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Exposé - Scandals, Stars and Scoops!!


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Toni McRae, the multi-award-winning, quintessential Australian journalist is a scandal, star and scoop in her own right.

In four decades she has covered the biggest stories – for local and international newspapers, magazines, TV and radio.

And across the world they’ve also written and broadcast about her own life; her international and national scoops, her marriages and lovers, her political career, and at least one famous court case.

This book is her first autobiography – she waited a long time - and it sings loudly with the big names, the amazing inside stories, the stunning secrets from the heart and soul of the mysterious Fourth Estate that she has lived and worked in all her life – and respects with passion, while retaining a rare appreciation that her readers, listeners remain her daily raison d’etre.
Exposé: Scandals, Stars and Scoops is the must read of 2011.
 

In Store Price: $27.95 
Online Price:   $26.95

ISBN: 978-1-921731-49-5    
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 230
Genre: Non Fiction

 

Author: Toni McRae
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2011
Language: English

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AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Who Is The Author? 

 

Toni McRae is an Australian print and broadcast journalist who has also spent some of her working career in Israel, Europe, Iran and New Zealand.

She has filed national and international scoops and been an integral part of the teams that have won three United Nations Association Media Peace awards, including the 2008 and 2009 Promotion of Aboriginal Reconciliation awards and three State and one National Media award for Older People Speak Out, including the Queensland Premier’s one-off 2009 Q150 award.

Her editors on The Australian nominated her for the inaugural Australian Journalist of the Year award after she risked her life filing for the Murdoch group worldwide from Iran during the war and US hostage crisis.

During the Iran-Iraq War she also wrote and broadcast exclusive reports for America’s NBC Today, the New York Post and BBC Scotland. 

She has written five reference books and for eight years was married to an Australian federal politician, Jack Birney, formerly a criminal lawyer. 

She now lives in Queensland, where until January 2011, she was the Fraser Coast’s Chronicle chief reporter.

CHAPTER ONE (part sample) 

The scoop that helps bring down

Gough Whitlam’s government 

 

I

 ARRIVED at my desk in the office just outside the editor’s, to begin my hard day’s night shift at the Fairfax-owned, tabloid Sydney Sun. It was around 6am on a sultry early December morning in 1974.

I opened the Sydney Morning Herald, our broadsheet sister paper that came out of the massive room next door, where at the Herald end, grey men sat with greyer beards and filled pontificating column inches that bore their names and made them gods.

And at the other end, the lesser mortals, the generally untidily attired news hounds who worked for the Sun and occupied the rows of shabby desks under the grubby windows that overlooked the narrow side road off Jones Street. All men, except for one gorgeous brunette creature, Marlene, who wore wide-brimmed hats and floating frocks, and who later married Hungarian-born heavyweight boxing champ, Joe Bugner. József Kreul was British, European and WBF world heavyweight champion, twice went the distance with Muhammad Ali and beat Henry Cooper. None of the macho journo blokes ever dared go too close to her. I was more impressed with Marlene than any other soul in that building. My father had raised me on a diet of heavyweight boxers – and had taught me to box. Still, part of me, a small part wanted to be with the Herald gods and not in my ever frenetic Sun tabloid cage, but I knew I was far from ready. My amazing stint on The Australian was yet to come.

That morning as always I scanned the Herald. There was a story about a stunning and sexy – that’s what the words amounted to – Filipino-born woman, Junie Morosi, being inappropriately given a Canberra house through the auspices of Immigration Minister Al Grassby who represented the Italian-led Riverina, centred around Australia’s drug trafficking capital of Griffith.

Who cared, I thought – except for one thing that leapt at me out of the page. Ms Morosi was the private secretary to the nation’s Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer, Doctor Jim Cairns.

So this was looming as big-time stuff. 

Tony Stephens wrote in the Herald 28 years later, ‘the media had (thus far) kept a discreet distance from the private lives of Australian political leaders. This policy was soundly based on the theory that these private lives were not the proper concern of the people unless they affected, or were likely to affect, decisions made for or about the people.’ 

Well, at the time I read that Herald morning edition about the Filipino beauty and the Whitlam government’s pioneering politician, it did come to mind for a moment that former Prime Minister John Gorton’s PA, Anslie Gotto, had, just a few years earlier had the hormones of the male-dominated Canberra press gallery jumping, and even into print.

Gorton once shared a school dormitory with Errol Flynn until the future Hollywood star was expelled and maybe that was where he learned to like women. Later he annoyed many of his MPs by giving so much power to his young private secretary, Ainslie Gotto. So much so that when Dudley Erwin was sacked from the ministry in 1969, the angry former Gorton supporter had no doubt who to blame: ‘It’s shapely, it wiggles and its name is Ainslie Gotto.’ 

‘Morning, Butch.’

The Sun’s craggy-faced, gangly, 50-something editor, Jack Tier, impossibly loped from his office into mine – impossibly, considering it was 6.15 in the morning and he was springing out of his office like a kangaroo.

Long-legged Jack was always energetic. Shame that, a couple of years on, he was to confide in me at the bar across the road that he had less than six months to live. And he was right almost to the day.

‘Morning, Jack.’

He had nick-named me Butch pretty soon after he pulled me from the women’s pages of the paper way down the corridor at the less important end of the building, where I’d been working under a kind and mothering editor Nan Javes, who had split from her air force husband and was soon to wed gregarious Sun sports writer Johnny Dwyer.

Nan’s daughter Sue Javes eventually married uber-talented, red-haired Kerry O’Brien, who also worked on the Sun, but in the big room outside the editors’ offices.  

Years later – 2008 – across a Melbourne bar after our Fraser Coast Chronicle team had impossibly won the prestigious United Nations Association Media Peace Award for Aboriginal Reconciliation, 7.30 Report’s Kerry, who had been a firm family friend of Nan, her kids and Johnny Dwyer, confided Nan had encouraged him to call into the out-of-town university where Sue was studying, and say hello.

‘We went to dinner and just talked and talked and talked…and that was it,’ Kerry said. ‘But it meant Sue couldn’t fulfil her dream of becoming a fulltime, full-on journalist. Still, that’s life.’ Kerry had fallen madly in love, as they say, with Sue, they raised a family and Kerry’s career dominated not just their marriage but Australian broadcast journalism. It still does. For a while longer anyway as he recently announced his retirement from the program – to go on to fresher green fields within Aunty ABC.

Soon after I was transferred to the big room outside Jack Tier’s office. ‘You’re going to be a special writer for us now, Butch. Series and stuff like that. But we still want you to bring in the news stories.’

Around that time Kerry quit the Sun to join the ABC. I missed his quality immediately.

I felt then the Sun was losing a rare, finely honed journo to that dreadful creature that ate up newspapers and spat them into one line headline grabs…called television. But Kerry pioneered a change to a lot of that style.

And not long after I too would join the enemy. 

Stylish fashion editor Helen Gordon also nurtured me in those women’s section days, as did the women’s editor who replaced Nan, Taffy Davies. Horror. A Welshman and a male in charge of the women’s section? Taffy was at that time the best thing that happened to women’s pages in a daily newspaper.

For years we remained close friends, as did our copy girl in those days, later Sydney and London social columnist, Janise Beaumont, who later worked for radio ratings champ, Alan Jones. 

One of my casual friends in that era was Robert Hughes, the talented muso and actor who in 2010 hit the headlines via a Channel 9 A Current Affair exposé on his Hey Dad TV days. I liked Robert. He was just a tad uptight but that I figured was down to his creative intensity. We once went on a car rally together and were doing extremely well until we stopped across a white line. That lost us the rally.

Robert had started his working life as a copy boy for the Sun newspaper, which is where we met. He was almost a couple of years younger than me. We used to hang out at Taffy Davies’ parties in Taffy’s and then partner Dorothy’s Lavender Bay flat. She later changed her name to Emma.

Robert shot to the top of the Australian entertainment industry with the hip band The Flying Circus but this was short lived and he began working in the theatre as an actor, in Sydney productions like Errol Flynn’s Great Big Adventure Book for Boys, and Macbeth. He appeared in many guest roles in Australian television shows, as well as his own starring role in that madcap Seven network comedy series Hey Dad.

We lost contact after his Flying Circus entrée. Robert had been among the more intelligent friends of my young Sydney life. I missed him – but never his driving/navigating skills. 

Taffy Davies was an enormous influence on my career. He once took me to have dinner with one of the sexiest men in show biz, Tom Jones. You think that guy has all the moves now? Let me tell you, in the early 70s he was the best hip swiveller on the planet. Taffy and Tom came from Pontypridd, a small town about 10 miles north of the capitol city of Cardiff, so the meeting that evening in a plush Sydney hotel dining room was emotional for these two guys.

I liked Tom and there was a spark between us. Later Taffy confided the singer had asked him in the men’s loo ‘is she available?’ Taffy apparently told him in no uncertain terms I wasn’t. Pity, I thought at the time, that Taffy hadn’t thought to consult me on that one. I was available. 

In those early Sun years Kamahl, the Tamil singer who is still wowing audiences at age 75 as I write, gave his first Sydney interview to me. Harry M Miller, the New Zealand-born entrepreneur who I’d known in New Zealand when I was a kid freelancer for newspapers and magazines, phoned me to tell me of this ‘amazing voice that sounds like the deep ocean rolling onto the shore’. So I went to a tiny Paddington flat and met Kamahl and his wife Sahodra.

Kamahl and I caught up again 40 years later on the Fraser Coast and we sat down to tea and  memories. It was just a bit special.

The next day part of this story appeared in the Fraser Coast Chronicle where I am now chief reporter.

‘Yesterday morning  four thousand people sat and stood on the Scarness foreshore as Kamahl hit his basso profundo straps in Love Is In The Air – and 40 years flashed past in just a couple of booming rolling bars.

Four decades back was when this reporter last sat down with the legendary entertainer who broke the ignorant Aussie mould of ‘Blacks don’t make it big time unless they’re Satchmo or Bassey’.

Yesterday proud Tamil, Kamahl and I shared tea for the first time since I interviewed him and stunning Indian wife Sahodra in their tiny Paddington flat in Sydney.

‘I’ve never stopped struggling, Toni,’ he confided yesterday. ‘If life hands you a lemon you make lemonade and I’ve had lots of both.’

It was a 1969 phone call from entrepreneur Harry M Miller when I was a new reporter on the Sydney Sun that led me to Kamahl.

‘He has a voice like the depths of the ocean rolling into shore,’ Harry told me. ‘You have to meet him, Toni. He’s special.’

That 34-year-old quietly spoken man who sat next to Sahodra in their broom cupboard apartment – ‘we’ll have been married 44 years on June 29’ – helped change my attitude to life in Australia.

‘Being black in a white society is not an advantage,’ he said then and he repeated it yesterday.

‘When I came from Malaysia to Australia in the 50s I wasn’t as informed as I could have been. Indigenous people were not recognised as citizens and I looked Indigenous. In fact in 1967 I played an Aborigine in the movie Journey out Of Darkness. I had one word to say, ‘Bitter’.

‘For years, Toni, I was physically and metaphorically bruised.’

Kamahl said his life could well have been ‘one of a singing tour driver in Malaysia’ unless media baron Rupert Murdoch hadn’t mentored him and even boarded him in Sydney for two years.

‘People do change your life. Another was Bill Schneider, an immigration officer here who for some reason refused to accept my deportation notice in 1958. I still speak with Bill’s grandchildren.’

Now a grandfather of Isabelle by his daughter Rani, Kamahl admits to ‘earning $100 and spending $100’.

‘I’m not good financially. Never have been.

‘But in spite of all the charity work I have done and do I still want to set up a scholarship for young performers in the arts. I want to help gifted young people.’

Ironically, Mayor Mick Kruger was on stage to greet Kamahl yesterday and Mick was a glassie in George Kotis’ Tattersall’s Hotel in Maryborough in the 70s, picking up glasses the night Kamahl was the headlining act. George died recently in a horrendous weekend car crash. I was Chronicle duty editor on the Sunday morning after and it wasn’t the first time I fought back tears over putting together a front page announcing the death of a friend.

The singer says it’s my perception that at 75 he looks so good. ‘I have aches and pains and the rest. A surgeon, Professor Leigh Delbridge, saved my voice a few years ago. I could have been vocally crippled. I was so frightened I almost turned white.’

It’s 50 years since Kamahl did his first TV show and in a few weeks he’ll feature on Spicks and Specks.

‘I guess I am overcoming the ravages of getting old and gradually replacing my vitamins with preservatives.’

But in spite of that protestation, when Kamahl stood up to say goodbye it was just like the 40 years had never passed us by.

And off he strode along the Hervey Bay Esplanade to wow another few thousand people at the festival.

‘Break a leg,’ I called back to him in that age-old show biz line of good luck. He waved and laughed.

That was our own version of his 1969 hit Sounds of Goodbye.

Hope it’s not another 40 years.’

A few days later Kamahl sent me an email with a picture of him and Bo Derek, the gorgeous Ten star of the 70s. He’d met her that week at the races in Sydney. Bo looked incredible. I actually got to interview her and her hubby John Derek in Sydney when I was working for Channel 7.

Over the years I have met up again with a handful of the famous I got to interview all those decades ago.

But never with Junie Morosi.

So Sun editor Jack Tier made the decision to deposit me in the midst of lots of blokes in the room outside his editor’s office.

Somehow dubbing me Butch was his way of dealing with me, the young blonde, who wasn’t too shy at bringing in scoops either.

For the record I wasn’t then, am not now and never have been – Butch, that is.

‘Butch, you’re on the mid-morning plane to Canberra. Iris (I hope I’ve got that personal assistant’s name right because she was the best) has got it all booked. Need you to get Junie Morosi.’

Thank God, I’ve just seen Morosi’s name in the Herald, I thought. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known her from a Harry de Wheels meat and gravy pie up at Centennial Park where I sometimes parked after a long late night shift to grab my 1100 calories fix.

‘But, Jack, what about our Canberra man? At least he knows what’s going on down there.’

‘Nah. Canberra men aren’t getting anywhere, Butch, Mirror included. (That was Rupert Murdoch’s morning tabloid, the Daily Mirror, put out in opposition to our Fairfax Sun).

‘Needs a woman, Butch. That’s you. Go home, get a bloody toothbrush and some clean knickers and go get this Morosi bird. You’ll be overnighting. Iris will fix the accom. Need the stuff for front page tomorrow.’

I wanted to throw up. I was sick at the realisation of the impossibility of the assignment. The two times I’d been to Canberra were to visit the War Memorial and to swan around some function room in Parliament House with heaps of over-made-up, boring Liberal Party socialites and their only marginally more interesting blokes. By that time I had married a criminal lawyer about to become a federal MLA, Jack Birney, and Parliament House had already become our social domain.

I grabbed a new notebook, a couple of pens, my dreadful desktop typewriter with the M key that stuck and produced Z instead and raced down the five floors into Jones Street where I already had collected $300-plus of parking tickets (unpaid) and into my trusty white Renault 10. That natty little car had been given to me by Bob Ackerman, one of Jack’s loyal Jewish supporters – who just happened to be in love with me and Jack shamelessly used him, a trait employed not for the first or last time.

Jack?

Well, Jack was one of four significant Jacks in my life then. Jack Tier, Jack Plummer, the Sun’s assistant editor and Jack Rooklyn, the Bally poker machine mogul, close friend of Jack #1. Jack #1 was Reginald John Birney, known as Jack, JB and Black Jack – also as The Basher. He was a handsome high-profile criminal barrister, 19 years older than me, who one Tuesday morning wooed me at Parramatta Court, then at various pubs on our way back into Sydney, over four-and-a-half hours.

After we bedded and almost wedded he became the Liberal Party pre-selected candidate for the dicey seat of Phillip, taking in Coogee, Randwick and Bondi.

We married on November 28, 1972 – to appease the Christian component of the electorate and the high rollers in the party. That ceremony was whipped through in my Sydney Sun lunch hour, with Helen Gordon as my witness, and Jack’s gregarious engineer friend Norm Bowers to see Jack sign the vows for the second time. Jack had been married to a Sydney girl, Betty, had three kids with her and then gone de facto with Shirley, mother of Suzanne and Matthew Birney. Matthew, years later became the leader of the West Australian Liberal Party, but to this day does not know I paid much of his mother’s alimony because Jack refused to.

It gets even more tacky. Jack never told me he had two more kids with Shirley beyond his first three, Kathleen, David and Chris Birney. I found out when Hong Kong magistrate Stan Sharwood rang me to tell me the truth and warned me not to marry Jack.

‘He’s a dreadful liar, Toni. You deserve better.’

Too late. I was at the stage of forgiving JB anything and everything, including the odd whack he threw my way. The Basher was an appropriate nickname.

Norm Bowers later married Joy Nason, an escapee from the Exclusive Brethren – a really interesting lady who still wore thick stockings, flat shoes and didn’t cut her hair. I liked Norm. I grew to like Joy. Years later I saw her on national TV saying she still feared for her life and the life of her son by Norman – because of her leaving the Brethren.

‘Which way goes Phillip so goes the nation’ was the across-Australia tout for this crucial seat of Phillip that Jack won preselection for.

Jack, a former Labor Party stalwart, deputy mayor of Coolah, chose to switch allegiances to knock off Gough Whitlam’s likeable Housing Minister, Joe Riordan, to take Phillip in what became the unpredicted December 13, 1975 election.

Fat chance, I quietly thought at the time. And that’s how little I knew of the major bombshell that was going to strike Australian politics – and I was destined to be a large part of its dropping right on Gough Whitlam.

Meanwhile I drove into our Coogee cliff-top house driveway at 23 Pearce Street just as the sun was casting its warmth over the eastern suburbs.

In 10 minutes I’d packed a bag, left JB a note and sped out again towards Mascot Airport.

I threw my car into a friend’s close-to-airport driveway, caught a cab and checked in just in time, clutching that Sydney Morning Herald story, my new notebooks and a pen in my hand.

How the #@*+%$^ was I going to pull this one off – and for tomorrow’s front page? I felt sick all over again.

And then I dived into my roots. I had started journalism as a kid on an Auckland, New Zealand paper and everything I filed was by hand. No typewriter.

I’d also failed handwriting at school – twice. They thought I was backward because of my lack of ability in doing os and ms and held me back a year.

So as the stewardess plonked lukewarm coffee and a stale biscuit on my tray, I pulled the new pen out of my green blazer pocket and opened my Sydney Sun notebook and wrote…paraphrasing.

‘Dear Ms Morosi

I am a woman and a journalist.

I think maybe I know a bit of what you are going through.

I have been assigned to get to you.

I apologise.

But if you have decided to talk to a journalist about all this then we need to talk.

I will not let you down.

I am aiming to get this note to Senator Doug McClelland and hoping he will agree to pass it on to you.

I feel somehow we will meet very soon.

If we don’t good luck and my heart goes out to what you are going through.

Toni McRae

Sydney Sun…flying on a plane to Canberra right now and very nervous.’ 

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