJK: I used to see him twice a week for about seven years. Strangely he used to call me Mr Keating and I was only eighteen in those days. He was very formal. I used to address him as Mr Lang. Among other things, I asked him whether I should go and do a university degree, and he thought for a while before saying, ‘Mr Keating, you have too much to learn for a university degree, about the getting of power and the using of it. There are no courses in this’…

Paul Keating sponsors Jack Lang’s readmission into the Australian Labor Party, July 1971

He and I disagreed on a lot of policy fronts like protection and tariffs, and I’d say on much of the world debate I would probably have been on the other side to him. I didn’t want that from him. I wanted the dynamics, and how the game was played.

What I particularly picked up from Lang was his use of language, the force of his language. He had hugely long arms, as if they were concertinaed. They’d come out at you as he talked. He had the celluloid collar and the gold chain, and that big jaw, and he’d say, ‘Mr Keating, I’m telling you this’, and he’d lean across the table with a look that would bore a hole in you. He was then 87 or 88. There was no one like him then.

He used to say to me, ‘Always put your money on self-interest, son. He’s the best horse in the race; always a trier.’

KOB: I did an interview with you in 1986 where you described how you learned from Lang to be hard in your judgements. What did you mean by that?

PJK: Lang once said to me, ‘One of your problems, Mr Keating, is you take people at their word. This is a business where duplicity is the order of the day. Look for the best in people by all means, but keep a sceptical eye peeled for what they are saying to you and what they really mean. What you should look for is the support of the earnest people. There will be a lot whose support you will never have. But you will never be anyone until you have a reasonable stock of enemies.’ It’s the issues that sort people out. It’s just so true, because having enemies worries some people. For me, it’s a badge of honour. It’s never worried me that a group of people would not have a bar of me. And that’s the way Lang conducted his life.

Even so, I never really took that kind of almost morbid cynicism on board as an operating principle. I always found better in people in public life, and if you go through a caucus like I did for nearly 30 years, you’ve got to build coalitions and friendships with people. So there are people you trust. I never subscribed to the solitary school, that you’re on your own and only on your own, but I did subscribe to the fact that you’ve got to look at what is said to you and look behind it. You have to end up being a good judge of character and a good judge of what is really being said to you, as well as a good listener.

People may be members of a political party, but they get to Parliament in their own right. It’s like a team with a captain but the members of a team earn their place independently, so to stitch together majorities in Parliament continually, you’ve got to look at people to see what their interests are, what things they have in common, what natural point of agreement you have with them, or points of disagreement.

  -Paul Keating, Australian, 1944-

-Kerry O’Brien, Australian, 1945-

From The House (2018)

Danish architect Jørn Utzon’s design won the 1957 competition for the Sydney Opera House. In July, he set foot in Australia for the first time, accompanied by his business partner, Swedish architect Erik Andersson. When they first saw the Bennelong Point site they were accompanied by Gavin Souter, features writer for the Sydney Morning Herald:

Model of Opera House shell, 1966 (City of Sydney Archives)

Perched high above the site on the Tarpeian Way, the path above the sheer rock face cut along the north-west side of Macquarie Street in the Botanic Garden, they took in the splendid view of both the harbour and the promontory.

Utzon was blown away by the location and almost literally by the nor’-wester coming in off the harbour. ‘It’s right,’ said the Dane as his hair and gabardine coat blew wildly in the wind. Like a good sailor he scanned the horizon, from the Sydney Heads to the Circular Quay ferry terminal. He took in the vista of the harbour, the clouds, the Harbour Bridge – everything he could from this high vantage point. ‘It’s okay. This is the way they placed temples in the old days. It’s absolutely breathtaking. There’s no opera house site in the world to compare with it….This site is even more beautiful than in the photographs from which I worked.’

…Utzon explained he wanted a house that seemed to grow organically out of the landscape. To find such a shape, he had looked at flowers and insects.  He spoke about Mayan platforms and Kronborg Castle, which stood on a point only a few miles from his home.

‘It was not really the same. At Kronborg, part of the horizon is open; here the site is more intimate because the other side of the harbour is so close. Kronborg Castle is a big heavy structure with high towers and, as the ferry runs around it, the towers seem to move,’ he explained to Souter, as he watched a Manly ferry rounding the point on its way to Circular Quay. ‘The House will have several shells behind each other so that when you move past, they seem to move too…’


Model of Opera House interior, 1966 (City of Sydney Archives)

‘What do you think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s criticism?’ Souter asked.

‘He would not bother attacking it if he were not interested in it,’ Utzon replied, noting the praise from architects such as Richard Neutra, whom he’d visited in Los Angeles on his way to Sydney.

‘Don’t let me be a self-praiser,’ Utzon cautioned. ‘Self-praise stinks in Denmark.’ In Denmark, Jante’s law, a concept similar to Australia’s tall poppy syndrome, downplayed individual success.

To those who dismissed his design as ‘modern foolishness’, he said their criticism didn’t interest him, echoing his own father’s openness to the spirit of the new. ‘We ride in automobiles and we fire rockets. Why should we build in the Victorian style today?…’

‘This is how it will be at Bennelong Point. You must belong to your surroundings. When we design for Copenhagen, we are Danes; when we made this scheme for the Opera House, we camped on Bennelong Point. We were Bennelong Pointers.’

 -Helen Pitt, Australian

From The Mirror of the Sea (1906)

Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in a Polish-speaking part of the Russian Empire, Joseph Conrad went to sea in 1874, and drew on his experiences as a merchant seaman for his fiction. In his memoir The Mirror of the Sea, he looks back on the Sydney of the 1870s:


Watermen and their boats at Circular Quay, c.1890. (City of Sydney Archives)

These towns of the Antipodes, not so great then as they are now, took an interest in the shipping, the running links with “home,” whose numbers confirmed the sense of their growing importance.  They made it part and parcel of their daily interests.  This was especially the case in Sydney, where, from the heart of the fair city, down the vista of important streets, could be seen the wool-clippers lying at the Circular Quay—no walled prison-house of a dock that, but the integral part of one of the finest, most beautiful, vast, and safe bays the sun ever shone upon.  Now great steam-liners lie at these berths, always reserved for the sea aristocracy—grand and imposing enough ships, but here to-day and gone next week; whereas the general cargo, emigrant, and passenger clippers of my time, rigged with heavy spars, and built on fine lines, used to remain for months together waiting for their load of wool.  Their names attained the dignity of household words.  On Sundays and holidays the citizens trooped down, on visiting bent, and the lonely officer on duty solaced himself by playing the cicerone—especially to the citizenesses with engaging manners and a well-developed sense of the fun that may be got out of the inspection of a ship’s cabins and state-rooms.  The tinkle of more or less untuned cottage pianos floated out of open stern-ports till the gas-lamps began to twinkle in the streets, and the ship’s night-watchman, coming sleepily on duty after his unsatisfactory day slumbers, hauled down the flags and fastened a lighted lantern at the break of the gangway…

Circular Quay, c. 1888. View from the water looking south to Mort Co. (Woolbrokers) with banners “Many Happy Returns of the Day” (possibly on the occasion of the Centenary in January) and showing people gathered on the quay and a number of launches or ferries and tall ships. [Photo by Henry King 1880-1890] (City of Sydney Archives)

A stupid job, and fit only for an old man, my comrades used to tell me, to be the night-watchman of a captive (though honoured) ship.  And generally the oldest of the able seamen in a ship’s crew does get it.  But sometimes neither the oldest nor any other fairly steady seaman is forthcoming.  Ships’ crews had the trick of melting away swiftly in those days.  So, probably on account of my youth, innocence, and pensive habits (which made me sometimes dilatory in my work about the rigging), I was suddenly nominated, in our chief mate Mr. B—’s most sardonic tones, to that enviable situation.  I do not regret the experience.  The night humours of the town descended from the street to the waterside in the still watches of the night: larrikins rushing down in bands to settle some quarrel by a stand-up fight, away from the police, in an indistinct ring half hidden by piles of cargo, with the sounds of blows, a groan now and then, the stamping of feet, and the cry of “Time!” rising suddenly above the sinister and excited murmurs; night-prowlers, pursued or pursuing, with a stifled shriek followed by a profound silence, or slinking stealthily alongside like ghosts, and addressing me from the quay below in mysterious tones with incomprehensible propositions. The cabmen, too, who twice a week, on the night when the A.S.N. Company’s passenger-boat was due to arrive, used to range a battalion of blazing lamps opposite the ship, were very amusing in their way.  They got down from their perches and told each other impolite stories in racy language, every word of which reached me distinctly over the bulwarks as I sat smoking on the main-hatch.  On one occasion I had an hour or so of a most intellectual conversation with a person whom I could not see distinctly, a gentleman from England, he said, with a cultivated voice, I on deck and he on the quay sitting on the case of a piano (landed out of our hold that very afternoon), and smoking a cigar which smelt very good.  We touched, in our discourse, upon science, politics, natural history, and operatic singers.  Then, after remarking abruptly, “You seem to be rather intelligent, my man,” he informed me pointedly that his name was Mr. Senior, and walked off—to his hotel, I suppose.  Shadows!  Shadows!  I think I saw a white whisker as he turned under the lamp-post.  It is a shock to think that in the natural course of nature he must be dead by now.  There was nothing to object to in his intelligence but a little dogmatism maybe.  And his name was Senior!  Mr. Senior!

Circular Quay , with ruins of Dawes Battery in the foreground with a small steamer berthed in (now) Campbells Cove. The spire and lookout of the AUSN building is at far right. Campbell’s bond stores below the AUSN tower. (City of Sydney Archives)

The position had its drawbacks, however. One wintry, blustering, dark night in July, as I stood sleepily out of the rain under the break of the poop something resembling an ostrich dashed up the gangway. I say ostrich because the creature, though it ran on two legs, appeared to help its progress by working a pair of short wings; it was a man, however, only his coat, ripped up the back and flapping in two halves above his shoulders, gave him that weird and fowl-like appearance. At least, I suppose it was his coat, for it was impossible to make him out distinctly. How he managed to come so straight upon me, at speed and without a stumble over a strange deck, I cannot imagine. He must have been able to see in the dark better than any cat. He overwhelmed me with panting entreaties to let him take shelter till morning in our forecastle. Following my strict orders, I refused his request, mildly at first, in a sterner tone as he insisted with growing impudence.


Circular Quay, c. 1890. (City of Sydney Archives)

“For God’s sake let me, matey!  Some of ’em are after me—and I’ve got hold of a ticker here.”

“You clear out of this!” I said.

“Don’t be hard on a chap, old man!” he whined pitifully.

“Now then, get ashore at once.  Do you hear?”

Silence.  He appeared to cringe, mute, as if words had failed him through grief; then—bang! came a concussion and a great flash of light in which he vanished, leaving me prone on my back with the most abominable black eye that anybody ever got in the faithful discharge of duty.  Shadows!  Shadows!  I hope he escaped the enemies he was fleeing from to live and flourish to this day.  But his fist was uncommonly hard and his aim miraculously true in the dark.

 -Joseph Conrad, Polish-British, 1857-1924

From They’re a Weird Mob (1957)

The pharmacist-turned-novelist John O’Grady adopted the pseudonym of Giovanni ‘Nino’ Culotta to write the story of an immigrant Italian journalist who comes to Sydney and writes about the people – and their version of English – he finds there. Nino’s true identity was only revealed two months after publication. It became a hit film in 1966:

Most Australians speak English like I speak Hindustani, which I don’t. In general, they use English words, but in a way that makes no sense to anyone else. And they don’t use our European vowel sounds, so that even if they do construct a normal sentence, it doesn’t sound like one. This made it necessary for me, until I became accustomed to it, to translate everything that was said to me twice, first into English and then into Italian. So my replies were always slow, and those long pauses prompted many belligerent remarks, such as ‘Well don’t just stand there like a dill; d’yer wanta beer or dontcha?’

Nino is a Piedmontese who has several altercations with the Meridionali (southerners who made up the bulk of Italian immigrants) on the voyage to Australia:

…I saw Sydney for the first time the very best way – from the deck of a ship. And at the very best time – early in the morning, with the sun behind us. It was October, and the sun was beautiful. The Customs people were not, but the rest of our Meridionali had to be got ashore, and no doubt that accounted for them being irritable. My promise to the captain was no longer binding, so I said a few words. Which led to a nice little battle, which was ended by some Australian policemen. A big one, with silver stripes on his arm pointed to me. ‘You,’ he said, ‘come here.’

I hit one more of the Meridionali, and walked over to him.

‘You called me, sir?’ I said.

‘Where are your bags?’

‘Over there, sir.’

‘Get ’em.’

Two other policemen joined him, so I thought I’d better humour him. I got my bags and came back.

‘Come on,’ he said.

I followed them out, and they went to a taxi, and the big policeman opened the boot and put my bags inside. One of the others opened the door of the taxi, and stood by.

‘Excuse me, sir.’ I said. ‘Where do we go?’

He said, ‘Get in.’

I got in, and the one by the door shut it, and the big one said to the driver, ‘Get going.’ The driver started up and went up the street a little way, and then said, ‘Where to, mate?’

I said, in a very dignified manner, ‘It appears to me, sir, that since you are acting under the orders of the constabulary, you are undoubtedly well aware of our destination.’

He said, ‘Cut the bull. An’ don’ call me sir. Where yer wanner go?’

Some of this I understood, and it was surprising. ‘Do you not know?’ I said.

‘No,’ he said.




After a while, he said, ‘Well we can’t sit ‘ere all bloody day; where we goin’?’

I was silently translating what he said into what I thought he meant in an English I understood, and translating this into Italian, and working out my answer in Italian, to be translated into English, all of which was taking some time, when he suddenly seemed to become very irritable and said, ‘Gawd I’ve been drivin’ his bloody thing since one o’bloody clock this mornin’ an’ now it’s bloody near time for lunch an’ I ‘ave ter get landed with a bloody ning nong who doesn’t know where he’s bloody goin’. Will the Cross do yer?’

By the time I had worked out a few words of this speech, we had arrived somewhere, and he was getting my bags out of the boot. I got out also, and said, ‘Excuse me, sir, but do you mind telling me where I now am?’

‘Kings Cross. Three bob.’

‘Excuse me, sir, but do you mind telling me where I now am?’

He shouted very loudly, ‘KINGS BLOODY CROSS!’

I said this to myself two or three times, and decided that it must be the name of a suburb. So I said, ‘Why?’

‘Why what?’

‘Why am I in Kings Bloody Cross?’

‘Because I bloody brought yer…three bob.’

‘I do not understand what you say, and I do not understand why I am where I am, but I thank you. Could you please inform me, please, where is some place where I may be able to obtain some food?’

‘Anywhere around here,’ he said. ‘Are yer gunna pay me the three bob or ain’t yer?’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Look mate, I brought yer from the bloody dock, an’ you owe me three bob. Do I get ut or don’t I?’

I caught the word ‘Owe’ and said, ‘I am reminded of something. You have transported me to this place, and I would like you to inform me how much is my fare, please?’

He became very irate again, and said in a loud voice, ‘Strike me bloody ’andsome, I just told yer. Three bob.’

‘How much is the fare please?’

He said ‘Oh-h-h!’ and something I didn’t understand, then pushed his cap back, and scratched his head. Then he said, very slowly and distinctly, ‘Look mate, have-you-any-money?’

This was very good English, and I answered immediately, ‘Yes.’


Again I was able to answer immediately, and I was wishing he would always speak as clearly as this. I said, ‘Of course, I have three shillings.’

Then he seemed to acquire a great rage, and said, ‘Well bloody give ut to me before I call the bloody cops or do me block or some such bloody thing. Give us me three bob.’

He was holding out his hand, so I assumed he wanted three shillings. I gave him three shillings. He said, ‘Any man takes this game on’s not right in the nut.’ He got into his taxi and drove away without even saying thank you.

-‘Nino Culotta’ (John O’Grady), Australian, 1907-1981

From The Argus (1908)

The American writer Jack London and his wife sailed across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney in his ketch the Snark in 1907-08. While in Sydney he reported on the world heavyweight title fight between Jack Johnson and Tommy Burns.




Full credit for the big fight must be given to Mr McIntosh, who has done the unprecedented, and had the nerve to carry it through. But equal credit must be given to Australia, for without her splendid sport-loving men not a hundred McIntoshes could have pulled off the great contest of Saturday.

The stadium is a magnificent arena and so was the crowd magnificent. It was managed by that happy aptitude which the English have for handling big crowds. The spirit of the stadium crowd inside and out with its fair-minded and sporting squareness was a joy to behold. It was hard to realise that those fifty or sixty thousand men were descended from the generations that attended the old bare-knuckles fights in England, where partisan crowds swarmed the ringside, slugging each other, smashing the top hats of the gentlemen promoters and backers, and swattting away with clubs at the heads of the poor devils of fighters whenever they came near to the ropes.

Never in my life have I seen a finer, fairer, and more orderly ringside crowd, and in this connection it must be remembered that the majority were in favour of the man who was losing. That many thousands of men could sit quietly for forty minutes and watch their chosen champion hopelessly and remorselessly beaten down and not make the slightest demonstration is a remarkable display of inhibition. There is no use minimising Johnson’s victory in order to soothe Burns’s feelings. It is part of the game to take punishment in the ring, and it is just as much part of the game to take unbiassed criticism afterward in the columns of the press. Personally, I was with Burns all the way. He is a white man, and so am I. Naturally I wanted to see the white man win. Put the case to Johnson. Ask him if he were spectator to a fight between a white man and a black man which he would like to see win, and Johnson’s black skin will dictate a desire parallel to the one dictated by my white skin…


Burns was a little man against a big man, a clever man against a cleverer man, a quick man against a quicker man, and a gritty, gamey man all the way through. But all men are not born equal and neither are pugilists. If grit and gameness should win by the decree of natural law then Burns, I dare to say, would have won on Saturday and in a thousand additional fights with Johnson he would win. But unfortunately for Burns, what did win on Saturday was bigness, coolness, quickness, cleverness, and vast physical superiority.

From any standpoint the fight between Cripps  and Griffith last Wednesday night was a far better contest. The men were evenly matched and the result was in doubt from round to round and from moment to moment. And this delicate balance was due to their being equally matched. Each man had opportunity to show the best that was in him. That opportunity was denied Burns…


The fight. The word is a misnomer. There was no fight. No Armenian massacre would compare with the hopeless slaughter that took place in the Stadium. It was not a case of too much Johnson, but of all Johnson. A golden smile tells the story, and the golden smile was Johnson’s. The fight, if fight it can be called, was like unto that between a colossus and a toy automaton; it had all the seeming of a playful ethiopian at loggerheads with a small and futile white man, of a grown man cuffing a naughty child; of a monologue by one Johnson, who made a noise with his fists like a lullaby, tucking one Burns into his little crib in sleepy hollow; of a funeral, with Burns for the late deceased and Johnson for the undertaker, grave-digger, and sexton.

Twenty thousand men were at the ring side, and twice twenty thousand lingered outside. Johnson, first at the ring, showed in magnificent condition. When he smiled a dazzling flash of gold filled the wide aperture between his open lips. And he smiled all the time. He had not a trouble in the world. When asked what he was going to do after the light, he said he was going to the races. It was a happy prophecy. He was immediately followed into the ring by Bums, who had no smile whatever. He looked pale and sallow, as if he had not slept all night, or as if he had just pulled through a bout with fever. He received a heartier greeting than Johnson, and was the favourite with the crowd….

Lindsay Johnson Burns

The Jack Johnson and Tommy Burns fight, 1908 by Norman Lindsay, cover of ‘The Lone Hand’ (State Library of NSW)


Burns never struck a body blow that would compare with Johnson’s, nor a cross, nor a straight, nor an uppercut; while, as for kidney blows Johnson’s most frivolous and pensive taps were like thunderbolts as measured against Burns’s butterfly flutterings in that painful locality…

The mouth fighting on the part of both men must have seemed bizarre to the Australian audience. Nevertheless mouth fighting as a ring tactic has won more than one battle. But Saturday it neither won nor lost anything. Burns’s remarks failed to ruffle his opponent’s complacence in the slightest: while there was no need for Johnson’s airy verbal irritations, for Burns was as angry as could be from the stroke of the gong. And though Johnson proved a past master in the art of mouth fighting, even his pre-eminent ability in that direction failed to make Burns angrier by one jot or tittle…

One criticism, and only one, can be passed upon Johnson. In the thirteenth round he made the mistake of his life. He should have put Burns out. He could have put him out. It would have been child’s play. Instead of which he smiled, and deliberately let Burns live until the gong sounded.

And in the opening of the fourteenth round the police stopped the fight, and Johnson lost the credit of a knock-out.

But one thing remains. Jeffries must emerge from his alfalfa farm and remove that smile from Johnson’s face. Jeff, it’s up to you. And, Mclntosh, it’s up to you to get the fight for Australia. Both you and Australia certainly deserve it.

            -Jack London, American, 1876-1916


From UNSW: A Portrait (1999)

Patrick O’Farrell, the pre-eminent historian of the Irish and the Catholic Church in Australia and New Zealand, was long associated with the University of New South Wales, arriving in 1959 ten years after it had been founded as Sydney’s second university. Originally ‘The New South Wales University of Technology’, it grew out of Sydney Technical College, expanding rapidly in the 1950s and 60s:

The commencement of medicine in 1961 was, of course, a major extension of the university’s persona. But it was not until its actual establishment that the university fully realised how costly it was, particularly in relation to teaching hospitals, and this
in a university already, because of its scientific and technological nature, a high cost academic environment. The initial teaching hospitals were Prince Henry at Little Bay and Prince of Wales at Randwick, with specialised arrangements with some other metropolitan hospitals. For the first time in Australia clinical professors in the university medical school were directors of the clinical departments in the teaching hospitals. At every point in this enterprise there was criticism and contention, professional and public. The queen’s opening of the first building, in 1963, went forward with due pomp and apparent tranquillity, but in fact it was not until 1967 that the university itself felt relatively easy about its medical financing and teaching hospital provision.

Even by 1965 Medicine had gained an attractive reputation amongst those students not constrained by family traditions dictating continuance at the University of Sydney. And it offered advantages in other ways. If you took Maths as an option, and decided doctoring was not for you, you could transfer to Science, even Engineering at the end of first year. University of New South Wales courses were acquiring a superior reputation among informed parents by the 1970s. To a student reminiscing of entering in 1965 (won over by the Open Day comparisons), Sydney seemed entrenched in tradition, behind the scientific times. The University of New South Wales seemed new, with excellent teachers, much better equipment, and much more ‘modern’ in its attitude towards the science of the time. Experience in the medical school confirmed this. And also an atmosphere of happy harmony between students – male and female; impressionistically one-third Jewish, one-third ‘average Australians’, one-third Asian – with a staff significantly Catholic. Or so it was believed, though precise actualities suggest perhaps otherwise. Is it also apocryphal that at the Roundhouse medical ball in 1964 a professor stripped naked and danced around on the table? As in all medical matters, stories abound. As also in matters of students living very hard, experimenting with drugs, magic mushrooms, and the like. What seems to be the case, however, is a certain degree of pro-doctor prejudice among staff, who tended to anticipate in students a medical family background and a private school education. Correctly, by and large, in that many of the students were doctors’ sons who could not get into Sydney.

First Committee of Society of Students (forerunner to Students’ Union), including my father Bob Morgan standing third from left, 1951 [GK Cranny/UNSW Archives Collection]

So what? Medical students at the University of New South Wales were well aware of their superior facilities – for instance, four to a cadaver as against around thirty at Sydney, where facilities were ‘grim’. Those in a position to compare – in microbiology for instance – found a much closer relationship between students and tutors: in practical classes each tutor had ten or twelve students; at Sydney, thirty, with no chance to get to know students. And at the University of New South Wales the emphasis was on modern teaching methods – defining goals and what to know to get there. Set against this was the faculty’s policy for choosing the better students from first year Science at the cost of excluding their own bottom students, a practice which raised some vigorous parental objection. Even among staff there were those who protested, to the point of resignation, against the severity of standards. Indeed they were severe: anatomy and obstetrics held weekly examinations; other subjects demanded large ‘holiday’ tasks, physiology for instance. At the University of New South Wales determination to be equal to the best sometimes took it too far. The government was to intervene to allow more students to progress – leading to staff protest. And internal rumpus – the first professor of Physiology resigning in conflict with the dean, Rundle. Of the 117 who enrolled in the second intake in medicine, 26 reached the finals in December 1967. Over 75 per cent of the Class of 1968 were in specialty positions thirty years later. The student costs at university amounted to fatigue and some feeling of deprivation that there was not sufficient time to grow and enjoy  university life. In fact, in the clinical years the system and requirements of the course meant living in, in a variety of hospitals – little time or opportunity for ‘university life’.

There was some professional resistance to this new wave of intensive training. The 1950s and 1960s were dominated by anecdotal as against evidence-based medicine. Thus, there was some antipathy to academic, science-oriented medicine among general practitioners and hospitals – and it was there that the emphasis of the teaching of medicine at the University of New South Wales lay. However, the faculty had the initial advantage of hard men in charge, first-rate men of great ability and reputation, but, above all, deciders, autocrats with it – master builders of a new, complex, medical edifice. Within the rules of the institution, though. Evolved from public service and Sydney Technical College backgrounds was a rigid teaching hourage requirement: at the top, tutors around sixteen hours a week; graduating down to  professors at four to six hours, with allowance for evening classes. Strict adherence to this was the basic requirement for any argument for
additional staff. Medicine was no exception to this rule. The university’s reputation for hard-working teachers in all faculties sprang in part from youth and commitment but also from this simple measure of coercion.

As to Medicine, a major influence was the relationship (if that is the right word) with Sydney University: dead hostile initially to the University of New South Wales medical school; then anger, resentment, regret, and finally acceptance – though not without using its old boys’ network to secure the new Westmead Hospital in the 1970s, and attempting to outstrip the University of New South Wales in its decision to introduce the five-year degree in 1973-74 (the six-year course came back in 1988). Medical politics tended to be petty, competitive, and nasty: in no area did the University of Sydney-University of New South Wales rivalry last longer, or be as intense, as in medicine. Meanwhile, John Hickey and Doug Tracy were putting St Vincent’s ahead on the medical map. And major developments focussed on Prince of Wales, to make it the major hospital it is today.

Professor Fred Hollows, 1978 [UNSW Archives]

At the University of New South Wales were lateral-thinking, teaching doctors, destined to be leaders in their fields: Penny, Dwyer, HollowsBeveridge, McCloskey, and so on – men who did not wish to stay with the establishment, but to create and mould a new medical world of their own. As human beings. Their attitude to patients – listen, talk – was very different from the superiority affected by Sydney. At that early stage, entry was not determined by an astronomical, competitive Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) performance, a situation of requirement which many medical staff were to deplore: students offering no people skills, indeed anything beyond being good at getting marks.

-Patrick O’Farrell, New Zealander-Australian, 1933-2003

From The Home (1939)

In ‘The Palm Beach Myth’, David McNicoll looks at the beach on the northern edge of Sydney as it becomes increasingly accessible, and fashionable:

The discerning amongst us are agreed that the summer season at Palm Beach, N.S.W., reaches an all-time high in the offensiveness of its habitués.

I was ruminating about it at length the other night, as I lay half-asleep on the verandah of a secluded hide-out, well up on the Hawkesbury reaches, where we have been driven by the advancing horde of the tripper and the pseudo-socialite. There, while the vigorous mosquitoes passed the haunted hours in doing power dives down towards my face (pancaking with considerable force on the netting) I thought of the grim tragedy of it all.

Do you remember, not so many years ago, when that over-rated, but at least protected, sand-spit was a comparative paradise? It was not frightfully well known, and there were about twenty houses tucked about in its wooded hills. On the beach foreshore were the store and one or two houses. The sand was clean, and, I am convinced, not as viscous as to-day, when it is permeated with the treacly sweetmeats of the unwashed.

You would wander down to the surf about ten, and maybe make a merry morning crack at the local cop, who had pedalled all the way from Narrabean [sic] to see that all was well with the residents and to drink a bottle of beer at various cottages. On the beach would be about fifty people, most of whom you knew, the majority of whom you liked. There would be a dozen gay umbrellas, and lots of laughter and talk, and lots of swimming, and a terrific amount of just lying in the sun.

And in the evenings there would be cool verandahs and cocktails, and visits to other cottages. And maybe launch trips on Pittwater, or walks up Barrenjoey. A fortnight at the place was the best tonic to be found anywhere within fifty miles of Sydney.

Frank Hurley, Palm Beach, showing Barranjoey [i.e. Barrenjoey] Lighthouse, Barranjoey Head, Lion Island, Pittwater, ca. 1940 [National Library of Australia]

But to-day people are prepared to pay up to 30 guineas a week just to spend the summer days in the centre of an odour. Do you see the subtlety of those words, “pay up to 30 guineas”? It means that the owners of the houses are well away from the place, thanking their stars that such people exist as will hire their homes while they themselves are enjoying a holiday somewhere among reasonable people. I know a couple of house-owners in Palm Beach—and they vow that they would no sooner think of spending Christmas or New Year within 40 miles of the joint than they would fly to the moon.

Any normal morning at Palm Beach to-day the beach is littered with cars by 11 a.m. By 12 noon it is packed, and the wafts of air which rise from the hot car bodies and bonnets almost obscure the foreshore houses. At 12.30, when the heat is really on, the insidious smells from the acres of consolidated campers begin to creep around the corner and on to the beach: smells of cans which once contained camp pie, smells of prawn shells, of potato peelings, of primus stoves, of baby food, of humanity, of all the things which, en masse, are offensive.

And in the afternoon, as the parking attendant is walking along the cars extracting sixpence from each driver (shades of Bondi!), the beach is so crammed that one can hardly turn over. The campers have descended on the place, and sprawl around in dirty shorts or long pants. Mothers chase their errant children about the beach, and, having caught them, start to dry and dress them in the public view.

Inside cars men and women attempt to undress themselves and to struggle into bathing costumes. Under hastily erected canopies they open their lunches, one long line of picnic lunches, and with the sand lowing in the raspberry jam, they eat. And eat. And eat. Then they systematically dispose of paper by crumpling it into little balls and throwing it on to the beach. Here it lands, unfolds, and blows about during the afternoon.

On the hot, steamy asphalt road, leading along the foreshore, humanity parades all the day, clad in every sort of attire. There are people in their Sunday best, blue serge suits, stiff collars. There are the best collection of hideous blazers ever gathered in any Christian country. There are screaming, yelling children, and gawky girls whose backs have nearly been burnt off them by the sun, so that now they present red, raw spaces, steaming with coconut oil.

People everywhere are eating ice creams, chewing sandwiches, or munching sweets. In the grassy plots between the foreshore houses they are even doing a bit of peaceful summer noonday necking, locked in one another’s arms.

But what, you say, what about the occupiers of the houses? Are they willing to take all this? Are they in the middle of it, moving and having their being? Are they not in retreat, in the hills, hiding from the fury of Suburbia? Of course not. They love it. They are no better than the trippers, no more to be commended or condemned. They are at home among them. They are Suburbia just as much as the trippers, the difference being that the tripper can afford a day or a week-end, bus transport, and a tent, while the Palm Beach holidayer can afford a car and the price of a cottage.

Picture from ‘The Home’, February 1939 [Trove]

That is the dreadful part of it, perhaps even more distressing than the trippers and the campers and the smells. It is the pseudo-socialites, lying on the beach in their gay wraps, imagining themselves the be-all and end-all of exclusiveness.

Who are they, and from whence did they come? Who knows? It is obvious why they come. They, in the first place, were attracted by the Palm Beach myth; they imagined people of great wealth and power, lying on the beach picking at caviar and getting stuck into magnums of champagne. They came, they saw, they were disappointed. But they stayed, because they had the wealth to turn on the luxuries which the real people did not trouble to turn on. They came in greater droves, formed their own society, their little cliques, their unpleasant groups. And the more they came the more the real people fled, content to let their houses to the nouveaux-pseudoes. And so the new people found they had the beach to themselves. It became their domain; and they ruined it. Now they can keep it.

-David McNicoll, Australian, 1914–2000

From Letters and Journal of W. Stanley Jevons (1886)

Economist and logician William Stanley Jevons was nineteen when he arrived in Sydney in 1854 to take up the position of assayer at the new Sydney Mint. During his five years in Sydney, his work left him time to pioneer meteorology, geology, photography and political economy in Australia. His letters to his family give an insight into daily life in the young colony:

Petersham, N.S.W., 18th January 1856.

I know that at any time you will be glad to have a letter from me, and so, without any particular prospect of a mail, I am going to write you a few pages. I have been much occupied the last twenty-four hours with an incident that occurred to me last night, and which I shall not easily forget. On going upstairs to bed about 10.30 p.m., with a candle, I had got but a short distance into the room when I saw a long irregular black thing lying on the floor. I was puzzled at first to think what it was, but a very few moments of examination were required to decide the question, for it was without doubt a black snake, and still further to convince me, the thing began to move and to hiss! To tell the truth, I then went out of the room quite as fast as I came in (as people say), and, to have him in safe keeping, shut the door. On returning with Mr. O’Connell, provided with sticks, etc., for his destruction, we could see nothing of him, but ultimately discovered him hidden in a corner under the bed, from which being displaced, Mr. O’Connell soon killed him with a few good knocks, but not before he had made a great display of his wide-opened mouth and forked tongue. The fellow was then found to be over a yard long, but though he be no wonder himself, everybody acknowledges it to be the most singular fact they remember of a snake getting into a house, for besides crossing the yard, he had to go up several stone steps into the lobby, and then up long, steep, and rather awkward stairs into the room. Everybody says, too, that he is a regularly poisonous rascal. It is well, however, that it was as it was, for if he had simply moved under the bed before I came in, I should have probably gone to bed with him under me—a very disagreeable thought. I have thus been giving you an account of the affair as lengthily as if I had been talking to you, and I do not know what for, unless for my own satisfaction and amusement, but I hope not to your alarm. It is singular that this is the first snake of any size that any of us have met this summer, and in all probability I may go to bed every day of my life and not meet a second.

The drawing room at the house where Jevons lived in Double Bay [John Rylands University Library, the University of Manchester]

…Though often rather tired with assaying in the midst of hot winds and the present awfully close weather, I am very jolly and well. Last Monday I went a long walk through the bush and swamps to the shores of Botany Bay, but it is rather an uninteresting place, except for its associations, and I got back without anything worth relating. …

Portrait of Jevons holding cupels and tongs – some of the assayer’s tools, 1857 [John Rylands University Library, the University of Manchester]

Sunday, 27th January.

In many of your letters, some months since, you noticed my having been to a déjeûner at Dawes Battery last year, and seemed to take pleasure in it. The same thing came off yesterday again, being a general holiday for the anniversary of the foundation of the colony; but as Captain Ward, of course, knows ten times as many people as he did then, it was on a much more extensive scale. It was most excessively formal; but I found it easy to get on without being noticed for any peculiarity among the number of people, and I was somewhat pleased to have an opportunity of observing the Australian aristocracy. That you may understand the occasion of the whole affair, you must know that the Sydney people, liking holidays, make the anniversary day a good excuse for one, and the whole town turns out in a way unknown in England, unless it be a Good Friday or a Fast-Day. The chief attraction is the regatta, the principal one of the year, and the points at Fort Macquarie and Dawes Battery are crowded with people, as well as all other places within sight. Captain Ward’s house, on the top of the point, has the best view of the whole; and from the pictures you have of the harbour you can imagine what a really beautiful scene it is to see it covered with different yachts and sailing boats, innumerable row boats, many of the large coasting steamers strolling about with bands, and full of visitors, and all the shipping and flag-poles fully decorated with flags. Any one arriving from sea on a regatta day must indeed think Sydney a fine place.

View from Dawes Pt, Sydney 1859, looking east, Captain Edward Wolstenholme Ward, Deputy Master of the Sydney Branch of the Royal Mint [Historic Houses Trust of NSW]

-William Stanley Jevons, English, 1835–1882