The men and women who wrote the first rough draft of history

Some would regard them as cardinal sins: journalists masquerading as Vatican luminaries, parading in Nazi-style monocles while grabbing the best seats in bars and - if the persistent rumours were true - reporting to their secret spymasters more often than to their editors and readers.

Some would regard them as cardinal sins: journalists masquerading as Vatican luminaries, parading in Nazi-style monocles while grabbing the best seats in bars and - if the persistent rumours were true - reporting to their secret spymasters more often than to their editors and readers.

In the pantheon of larger-than-life Australian foreign correspondents, Richard Hughes was in a league of his own. The doyen of Western correspondents in the Far East, he was the inspiration for Dikko Henderson, the head of Australian security in Japan in You Only Live Twice, the last of the James Bond novels penned by Ian Fleming, Hughes' friend and one-time foreign editor at London's Sunday Times. He was also the model for Craw, MI6's Hong Kong station chief, in John le Carre's novel The Honourable Schoolboy.

Whether or not the real Hughes moonlighted as a spy - or even a double agent - remains a matter of conjecture. When he threatened to sue over the Dikko Henderson caricature, Fleming, whose own links with British espionage were no secret, is said to have declared: "If you do, I'll really write the truth about you, Dikko."

While covering the North African campaigns in World War II, Hughes and his Australian mates were regulars at the famous terrace bar of Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo. To bait their British rivals, the Australians would turn up wearing monocles without tapes, in the contemporary fashion of the Third Reich, loudly addressing each other with ecclesiastical titles such as "Your Grace" and "Monsignor".

The antics drove the stuffy British correspondents mad, and away, enabling the Australians to take over the best tables. "It confused the hell out of the people there and got us better service from the waiters," Hughes later explained in an interview with Tim Bowden.

But beyond the boozing bonhomie, Hughes was a formidable journalistic talent. A former railway shunter born in Prahran who had left school at 14, he reported with distinction from Japan before and after the war. While covering the 1956 Communist Party conference in Moscow for The Sunday Times, Hughes snared a global scoop with the first interviews with British Foreign Office defectors Burgess and Maclean.

Last night, Richard Hughes was one of 30 outstanding media men and women - reporters, editors, broadcasters, cartoonists and publishers - inducted into the Victorian Media Hall of Fame, an initiative of the Melbourne Press Club to celebrate and promote great journalism and great journalists.

This was the second induction ceremony in the three-year foundation of the Hall of Fame. Last year's event honoured figures from the first century of Victorian journalism. This year's included those who made or were making their mark by 1970.

The careers of all of those honoured began or were built in Victoria, but they mostly were journalists who were or still are famous throughout Australia, with many making a profound mark on the global stage. They witnessed and often helped make the history of the 20th century.

Two world wars and other conflicts would reveal the remarkable talents of a host of young journalists, many of whom went on to illustrious careers as writers and editors.

Osmar White covered Kokoda and later witnessed the liberation of Buchenwald and other German concentration camps. Denis Warner landed with the US marines on Saipan, was one of the first to see the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and later covered both the siege at Dien Bien Phu that drove France out of Indochina and the early stages of the Korean War. Noel Monks famously reported the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

This year's inductees also trace the evolution of broadcast journalism in Australia.

Crosbie Morrison turned what was supposed to be a temporary Sunday night program about wildlife on radio stations 3DB-3LK into a phenomenon that, at its height, had a staggering 80 per cent of all Victorian radio sets tuned in. His show Wild Life ran for some 20 years.

Norman Banks was another giant of Melbourne radio who launched football broadcasts and talkback. Ron Casey pioneered Olympic Games coverage, established Channel Seven's World of Sport, which became the longest-running sports show in the world, and in 1977 negotiated the first live telecast of an AFL grand final.

As characterised the times, journalism was overwhelming a man's game, but there were many women who did excel, often against the odds. Three of them were inducted on Friday night - May Maxwell, Caroline Isaacson and Nancy Dexter, all of whom in different ways helped to drag newspaper women's pages from an unleavened diet of domesticity to hard-edged coverage of women's issues.

They were trailblazers for their gender but by the early 1970s newsrooms across the country were beginning to fill with women recruits, some of whom are among today's industry leaders and will certainly feature strongly next year, with the final round of foundation inductions to the Hall of Fame focusing on contemporary journalism.

There were to have been four living inductees this year, but only three would see their life's work honoured: editor, author and Korean War correspondent Harry Gordon; Academy Award-winning cartoonist Bruce Petty; and Melbourne-born global media eminence Rupert Murdoch (represented by his niece and Herald & Weekly Times chairman Penny Fowler).

Keith Dunstan, who learnt before his death last month that he was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, was one of the most enduring and admired newspaper columnists of his generation. For 30 years from 1958 his column, A Place in the Sun, was a beloved fixture in the then Sun News-Pictorial.

His many books included the autobiographical and splendidly titled No Brains at All, the epithet of an exasperated former school master.

Too many of this journalistic generation died young - in the line of duty or from the profession's inherent strains.

A year after his remarkable book on the Gallipoli campaign was published, Age correspondent Phillip Schuler, who had enlisted to share the burden of the soldiers whose deeds he had celebrated, was killed on the Western Front, the horrors of which he planned to chronicle in a second book.

Rohan Rivett, who had survived the trauma of being a Japanese prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma railway, was felled by a heart attack at the age of 60, after editing the Adelaide News, forcing a royal commission on the dubious murder conviction of an Aboriginal man and dodging an extraordinary charge of seditious libel.

Graham Perkin, widely regarded as the finest Australian newspaper editor of the 20th century, was dead at 45, the toll of his herculean effort to transform The Age from half a century of provincial mediocrity into what, in the 1970s, was ranked as one of the 12 greatest newspapers in the world.

Richard Hughes ended his days as a fixture in the bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, still wearing a monocle and still affecting the airs of a cardinal; an original legend in his own lunchtime.

After Hughes' death in 1984, Kevin Sinclair - a formidable New Zealand-born journalist based in Hong Kong - recalled regular lunches with the old Asia hand at his beloved Hilton Grill.

Hughes would often nod off mid-meal, his companions respectfully waiting for him to come to. On one occasion Hughes awoke with a start and demanded: "Where the hell am I?"

"You're at the Hilton Grill, Dick," said Sinclair.

"I know that, you fool," snapped Hughes. "What bloody country is it?"

Related Articles