Mr Asia: Old memories and new tears
Reactions to the Mr Asia column – regretting the impact of the television series on the families of victims and its glorifi of their killer – came quickly and from long distance too.
Wellington’s Dominion Post reprinted it. The Fairfax Stuff website gave it prominence. The Sydney Morning Herald highlighted the main points. Radio stations called for interviews – National Radio, Radio Live, stations in Perth, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.
Then there were the sad messages – relatives of some of Terry Clark’s victims reliving their old despair and grief. Typical of them:
“My sister worked for Terry Clark and you mentioned her in your original book. I wanted to thank you for being the only media voice to mention the families connected to these events.
“My mother and father have both died within the last four years and this would be the only reason I’m grateful for that, that they don’t have to endure the horror and distress of having the whole story played out in public again particularly with such salacious relish. We do have to endure, however. Like you, I won’t be watching the series.
“My sister paid her debt and has subsequently moved on to a much better life.”
Some wrote desperate for answers about sisters and mothers, sons and daughters.
One was a message with a cryptic and compelling quality.
“I want to talk to you about something that might interest you. It involves Terry Clark.”
I returned the call. In the first sentence, the educated and highly intelligent voice of someone I met briefly in entirely different circumstances years ago summed up the Mr Asia-Terry Clark television spectacular:
“It’s appalling – total misrepresentation and romanticising of a person who was an insidious low-life.
“I knew many of the Mr Asia characters in New Zealand and Australia in those days.
“My record began with assaults and drugs. I was a heroin addict. Then crimes to pay for my addiction both here and in Australia – and it was all downhill from there. I know what I’m talking about.
“Television didn’t show how Terry Clark, then just a petty criminal and burglar in Witako Prison, met the guy who educated him on the big money you could make from heroin. And, it was there that he met Chinese Jack, the contact to the pure stuff from the Golden Triangle.
“I had a reputation for violence in those days and was seen by some in the business as a likely stand-over man.
“Because of these contacts and my addic- tion, I knew Clark and his methods – without being part of them. Someone in prison who we shared a common contact with gave my name to Clark and he tried to recruit me for a drug run from Thailand which I didn’t buy into.”
I put to him the reactions of media critics. Linda Herrick in the Herald wrote:
“Clark ... was all pathological charm as he inched his way to status as top dog – with a hobby of painting landscapes ... I think we are going to see Terry Clark moving on to bigger things over the next 11 weeks, including fine wine and more murders. It’s appointment TV.”
Jane Clifton, the Dominion-Post’s nationallytelevision critic, wrote:
“It gives us a fascinating portrait of the charismatic chancer at its hub. History tells us he was a seriously evil man, but common sense – and this programme – also suggests he was a charmer, and had enough humanity to form lasting relationships and engender loyalty other than simply through fear.”
My contact’s immediate and angry reaction: “That commercially shaped television image of him as a bold adventurer who created a vast criminal enterprise is totally and deliberately wrong.
“Yes, Clark had an almost hypnotic ability to manipulate his underlings, but he was actually a sadistic lowlife who often managed to stay out of prison because he was a police informer. He traded the freedom of other criminals just as easily as he tortured and murdered people.
“Loyalty? His willingness to betray, inform on and murder his closest colleagues meant he leapfrogged other more intelligent cohorts in the enterprise who couldn’t conceive and anticipate how he would eventually remove them.
“As he did – permanently.
“Ruthless betrayal must never be mistaken for intelligence.
“Neither do early episodes fully depict the real extent of police collusion in Australia at that time. It went much higher than Merv Wood, the bad cop inspector who featured in the first episode.
“Merv Wood’s life itself was triumph and tragedy.
“He was the only athlete to carry the Australian flag at two Olympic opening ceremonies in 1952 and 1956. He went to his first Olympics at 19 as a member of the police rowing eight in Berlin in 1936.
“He rowed at four Olympic Games to win gold, silver and bronze and won four Commonwealth gold medals. But one of the high points of his life, his partnership with another policeman, Murray Riley, to win gold medals in the double sculls at the 1950 and 1954 Commonwealth Games and a bronze medal in the 1956 Olympics led to his ruin.
“Both their lives turned to custard. Merv eventually became New South Wales Police Commissioner in 1976, but stepped down after three years, partly because of his links with his old rowing mate Riley an ex-cop, who had by then turned to crime.
“Riley was a dangerous piece of work. I met him in Australia’s Long Bay jail. In 1966 he was jailed for a year in New Zealand for trying to bribe a police inspector after he was involved in drug importing and cashing stolen American Express cheques.
“He was finally caught in June, 1978, when 4.3 tonnes of cannabis was found on board the yacht Anoa at Polkington Reef, east of Papua New Guinea.
“Oh, yes. When you’ve been close to the action, you quickly see the faults.”
And then another quote from Jane Clifton: “The value of fictionalising history and taking liberties with it is that it gives us the tone and flavour of events – more vividly than a documentary could.”
His reaction: “Yeah, right. The people who funded and constructed this monstrous load of rubbish are not intent on depicting the real story of Clark and the Mr Asia syndicate. They’re only interested in sensationalising a lot of notorious and unconnected events to gain audience share. It’s a preposterous and poorlyfiction.”
My last question: But would you be talking this way about Clark for publication if he was still alive?
His quick answer: “Yes, absolutely.” And I believe him. To contact Pat Booth email email@example.com or write care of this newspaper. All replies are open for publication unless marked Not For Publication.