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How a missionary scandal in Australia and India was covered-up

About God's Triangle by the author, Ian D. Richardson This is the true story of Florence M. Cox . "F...

Monday, 7 August 2017

Working for the wonderful wireless (now better known as "the radio")

My brother, Jeffrey, contacted me from Australia the other day to report that he had been browsing through the books in a charity shop in the city of Geelong when he came across 3AW is Melbourne - 75 Years of Radio, a weighty tome published in 2007.


 

3AW was my employer for five years in the mid-1960s when I worked in its Macquarie Network newsroom in Melbourne as a writer and reporter and, sometimes, an overnight (very bad) newsreader. As my brother flicked through the book, he found that I had made a contribution to the chapter on the radio station's news department. The book is long out of print and no longer available -- except, perhaps, in a few charity or second hand shops -- but I tracked down my own copy and scanned the relevant pages.

Journalists and radio buffs may find it interesting to read of a time when Australian commercial radio took news seriously, both as a generator of audiences and as a public service. When I was at 3AW, we had a newsroom staff of around 20 journalists, including a political reporter, Frank O'Brien, based in the state parliament building, and a police reporter, Mal Cochrane, stationed in the scruffy press room at police headquarters in Russell Street.  Frank had a Saturday job, calling the horse races for ABC radio, and politicians who liked to bet on the gee gees would often seek his inside information about likely winners. Mal was what was then called a "leg man". Put another way, he would gather all the necessary information, then phone it in to a desk writer to turn into a story. In addition to Frank and Mal, there would be at least one or two general reporters darting about in their radio cars from one news event to another.

We also had radios tuned to the police and fire services, so we were always immediately aware of serious crimes and disasters. We all had to know the code numbers used by the police. I still remember after all this time that a "12 and 16" was a road accident requiring an ambulance. A "35" was a stabbing and a "69" was not code for a sex act but for a murder.

Sometimes we would beat the police to the scene. Our monitoring equipment, both in the newsroom and in the radio cars, was officially illegal, but the police and fire services knew we had it and the police would sometimes make informal press announcements over their networks. Sometimes they would reveal that they were having difficulty getting to the scene and would ask us not to approach it until their patrol cars arrived.

It was incredibly draining, competitive work, but it could also be very exciting. Under editor Corbett Shaw, who died last year, I learned a great deal about what makes writing for the ear so different from writing for the eye. Another skill I acquired was that there was no such thing as  "writer's block" when churning out bulletins in a ferocious cut throat environment where every second counted. Thinking time at 3AW was a very rare commodity.

Corbett was a tough, chain-smoking boss. I was recruited from Radio 3BO, Bendigo, where I had a most enjoyable two years under editor David Horsfall. I found 3AW an entirely more rugged world, but I greatly admired Corbett's supreme skills as a radio news editor.

Corbett willingly promoted those who "delivered the goods" for him, but it was not unknown for him to hire someone on a Monday and fire them by Friday. On one Saturday, when he discovered that his journalists had taken an extended lunch break at a nearby pub, he drove into the newsroom from his home in an outer suburb of Melbourne, fired everyone -- I think there were about five journalists on duty that day -- and took over the shift himself.

In my time with 3AW, it was usual for female journalists -- both in print and broadcasting -- to be assigned only "soft" stories, usually about women's issues. Although just a few women journalists were employed in the newsroom at AW in my time, Corbett was always prepared to give them what might be called "proper stories" to do.

If Corbett had a sense of humour, I don't recall that he ever brought it to work with him. I doubt that anyone would have contemplated an over-familiar shortening of his name to "Corb" or "Corby". When I finally fell out with him in 1968 and resigned over issues too complicated to recount here, I told him I was going to seek experience abroad. He wished me the best, but his parting words were that while I was a competent journalist, I wasn't good enough to make it in international broadcasting. I confess to gaining a petty delight in informing him six months later that I had been offered a job in London with  BBC World Service News -- the start of a career that lasted almost 30 years with that fine organisation.

Most of the daytime and evening bulletins at 3AW were read by professional broadcasters, rather than the newsroom journalists. The majority were hugely skilled, having to read most stories on sight, due to the bulletins often being delivered to the studio just seconds before transmission. But not all were brilliant. One, a former famous radio actor, had to be sent on his way because he couldn't stop himself from announcing "Here are the headlights" instead of "the headlines".

3AW's news output -- particularly the half-hour breakfast, lunch and early evening bulletins -- was greatly respected and a "must listen" by the great and the good of Melbourne. Certainly these bulletins were superior to the rather tired and unimaginative ones then put out by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. But that didn't stop some mischievous stunts, most of which on reflection were rather infantile.

One such stunt, pulled a couple of times in my memory, was to give a newsreader a story announcing his own death. As our style was to put proper nouns in full caps to give the newsreaders a chance to scan ahead for tricky names, none of them failed to spot the fake story in time to skip it. 


Then there was the time when a bulletin had to be read from the mobile studio parked in the courtyard. As the bulletin progressed, a colleague turned the fire hose on the studio, causing it to rock furiously and noisily. Incredibly, the bulletin was completed without the newsreader exploding in rage or collapsing in laughter, but the listeners must have wondered about the background noise. 

On another occasion, a former colleague threw fistfuls of wheat into a studio during a live sports broadcast, then followed it with a startled and noisy rooster. The presenter tried to kick the rooster away with his foot but that just caused it to make even louder squawking noises. Eventually, the presenter began laughing uncontrollably, generating complaints from the stations that were receiving the sports information on relay. Despite the complaints, the prankster was allowed to keep his job.

There was another stunt that began well enough but turned out to be not so amusing. The station management thought it would be a great idea to have the alternating overnight female presenters do a joint show for New Year's Eve. It proved to be a very bad idea. The women arrived for duty having partaken of alcohol and were in high spirits. While a friend of mine was reading the bulletin, the women did the can-can across the studio, eventually causing him to laugh just as he was reading a story about a fatal road accident. The family of the dead person complained but somehow the matter was hushed up and the two women survived to do further separate and much more sober shifts.

Then there was the occasional embarrassing clanger, the worst being when a music program was interrupted by a news flash announcing the unexpected death of a famous Australian woman. I can't now remember who the woman was, but the flash was immediately followed by the tune that had already been cued on the turntable by the DJ, unaware of what was to be revealed in the news flash. That tune was The Old Grey Mare Ain't What She Used To Be.

Nowadays, 3AW's newsroom -- along with most others in Australian commercial radio -- are sad shadows of what they used to be. Radio newsrooms have been reduced to one or two journalists being on duty at any given time, rarely able to venture out to do any on-the-spot reporting. Some radio stations do no local reporting at all.

A friend gave me one example of what happened when his city was hit by a devastating storm a few years back. It was at the weekend and the local station was closed and relaying network programs from elsewhere in Australia. These programs could not be broken into without the manager's approval, but he was away somewhere out of contact. The result was that the station failed to broadcast any advice about the storm. Despite this being in serious breach of the requirement that the station act as an information service during a civil emergency, I understand no disciplinary action was taken by the broadcasting authorities.

That grump aside, it you fancy learning more about the Good Old Days of Australian commercial radio,
click here. You will also find other items, some quite amusing, in my 3AW archive. A Walkley magazine obituary written by Corbett Shaw's son, Roderick, is here.

Finally, a little plug for my books: The true and tragic story of a Baptist missionary scandal and cover-up,
God's Triangle, and a thriller set in a BBC bureau in the Middle East, The Mortal Maze.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Thank you, Blonde Lawyer

As any author will tell you, writing a book is a long and often-tedious task. Then there's the problem if getting it published and circulating it in the great wide world in competition with hundreds of thousands of other books. Therefore, I am pathetically grateful whenever I get a five star review from someone who appears to write from the heart:

So, Blonde Lawyer, whoever you are, wherever you are, thank you for this Amazon review of my true story of scandal and cover-up called God's Triangle:


And now if you want to read some of the other God's Triangle reviews and comments, go here


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Saudi Arabia's hostility to Al Jazeera

The demand by the Saudi Arabians that Al Jazeera be closed is deeply ironical  as they were unwittingly responsible for its original very successful launch.

I was managing editor of the original BBC Arabic TV channel in the mid 1990s. The Saudis objected so strongly to our output that they shut us down by taking us off the satellite that they owned. At around the same time, Qatar was trying to get Al Jazeera off the ground, but with little success. This was chiefly because they could not get the right sort of staff, but with the sudden closure of the BBC channel, they had the pick of more than 150 talented BBC-trained Arab presenters, writers, producers and technicians. So, in November 1996, the channel went on the air, staffed chiefly by ex-BBC people who had taken with them the corporation's ethos of balance, fairness and honesty. In addition, Al Jazeera was able to buy at bargain-basement rates all the documentaries and features that the BBC had not had a chance to broadcast.

I have no doubt that if the Saudis had not crushed the BBC channel (not restored by the corporation until 2008), Al Jazeera would have struggled to become the political and social force that it so quickly did.

More on this by going to my website archive. You will find the articles HERE.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

For those who care about how and what they write...

Have you made a flagrant error, in confusing your alternative choices? The legendary Fleet Street newspaper editor Harold Evans has this glossary to solve your language dilemmas. Well worth reading here.

And you might find my own list of misused and unnecessary words instructive. The link is here.

Friday, 14 April 2017

God's Triangle update: how a lost grave was found.

Soon after I started researching my book God's Triangle some years ago, I began the hunt to find the grave of my great aunt, Florence Martha "Florrie" Cox, the central character in this true story.

It was easy to establish that she was buried, along with her parents, Arthur and Elizabeth Cox, in the Boroondara (Kew) General Cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Melbourne, Australia. The cemetery was able to provide me with the grave number and the fact that it was in the small Primitive Methodist Section, but I soon learned that it bore no memorial headstone or any other form of identification.

During visits to my homeland, Australia, over the years I made a number of unsuccessful searches of the cemetery for the grave. Then I struck it lucky: I discovered the wonderful people in Friends of Boroondara Cemetery. They got digging (so to speak) in the files and found the grave some distance away from where I have been vainly looking for so long.

I am now delighted to report that Florrie Cox's grave no longer lies unidentified and untended. Last month, there was an informal plaque-laying ceremony, attended by the Friends president Pauline Turville and secretary Elaine Race, my cousin Alan Cox and wife Elizabeth, my cousin John Mole, and myself and wife Rosemary. As you will see from the photograph, Pauline and Elaine had kindly tidied the grave in advance of our little ceremony. 


It is no wonder that I couldn't find the grave. The photograph above shows how it was squeezed between two rows of graves in what I suspect was originally intended to be a footpath. I have not been able to establish why the grave was left unsealed and unmarked. After all, when Florrie died in 1950 and was the last person to be added to the grave, three of her siblings were still alive and should have been able to arrange for it to be sealed with a memorial added. The fact that it wasn't is a mystery and will probably remain so.

Next step is to establish the cost of permanently sealing the grave. I hope this work can be carried out in the coming months. Meantime, CLICK HERE to read a very nice article (with a stop press) from the latest edition of the Friends of Boroondara Cemetery newsletter.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

"Fantastic cracking spy thriller"

The words of Australian Broadcasting Corporation producer and book reviewer Rob Minshull when talking to Mornings anchor Steve Austin on ABC Radio Brisbane: Listen here

The Mortal Maze website

The paperback is available in Australia through Booktopia

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Two wars: one religious, one military. Which was the most important?

     While sorting out my files today I came across this item discovered when I was researching my non-fiction book God's Triangle. It's a letter written by an Australian Baptist missionary, Miss Edith King, to the missionary magazine Our Indian Field. It recounts what she saw and thought when her steamer was returning her to India, and came across a huge convoy taking Australian Imperial Force volunteers to the Middle East in the early stage of The Great War, later to become known as World War 1. 
    
    The letter, although passionately patriotic, also displays a fascinating ambivalence towards the relative merits of defeating the Germans and their Turkish allies and converting India to Christianity. Read on...

     On board the SS Osterley five of us [missionaries] were literally on our way to the front to fight for our King [our Lord] and for the extension of His kingdom. On board the forty odd vessels we passed just after leaving Fremantle, were the thousands and thousands of Australia’s young men, on their way to fight for King and country.
      It was just about evening time when we reached these troopships. What a sight they were -- travelling almost in even lines one behind the other, we counted 41 in view at once -- there were others, too, for we could see the smoke. At the four points were the warships on guard. We saw the [cruiser] HMAS Sydney very distinctly; if we could see her now she would have even more cheers than we gave her that day.
      How we cheered -- as we passed six ships one after the other; we were so close that we could see and hear the soldiers distinctly. We cheered, sang the National Anthem, “Rule Britannia,” etc., as we passed each ship, and they responded right royally. The bands played, the soldiers cheered, and waved their towels and coats, etc., and joined us in singing, “God save the King.” It was a sight we shall never forget. Many of our fellow passengers had Union Jacks, and every handkerchief was in evidence, so we did our best to give our soldiers an enthusiastic reception.
     We were travelling much faster than they, so before morning had left them far behind. Among the vessels we passed very close to were the Ophir, the Omrah, Star of Victoria, Beltana, containing WA. troops, and two others whose names I do not remember.
 One of our passengers saw her son standing on a tin waving his coat; they recognised each other at once and great was the excitement. On the way to the front  -- strong, brave, light hearted men, some of our best, prepared to give their all even to life itself, for their country.

     Twenty thousand volunteers, to fight for the honor of their King and country on their way to the front. Four thousand to fight for Christ and India’s emancipation. For this in round numbers is the total of missionaries in India.
     Is this our best response? Is this all we can spare? Where are the volunteers for India? Great the need for our soldiers to proceed to the front, but greater, infinitely greater, the need for more men to proceed to the mission field.
     Great the honor to fight for King George, but greater, infinitely greater, the honor of fighting for Christ in India. On their way to the front -- God grant that speedily many more of our best young people may hear the call of our King, so that the four may be multiplied into many on their way to the front, to win victory for Christ and His Gospel.
The story of God's Triangle 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

How a missionary scandal in Australia and India was covered-up

About God's Triangle by the author, Ian D. Richardson


This is the true story of Florence M. Cox. "Florrie", as she was widely known, was my great aunt. She died in Melbourne, Australia, in 1950, understanding little of the circumstances that destroyed her marriage and her life as a Baptist missionary in East Bengal (now Bangladesh). It is also an account of an establishment cover-up of the scandal surrounding her failed marriage, and of how her husband, the Rev. Frank E. Paice, and his mistress and second wife, A. Olga Johnston, erased a whole chunk of their past to become pillars of society in Australia.

      The story reveals much about the social constraints of an age when strict Christian virtues and rigid social taboos reigned supreme over intelligent open discussion and a realisation that life's problems must not be viewed simply as black or white, or Christian good versus evil.
      God's Triangle is about my search for the truth surrounding my great aunt. The story would have remained a secret, had it not been for my mother casually showing me a photograph that excited my incurable journalistic curiosity.
      I was brought up in a staunchly-Protestant environment, but I am no longer a believer, nor have I been since my late teenage years. Hence, this story is viewed through the prism of an atheist, but I hope believers will accept that I have done my best to tell the story with honesty and fairness.
      My great aunt and her fellow Christian missionaries in India were mostly kind souls who genuinely believed that they had a God-given mission to link "doing good" with spreading the word of the Lord and obtaining conversions, heedless of the cost to themselves or the converts.
      As part of the cover-up some years later, most of the related official documents were lost or destroyed by the Baptist Church. All that remains in the church records are a few cryptic minutes from board meetings of the Baptist Foreign Mission Board in 1918 and 1919.
      The families involved in events that I will recount also destroyed their records, or at least hid them where they hoped they wouldn't be found. Had it not been for old copies of the missionary magazines, The Southern Baptist, Our Indian Field and Our Bond, held in Baptist archives in Melbourne and in Oxford, England, it would have been impossible to get to the truth. The magazines themselves did not refer to any scandal, of course, but they did provide vital dates and other clues that helped my wife and me assemble a jigsaw.
      A jigsaw is a perfect analogy for how our research progressed. Not all the pieces could be found, but we were able over the years to put together a reasonably complete picture. Sometimes, we would go weeks or months without finding a piece of the jigsaw and even when one was located, it wasn't always possible to know where it fitted. However, since the first edition was published, further information has emerged, requiring an additional chapter in this edition.
      It would have been nice to assemble the God's Triangle jigsaw in an orderly manner, say, bottom up or top down, but it was never going to be like that. Sometimes we would find a big chunk of the picture but not fully understand what it portrayed. And sometimes we would fail to spot the obvious, or would be led off on a false trail.
      A vital part of the jigsaw was provided by the divorce file for Great Aunt Florrie and Frank Paice. But as you will learn, the divorce papers were part of the cover-up and far from easy to obtain.
      The depth of the embarrassment and anxiety that erupted around Florrie Cox, Frank Paice and Olga Johnston cannot be overstated. Worst of all, it tore apart the Paice family and spilled over into my own branch of the Cox family, even though Great Aunt Florrie was arguably an entirely innocent party.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Reba Rangan, the forgotten Australian opera star

Back in the first half of the 20th century, Melbourne-born Reba Rangan was one of Australia's most famous opera singers. She was a frequent performer in the United Kingdom and Australia, sometimes appearing with Dame Nellie Melba. But her hopes of international stardom were hampered when she needed to return to Australia to become her elderly mother's carer. And there are questions about the circumstances of her death, with an assertion that she was effectively murdered by a surgeon. 

Few Australians - even opera lovers - now remember the name Reba Rangan. Learn more about her life in this biographical summary. The web version is HERE and the 20MB printable copy can be downloaded HERE.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The cost to history of digital photography


How an old photo led to my writing a book, but how many  family photographs will survive our digital age?

Some years ago, during a visit I made to my mother in Melbourne, Australia, we found a box of old photographs on top of a wardrobe. It was a goldmine of family memories, but not without its problems. The colour prints were mostly faded, and while the black-and-white and sepia photos were generally in good condition, almost none bore any identification.

We spent hours working our way through the photographs, using a soft pencil to write names, and where possible, locations and approximate dates on the back of each one.

As we worked our way through the collection, my eye was caught by a family group photograph taken in a studio in Melbourne in 1914 around the time the First World War was getting underway. The group included a woman I had never seen before.

My mother, who has since died, identified the woman as my Great Aunt Florence “Florrie” Cox, and under my cross-examination, she very reluctantly revealed that Florrie had been a Baptist missionary in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and had innocently been caught up in a terrible scandal that had shamed the family in Melbourne.

I had originally thought this would be a marginal family history episode, but the more I learned the more I realised that I had a book in the making. This was published as God’s Triangle. Had my mother not had such a clear long-term memory, that old photograph would not have been identified and the fascinating and touching story of God’s Triangle would have remained untold.

There was a time, not that many decades ago, when taking a photograph was an event from which the results were treasured. Families would have a Kodak Box Brownie or maybe, as I did, a clunky East German Praktica 35mm. Most of the photos would be in black-and-white or sepia, although with the growth of 35mm cameras, a treat would be to buy a roll of Kodachrome colour transparency film.

Special events, such as weddings and the birth of a child in the family, would occasion the services of a professional photographer or perhaps a visit to a photographic studio with its massive lights and camera. The photographs from these sessions were archival quality and became proud possessions to be passed on from generation to generation.

The rot began to set in when cheap cameras, 35mm colour print film and one-hour processing began to dominate the market in the 1970s and 1980s. Colour photographs became the norm and began to lose their value as a means of permanently recording our lives pictorially.

Extra prints were sometimes ordered for friends, then the negatives would probably be binned. Worse – and this is something few people realised – these colour prints were prone to discolouring and fading and had little or no long-term archival quality.

It is safe to estimate that billions of digital photographs are now taken around the world each day, the majority of them on smart phones, but how many will survive to take their place in a family’s historical record? Almost none.

Some of these photographic efforts end up being emailed to friends and family, or are posted on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr and other social media outlets, but are very rarely turned into prints that can be held in the hand and admired, or put in a frame or even a photographic album.

The irony is that the technical quality of the pictures taken on digital cameras and smart phones is exceptionally high, but not by the time they are transferred to the social media. They may look good on a computer screen, but they can’t be printed in good quality.

From time to time, I get interesting family photographs emailed to me, or they are posted on Facebook, and I ask for high-definition copies so that I can produce good quality prints and add them to my family history archive. I rarely get them, either because they have been deleted, or the photographers can’t figure out how to process them in top quality.

A friend of mine fires off the camera in his iPhone at every opportunity, but when I ask him what happens to all the pictures, the short answer is that they are mostly lost whenever he upgrades his mobile phone or computer, something that he does quite frequently.

This takes me onto another bugbear: identification of photographs. Almost since photography was popularised by the likes of Fox Talbot and George Eastman, there has been a failure to identify the who, the where and the when on a photograph.

It is sometimes a tedious task, but all my saved photographs are identified, usually with a caption added when I process them through my Photoshop, or similar, software. This often prompted ridicule on the part of my family and friends, but I am delighted to report that I am gradually winning them over. 

Initially, when I showed a photo with a name, location and date on it, I would be told “But we know all that!” My answer is “Well, you know that now, but I bet you won’t remember the date in a matter of months. You will be a bit hazy about the location in a few years, and a few years after that you won’t be entirely sure who all the people are. This has proved to be true in many cases.

While I fear for the future of our family photographic history, new and cheap printing opportunities have emerged in recent years as a benefit of digitisation. It is now possible with fairly basic computer skills to design a photobook that can be printed by a commercial company for as little as £10, although £40 is a reasonable expectation for larger books with hard covers.

Photobooks have an advantage over the old photographic albums in that the photos do not become unstuck and fall out over time. So, while I fret that so much of our pictorial history is being lost, never to be recovered, it is not all depressing news.