They say a good deed never goes unpunished, and ain’t that the truth.
The year is 1988, Australia’s Bicentennial Year, and flags are waving, nations are vying to brings gifts of significance, and the Japanese Prime Minister and his wife are paying a State Visit to Australia, where he will receive the Order of Australia, in return for his country’s not inconsiderable millions of dollars contributed towards the building of Questacon, the national science and technology kid’s museum in Canberra.
One billion yen (equivalent to ten million Australian dollars) had been approved as a Bicentennial gift to the Government and people of Australia.
Working on contract as a speechwriter for the Ambassador, your reporter was inevitably drawn into the frenzy of excitement that preceded the visit, pervading the embassy from the office of the ambassador to the gardener who lamented the fact that the cherry blossom, (the trees also an earlier gift from Japan to Canberra) would not be in blossom for the visit of His Excellency Mr Noburu Takeshita and his wife.
The very best suite of rooms at the very best hotel in Canberra had been secured for the PM’s visit.
A ground floor banqueting room was turned into a ‘Visits Office’ which would function as both official media HQ. The PM was accompanied not only by his official entourage, but a large contingent of Japanese media and a table had been set up with an impressive array of bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label whisky and cigarette cartons (the Hyatt management somehow, in those days, managed not to see that most of their guests were heavy smokers).
The official embassy protocol officer held classes to teach us uncoordinated local staffers the graceful, obligatory bows that must be carried out before any speech or action was undertaken with a member of the PM’s delegation.
As the ambassador’s official pen pusher I was kept busy, not only was I expected to write His Excellency’s speeches, but to edit and polish those of the visiting officials, which in those days before email, flowed unchecked to the floor in curls of paper, from the fax machines.
Late, very late, the night after the official party had arrived (we had hardly caught sight of them, for they had been whisked from hotel to then-very-new Parliament House, on the morrow to meet with then-PM Bob Hawke), I was despatched with what must have been the 20 or 30th revision of a speech to the official penthouse suite, occupied by the Takeshitas and their most senior officials.
To reach it, you had to walk up a flight of stairs, at the top of which loomed two huge, unsmiling figures in expensive but ill-fitting suits.
I halted, bowed. They bowed, but much less low, and for a shorter duration.
I was, they could see, female, and a local one at that. I smiled bravely and surrendered my sheaf of papers, praying that the speech would not have to be revised.
Returning to the “war room” one of the junior diplomats, who had been asked to ensure that the speech reached its intended destination, hailed me.
“You gave it ?” he asked. I nodded. Relief spread over his face.
He put down the cup of instant noodles he had been eating – electric jugs had been brought in from the embassy eliminating the need for junior diplomats to return to their homes; more senior ones were allocated hotel rooms, the others slept in the ‘war room’ heads pillowed on their hands.
“You saw body guards,?” he asked.
I nodded again. He dug his chopsticks into his instant noodles and whispered.
“They are expert. Their hands officially registered,” he paused, “lethal weapons.”
The next day, Day One of the official State Visit, was the official reception at Parliament House, the meeting of the two Prime Ministers, mutual understanding, mutual cooperation, in this, Australia’s Bicentennial Year, the nation’s birthday.
Standing with the embassy officials, enfolded into a heavy federal police presence, there was suddenly a commotion, and I saw the two huge bodyguards spring into action around the slight figure of the Japanese PM.
An Australian, it seemed, was threatening Mr Takeshita with what looked like a club or stick of some kind and the man, I saw, was no other than the just-becoming-known in the newspapers as a Green activist and commentator, then fairly new in Canberra, the Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown.
“Stop them,” I cried, thinking of those lethal hands, “he’s a Member of Parliament, he’s harmless. It’s a stunt.”
The diplomat who heard me was both quick thinking and spoke fluent English. He cupped his hands, shouted in Japanese and his shout was echoed by others.
Takeshita’s bodyguards, having moved to protect him, halted, Australian police officers and plain clothes security men stepped in to escort Senator Brown, still brandishing what turned out to be a rolled up petition, to prevent wood chipping, from the scene. That was 1988.
Listening to Bob Brown most recently, I think how different things might have been if he had got close enough to Takeshita to present his petition, in range of those officially registered lethal weapons, the fists of the P.M.’s bodyguards.
I don’t think he’ll ever know.