Mr Asia: Old mem­o­ries and new tears

Central Leader - - News -

Re­ac­tions to the Mr Asia col­umn – re­gret­ting the im­pact of the tele­vi­sion se­ries on the fam­i­lies of vic­tims and its glo­ri­fi­ca­tion 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 ad­dic­tion, 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 na­tion­ally-re­spected tele­vi­sion 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 and 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 tons 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.

“Hav­ing known some of the crims in the Great Bookie Rob­bery of April, 1976, for in­stance, I can’t un­der­stand why this was in­tro­duced into the first stage of the Mr Asia story. It had no con­nec­tion. And it’s an­other fic­tion to sug­gest Trim­bole was used to laun­der the pro­ceeds.”

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 poorly-pre­sented fic­tion.”

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. Among other let­ters: From Bruce Mor­ley, Grafton: “Even be­fore I read your col­umn, I saw the pro­mos for Mr Asia, and also part of the first episode be­fore I couldn’t take any more and turned it off.

“I was ap­palled, not only that this was be­ing done in the most ma­nip­u­la­tive man­ner – as ‘en­ter­tain­ment’ – but that it was be­ing done at all. We truly are los­ing our way.”

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